You must have heard the European Union reiterating and stressing upon caste based human rights violations in India; but do you know about the most marginalized community of Europe? If not, let us have a look at the ‘Dalits of European continent.’
“Gypsies” – only the word is enough to witness grimacing faces of Europeans. Since the emergence of Romanies (whom the Europeans call Gypsies) in the west, misconceptions, rumours, and misnomers have been associated with them. Hardly 5 to 10 percent of the Europeans will tolerate Romanies in their neighbourhood.
Despite being the largest minority group of Europe with around 12 million population, more than 80% of them live below the poverty line. It’s a community which is probably at the highest risk of statelessness, facing constant evacuations from their poorly built homes.
But here comes a valid question, “why should we Indians be concerned about all this?” Briefly, because we share the same bloodline.
Yes! Romani is an ethnic group which originated in the Northern part of India and from here they migrated in around the tenth century. Though the reason behind their exodus is essentially unmarked, some believe that their migration was undramatic in nature whereas some scholars say that this was a tribe consisting of artists, craftsmen, musicians and dancers who were taken to Persia for the purpose of royal entertainment and when due to constant invasions and military strains those rulers found it difficult to feed and maintain them, thus they were enslaved. And from there, in the fourteenth century they further migrated to different parts of Europe; some went down to Greece, some to Roman Empire and some to France, Spain, etc. in the following decades.
Whatever the reason may be, there is no doubt that the community traces its origin to the Indian subcontinent. Their nomadic way of life is very similar to the Indian tribals and can still be fitted perfectly in the Indian cultural space. Linguistic studies were the medium which helped the researchers to find their roots. Their spoken language called Romany is a member of the Neo-Indian group of languages, making it a relative of languages spoken in the Indian subcontinent.
Ian Hancock, a notable Romani scholar and linguist says, “The story behind their origins has proven problematic for many reasons, with the major one resting on the fact the community, until recently, lacked a written language and relied only on oral tradition to record their history and culture. During the beginning of their migration and dispersion, members were able to remember their Indian roots but as centuries passed, they forgot their background, thus leaving it up to Western scholars to trace their origins and construct their ethnic identity.”
And you would be surprised to know that the popular title “Gypsy” is a product of the misconceptions of the western scholars. As the people of this community had dark complexions and features, they were thought to be from Egypt. In past few decades this misnomer was discarded and the correct term “Roma” was employed for the group after large efforts by activists within this minority group. This was considered as a unilateral effort to dissociate with the pejorative synonymous “Gypsy” given by the westerners.
Suffering of these people isn’t limited to their name or identity; From Persia to Europe, they have been subdued and tyrannized everywhere. They were subjected to around 500 years of enslavement in Wallachia and Moldavia i.e., modern day Romania. In Germany, the Nazis were so obsessed with themselves and their superiority that they viewed Romani as a threat to the German gene pool.
Almost every one of us knows about the Jews genocide or Holocaust wherein around 6 million European Jews were murdered. But hardly anyone of us would know that along with Jews around 2 million Romanies were also wiped out. Which means from 1940 to 1945 about 80 percent of their population in Nazi-occupied countries was killed.
Even in England, Switzerland, Denmark, Italy, etc. they were put to death throughout the medieval period. Their children were abducted, marriages of these people were forbidden, they were mercilessly subjected to physical assault.
And this isn’t just limited to the past. The tales of discrimination and misrepresentation still follow. Till date they are the most marginalized and the most disadvantaged community in the whole of Europe. Beyond socioeconomic factors, segregation, discrimination and bullying continues till date. From the anti-gypsy law of the US to mass eviction in Spain, this community have had ghastly experiences of the past and are facing nasty discriminations in the present. Recently in the 1980s the women of this community were forcefully subjected to sterilization in Czechoslovakia, in order to limit their population.
According to a report by the Guardian, Italy has denied housing to Roma families and almost the same is the case with other countries. Mostly this population lives in separate camps which are manually constructed and are isolated. Even in 2013, about 10,000 Romanies were wiped out of France after destruction of their housing camps.
They have been struggling to get basic facilities in four key areas: education, employment, healthcare, and housing, when the whole of Europe is overpowered.
This Pandemic has made their existence even difficult. The Health and Human Rights Journal reported that despite clear mandates of Human Rights treaties which guarantee equality and dignity to all the people, there is a frightening escalation of racist voices intent on blaming and targeting the Roma community for this pandemic. It said, “From Slovakia to Romania and Bulgaria, states have enacted disproportionate or militarized measures targeting Romani neighbourhoods or towns. Some of these measures are driven by a racist narrative that casts Roma as a collective health and safety threat. The Bulgarian government has imposed particular measures, including roadblocks and police checkpoints, on several Romani neighbourhoods despite no evidence of COVID-19 positive test results there. A Bulgarian Member of the European Parliament, Angel Dzhambazki, speculated that Romani “ghettos [could] turn out to be the real nests of contagion.”
So, Europe, which lectures the World on Minority Rights and Equality, must first resolve the appalling state of Roma community within the continent.[author title=”Rutuja Patole” image=”http://goachronicle.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Polish_20210128_143845332.jpg”]Journalist, Goa Chronicle
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