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Roaming their World: The Roma

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By Annesha Das Gupta

You have heard of them. You have formed an opinion of your very own about them. Then you forgot them.

To you, they are the nomads, the ‘Gypsies’. They are in numerous tales ‘deceiving’ people, holder of amazing powers a tribe of mystic beings.

Aren’t they, though? Well, not.

They are actually known as the Roma or Romani. And no, they are not what the larger part of the world has made of them. They are people just like you and I, they have a history that remained unwritten for centuries, their cultures ignored and their agonies, forgotten.

However, according to Mark D Knudsen, to give it a more academic touch, the Roma never exhibited any of the typical nomadic behavior. They were coerced to move from one region to another throughout their entire historical timeline, either because of banishment, flight, trade or else the maintenance of social and familial structures.

Unfortunately, even in the contemporary era much has not changed for them.

So how are they now? What is their history? And who in actuality are they?

Chronology of Migration of Gypsies or The Roma from India to the world
Chronology of Migration of Gypsies or The Roma from India to the world

Let’s read on.

Who are the Roma?

The Roma or Romani are the people who according to the majority of historians and archeologists, originated from the northwestern regions of India; particularly Rajasthan, current Haryana, and Punjab.

They speak a mixed variation of languages which has influenced the Romani dialects, sometimes known as Para-Roman.

They are currently spread across many parts of the world especially in the Balkan Peninsula and other countries of Europe. And they comprise the largest ethnic minority in the latter one.

Historically, romanis have been misunderstood everywhere and thus subjected to a lot of prejudices. A noticeable example can be found in the epic Persian poem of Shahnameh. It goes that the Sasanian king, Bahram V Gor, upon learning at the end of his reign that the poor of his kingdom cannot afford to listen to music, he requested the king of India to send him ten thousand Luris, men and women who play lute. After they came to his empire, the king gifted them an ox each, a donkey and a donkey-load of wheat. He wanted them to have a life of a farmer and that they entertain the poor for free. Unfortunately, the luris ate up the oxen and the wheat. This angered the king and he banished the tribe forever.

Such fables elucidate how painful a life the Roma had to endure and how stereotyped their image has been.

In different parts of the world they are known by different names; such as Manus in France, Tatara in Sweden and Gypsies in the UK, which bore a negative connotation for them. They were given the name of ‘Gypsy’ in the 16th century as there was a wide-spread misconception that the group originated from Egypt.

Linking the Roma: India to Europe

  • India

As stated by Knudsen in his blog, Roma History, in the 11th century, India had several smaller kingdoms in Northern India where the Gujjars and the Rajput confederations used to rule. These were primarily feudal societies comprising of warriors, landowner castes, and the commoners. The Roma were then believed to be known as Domba which means human and gradually evolved into the names known today as Rom (man) and Romni (woman). They, as claimed by a lot of historians, belonged to the lower castes who used to hold the occupations of the peasantry, mainly caring for animals, training horses, craftsmen – makers of weapons.

It is worth noticing as well that in Sanskrit Doma means ‘man of low caste living by singing and music’. Thus confirming their presence, in the pages, of Shahnameh.

They were granted the status of warrior class mercenaries by the Hindus and were recruited into the army who were sent westwards to fight off the Islamic military expansions. And during this time, they were captured by Mahmud of Ghazna as slaves. The Sultan got hold over 500,000 Roma from the regions of Punjab and Sindh during his raids to India which continued for almost 17 years.

The atrocities committed, can be illustrated by what has been claimed recently by the historians: The Muslim conquerors took the Roma and forced them to march across the heavy mountain terrains of Central Asia- thus calling the ranges as the Hindu Kush or the slaughter of Hindus.

The Roma got their freedom even if it was scarce by joining one of the Arabic emirates known as the ‘Rum-Seldchuks’ after the breakup of the Ghaznadian dynasty. They escaped slavery by changing their religion to that of Islam as the Muslims did not take Islamic slaves.

Later the emirate was invaded by Ottoman I creating his empire and that was the last stop for Romas before moving on to Europe.

