Renaissance and Enlightenment
In Europe, kidnapping children was considered legal for most of 1500AD-1750AD. On one condition – you had to kidnap Roma Gypsy children! More than 25,000 children kidnapped. No problem. Everybody sleeps peacefully at night. Switzerland was doing this till 1973!
Prof. Dr. Ian Hancock, University of Texas, Austin, USA, a pioneering researcher of the Roma
Roughly, between 1500 to 1750, it was legal in Europe to hunt human beings. Yes! Just like hunting for deer in India, or hunting buffalo in Africa or fox-hunting in Britain. Yes! You could hunt human beings. As long as the humans you hunted were Roma Gypsies.
In Europe you could be hung to death if you committed the crime of being born – between 1500AD-1750AD! Born as a Roma Gypsy!
Europeans, in the their age of Enlightenment and Renaissance, (1500-1750) could just pick up human slaves – yes, own them like cattle and furniture, if you found one! As long as they were Roma Gypsies. Later you could also sell them for profit!
Ship owners and captains in Europe’s Golden age, (1500-1750) could arrange galley slaves for free. No wages, no salary. You just had to feed them. Use them, abuse them, flog them, kill them, drown them. You could do anything – as long as they were Roma Gypsies.
What set off this Europe-wide persecution of the Roma Gypsies? It was their opposition to the tyranny of the Vatican, where Gypsy Taborites joined with Utraquists under Jan Zizka during the Hussite Wars, that set off this persecution. Interestingly, a 100 years later, the European persecution of the Roma Gypsies began in full earnest. And during WW2, the Vatican joined with the Nazi collaborators, the Ustashe, to extort gold and the genocide against the Roma Gyspises.
Gypsy Wagons (?) which formed the Wagenbergs in the Hussite Wars
Subsequent ‘reformers’, like Martin Luther, earned his spurs from the kings and the Vatican, espousing the anti-semitism and anti-‘Gypsy’ writings. Martin Luther wrote in
1543 that Jews be placed ‘in a stable like the Zigeuner [Gypsies] so that they learn that they are not masters in our land’ (from Borders and travellers in early modern Europe By Thomas Betteridge Page 97)
The principle of ‘Cuius regio, eius religio’ (meaning whose land, his religion; CRER) – the ruler decided his people’s religion, was used to settle Europe post Hussite Wars and the ‘Reformation’, establishing the CRER principle to settle Germany, giving rise to the logic of ‘ubi unus dominus, ibi una sit religio’ (One ruler, one religion). Just in case someone had religious disagreement, the logic was they could well emigrate – (ius emigrandi). The target of these laws, principles and writings – the Jews and the Roma-Gypsies.
20th Century Europe
Hitler’s Germany killed 60 lakh Jews in various concentration camps – a broadly accepted figure. Other figures range between 50,00,000-1,00,00,000. This is today estimated at about 50% of the Jewish population.
These concentration camps (first used by Spaniards in Cuba) were discovered by Allied troops as they drove back German troops. All concentration camp commanders were tried at Nuremberg trials – and sentenced.
After the Wold War 2
The Jews have still not let any of the participants and accessories forget the crime. Swiss banks, the Vatican and various Nazi officials in hiding have been hunted and prosecuted. To make up for this holocaust, guilt laden post-WW2 European and American Governments, gave the Jews a country of their own – Israel. Films have been made on these concentration camps and killings. Elie Wiesel and Menachem Begin have got Nobel Prizes for post WW2 problem management.
Sharing the concentration camps with the Jews were a fringe European group – Roma Gypsies. 80% of the Romany Gypsy population – a greater percentage of Roma Gypsies died than the Jews. The world has little sympathy – and no intention of doing anything about this holocaust. One out of three in a concentration camps were Jews – the rest were Roma Gypsies and others (Jehovah’s Witnesses Spanish Republicans, and ordinary criminals). Estimates of Roma Gypsy deaths in the Nazi holocaust vary and are contradictory – between 2 lakhs to 15 lakhs. A weighted median figure seems to be 5 lakhs – and better figures are difficult as Roma Gypsies were considered unfit for inclusion as human population in various census operations.
