Roma and  Romani
Nalini Pathania
Associate Professor in English
Government M.A.M. College, Jammu, (J&K)- 180 006, India
Ph. 94192 62346 <>


This paper takes up the various levels of subalternation of the Roma ( European gypsies) in the White man’s world. The Roma separation from the Occidentals is based on “language, colonial, political and economic structures” which permits their identity to be seen within the context of their” history of genocide, slavery, physical brutality ( Davies 1002- 1003) and herein, their identity can be recouped from the one which is imposed upon them. The Roma have formulated an imagined community for themselves which is their way of resisting the Eurocentric domination. They create an ‘elsewhere’ as their home from Europe and the west, by tracing their roots to ‘ Baro Than’ i.e India – the place of their migration, whereby, they unify their identity by the sleek thread of slavery which made its way across Western Asia and spread out all over the world, irrespective of the national boundaries of any country. The Roma’s forced separations from the Whites and their being subjected to inferior position by the whites makes them stoically refuse acceptance to the European hegemony. The European imperialism was and still remains an oppressive construction against coloured people and subordinate groups, which has resulted in the struggle of language becoming “an interminable discursive antagonism in which subjectivity and identity are at stake” (Davies 1004). The Roma identity does not converge and capture the identity of the European language and therefore, seeks to struggle for its own voice i.e the Romani language. The Roma identity is to be understood within the parameters of “how gender, migration, and racial oppression create a sense of a unified culture as they create difference.Divergences of thought surround the modes of identifications”( Davies 1008).
The Roma writing redefines identity away from exclusion and marginality because the Roma existence in Europe is that of the marginalized in terms of majority and minority discourses. Although the Roma have stayed in Europe for centuries together yet they are maladapted in their environment and look at the occidental world contemptuously and abhorrently. The Roma are resistant towards the institutionalised pieties of the Europeans. The whites try to establish their cultural hegemony over the Roma by asserting their superiority of culture and vehemently attacking the usual customs of the Roma by openly showing their disapproval towards them. This attitude of the whites towards the Roma, makes the Roma marginality in the occident twice compounded, for they live in two worlds i.e. the European and the Western ( where they are now based) and the Indian (to which they trace their ancestry). However, the fact is that they belong to neither worlds. The Roma have failed to adjust and make peace with the so called genteel culture of the Europeans and in the world of the Whites, they find themselves to be “ a resident alien, a kind of squatter on foreign territory,” wherein, they maintain a “ common strategy of outwardly conforming while inwardly refusing assent” ( Coser 296) to the cultural invasion of the Whites. Their marginality is conspicuous in the everyday slights and rebuffs they have to face from the whites, making them rebellious and offensive towards them (the Whites) because they find themselves as much a stranger in the Occident as men born in the Orient or any other foreign country are likely to be. The Roma’s position as an outsider sharpens their observations of the Occident, in which they are able to perceive the patterns of English life-styles and customs to which they are not sensitized. The Rom, thus, as an outsider in Europe is a “freer man, practically and theoretically. He views his relations to others with less prejudice; he submits them to more general, more objective standards, and he is not confined to his action by custom, piety or precedent (Coser 298) and as a member of the marginalised community the Rom is bound to analyse the “ latent sources of motivation” of the majority community’s bias towards him by those who are rooted in conventions, acting out their “ assigned roles with naïve unselfconsciousness,” making the analyst Rom threaten “ the world of the uncomplicated believer with massive disenchantment”(Coser 298-299). Such men who analyse people and situations, tend to disturb the occidentalist’s peace and are therefore not “ welcome in the society at large, even though they may find an audience among other discontented spirits”( Coser 299).
