Roma, Romani or gypsies, as they are snidely referred to, are the people of Indo-Aryan group who migrated from north west India to Europe and America several centuries ago. Many of them have remained travelers or wanderers and are marginalized and suffer social exclusion. The author enters into a dialogue with a Roma woman in order to satiate his curiosity to gauge the realities of lives of Roma people in the Europe; and how official recognition of their Indian origin could be helpful in resolving their identity. Here goes the story of this rare encounter.
Yes, I do wish Latcho Drom (safe journey) from the bottom of my heart to Roma people though I am unable to figure out why the journey should still continue. But if you allow, may I ask how the journey of Romani people been so far since your ancestors left India?
The part of the answer is vividly portrayed in the scene where a young Romani girl is singing the following lines in the film Latcho Drom1.
The whole world hates us
Condemned to wandering throughout life.
The sword of anxiety cuts into our skin
The world is hypocritical
The whole world stands against us.
We survive as hounded thieves
but barely a nail have we stolen.
God have mercy!
Liberate us from our trials
It is not very difficult to understand the position of our people in mainstream European societies. Our ancestors left India more than thousand years ago for reasons best known to them. We have travelled the roads of Europe, Egypt North Africa. Over the course of this journey far beyond the borders of India we have faced discrimination and prejudices, we’re given names like bohemian, gypsy, gitan etc. We are continuously depicted as anti-socials like thieves and vagabonds. We are a persecuted lot. Our life is hard. We are far below on human development index. Times have gone by but our social and economic condition have remained the same or even worsened.
One recent development about our identity has been confirmation of our ancestry. Our Indian ancestry is written on our face and skin. Our language as well comprises of north India words2. Yet we were kind of unsure and uncertain in the past of our origin due to the fact that we wandered a lot and there is lack of recorded history of our people or literature. Thanks to science that now we know for sure that we originally came from India and the Indian blood runs in our veins. 3, 4Feels good to know finally that we have Indian DNA. After publication of this research, there was a nice gesture on part of the Indian Government when its then Foreign Minister, Sushma Swaraj, said in a conference that we are the children of India 5 But I do not think general people in India know much about us.
I remember reading about some discussion in India to declare 20 million strong Romani people spread across the Europe and America as part of Indian diaspora. However, nothing really happened in this direction.
You see, the Indians who migrated to Europe and America recently in the last fifty years have done very well economically in their adopted countries. There are hardworking rich professionals and businessmen and are hence very influential. Similar is the case of temporary Indian migrants in the middle east as well. No wonder India receives highest remittances in the world from this diaspora. These Indian migrants have strong economic and social ties in India. Obviously, there is good official engagement with this Indian diaspora. Should I mention about Howdy Modi to be held in Houston?
The earlier wave of migrants included landless agricultural workers from Bihar, UP and Bengal, who left India during British Raj as indentured labourers to Mauritutus, Fiji, Guyna, Grenada etc. They settled down as farmers near the sugarcane farms in these countries.
On the other hand, we the Roma are the earliest Indian Migrants. We left India more than thousand years ago. We have no recorded history of our people nor do we have a literature. We remained sort of wanderers and travelers throughout and were not even clearly aware of our origin. We maintained our culture through oral traditions and songs and dances. we are children of “dalits” or low caste”untouchables” such as Dom, Banjara, Sapera, Gujjar, Sansi, Chauhan, Sikligar, Dhangar and other nomadic groups from northwest India 5, 6
Most of the Roma in various parts of the world are marginalized and excluded from their mainstream societies. Needless to say, that unlike recent Indian migrants we are neither rich nor influential. We are not much noticed by people of India or the Indian Government. It would be helpful to receive same attention as the diaspora who migrated recently.
We should at least be officially recognized as the Indian diaspora. We are of the same bloodline and share the same DNA. What could be better proof of our Indian origin than this?
Looks like the Modi Government is keen to claim the Roma as Indians7 Hope this is not forgotten already!
1. Gatlif Tony 2012. Gypsy Roots – Lachto Drom (Safe Journey).
Available at:www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3zQl3d0HFE Accessed: 21 Sep 2019.
2. Sejo, Sead Šerifi Levin 2019. Romani čhibki India. Available at:www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppgtG7rbWkg Accessed: 21 Sep 2019.
3. Jayaraman KS 2012.European Romanis came from northwest India. Nature India doi:10.1038/nindia.2012.179 Published online 1 December 2012.
Available at:www.natureasia.com/en/nindia/article/10.1038/nindia.2012.179 Accessed: 21 Sep 2019.
4. Rai N, Chaubey G, Tamang R, et al. 2012. The Phylogeography of Y-Chromosome Haplogroup H1a1a-M82 Reveals the Likely Indian Origin of the European Romani Populations. PLoS ONE 7(11): e48477. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048477.
Available at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3509117/pdf/pone.0048477.pdf Accessed: 21 Sep 2019.
5. BS 2016. Romas are India’s children: Sushma Swaraj. Business Standard February 12, 2016.
Available at: www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/romas-are-india-s-children-sushma-swaraj-116021201051_1.html Accessed: 21 Sep 2019.
6. Nelson D 2012. European Roma descended from Indian ‘untouchables’, genetic study shows. The Telegraph 03 Dec 2012.
Available at: www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/9719058/European-Roma-descended-from-Indian-untouchables-genetic-study-shows.HTML Accessed: 21 Sep 2019.
7. Pisharoty SB 2016. The Modi Government, and RSS, Are Keen to Claim the Roma as Indians, and Hindus. The Wire. Published 15 February 2016.
Available at: thewire.in/diplomacy/the-modi-government-and-rss-are-keen-to-claim-the-roma-as-indians-and-hindus Accessed: 21 Sep 2019.
Author: Umesh Prasad (The author is an alumnus of the London School of Economics and a UK based former academic.)
The views and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the author(s) and other contributor(s), if any.