Sixty Years Later
In war-crimes trials, Nazis attempted to justify – or differentiate – the killing of Gypsies by stating that they had been punished as criminals, not as Gypsies per se. And they succeeded: although sufficient documents were available immediately after the war, the mass murder of Roma and Sinti was not addressed at the Nuremberg trials, and no Gypsy witnesses were called. To this day, just one Nazi, , Ernst-August Konig, has received a sentence specifically for crimes against Gypsies. (from Bury me standing By Isabel Fonseca).
In 1984, 40 years after the German defeat, Simon Wiesenthal wrote to Elie Wiesel about “the Gypsies had been murdered [in a proportion] similar to the Jews, about 80% of them in the area of the countries which were occupied by the Nazis”. It is now speculated that his espousal of the Gypsy cause cost him the Nobel Prize – and was meant to show Elie Wiesel in poor light. Elie Wiesel supporters claim, allegedly, he was more interested in discrediting Elie Wiesel and less bothered about Romany Gypsy deaths.
After more than 40 years to acknowledge their co-victims, on 16 September 1986, as Elie Wiesel addressed a wide range of audience in his Nobel Peace Prize speech, he stated
“I confess that I feel somewhat guilty towards our Roma friends. We have not done enough to listen to your voice of anguish. We have not done enough to make other people listen to your voice of sadness. I can promise you we shall do whatever we can from now on to listen better” (Tanner 1997).
Elie Wiesel confirms that he feels only somewhat guilty and will do his best to listen - just like Europe and the world does once in a while and complete indifference rest of the time .
Till 1867, Roma gypsies were part of European slave population. Their crime – a different language, a different religion and they looked different. After living in Europe for 1000 years, they were considered ‘outsiders’ – and did not mix much with ‘native’ Europeans.
It is the same Roma Gypsies who have contributed to the Spanish cultural icon – Flamenco! It is the Roma-Gypsies (along with the Arabs) who brought Indian music systems to Europe – based on which the Western music system developed over the last 300-400 years. The iconic guitar is a modified Indian musical instrument – brought to Europe by the Gypsies, which the West tries ‘passing off’ as their own. But, of course, the Hittites, the Indo Aryans of the Middle East, before them had an instrument similar to the guitar. Why am I not surprised when flamenco style, Gypsy music group, Los Del Rio’s Macarena became a big hit in India. Gypsy music burst on the Western main street with Django Reinhardt’s Jazz – and the birth of modern Western music fuelled by Gypsy music traditions remains completely unacknowledged.
Where did Roma Gypsies come from – they claimed they came from India. But no one was quite sure. Recent DNA mapping done has confirmed what they always claimed – they were from India. A Russian-Roma poet (born in Latvia) Leksa Manush, wrote a the Roma version of the Indian epic poem, Ramayana as “Ramajanam”.
What are we (Indians) doing about these “lost Indian tribe”. Sweet nothing at all!
Birth Of Western Music
Gypsy contribution to the growth of Western musical tradition has been , similarly blanked out from Western history. The spread of Gypsy populations across Europe by the 16th century coincides with the birth of Western music systems – a stripped down version of the 3000-years old Indian music structure.
Hungarian music was Gypsy music arrogated by the White Christian majority to itself – and resented the Gypsy music culture. Western military music came from gypsy music bands of Turkey, Austria and Hungary. In 1859, Franz Liszt wrote, The Gypsies And Their Music In Hungary, a 450-odd page treatise on Gypsy music – and his Hungarian Rhapsody was based on Gypsy music. The source of Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody – a by product of Gypsy music, based on the famous Rákóczi March (Hungarian: Rákóczi-induló). The current and popular version of Rákóczi March, first performed and committed to paper by János Bihari, it was ‘incorporated’ by Hector Berlioz also in the ‘The Damnation of Faust.’
Verdi wrote the Il Trovatore, in 1853, a story about the clash between the White Christian Spain and a band of Gypsies. Georges Bizet’s, Carmen, another opera about the love of a Spaniard and the Gypsy, Carmen, used Gypsy music and themes considerably – apart from the story itself.