Historically, the Roma exodus began from Sindh ( India) in 712A.D. with the advent of Mohammad bin Kasim’s defeat to Raja of Dhar ( Sindh in India). Kasim’s invasion of India, significantly impacted the lives of the Sindhis because forty-thousand of them were taken as captives and sold in the markets of Khorassan in Central Asia and a larger half of these slaves were inducted into Kasim’s army. These captive Sindhis took care of Kasim’s armoury and were called the ‘ Kalderash’ and those of them who were excellent horse trainers and vetinary doctors, were called ‘ jaanbaaz’ – identified by the work which they performed and these names have stuck on, as even today the gypsies bear these names.The turbulent period in history saw India being blighted with hordes of Muslim invasions by Mahmud Ghazni, Mohammad Gauri, the Tughlaq period, the Turks and finally the Mughals – all crucial in testing the metal of the Sindhis ( Indians). The Sindhis were caught up in the political juggernaut of the period and on reaching Central Asia, strove for their survival, becoming extremely powerful in 814A.D. in the areas between Faarat( Euphrets) and Dajaala – were now called the ‘ Zotts’ by the locals, referring to the Indian ‘Jats’. In this area the ‘ Zotts’ declared their independence and remained so for fourteen years, from 814A.D. to 828 A.D. Thereafter, they were defeated by an Arab prince by the name of ‘ Mutasim’, who killed and captured them but a few were successful to flee this bloodshed. The captured ‘ Zotts’ were forcibly incorporated as soldiers in Mutasim’s ( the Arab prince) army and were forcibly put on the frontline borders of Turkey i.e the Byzantine empire. The ‘ Zotts’ ( Jats) who fled the war, reached Europe and started working with the alien rulers – which apparently they did so for a long time. The ‘ Zotts’ converted their religion with the passage of time but were inclined to socialize with their community alone. They remained secluded and were not encouraged by the foreigners to either mingle with them or their societies. The ‘ Zotts’, eventually started leading a nomadic life and showed their appearance in Europe between 1250A.D. and 1550 A.D. In 1504A.D. the Roma (once called the ‘Zotts’ [ Jats ] ) appeared in Ireland; in 1427 A.D. in France; in 1447 A.D. in Spain; in 1490 A.D. in England; early 19 Century, they entered North America and then South America; finally making it to Australia in the 20th Century.
From the time these Sindhis ( Indians) were taken as slaves from North India, till date they have been persecuted systematically for a period of over one thousand years by the Occidentals and this view is endorsed by Ian F. Hancock, that “ until the mid 1800s a Gypsy slave was cheaply obtained in the Middle East and Europe. Gypsies were among the first groups of unwilling emigrants brought to the Americas under the auspices of the Spanish and the Portuguese” (Hancock 48). Freedom was attained by the Roma in Europe’s Romania for the first time after their migration from India in the year 1865 A.D. but this freedom is elusive because they are the ‘Other’ in the European society, marginalized and economically depressed. All the structures of a society, whether legal or political, relate to “definite forms of social consciousness” ( Williams 259) of a people and besides this, fundamental to the construction of these structures are the various elements existent in a superstructure, like:
. . . political forms of the class struggle and its consequences, Constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc. - forms of law – and then even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the combatants: political’ legal, and philosophical theories, religious ideas and their further development into systems of dogma – also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical stuggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form. (Williams 260)
Since the Roma are the subaltern in the Occident they are denied access to hegemonic power and therefore, their history requires to be delved into says Gramsci because the history of the ruling elite and the dominant groups is realised in the States, which in any case is known to all but the history of the subaltern classes is very complex for “ the history of the social groups is necessarily fragmented and episodic” as they are “ always subject to the activity of ruling groups, even when they rebel. Clearly they have less access to the means by which they may control their own representation, and less access to cultural and social institutions”( Ashcroft 216). The Roma have to learn to resist the domination of the upper crest Europeans and break thei patterns of subordination – though the change will not occur immediately. The prevailing consciousness of the State against the Roma is internalized by the European population, so that the Whites’ “philosophy, culture and morality” appears to be “ the natural order of things” ( Boggs 39) for the Occidentals. The Whites maintain the hegemony of their ruling capitalist class through an ideological bond between the ruler and the ruled and to break this bond ‘counter- hegemony’ is required. Mass consciousness is essential in bringing about counter- hegemony, wherein, the new intellectual from the subaltern classes, undermines the existing social order by actively participating in practical life, as a constructor, organizer, permanent persuader to his people and not being a mere orator.
