30 scholars from 20 countries of Europe and South America, and also some from India discussed in detail the roots of Romas in India at a two-day International Roma Conference in New Delhi from November 29 to 30
Linguistic, cultural and genetic evidences have established the Indian roots of the Roma people, who are spread in about 30 countries across the world. Even after one thousand years of their migration from India, the spark of Indianness is still well-preserved in the hearts of the community of over 20 million people. This historical connect was the basis of the two-day “International Roma Conference to Commemorate the Millennium of Migration of Roma from India” from November 29 to 30 at National Museum in New Delhi.
Scholars from 20 countries and also from India pose outiside the National Museum in New Delhi after the Conference
The Conference was attended by 30 Roma scholars and activists representing 20 countries, mostly from Europe and South America. Several experts and scholars from India also joined discussion at the conference organised by Centre for Roma Studies and Cultural Relations, Antar Rashtriya Sahayog Parishad (ARSP) and National Museum with the support of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR).
“Romas are the true followers of Indian philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam and subscribe to the thinking of saffron thinking-green living”
Speaking at the inaugural session, Sahsarkaryavah of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Dr Krishna Gopal underlined the irony faced by the Romas that on the one hand they have achieved international fame in various fields, and on the other hand they have suffered discrimination and persecutions. He put forward four hypotheses about the Roma migration from India. Firstly, with the advent of Christianity and Islam, there was a sharp decline in Buddhism. The remnant Buddhists in various parts of the world might be Roma. Secondly, during his military campaigns, Alexander took some Indians to Macedonia, who might be the Romas. Thirdly, Romas might be the descendents of the Indian traders and businessmen who migrated out of India. And fourthly, they might be the descendents of those Indians who were taken by the Muslim invaders as slaves. Dr Krishna Gopal spoke at length about the linguistic, cultural and genetic evidences to prove the Indian origins of theRomas.
From left Shri Shyam Parande, Prof Marcel Courthiade, Dr Krishna Gopal, Amb. Virendra Gupta, Dr Vinay Sahasrabuddhe and Dr Shashi Bala at the conference in New Delhi
Chairman of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) Dr Vinay Sahasrabuddhe said such conferences provide an opportunity to understand the Romas and their commonalities with India. He maintained that Romas are the people who do not know the borders; therefore, they are the true followers of the Indian philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam (the world is one family). He also opined that the Roma community is nature worshipper, and thus, subscribes to our wisdom of “saffron thinking-green living”.
President of Antar Rashtriya Sahayog Parishad (ARSP) Amb. Virendra Gupta said despite the hardships, the Roma people have kept their connection with India alive. He stressed the need to create awareness among the Indians about Roma. He also mentioned about ARSP’s Centre for Roma Studies and Cultural Relations for conducting research and to promote cultural exchanges with Roma.
The conference proceedings were divided amongst several academic sessions covering wide range of issues. Prof Marcel Courthiade, renowned expert of Romani language in Paris, talked at length about his research on Romani language, which gives the scientific proof of their origin in India. Experts like Sushri Diana Kirilova and Shri Nedzmedin Neziri talked about similarities in customs and traditions between Roma and Indian society.
ARSP general secretary Shri Shyam Parande speaking at the conference
Purpose of the Conference?
Talking to Organiser, general secretary of Antar Rashtriya Sahayog Parishad Shri Shyam Parande said the prime objective of the conference was to establish the migration of Roma community from India to Europe. The conference discussed in detail the migration which happened in 1018, exactly one millennium earlier, from Kannauj and some other areas of Uttar Pradesh to Europe particularly after the invasion of Mahmud Ghazni who looted Kannauj, the most prosperous city of North India then. He carried people to Ghazni (Afghanistan) from where they escaped to central Asia and ultimately made it to Europe where they settled. The evidences of this migration are still available in Europe with the Romas.
This is one of the best conferences academically proving the migration of Romas. We look forward to establish a centre in ARSP to do research that matches with the research already done in Europe. There are evidences that the people who migrated one thousand years ago were not just the tribals or the Banjaras, they were from all classes including Kshatriyas, businessman, farmers, skilled persons experts in making arms & ammunitions, stone carving. Ghazni took away every type of person including the musicians. Those people are now settled in more than 30 countries of Europe. That is why we have established a centre in India for Roma Studies and Cultural Relations.
Professor of Indian culture from Bareilly Dr Shyam Bihari Lal tried to prove the links between the Indian Banjara community and Roma. Prof Prasannanshu claimed that Roma is nothing but extended Indian Diaspora. Shri Zameer Anwar spoke about the historical, cultural and linguistic antecedents of Roma, which connect them to India.
Roma experts and scholars also tried to highlight the contemporary problems and the challenges the community is facing. Sushri Ana Dalia discussed the identity issues amongst Roma and women’s problems within the Roma in Europe and talked about Croatia’s efforts in this regard. Nicolás Gonzalez spoke about institutionalised racism in some European countries, because of which Roma are severely suffering, especially from the police and administration. Shri Bajram Haliti, former minister from Bosnia, spoke about the constitutional-legal status of Roma and their integration into the European Union. Sonia Styrcasz mentioned about the problem of education amongst Roma, and maintained that this can only be tackled through active cooperation between students, teachers and parents. Shri Rajesh Gogna spoke about the poverty, life expectancy and literacy conditions of Roma in various parts of the world.
At the validictory session, former Chairman of the ICCR Prof Lokesh Chandra highlighted the emotional attachment Romas have with India. He also called for greater engage ments between the Roma and various stakeholders in India, including the government. He suggested to starting some fellowship and scholarship to promote it.
Director General of National Museum Dr B.R. Mani spoke about the historical underpinning of Roma-India connections. Secretary of the Ministry of External Affaris Amb. Dnyaneshwar Muley emphasised the need for in-depth research on Roma in India and applauded the work of the ARSP.
The Conference mainly threw light on the current status of Roma in various countries and their issues and challenges. It highlighted the cultural and linguistic similarities between Roma and India, and re-emphasised their roots in northern parts of India.
As the theme of the conference was to commemorate the millennium of migration of Roma from northern India, specifically from the city of Kannauj, the Roma participants were taken on a visit to Lucknow and Kannauj from December 1-2. On December 1, a symposium was organised at Mahamana Malviya Sabhagar at University of Lucknow. The event was graced by Speaker of Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly Shri Hriday Narayan Dikshit and Mayor of Lucknow Smt. Sanyukta Bhatia. A number of Members of Parliament and legislative assembly, academicians, journalists, social activists and students were present at the programme. During the session, Shri Bajram Haliti and Prof. Marcel Courthiade pointed out that it took the historians two centuries to identify Kannauj as the cradle city of Proto-Roms. A foray, spearheaded by Mahmūd of Ghazni, was the cause of their departure from Kannauj.
On December 2, the Roma delegates paid a visit to their ancestral land—Kannauj, where they were accorded impressive welcome with garlanding and Saraswati Vandana. The people of Kannauj warmly received the Roma delegates with the showering of rose petals. The delegates visited the archaeological museum of Kannauj that had put on an exhibition showcasing Romani historical paintings, as well as arranged a laser light show for them, giving an account of historical and cultural heritage of Kannauj. They also visited the ancient temple of Kali, which is considered their ancestral deity. In the interactive session, District Magistrate of Kannauj Shri Ravindra Kumar welcomed the Roma in their native town. The visit to two significant places was an enriching and enlightening experience for the delegates.
(With inputs from Dr Rashmini Koparkar, a Research Fellow at ARSP)