Gypsy Music Recordings
Carefully hidden is Bela Bartok’s research into ‘folk’ music and ‘inspiration’. In the true ‘cultural dacoity’ mode, Bartok (after emigrating to USA), covered his tracks and found ingenious ways to deny the Gypsy influence. After WW1, when parts of Hungary folded into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bartok’s access to his ‘inspiration’, the Gypsies (and their music) was also cut off, his music compositions also declined. In fact, the wax cylinders on which Bartok and Leos Janacek copied Gypsy music remain sought after items.
The Gypsies In Provence
Modern day Roma Gypsies made their first mark in Europe in Provence. The richness of the Roma Gypsy music (of India) overwhelmed the people of Southern France. They whole heartedly, assimilated the Gypsies (then known as troubadours) and their culture – warmly. 500 years later, across a bleak Europe, the French poet Voltaire, the English WB Yeats, lamented and longed for Provenceand the richness of the Provencal culture. Modern French cuisine, wine culture and tradition took root in this very area – and survived in spite of the best attempts by the Church to exterminate it in the Albigensian Crusade.
What makes handling Roma Gypsy question difficult is a difficult history. Is perceived Roma Gypsy ‘crime’ a result of systematic deprivation of opportunity or a cause of their value system or due to centuries of persecution? Is their alleged ‘lack of professional accomplishment due to disinclination or due to barriers? Or even a disability issue – as claimed by some Europeans?
How is it that no Indian group causes the problems that Europeans accuse Roma Gypsies of? Indians in every corner of the world have prospered – but not Roma Gypsies in Europe! If white European allegations have any truth, the truth also is that Roma Gypsy character has been perverted in Europe.
Possibly, it is the European handling. The handling of the Meena tribe by Rajasthan’s royal rulers is illustrative. The British colonial rulers declared the Meena tribe as a “criminal” tribe (much like Europe’s treatment of Gypsies). The Meenas were among the (now) 6 crore people declared as criminals at one stroke – much like the racist administration in Europe. Or the manner in which native populations were wiped out by Anglo-Saxons in USA, Canada and Australia.
In India, Rajput rulers of Rajasthan, on the other, made these ” reputed criminals” as their treasury supervisors. The fame of the Meena treasury keepers spread all over India – while the British attempts at “Meena genocide” in India failed. The rest of India refused to participate in these pogroms – unlike the Europeans. Free India de-notified these tribes in 1952 – and Indian law makers initially refused to look at crime in a racist manner. Subsequently, they reverted back to colonial laws - and that is a tragedy.
Europeans need to do more to understand the Roma Gypsies – and provide the much deserved climate and structure for Roma Gypsies to prosper – if they care, that is.
If India wants an international role, other countries and peoples will judge us by how we treat our own people first. Other countries are unlikely to let India have an international role, if our (Indian) national role is indifferent and dubious. If Indian professionals want to play an international role, they must be in a position to take up international issues. If Indian media wants to be be on world stage, they must take up issues that others in the world are not taking up!
PS – I did find one lonely Indian, Daisy Grewal, who has been working at raising awareness about the Romani-Gypsy Indians.
Update – And then came some more.
There is Late Weer Rajendra Rishi, a former officer of the Indian Foreign Service, interpreter to Jawaharlal Nehru, wrote a book on the Roma Gypsies. He set up the Indian Institute Of Roma Studies at Chandigarh. He also organized two International Romani festivals in Chandigarh (in 1976 and 1983). Last heard he was struggling to permanently house the Roma collection that he built up. In 1974, he published the Multi lingual Romani Dictionary. Friend Parag Tope sent me a link to the Roma Gypsy Wikipedia.
Romani Gypsy story is a lot like India too – as put (in a moment of despair perhaps) : -
यूनान-ओ-मीस्र-ओ रूमा, सब मीट गए जहाँ से, अब तक मगर है बाक़ी, नाम ओ नीशान हमारा,
कुछ बात है के हस्ती,मीटती नहीं हमारी, सदीओं रहा है दुश्मन, दौर ऐ ज़माना हमारा
Never mind, this too shall pass.