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Taking On : Roma and their Culture

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Image source: education4sustainability.org

By- Annesha Das Gupta

The community of Roma has been cited by various scholars and historian as a group of people who are most definitely part of the Indian diaspora. They appear to have left the country back in the 11th century as a result of the raids by Mahmud of Ghazna and through various historical occurrences landed in Europe and various other parts of the world.

Hence, in the process, they have been able to imbibe various non-Roma customs and societal norms. While they have kept many similarities of the Indian cultural sphere, there has been diversification of the socio-economic and political structures as well.

In this article, we shall span through and cover up a brief look at their cultural phenomena, which may surprise as well as please one. Though, it should be kept in mind, the importance of cultural relativism (understanding and due respect to other cultures), as Sociology points out, one of the tools to stem the proliferation of ethno-centrism.

So, let’s get started.

Structure and Roma society

  • Family

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Image Courtesy: Gvsph Org

The family structure in the community is traditionally weaved together around the group of close kin and forming a single household. The extended family comes together, to make up anywhere from a few to a few hundred members and are known as Kumpanias. These bands generally travel together, in the past in caravans and presently in their own cars.

The group or the family elects one permanent chief called Voivode, who leads the entire band. While there may also a woman named Phuri dai, who will take the responsibility of looking after the women and the children in the community.

The family will always share their resources, organize the work together as well as prepare and consume the food only when everyone is around. The group generally consist the head and his wife, their married sons, and daughter-in-laws with their own children, it can also have the bachelor sons and spinster daughter, as well as divorced and widowed daughters.

The ethnic group or ‘nation’ may form smaller bands, Vistas, with regard to their common ancestry.

The family will derive their names from the traditional or historical trades they practice. They can also claim their titles on the basis of the region of settlement or the religion to which they may belong.

Both women and men take care of their household. It is known that both the parents contribute in bringing up their children together. Though, because of the work pattern, the child may mostly spend hers/his hours with their grandparents, the parents can be busy running their business like selling cars or clothes and similar items.

  • Marriage

The weddings in the Roma community mainly took place as a form of endogamy, as it is deeply believed to be essential for maintaining the purity of the tribe or the group. The decision is taken by the family members of the bride and the groom along with the negotiation of the bride price. To marry a female outsider or a gadji, maybe not at first accepted by the people but sometimes can eventually be sorted out. While the female members of the community are strictly forbidden under the Marime (impure) laws to do the same, as they are perceived as continuers and guarantors of their population.

Bride price is taken by the girl’s family as a form of compensation for their loss. A formal proposal of marriage comes from the boy’s side and then the discussion takes place with the soon-to-be bride’s father. The bride’s price is negotiated by taking into consideration all the desired qualities of the girl. The amount of the price is fixed based on the merits of the girl such as strength, disposition, and domestic skills. The refusal of the formal proposal is highly considered to be a disgrace to the community.

‘Abiav’, as the wedding is called, is preferred to as a symbolic act rather than a religious one. Though the Roma do not take into account the importance of a formal wedding ceremony, the observations are changing now based on the regions they have settled in and civil and religious marriages are becoming more common.

Among certain Roma tribes, bread is taken by the groom and the bride with a drop of blood in it, which they exchange with each other. Whereas according to another rite, the couple is surrounded by their close ones and a small amount of salt and bread is applied to the knees of the bride. The groom takes some of it and eats, while the bride, also does the same. The ritual symbolizes the harmonious future of the couple together.

  • Religion

In the past, the community did not hold believes in any form of organized religion. Though with time they have accepted and opted for religions like Islam and Christianity. They observe various religious rituals in their houses. Pilgrimages are also taken by them, such the annual pilgrimage to Saintes Maries dela Mar (24-26 May) on the Mediterranean coast of France Sainte Anne de Beaupre (July 26) in Quebec, Canada. These occasions are also considered to be social gatherings by the Roma.