  • Europe

Romani or Gypsies, as they were called was not very popular there. In most of the European countries, Romani were considered as unwanted emigrants. They were believed to be barbarians and totally untrustworthy. Such were the image of them that they were usually chased out of the places if they were seen traveling around in their mobile homes. It is well-known that they were outlawed in Denmark from 1554 to 1736.

Some DNA evidence also suggests that a few of them arrived in Europe in the mid 11th century due to the Viking enslavement or liaisons with Varangians as found in the skeletons of Norwich.

A chronicler for a Parisian journal described them as shabbily dressed and reported that the Church forced them to leave the town as it was believed that they practiced palm-reading and fortune-telling.

Earlier in 1510, Switzerland ordered for their execution and similar laws were also established in Britain. Whereas in Sweden large masses were deported outside the country to its colonies in 1538.

Historical Amnesia: Romani Holocaust

According to historian Ian Hancock, a Romani scholar, linguist and political advocate, German Wehrmacht swept into the Balkans on its quest to conquer Eastern Europe and imposed Hilter’s genocidal policies of Aryan racial impurity on them.

The Romani genocide or Romani Holocaust, also named as ‘O Porajmos’ or ‘the devouring’ was an attempt by the Nazi troops to annihilate the Romani of Europe during the Second World War. Both Romani and Jews were executed as “enemies of the raced-based state” under the Nuremberg laws.

Estimated death tolls of the Romani people ranged from 220,000 to 1,500,000 during the whole period of the Nazi rule.

When the Nazis were defeated in 1945, the world came to know about the heinous acts that were performed against the Jews. But the Romani and the Sinti went unmentioned despite the fact that they went through the similar fate of being brutally treated, of exploiting them as slave laborers and being murdered in the gas chambers.

Unfortunately, it was as late as 2nd August 1981 that West Germany finally agreed to recognize the genocide of the Roma.

The Roma and their presence: The Present

The international Day of the Roma is celebrated in the honor of the first international meeting of Romani representations which took place on 8th April 1971 near London.

The international anthem of the Roma was adopted in 1990. It is known as ‘Gelem Gelem’ which was composed and written by a Romany musician and politician named Zarko Jovanovic who now lives in Paris but originally was from Beograd. It should also be known that the anthem of Czech and Sloval Romanies is named ‘Chajori Romani’ and was composed in the concentration camp of Auschwitz.

Whereas the Romani flag consists of two strips, the lower green strip symbolizes the unity of the Roma with nature while the upper blue one with the heaven. The wheel in the centre, suggest the migratory image of the Romanies and has its roots in the Indian red chakra wheel.

Coming to India again – Though the Roma now mainly belong to Islam or Christianity, their social behavior is strictly regulated by Hindu Purity Laws. Also to further connect them with India, one should know that the mitochondrial DNA (the genetic formulation in Indians), is found in about 30% of the population.

In 1782, Rudiger found a massive amount of similarities, between the Romani language and Hindustani.

The Roma who take pride of their roots in India wanted the world to recognize them as one of the official Indian diasporas.

In a recent event held at New Delhi, Joval Damjonvoic, president of World Roma Organization said that they are the indigenous people of India. Roma are traced by many scholars to India; they use the same words as those by the Indians and want the country to accept them as their diaspora and give them a nationality.

The World Bank also took the effort to integrating the Roma youth, who comprised 10-20% of the new labor in Eastern European countries into the mainstream discourse by addressing their social and economic conditions. And in this, they partnered with foundations like UNDP, UNICEF, and REF.

There has been the inauguration of a Romanian studies summer institute at the Central European University and the establishment of the European Roma Institute.

Still there remain the incidents of sterilization of Roma women and the attack on seven Roma families in Ukraine all over in the same weekend. Also, there has been a continuous deportation of the community from slums in Paris which left most of them homeless.

All these points exclaim that there needs much to be done to build a more Roma inclusive world so that people can voice their opinion and start to take a stand for the rights of the Roma.

After all, they are just like us, just like any other human being who has right to live.

Read More-www.newsgram.com/we-romas-would-like-to-be-treated-as-indian-diaspora

www.newsgram.com/roma-people-and-their-indian-connection

www.newsgram.com/history-roma-peoples-flag/

Image-eucentral.co.uk

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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.