INDIA IS NOT THE ONLY COUNTRY rounding up undesirables. France is too. The irony is that in France the undesirables trace their roots back to India.
In the early hours of 16 July 1942, the government of France, at the behest of the Gestapo, began a surprise raid across Paris, rounding up Jews, especially foreign Jews from Eastern Europe. Thousands of men, women and children were held at the sweltering Vél d’Hiver bicycle-racing stadium before being transferred to internment camps on French soil and ultimately to Nazi concentration camps where most were exterminated. Families were torn apart. The men were taken away first, then the women were separated from their children. The French administration then surpassed Nazi expectations by sending the children, now cumbersome orphans, off to the death camps as well. Near the entrance to every public school in Paris, there is a plaque in remembrance of the school children who were sent by the French state to be murdered during World War II. (Hundreds of thousands of Roma were also killed in the Holocaust.)
This is why the raids on the Roma, aka gypsies, carried out simultaneously across France in August by the right-wing government of French president Nicolas Sarkozy, have struck such a nerve. In late July, Sarkozy pledged to remove all the “illegal camps” where thousands of itinerant Roma have made their homes and deport all non-French citizens who did not meet residency requirements, including those from other European Union countries. In mid-August, law and order forces moved in to make good on the pledge. The tactics employed have been so egregious that condemnations have rained down not only from the United Nations, from human rights groups, and from France’s left opposition but also from members of Sarkozy’s own government and politicians on France’s centre right. François Goulard, a former minister in the government of Jacques Chirac and a member of Sarkozy’s UMP party, called the procedures “shocking.” Indeed, the images of people torn from their beds and rounded up by security forces, of men separated from their families, of crying children and terrified adults in holding pens awaiting deportation was just a tad too déjà vu for many to stomach.