One of the essential aspects of the community is the cult of dead. It is maintained by them, to be a duty to attend the burials of other members, even if they are not personally acquainted with deceased or their close family members. To give the due respect to their deceased, it is an obligatory part to observe or watch them, if possible for as long as before the funeral, in their own house. They believe it that they should keep the dead person among them and in their homes to signify the strong bond they all share.

 Occupation

Both the women as well as the men have tasks and responsibilities to perform both inside and outside their households. Women are usually the in charge of preparing the food and maintaining the house. While the men take charge of the production of tools such as baskets and copperware which is sold to the customers. They will both entertain and perform within the household and outside. Women are mainly the professional storytellers, singers and dancers, whereas the men only tend to play musical instruments.

Women also work in trades, as professional healers and fortune-tellers known as drabardi. And the men work as sale persons of cars, carpets as well as musical instruments. The men can also occupy the positions of collectors of scrap materials for recycling, construction laborers, etc.

Roma Clothes

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Image Courtesy: Bpaimages/Photoshelter

Based on the Marime code, the parts of the women body are divided into pure and polluted. The upper part from the waist is believed to be hygienic while the lower part is not. The conception is mainly attached with the menstrual cycle. And for this, women have to cover their legs with long skirts. The exposure of their legs is considered to be a grave offense. The skirts wore by the women are all long, brightly colored and contains many layers. The new bride is helped by her mother-in-law to knot around her head a scarf, or diklo, which a married woman is supposed to wear throughout her life, afterward.

In the case of men, as the head is considered to be the focal point, they usually cover it with a hat and a wide mustache. For special occasions, they wear good suits which will be brightly colored. They tend to keep it until it absolutely fades. Though in the modern times, they normally wear the clothes in which they cannot be distinguished from the outsiders.

Roma Food

Based on their nomadic way of life, they readily make use of whatever was available to eat – berries, fruits, small mammals, etc. In the present times, they have adapted to the lifestyles of the non-Romanies as well.

They usually begin their day with a strong cup of black coffee, which will, of course, be heavily sugared. Since coffee is considered to be a staple drink among them it might be taken many times in a particular day. The community, do not maintain a schedule for lunch. The food is always put up on the stove as people can serve themselves whenever they feel hungry. Dinner gets started around the time of the sunset. It consists of generally a stew, where a lot of vegetables, leafy greens, potatoes, rice, and paste is added. Garlic is used as the most common seasoning. Sometimes meat of rabbit or game fowl is also cooked or boiled on the spit.

Maize cakes can also be used instead of bread. Whereas, during festivities, a large and sumptuous quantity of food and drinks are prepared with lots of time and enthusiasm.

Their customs, although, prohibits cruelty against animals and asserts that they should be killed as a source of food. The German Sintis considers consumption of horse flesh, as a taboo. As an itinerant lifestyle was lived by them, horses are respected as supporters in their journeys.

All these give us a food for thought to contemplate and gauge the wonderful facets of the Roma culture. While some of the misogynist aspects of the tradition should be done away with, there are also some extraordinary examples of how much the people of this world and can learn and be inspired by their traditions and customs.

Thus, it demands a more astute study and social uplift of the lives and socio-economic standards of the Romanies.

Read More here-www.newsgram.com/the-forgotten-holocaust-a-brief-history-of-the-roma/

 http://www.newsgram.com/roaming-their-world-the-roma/

‘We (Roma) would like to be treated as Indian diaspora’

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Veerappan: India’s most wanted

Veerappan was hunted by the police for over four decades, making it the longest man-hunt in India

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Veerappan was a smuggler, poacher, murderer and extortionist who was killed in Operation Cocoon
Veerappan in his heyday, He was killed via Operation Cocoon
  • Veerappan was a smuggler of ivory and sandalwood in the southern states of India.
  • He killed government officials and civilians alike when they tried to stop his illegal activities.
  • He died in October 2004 during ‘Operation Cocoon’, which was carried out by a Special Task Force.