The Roma “conditions of cultural displacement and social discrimination” (Bhabha 939) makes them the best political survivors and witness to history. The Roma desire is articulated to their recognition, the recreation of their self and their resettlement in the “ borderline community of migration” (Bhabha 940). It is therefore, important for the roma as a subordinate people in the Occident to assert their “indigenous cultural traditions” and retrieve their repressed histories”. The gaje (non- gypsy) writers are prejudiced towards the Roma culture and construct false Roma stereotypes for their Occidental audience. Ian F. Hancock in an article on ‘Duty and Beauty’ in his book Peprika, wherein, he mentions that the gaje authors deprecatingly write about the Roma – their children remaining naked and begging alms; of their eating the meat of dogs, cats , rats and sick farm animals; that they cheat and steal; that they are averse to settling down; that they are people of criminal castes; and that they do- not respect the law of the land. These stereotype constructions of the Roma are the Whites strategies to reduce the Roma images and ideas to simple manageable form because these differences help the Europeans to showcase these people as inferior for it is a colonial practice to convey “ a sense of irreducible distance separating white from the colored, or Occidental from Oriental”; because “ behind each statement there resonated the tradition of experience, learning, and education that kept the Oriental – colored to his position of object studied by the Occidental – white, instead of vice- versa” ( Said 228). The Occidentals build their superiority by making inferior the Other. Said says that the Whites tend to gather information of the non- European lands and people and then classify them in various ways which are infact strategies of control.
The Whites accuse the Roma of paganism and their having no religion at all. In Europe , Christianity is the “ prism through which all knowledge of the world . . . refracted” and the European Christian identities constructed are “in opposition to Islam, Judaism or heathenism ( which loosely incorporated all other religious, nature worship, paganism and animism” ( Loomba 93).The religion of the Europeans reinforces their belief that the others are inferior to them because the religion of the Others does not conform to that of Christians. This makes culture hierarchical, which distinguishes:
. . . positions in the social hierarchy.Those . . . born into upper- class echelons . . . acquire dispositions that allow them to appreciate certain forms of culture . . . and such abilities . . . help them secure elevated positions in the class hierarchy. Working – class people, on the other hand . . . acquire from their family contexts and schools they attend cultural dispositions that prepare them for lives at the bottom of the class ladder. The social system thus tends to reproduce itself through culture and schooling. ( Rivkin and Ryan 1026)
Culture is dominated by those at the top of the social hierarchy and these people continuously further attitudes and perceptions, to assure its continuation. There is yet another perspective which views culture coming from the lower echelons of society and herein, it “ represents the permanent possibility of eruption, of dissonance, and of an alternative imagination of reality” ( Ryan 1027). Colonial history reveals that the colonisers fantasized the conversion of the colonised and this is discernible in their sixteenth century plays, travelogues and pamphlets, wherein are seen “ ‘ good’ Turks, Morroccans, ‘ Indians’ and others willingly embracing Christianity. In fact religious conversion begins to figure as a justification for economic plunder” ( Loomba 99) : as the language of religion was intricately mixed with that of commerce and it became an instrumental crusade for Christianity. Besides, the Christians do not find the pagans conforming to “the model of the Semitic religions, with notions of uniform beliefs, canonical texts, prophetic traditions, clerical institutions, adjudicable bodies of prescriptios ...” ( Ahmad 260), which irks the Christian sensibilities and brings about a binary opposition between them and the Others.
Similarly, the Europeans attach great importance to their own language and have a tendency to reject the language of the others because in the social process:
... this privileging of a particular language is indicated by its uses in state administration, in those more powerful sections of the media which are considered ‘ national’, in higher institutions of education and research, in its differential availability to the propertied and the working classes respectively, in the greater access it provides to the job market and hence the great prestige that attaches to the person who commands it with fluency, ....( Ahmad 77)
The linguistic formations shape the minds of the people and bind them in imagined communities. The language is a “substantial structure of linguistic difference” and is essential to the “ processes of class formation and social privilege”, ( Ahmad 77) , which makes it a veritable site of contestation, where the language of the elite not only derides but tries to obliterate the language of the socially less powerful people.
