Dr. Kuldip Kaur Dhaliwal did her Ph.d in History from Punjabi University, Patiala (Punjab). She has worked as college teacher in various colleges. Presently she is Principal, Lyallpur Khalsa College, for Women, Jalandhar. She has written several books on variopus topics concerning History, Art and Culture. She is also a well known figure in the filed of Punjabi Folk music and Dances. She has got several awards and honours including Honoured by “NEVO DROM” Bulgaria Kyustendil as excellent Dance Director at National Festival of GYPSY Music and Songs (Satara Jagora-Bulgaria) in 2001). Also led a punjabi dance group for participation in a Hindu festival held at Muritious. <principallkcw@gmail.com>


Historical Background of Roma

- Dr. Kuldeep Kaur Dhaliwal

Roma or Gypsies are a unique minority in Europe. They have no historical homeland but live in all countries of Europe and central Asia. The Roots of Roma in Europe have long been a subject of mystery and controversy. Historical records indicate that they migrated in waves from northern India into Europe between the ninth and fourteenth centuries as a result of alien’s attacks in areas they inhabited. The name of this ethnic group developed in the course of migrations, starting with the Greek word 'atsinganos' meaning 'heretic sect' and later coming into the Latin language as ‘angarus’, into German as ‘Zigeuner’ and Hungarian as ‘Cigany’. They first appeared in Hungary in the Balkans. A significant number migrated further to west European countries. Since they were thought to be Egyptian Pilgrims in some places, they are still known by the term gypsy in these areas today. According to estimates there are 12 to 15 million Roma people living around the world. The European Gypsy Population thought to amount to at least 10 million people, includes communities of various sizes in almost every state in Europe. Around 70 percent of the European Gypsy population lives in Central and Eastern Europe and in some countries in the region their share of the overall population exceeds 5% percent. In terms of estimated figures for the number of Gypsies resident in 38 European countries, Hungary lies in the fourth place after Romania, Bulgaria and Spain.

Rom's Diversity

A defining characteristic of Roma is their diversity. Researches refer to a 'Kaleidosope' and 'mosaic' of Roma groups with numerous cross-cutting sub-groups, including family clans and religion. Many Roma groups have little or no contact with each other because of their varied history in Asia and Europe. Roma also participate in many different religions. There are Roma of different Christian denominations, as well as Muslim Roma. In Bulgaria, Roma have traditionally been Eastern orthodox or Muslim, although in recent decades many have begun to attend protestant and Pentecostal churches.

History and origin of the Roma

The country of origin of the Roma was a great mystery from the middle ages, when they arrived in Europe to both the inhabitants of the countries they arrived in, as well as to historians. It is not possible to determine the date of their arrival in Europe exactly because they spread through Europe in individual bands independent of each other. The only available references are the records that have survived in the archives of various cities and town. These records are evidence only of their “official” discovery and don't reveal the exact date of their arrival, merely a chain of events that made their way into the archives.

Linguistic evidence and the limited documentation suggest that Roma came first through Persia and the Caucasus, through the Byzantine Empire into southern Europe, although some Macedonian legend place Roma in Europe at the time of Alexander the great in fourth century B.C. The first detailed references to Roma in central and Eastern, Europe are found in Twelfth Century records from the Dalmatian coast and Hungary.

The most well known and most widely held opinion about the origin of the Roma was that they originated in Egypt, from where they came to Christian lands. This is evident in the naming of Roma in many countries – Gitanos, Gypsies, but in reality these names seem to be derived from the name of the little Egypt region in Peloponnesia or Asia minor. In the Balkans the Roma were named by a term originally given to a sect of Macedonian monks.

In 1763 Hungarian theology student named Stefan Vali met several Indians in Leyden, Holland, where they were studying medicine.Vali was intrigued by their similarly to the Romas, who he knew well from his home in Hungary. He continued beyond these external similarities, writing down more than a thousand Malabar words along with their meaning, when he returned to Hungary and discovered the meaning of the words, among the Roma. He was surprised at the similarity of the two languages. From this beginning a detailed study followed with the aid of a whole range of experts, linguists, historians, and ethnologists. The Indian origins of the Roma of today established beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Speculation about which level, or caste of Indian society the Romas belonged went on for many years among the linguists and the historians. The majority of experts came to the hypothesis through their research that the Roma belonged to the lowest caste. Indian Society was strictly divided into a series of castes the Brahmana, the Kshatriya, the Vaishya and the Shudra. Membership in the lowest caste would also explain why the Roma began to leave India in the 8th century. It is possible they were driven out by frequent droughts or famines, or that they simply wanted to escape from the strict indian caste system and look for a new ‘market’ for their products and services. Not only their language bears witness to their Indian origin, there’s also the surprising of a number of customs, a similar social structure, the same technology of metal working etc. Due to the fact that languages evolve according to certain laws, linguists were able to determine very precisely the period and their places of residence. Among the first Philologists to establish this was Martin Block, ''The number of foreign loan words in Romales corresponds to the length of stay in various countries."