Poaching, smuggling, extortion, smuggling, brigandry, murder — these are some of the few charges against Koose Munisamy Veerappan Gounder, popularly known as Veerappan, for whom was constituted India’s largest manhunt, on which the government spent around 1.5 million Rupees. From his childhood, narratives about the elusive dacoit were laced with fiction, as he became an object of myth when he was only ten years old, and had infamously shot his first tusker elephant for ivory. His notoriety became a national concern when the government banned ivory trade in India, and he began felling trees for precious sandalwood, thus beginning a period marred by Veerappan killing government officials and locals alike when they became an obstacle.

Veerappan unleashed a reign of terror on the southern states of India from the early 1980s till his death in 2004; during which Veerappan killing police officers and civilians alike caused a nationwide uproar. In 1990, the notorious smuggler had beheaded a forest officer K. Srinivas, which wasn’t recovered until three years later. In 2000, he had kidnapped the Kannada actor K. Rajkumar, whose release was negotiated through Nakkeeran editor Gopal, to whom the infamous poacher admitted to murdering as many as 120 people. Matters came to a head when   abducted the former Karnataka minister H. Nagappa in 2002, and killed him when his demands were not met.

Operation Cocoon:

Veerappan leading his gang in moily forest,
Veerappan leading his gang in Moily forest. Wikimedia

A Special Task Force or STF was constituted for the capture of Veerappan in 1991, which, headed by K. Vijay Kumar, launched Operation Cocoon in 2004, which finally resulted in Veerappan’s death. Kumar, aided by his previous experience with Veerappan, based Operation Cocoon on human intelligence and interaction, during which multiple STF personnel blended in with the locals in areas frequented by Veerappan. The initial stages of Operation Cocoon consisted of gaining the trust of Veerappan’s associates, till they started divulging details about his failing health. In the years before his death, the elusive outlaw seemed to have lost much of his vigour and vitality, as he suffered from diabetes, and a cataract had almost blinded him in one eye.
On 18th October, 2004, the police lured Veerappan out of familiar terrains in an ambulance, and apprehended him at a roadblock, where he was killed in the crossfire between his team and the STF, via three bullets. The photographs after Veerappan’s demise show him in a pathetic light, bereft of his signature handlebar moustache, and the agility which had facilitated his escape for over four decades.

There have been a lot of controversies regarding his death, as many media houses and activists have claimed that Operation Cocoon has derived Veerappan of a fair trial by law. Some have even claimed that he was tortured to death in police custody. The facts regarding the elusive sandalwood smuggler remain inconclusive even after a decade of his death, due to the lack of concrete evidence.

 

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Bhai Boolchand-the Indian who launched trade with Ghana

The first Indian to arrive in the Gold Coast (Ghana's colonial name) in 1890 , Bhai Boolchand launched trade in India with Ghana

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Ghanian flag, Bhai Boolchand launched trade in India with Ghana.
Ghanian flag, Bhai Boolchand launched trade in India with Ghana. pixelbay
  • Bhai Boolchand, the anonymous Indian, is credited with starting trade between Ghana and India
  • The year was 1890.

Not much is known about him, but it has now emerged that trade relations between Ghana and Indiawere started by Bhai Boolchand, the first Indian to arrive in the Gold Coast — Ghana’s colonial name — in 1890. That’s some 67 years before the British colonial government granted the country independence, research by the Indian Association of Ghana has found.

“As far as our records show, Bhai Boolchand (of the Bhaiband Sindhworki trading community), landed on the shores of the Gold Coast in western Africa in 1890. Nearly twenty years later, in 1919, the first Sindhi company was established by two brothers — Tarachand Jasoomal Daswani and Metharam Jasoomal Daswani,” the Indian Association said.

The duo opened a store — Metharam Jassomal Brothers — in the then capital city of Cape Coast in 1919.

“Their business flourished and branches were opened in Accra and Kumasi. A few years later, the two brothers separated and whilst Bhai Metharam Jasoomal continued the business as Metharam Brothers, Tarachand Jasoomal operated his business as Bombay Bazaar. These were the first two Indian companies that were established in the Gold Coast,” the Association said.