The Europeans during the colonial period never approved of the languages of the oral tradition e.g like that of the Africans and considered them inferior. On the same lines they do- not attach any significance to ‘ Romani’ – the language of the Roma because it too is rooted in the oral tradition. According to heresy the ‘ Romani’ language has over six hundred dialects to its credit and is therefore, not a standardized language. Hancock, mentions in his article ‘ Duty and Beauty’ that the gaje ( non- gypsies) accuse the Roma of not having the words duty and beauty in their vocabulary and steal words from the gaje ( non- gypsy) languages and dialects. The gaje are also of the opinion that the Roma have no future tense and often make snide remarks, saying that the Roma do- not think of the future, therefore, they have no future tense. J. S. Pathania, a scholar of the Romani language, treats the mentioned accusations of the gaje as a fallacy and proves his point, saying that most of the Indo- Romani vocabulary is found in the Romani language and its various dialects, besides it is also connected either directly or indirectly with the multi north Indian regional languages and dialects; that the knowledge of the gajo( non- gypsy) languages and dialects is only natural to the Roma because of their long and arduous migratory journey from Sindh( India) to Western Asia and the European countries.The Roma contact with the gaje, brought about a linguistic hybridity in their original language. The English word ‘beautiful’ has its word equilants in Romani – shukar; mundro; yakhalo or jakhalo. These according to Pathania are old Romani words and he finds the ignorance of Romani vocabulary on the part of the gaje despicable. Similarly, the English word ‘ duty’ in Romani is – musajipé ; vója; vuzhulimós; udzhilútno; udzhilipé; kandipé; slúzhba; kandimós; thoximós and vudzhlipé. In this weord list all the words Are Romani except for – musajipé; vója; slúzhba and thoximós. Pathania has given the root words of about ten Romani words out of which only two have been highlighted here. He also refutes those gaje writers who claim that the Roma have no future tense and have borrowed the future tense from the Persians, with whom they were in contact while in Persia ( Iran). Pathania says that the Roma have since long been using the suffix ‘a’ to express the future tense and to express:
[ . . . ] the word ‘will’ and ‘ shall’ – the Roma veritably make use of the word ‘khavaham’, which when deformed becomes ‘ kam’ or ‘ ka’ in the Romani language . The coparative use of the words ‘khavam’, ‘kam’ and ‘ka’ in Romani and Persian languages are–
English Romani Persian
I shall Me kam khav Man khavam
Will eat Me ka khav Khurd
Let us see the usage of the suffix ‘a’ in expressing the future- tense in the Romani language and also compare the Romani suffix’ a’ with the Indian Languages –
English Romani Hindustani (Indic)
I shall, will eat Me khava- a
Me khava – ga
Me khau- ga
Me kha- ga
Me khau- go
Herein, are seen two Indian suffixes ‘ga’ and ‘go’ but between these two suffixes - ‘ga’ appears to be much nearer to the Romani suffix ‘ a’. (Pathania)
Pathania is of the firm belief that with the passage of many centuries, the Indo- Romani suffix ‘ga’ got changed into ‘ a’ and the ‘ g’ sound dropped because Romani language was then and still remains an oral language. So much ado about words and vocabulary, just proves that language is a fundamental site and potent instrument of cultural control.The imperial centre’s engagement lies in displacing the “ native languages, by installing itself as a ‘standard’ against other variants which are constituted as ‘ impurities’” and a language also provides the terms by which reality is constituted because “ it provides the names by which the world may be ‘known’. Its system of values – its suppositions, its geography, its concept of history, of difference, its myriad gradations of distinction – becomes the system upon which social, economic and political discourses are grounded” ( Ashcroft 283). Language , thus, is pivotal to retain the identity of a people.
The gypsies are known as Luri, as “ Athignanos, Tsigane, Cygan. Zigeuner, Egyptian, Gypsy, Gifto, Gitano, Romany” (Kochanowski 25) but the international gypsy world Romani Congress adopted the official word ‘ Roma’ for themselves in 1930 A.D. Being of Indian origin the Roma have always been considered of foreign blood( as mentioned in the Nuremberg Laws ). Despite the Roma staying in Germany for over six hundred years, they were never considered at par with the Germans and 5,00.000 Sinti and Roma were victimized by the ‘ race- researchers’ and murdered during the Holocaust in the concentration camps and yet there was silence about their tales of traversity unlike that of the Jews. This brings to light that economics is a powerful component of our social structure, where the elite always have the power to exploit the subaltern and the weak. This paper has discussed the marginality of the Roma in Europe and the West. It has also discussed the exodus of the Roma from Sindh (India) in 712 A. D. and the discriminatory attitude of the Whites towards the roma since hundreds of years. This paper has also highlighted the Roma culture and language being subjected to the Whites prejudice because in the Occident they are susceptible to the cultural and linguistic hegemony of the Whites. The Roma have braved the onslaught of cultural invasions and have stuck to ‘ Romani’ – the language of their forefathers but the need of the hour is to have a standardised Romani language which will help them greatly to retain not only their identity but gain priveleges in the lands where they are living now. ***

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(Published in Kafla Intercontinental - Summer 2013)