In the opinion of linguists and historians the Roma's migration from India was dependent on geography, through Mesopotamia to the near East to the Asian Parts of Turkey, where the greater part of Roma settled and resided for three centuries (from the 12th to the 15th centuries). This period helped them in their first orientation with a new culture and facilitated their later advance to Europe. In connection with the Mongol and Turkish expansion, they continued through Asia Minor and the Balkans, settled for a time in Greece which explains the numerous Greek words in Romales and then advanced up the Danube valley to central Europe. A different branch went through Armenia, the Caucasus, later Russia and then Scandanavia by the 15th Century. The Roma were dispersed all throughout Europe, including England and Scotland. There are also geographic and historical groups such as Slovensko Roma from Slovenia and sub groups based upon occupational categories, including former cauldron makers (Kalderashi) in Bulgaria and Romania, bear trainers (ursari) and basket makers (Kosnicari) in Bulgaria between the 15th and 17th centuries. During the wars fought against the Turkish conquerors, Gypsies played a considerable role in Hungarian society. Gypsy population forms the largest ethnic minority in Hungary. Between 400.000 and 600.000 Roma are in fourth place after Romania, Bulgaria and Spain.


Use of the Roma language still prevails among some Roma communities and there are numerous dialects. In Bulgaria half of the Roma speak the Roma language at home. In the Slovak Republic and Hungary much less of the population does so. However in both countries language barrier have been found to limit the school participation and performance of some children .


Given the striking diversity of Roma communities, generalizing about the nature and characteristics of Roma culture is extremely difficult. The literature paints a fragmented and some times contradictory picture. However, it is clear that aspects of Roma social organization and values affect the interactions of Roma and non-Roma, the dynamics among Roma subgroups, and many aspects of their welfare. Cultural factors can influence the level of integration of communities, participation in civil society and political institutions, demand for public services and household behaviour.

Thus ethnicity was to be fashioned and remoulded by a multitude of influences, internal and external, they would assimilate innumerable elements which had nothing to do with India and they would eventually cease to be, in any meaningful way, Indians then identity, this culture would, however regardless of all the transformation remain sharply distinct from that of the gadze. The distinction continues to influence Roma integration, participation in civil society and use of public services. To varying degrees, Roma communities have remained insular and separate. While some Roma Communities have integrated, more traditional Roma communities and extended families are close knit, providing both security and protection from the outside world. The socially heterogeneous nature of Roma society also influences the level of integration of various Roma Communities in political participations and relations among different Roma groups.

Education Status

The education status of Roma has historically been low across Europe. While, significant gains were made in enrolling Roma children in school during the socialist era, the gap in the educational attainment of Roma and the rest of the population was not bridged in any of the countries for which data are available. The evidence suggests that access has eroded during the transition period and Roma children of basic school age are increasingly not starting or finishing school. These trends are consistent with national developments in enrollments, although data suggest that the decline in access among Roma has been deeper than for the rest of the population. Despites the achievements in reducing literacy and increasing school participation, the efforts undertaken during the socialist era laid the foundation for inequities in education equality, as many Roma were channeled into separate or segregated school outside the main stream system.

The Yale dataset also illustrate lower educational attainment among Roma. Most Roma have primary education or below. It is not surprising that education levels vary notably within countries between urban and rural areas and across different types of Roma communities. Discrimination against Roma by non Roma parents, children and teachera contributes to low attendance and can both discourage children from attending school and affect the Education in the classroom.


They are a people who are scattered across the globe and whose origins have always been shrouded in myth and mystery, many saw them as dirty, thieving and undesirable, others as artistic, romantic and carefree, In France they are referred to as Gitanis, in Spain they are called Gitanos, and in Germany Zigeuner. Robert Kushen of the European Roma Rights centre in Hungary explains that there are serious discriminations against Gypsies in Europe , “They suffer from forced evictions and have been targeted recently in both France and Itly and it seems that in some places like Romania and Balgaria, the laws applying to free movement within the European Union don’t quite apply to them in the same way that apply to other people.

The UNO and other international organization have now begun putting pressure on the offending nations to rescind their exclusionary policies and allow the Gypsies equal rights. The Gypsies themselves have formed some organisations such as World Roma Organisation, International Roma Union to advocate for change and represent their interests.


1. https-//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/history_ of_ Roman_ people.
2. www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2014/06/history/gypsies
3. remove.radio.cz/en/clanek/18158
4. newint.org/blog/2013/10/28/roma-minority-Prejudice/
6. www.euronews.com >European Affairs>Right on.
7. www.Livesscience.com/40652-facts-about-roma-romani-gypsies.html
© Author
(Published in Kafla Intercontinental - Spring 2016)