Boolchand’s arrival, therefore, pre-dates the historical links between the two countries that were always thought to have started between Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkruman, and India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Boolchand can thus be described as the one who paved the way for the arrival of other members of the Sindhi community, initially as traders and shopkeepers.

The Indian Association said more of this group arrived in the 1950s and 1960s, with a few venturing into manufacturing industries such as garments, plastics, textiles, insecticides, electronics, pharmaceuticals and optical goods.

The Association said two more Indian firms were established under the names of Lilaram Thanwardas and Mahtani Brothers in the 1920s. This trend continued in the 1930s and 1940s with the creation of several more Indian companies like T. Chandirams, Punjabi Brothers, Wassiamal Brothers, Hariram Brothers, K. Chellaram & Sons, G. Motiram, D.P. Motwani, G. Dayaram, V. Lokumal, and Glamour Stores.

Glamour Stores, which was stared by Ramchand Khubchandani who arrived in Ghana in 1929, has grown — after changing its name to Melcom Group — to become the largest retailing business in the country. The Melcom Group, headed by Ramchand’s son Bhagwan Khubchandani, is now in its 60th year and about 40 stores all over the country.

Ramchand and his brother later went into garment manufacturing in 1955 and once employed over 1,200 Ghanaians. They later opened the first Indian restaurant, Maharaja, in Ghana. Bhagwan followed in his father’s footsteps and in 1989 established the Melcom Group with his sons-in-law, Mahesh Melwani and Ramesh Sadhwani.

Another Indian-owned company that has survived through the years is the Mohanani Group, which is currently in its 51st year. At the first-ever Ghana Expatriate Business Awards, the Ministry of Trade and Industries recognised the work of one of the thriving Indian-owned B5 Plus Steel Company and awarded it the Best Expatriate Company in the metal and steel category.

As these companies brought in new expatriate staff, some left their employers to venture out on their own — resulting in more companies opening up.

“After 1947, the Gold Coast attracted the attention of some Indian multinational companies, and big names like Chanrai, Bhojsons, K.A.J. Chotirmal, Dalamals and A.D. Gulab opened branches in Ghana,” the Association said.

“The employment of Ghanaians by these founding companies also helped to lessen the burden of unemployment in the country. This amply demonstrates the level of commitment India has in the developmental agenda of Ghana,” it said.

Indians are not only investing in the manufacturing and commercial sectors of the country; they are also investing in the financial sector. Bank of Baroda, one of India’s biggest and most reputable banks, recently established a branch in Ghana and hopefully it will expand its operations in other parts of the country very soon. (IANS)

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Beatles, Apple, Facebook knew India more than Indians

Famous non-Indian celebrities know more about India and its past

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The Beatles once visited India to know more bout its past and culture.
The Beatles once visited India to know more bout its past and culture. Wikipedia

-By Salil Gewali

Facebook’s Chairman Mark Zuckerberg had dropped a bombshell on the “secularists” in India during PM Modi’s visit to his campus in California. It’s all about the Facebook connection with India. Initially, it was never a bed of roses for what is now a household name “FACEBOOK” across the world. This world-famous ‘social networking service company’ had its own share of bad times. Revealing for the first time in the meeting at the Facebook office upbeat Zuckerberg told PM Narendra Modi that Steve Jobs, the founder Chairman of Apple, had advised him to visit a certain temple in India for blessings. The revelation may have caused heartburn to many. More so in India where so-called secular and snooty folks have long acquired a proclivity to look down upon their own culture, religion, and values while being appreciative of any bizarre customs and styles of the West. Yes, heeding the advice of his mentor Steve Jobs the depressed Mark had visited the temple and toured around India for nearly a month.

