Glory and grief for Indian diaspora

Overseas Indians made headlines all through 2012 – for both right and wrong reasons.

If Ami Bera, an Indian-American physician in California, won a tightly-contested election to make it to US House of Representatives, former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta was convicted for leaking corporate secrets about the bank to a hedge fund at the height of the financial crisis.

Snigdha Nandipatti of San Diego correctly spelt ‘Guetapans’ (French for ‘Ambush’) to win this year’s US Scripps National Spelling Bee crown and become the 10th Indian-American to do so in 14 years, but Savita Halappanavar, a dentist from Belgaum in Karnataka, fell victim to the controversial ban on abortion in Ireland.

The greatest tragedy for Indian diaspora came on August 5, 2012, when a former Psychological Operations specialist of US Army, Wade Michael Page, walked into the Gurdwara at Oak Street in Wisconsin and opened indiscriminate firing on the devotees, killing a woman, Paramjit Kaur, and five men, including the shrine’s founder Satwant Singh Kaleka.

New Delhi was quick to convey its anguish to Washington and called for “a full and prompt investigation”. The then External Affairs Minister S M Krishna called up US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to tell her that Indian-origin people in America should get “an assurance from President Barack Obama’s Administration” that they would be safe and the interests of the community would be safeguarded.

While Page was killed by cops in the Gurdwara, the ‘hate crime’ prompted Nirupama Rao, New Delhi’s envoy to Washington, to express concerns over gun-culture in US – a concern now shared by many Americans after another young gunman shot dead 20 children and six others in a Connecticut school.

Indian couple, Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya, and their children, Aishwarya and Abhigyan, continued to make news in 2012. New Delhi intervened to help the couple get back their son and daughter from Barnevarne (Norwegian Child Welfare Services), which had in May 2011 taken the children under protective care and placed in foster parental care on grounds that the Bhattacharyas failed to properly take care of them.

India not only sent special envoy to Norway, but Krishna himself spoke to his Norwegian counterpart Jonas Gahr Store with the Ministry of External Affairs stepping up diplomatic pressure on Oslo. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too took it up with his Norwegian counterpart Jens Stoltenberg when they met in Seoul in March.

The protracted legal battle ended in April, when a court in the Norwegian city of Stavanger handed over the children’s custody to their paternal uncle Arunabhas, who brought them back to India.  The MEA, however, was embarrassed when it marital discord between Anurup and Sagarika had come to light, lending some credence to Barnevarne’s allegation of “emotional disconnect” between the children and their parents.

The experience with Bhattacharyas perhaps stopped New Delhi from going overboard when another couple from Andhra Pradesh, Chandrasekhar Vallabhaneni and Anupama, landed in trouble in Norway for allegedly maltreating their child Sai Sriram.

A Norwegian court on December 4 last sentenced Chandrasekhar and Anupama to prison for 18 and 15 months respectively. The MEA only offered consular assistance to the couple, just as it did to Debashis and Pamela Saha, who landed in similar trouble for allegedly causing injuries to their son Indrashis in New Jersey, US.

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