Ever heard of gypsies? Yeah, the constantly travelling tribe of mystics and fortune tellers you have seen many times in movies and county fairs. Portrayed as compulsive thieves Gypsies are thought to trick honest people out of their hard-earned money. The first image that comes to one’s mind when the word ‘gypsy’ is uttered, is acrobatic freaks jumping around in a circus or fortune tellers claiming to read any man’s fate for a petty sum. Anyone witnessing a gypsy family for the first time is bound to ask the same question: What is wrong with them?
Nobody, however, asks why is anything wrong with them in the first place? Why do they do what they do? Or how did they end up as dwellers of the world moving from one place to another, never settling in one place at a time?
A great man once said it is not the ten-year-old holding an AK47 who is the perpetrator; it is the person who handed it to him, and said that God wants him to shoot. That great man was me. Yeah, don’t hyperventilate. It is not a joke, and although I am a compulsive sarcastic being, this is not a funny article. Well, more like a parody. A parody of our legendary and supposedly inclusive Indian society.
A Dreadful History
The Roma or Romani people -better known as Gypsies- are a tribe of nomadic people famous -or shall I say infamous- for being petty thieves and conman who deceive and loot people. The word ‘Roma’ means to cheat or steal, a stereotype that was invented several centuries ago and is prevalent till date. As such, the legacy of this tribe continues to revolve around this one word, making them one of the most discriminated ethnic groups in the world. Yes, their history is terrible, and it is much worse than it appears on the surface.
First of all, let’s address the widespread misnomer once and for all. Calling the Roma people ‘Gypsy’ is technically wrong. The word Gypsy means they originally hail from Egypt, which is not true. It is historically accurate that during the Byzantine times, the Romani were concentrated around Egypt, but their origin goes much back.
Infact only a handful of people are aware that these perennially homeless people originally migrated in the 11th century, from the Northern part of the Indian subcontinent in search of better livelihood opportunities and/or to escape the rising Muslim attacks. Historical and archaeological evidence suggests that the Romani used to dwell in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Sindh, and Rajasthan of present-day India and Pakistan. They used to be a part of the Hindu Dalit community, which is a minority still existing in India.
Global Rejection for an Entire Community
According to the New York times, Gypsies make up a whopping total of 11 million worldwide. A healthy number of Roma settlements can be found in the United States, Brazil, Turkey, Spain, Romania, and Africa. The country with the highest concentration of Romani people is the United States; with about 800 thousand in total. Inspite of the high numbers and centuries-old existence in many of these places, Gypsies are considered ‘outsiders’ by the natural citizens. Due to the nomadic nature of their existence, they are treated as an unknown and unwanted addition to the civilised society by the residents, and consequently the government.
In 2013, Manuel Valls, an Interior minister for the French Government supported the ousting of Roma people from France saying “(they) have lifestyles that are very different from ours, and are clearly in confrontation with French society.” Even after receiving backlash from several human rights associations, Valls refused to retract his statement and quoted another French politician, “The majority [of Roma] should be delivered back to the borders. We are not here to welcome these people.
“I’d remind you of [former Socialist premier] Michel Rocard’s statement: ‘It’s not France’s job to deal with the misery of the whole world.'”
Sadly it’s not just one politician or one country. All over the world, the Roma have been and continue to be discriminated based on their appearance, their dwelling practices, and of course their ancestry. The tricky part of the story -and the reason which seems to be ultimately responsible for their continued desolate situation- is that due to them not ‘officially’ belonging to a particular country, they can’t be helped by the United Nations or any other government entity for that matter.
As the Romani don’t hold citizenship in the countries they dwell in and are essentially living illegally there, United Nations can’t give out the resources that can help them attain proper education, healthcare, and direction in life that they and their future generations so desperately need.
Majority of the countries hosting the Romani, and the governments henceforth, go all the way from not recognizing them as a part of their community to banishing them from the lands where they have been living since before William Shakespeare was born. They are not given employment because of their inherent refugee status, and in places like Yugoslavia they are even prohibited from registering the birth of their children. Not that it matters because they wouldn’t have the money to do so anyway.
As a result, they continue to dwell in an existence that can hardly be called humane. They are forced to resort to lowly paying jobs, illegal means to earn money, and whatever else the hypocrite society throws at them. My question: How can you term an entire community as anti-social if you haven’t even given them an opportunity to prove otherwise for close to 9 centuries?
Slavery, Torture, Genocide
The history of the Roma Tribe is a sad and desolate one. They have been through it all. They were subjugated to slavery since the 14th century in Romania and other European countries, all the way upto the 19th century. Thank god for Abraham Lincoln.