Facebook's CEO tells about India.
Facebook’s CEO tells about India. wikipedia

Well, the American techno-wizard Steve Jobs had himself spent over six months in India in 1974. He was here in quest of the higher meaning of life and spiritual solace. As understood, from early age Steve was quite haunted by a good deal of unanswered questions. Of course, his encounter with a book “Be Here Now” by Richard Alpert, a Harvard Professor, had opened up a gateway to the spiritualism of the East. This book had also introduced him to a mystic Yogi ‘Neem Karoli Baba’. That later inspired Steve to set out the journey for the East. As soon as Steve and his friend Daniel Kottke arrived India they directly went to meet the Guru in Kainchi Dham Ashram in Nainital. But to their disappointment, they found the Baba had already passed away some months earlier. Nevertheless, the urge to dive deeper into the spiritualism did not die away. They shaved their heads and put on Indian clothes and undertook an extensive meditation and yogic practices.

The most significant impact that had made upon Steve’s life was a book “Autobiography of a Yogi”by Paramhansa Yogananda. It is on record that he would read this book too frequently, at least once every year until his death, 2011. This book had given him the practical insight into what exactly this world is about and how a layman can prepare himself to realize the Supreme knowledge. The first-hand account of a Yogi with empirical approaches to know oneself this book by Yogananda is a smash hit manual now among the seekers of the Eastern spiritualism.

Yes, by dint of hard work, intuition and innovation Steve stood out as one of the most successful techno-tycoons of the modern times. As much known, Jobs was hardly possessed by the luxury of riches and materialistic vanity. He just regarded his entrepreneurship as a tool to awaken his dormant potentialities. The chairman of Salesforce.com and famous philanthropist Marc Benioff says with conviction — “If you want to understand Steve, it’s a good idea to dig into ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’.” It is this book which Steve’s family had given to all the guests as a last gift at his memorial service.

Here we can’t afford to ignore the Beatle’s fascination for INDIA as well. The band members that were basking in the opulence of materialistic riches and glory visited India (Rishikesh) in search of inner peace. They met with Sri Maharshi Mahesh Yogi and learnt from him Transcendental meditation (TM) who laid bare methods to feel true bliss within. Sri Maharshi is a big name in the West having a huge following that includes celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, David Lynch, Russell Brand, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Aniston, Modern physicist Dr. John Hagelin, to name a few. The Beatle’s Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr often assist a Hollywood Director/actor David Lynch to organize the Transcendental meditation under ‘David Lynch Foundation’ across USA and the European countries. George Harrison later took refuge in Bhakti Yoga. The founder of ISKCON Srila Prabhupada showed him the pathway to the Supreme Consciousness.

What basically pulls the rational westerners to India is less known to Indians themselves. It’s shamefully paradoxical. From early 19th Century, the philosophical literary treasure troves and Yoga of India found more admirers in the foreign lands than at home. Indeed, the philosophy of the “laws of karma” and the presence of all-power-divinity within every being and everywhere — which any human being can realize irrespective of one’s caste, creed, nationality, and color, has intensely stirred the greatest of the great minds of the West. The ancient texts hold out a whole bunch of keys to unlock oneself and know his/her relationship with the Supreme Being which in fact seems very reasonable to the West. Further, the complex studies of world-view by Modern scientists are gradually arriving at the same conclusion what the ancient sages of India expounded over five thousands year back that ‘creation and creator are ONE’. Interconnection, inter-relation and interdependence among every individual particle/object, living or non-living, in the infinite universe — which is the fundamental tenets of the Eastern philosophy, provided a new light of wisdom to the the modern physicists like Schrödinger, Heisenberg, Julius Oppenheimer, Brain David Josephson, David Bohm, John Stewart Bell et al.

Well, Indian’s contribution to the western academia is immeasurable — though deliberately undermined or less discussed in India itself. It’s very worthwhile to recall a famous proclamation by our western master whom we hold in the highest esteem. TS Eliot, one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, asserts: “Indian philosophers’ subtleties make most of the great European philosophers look like schoolboys”.

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter @SGewali.