Think “gypsies” and images of carefree, artistically inclined people come to your mind who typically dwell on the fringes of the society- fortunetellers with their eyes glued to crystal balls or flamboyantly dressed nomads who travel in their equally extravagant caravan. Undoubtedly far from reality, the gypsies (the term itself being a racial slur and it’s time we addressed them as the Romas) have been way more than their over romanticized selves in popular culture.
Gypsies are by far the most misunderstood and over romanticized people in the history of mankind. They have been criticized, persecuted, outcast and exotified to an extent which has rendered them figments fit for a midsummer’s dream. Romas are mostly thought to be soothsayers forever with their little crystal ball who sit in their mysteriously beautiful caves and foretell the future. Though traditionally craftsmen, cobblers, horse dealers and toolmakers, some emerged as great dancers and a handful even as civil servants.
It is also said (in a much clichéd way) that they have always dwelt in artistically decked up caravans. Speaking of the present scenario of the world, most have ditched the traditionally kitschy wagons and resorted to motor homes complete with satellite dishes. Their vexamentum plays a big role in how we perceive them. The “gypsy” women are always picturized with their headbands and flowy skirts and bustiers. Contrary to the lore. They are dressed in high brand apparel and sporting gizmos like any other deme from the any other part of the world.
However, their origin remains a topic of debate and they were long thought to originate from Egypt. Their origin was later researched to be otherwise. With very little documented history, linguistic clues suggest that they originated from India who later migrated to Europe. The language they speak is traced as a sister language of Sanskrit, majorly originating in the region of India. S
Again, hostility have been their companion ever since they set their foot in Europe. The Europeans misnamed them, thus coining the name “Gypsies”. Today, Romani activists prefer to be referred to as “Roma”, as the term “Gypsy” is derogatory with the verbal form of the word (“gyp”) meaning “to steal”.
Forget soothsaying, magic seems to have always been an appendage with the very mention of their names. They have often been falsely accused of killing creature with magical bows. Looks like people mistook a simple case of poisoned hunting as “killings by magic”. The truth remains that they are no more magical than any of us.
Another fascinating fact about Romas- No country, no religion- Imagine, much; Romas have no official religion and are a stateless community. They do not belong to any country and most haven’t expressed a desire to be permanently a part of one either. Where some find it a symbol of a perpetually nomadic behavior, it is perceived by some historians to be just another counter culture who have never settled down, which might not necessarily be out of free will.
“Free Spirited”-totally, but as free spirited as the rest of us. This nomadic lifestyle haven’t always been by choice. They are not necessarily deme who have rejected the society or vice-versa. They are nomadic because of forceful expulsion in many a case. Reports of Romas being forcefully deported to other countries could be heard of even a few centuries ago. They are also among the most persecuted people on earth. Even the German word for gypsies “Zigeuner” means “untouchable”.
While they have been over romanticized and exotified in literature which is, in a way, unfair, they have actually contributed a great deal to the world in terms of art. Some of the best dancers of the world are from this supremely talented community. Helios Gómez, noted artist and Carmen Amaya, famed Flamenco dancer are prominent figures amongst Romas.
Devoid of a hero, a history and shrouded in colorful mystery, it’s high time they are humanely normalized and perceived as human beings not from the pages of lore but from another culture.
Written byAnwita Mukherjee
Anwita Mukherjee is a lawyer by education and has just finished her LLM from Jindal Global Law School. She has worked as a lawyer for a couple of corporate houses and is presently trying to metamorphose into a successful legal journalist.