The so-called Gypsies were sent to concentration camps with the Jews and other repressed tribes during the Second World War, losing a big chunk of their population to the Holocaust. Still, they didn’t get the justice they deserved.
They were mutilated, tortured, and experimented on by Hitler’s regime and nobody batted an eye. The aplomb with which fate punished this tribe’s imperfection is only preceded by the suffering they have received -and continue to receive- at the hands of their fellow humans.
The Lost Identity
As mentioned above, the Romani people are thought to be descended from a handful of nomadic and backward castes of India, many of which still remain relevant in the Indian diaspora. Some of these aforementioned castes are the Untouchables, Harijans, and the Gujjar tribe. To be honest, the historic brothers of the Roma still suffer the same social discrimination as they did centuries ago. However, they atleast have a country and government they can blame for their problems, even if that wouldn’t be fruitful. The thing to note is that at the end of the day, the untouchables and the other backward castes of India have a place in society. They possess a kinship where they can complain about the injustice being done to them. And although it is very hard, they have an opportunity to make a name for themselves in the community.
Gypsies, on the other hand, have nothing of the sort. Indian government for that matter denies any and every claim of the Roma people, who wish to trace their roots back to India. As I came to know through many Youtube videos and online interviews, there are quite many similarities between Hindi language and the Romani language.
The Romani, of course, pick up keywords for certain things like shop, bike, or court from the predominant language of the country they stay in. But there are still significant remnants of the Hindi language in the Romani. Being a Hindi speaker, I can personally vouch for the genuineness of this claim. The grammatical sense and the way a query or statement is structured in Romani, is quite similar as to how its done in the Hindi language (spoken by about 40 percent of India’s population). Delving further I found their music strikingly similar to the Rajasthani folk music primarily attributed to the Banjaras, another nomadic tribe found in the North-Western part of India.
False Promises of Recognition
I as an Indian feel honored to be a part of the glorious ancestry of India. I am a Hindu -one of the oldest religions in the world- and come from a household of farmers and masons who are proud of what they have done for their family and the society. As you, my reader must be too of your pedigree.
But just imagine. Sitting in your cosy homes surrounded by your immediate and extended family, close your eyes and imagine you had none of them.
How would you feel?
The warmth of your mother’s hand, the heat of your father’s angry words, and the bittersweet love of your sibling. The affection mixed in those sweets your grandmother makes or the pride in your grandfather eyes. What if you had none of it? What if you had no country, no state, no place to call your own?
Now think about them.
Not only the countries and regions they try to find shelter in, but also the ancient home of the Romani people rejects them whole-heartedly. Modi government had promised in early 2016 that the Roma people would be effectively bestowed with a People of Indian Origin (PIO) status which would make them a linguistic, historical, and cultural minority.
If that had happened Roma would have got the recognition they have been longing for a long time. Sadly that day never came. Like many false promises the Modi led government made, this important issue also got shelved. But it’s only been two years, so I suppose there’s still hope that the Roma will get justice in about 20 years. It’ll come right around the time we get Acche Din right? Hey, it took 20 years for 1993 bomb victims to get their day in court. So let’s keep our fingers crossed.
What can we do?
Many world leaders have argued that the Gypsies need to be active themselves and try to find respectable means of living on their own. I agree whole-heartedly because I believe no person wants to live the patheitc life these people have been subjected to. But we first need to recognize thier problems and what they are going through.
Imagine having no place you can call home. Imagine being alone in a house with your two children during Diwali, looking around for people to celebrate with and finding you have no one. Infact you don’t even have the money to do so, and neither is the community ready to accept you as the human being you are. Engulfed in the protective blanket of our extended families in India, it is natural to forget what problems must the people who don’t have such birthrights must feel like. Can you imagine?
If you do and feel even one ounce of their pain please help in whatever way you can. Don’t do it out of pity but out of humanity. The first step of which is recognizing that the Romani or Gypsies are Indian. From an Indian to another Indian, recognise our lost countrymen.
I am doing my part by raising awareness about these lost brothers and sisters of ours. I am not a politician nor a man in power. I am a writer and as such have only my words to bring this issue forward so that those in power can take the right steps forward. I won’t go on any protests or throw Molotov cocktails on government convoys. I will just keep writing about issues such as these, until something is done.
I will allow your conscience to decide what is right. Our wandering Gypsies want to come home, and I say we let them. Or at the very least acknowledge their existence. Yes, it was their choice to leave their birthplace and go somewhere else. But when has that ever allowed a motherland to call back her lost child?