Indian or European?

Dec 9, 2012 by

For the past week I’ve been reading the same report (spread far and wide) that geneticists finally discovered the Roma (or as I’ve also seen it this week: Romany Romani Gypsy Rumany) homeland without a doubt!!

*sigh*

We knew we came from India, this is not news. However, there is still controversy over whether we were Rajputs or Dalits. The Rajputs, from Rajasthan and other Northern areas are a patrilineal clan-based group who are believed to be descendents of Hindu warriors (the Kshatriya caste). They ruled a large number of princely states until the mid-19th century.

On the other hand, the Dalits (or as Gandhi called them “Harijan”) are usually regarded as the “untouchable” caste. I have heard Romani scholars argue that we have the most in common with Rajputs and that we are, therefore, warriors who were simply overwhelmed by the increasing Muslim incursions. But, I have also heard many non-Romani geneticists state that we are simply Dalits who fled upheaval and turmoil. In fact, this most recent study links us to the “Scheduled castes and scheduled tribes” of India.

While it may be fanciful to think that we are a princely warrior class who fled our states 1,500 years ago, I believe there is more danger attached to the latter classification – that of Dalits or untouchables – regardless of our DNA heritage. Although discrimination based on caste was made illegal under the Indian Constitution, high levels of discrimination and prejudice against Dalits in India (and South Asia as a whole) remains.

If we look at the Roma populations in Europe, we are already treated in a similar manner – as untouchables – inherently dirty. We are denied jobs, adequate housing, shelter, and food. Our lives, in many cases, already parallel that of our Indian cousins, in all the worst ways. However, there is no “European Constitution” and no “caste system” so Roma are not afforded any kind of constitutional protection, even where listed officially as a minority. Often we’re blamed for our own situation – if we would only integrate; If we would only get jobs and better ourselves; if we would only…

go back to India! (How many times have I heard that? I am sure it will be many, many more times now this report has been released).

I fear that a proven genetic link to the Dalits would only make our current situation worse – that we would be treated how people view the Dalits of India – as even more untouchable and unemployable than we already are. This will only give genetic ammunition to those people who already despise us. Yes, we arrived in Europe 500 years earlier than previously thought, but somehow, I don’t think that will make us anymore European…

(full article from NY Times below)

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Romany Were European 500 Years Earlier Than Previously Thought

The Romany people constitute Europe’s largest and, arguably, now its most persecuted minority.

A new genetic study published this week suggests their ancestors arrived in Europe from northwestern India in a single wave around 1,500 years ago, half a millennium earlier than previously thought.

The international authors of the peer-reviewed paper in the journal Current Biology said their study was the most comprehensive ever of the demographic history of the Romany. They said it revealed the origins of a people who “constitute a mosaic of languages, religions, and lifestyles while sharing a distinct social heritage.”

Scientific American noted that earlier studies of the Romany language and cursory analysis of genetic patterns had determined India was the group’s place of origin. But the new study points to a single migration from northwestern India around the year 500.

Previous studies largely overlooked the place of Europe’s 11 million Romany in the continent’s gene pool. That was partly a consequence of their continued isolation and marginalization, and partly because of a history of oppression that in many countries continues to this day.

The prejudice has historically been most evident in Eastern European countries with large Romany populations. But recent tensions have spread, including to Romany families seeking a new life in Western Europe.

In one incident in late September, a mob in Marseille, France set fire to an encampment of 35 foreign Roma. As many as 20,000 foreign Roma are said to live in France, most of them Romanians or Bulgarians.

Thousands were deported and their encampments razed during the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, as my colleague Scott Sayare recalled in an article in August, although François Hollande, his successor, has promised to better integrate the newcomers into French society.

A more activist Romany population has found a voice, however, showing it is no longer prepared to take the old prejudices lying down.

Some even reject the word “gypsy” because of its historically negative connotations, a perception borne out when Lindsay Lohan used the term last week as an allegedly racial slur during a nightclub altercation.

Romany protestors last year turned out in Rome to demand better living conditions after four children died in a fire that destroyed their illegal camp.

And Romany families last month won a pledge from the Czech education ministry that it would finally end widespread discrimination against their children in schools after a landmark 2007 case in the European Court of Human Rights.

The European Roma Rights Center, based in Budapest, is active in pushing similar cases in European courts to combat racism against Romany.

My colleague Chris Cottrell wrote in October of continuing discrimination in a report on a ceremony in Berlin to unveil a memorial commemorating an estimated half million Romany who died in the Holocaust.

He quoted Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany saying, “Let’s not beat around the bush. Sinti and Roma suffer today from discrimination and exclusion.”

The latest genetic study may at least contribute to establishing the Romanys’ rightful place in European history — for the last 1,500 years.

The scientists, who revealed a strong admixture of non-Romany genes in northern and western countries during their migrations, said further studies would help define the identity of their Indian ancestors and provide further details of their migration and subsequent history in Europe.

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