The Making of The Modern Roma

Published: 09th April 2016 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th April 2016 03:28 PM   |  A+A-

Indira Gandhi in her inaugural address to the Second International Romani Festival on October 29, 1983 said: “There are 15 million Roma spread the world over. Their history is one of sorrow and suffering.” Inaugurating the 2016 International Roma Conference and Cultural Festival, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said: “Many Roma scholars and historians, engaged in conducting research on their origins, believe them to have their roots in India.” The history of the Roma and their relationship to India, based on the many Hindi words in the Roma vocabulary, had engaged linguists in Germany, France, Russia and England from 1787.

An international DNA study (‘Reconstructing the Population History of European Romani from Genome-wide Data’, Current Biology, December 18, 2012) indicates that the present Roma population is related to the current populations in Afghanistan, Sind, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan, West and East Punjab, Haryana, UP, Jammu and Jammu-Kashmir, Rajasthan, and Gujarat. An earlier study (‘Mutation History of the Roma/Gypsies’, American Journal of Human Genetics, October 2004) identified the periods of the Roma exodus from the Indian sub-continent. It says: “Although the founding of the proto-Gypsy population is likely to coincide with the exodus from India, proposed dates range from 900 to 1,500 years before present, and there have been suggestions of multiple migrations.... the mean of 800-900 years coincides closely with the time of the exodus proposed by Hancock, who links it historically to the early Islamic invasions of India in the 11th century AD...... ”

Both linguistic and DNA analysis have cleared doubts of Roma origins. DNA analysis has estimated periods when the Roma were taken from their homeland. Yet the causes of these exits are beyond the scope of scientists. This requires an understanding of events in the sub-continent based on robust historical evidence. Direct historical evidence is provided by Muslim chroniclers. They record the terrifying and disastrous wave of raids by Arabs and Afghans.

These chroniclers inevitably refer to the local Hindu/Buddhist population as kafirs or idolaters. Muhammad Qasim, led an Arab force stimulated by the nascent faith of Islam, and first raided Sind in 712 AD, destroying temples and towns and massacring countless civilians. The first Kazi of Alor (appointed by Muhammad Qasim) in his Chachnama writes: “When the number of prisoners was calculated, it was found to amount to thirty thousand... the fifth part of the prisoners was forwarded (to Arabia) in charge of K’ab , son of Mahrak (Chachnama in Elliot and Dowson (E&D), History of India as told by its own Historians, I , pp.172-174).

Of Qasim’s Sind invasion, Andre Wink, the modern historian of the Islamic conquest of India, writes: “The sources insist that now, in dutiful conformity to (Islamic) religious law; ‘the one-fifth of the slaves and spoils’ were set apart for the Caliph’s treasury and dispatched to Iraq and Syria. The remainder was scattered among ‘the Army of Islam’...The total number of slaves thus acquired in the towns of Sind was high and embraced all social ranks, ‘daughters of princes and Ranas were made to stand in line with the menials’. At Rur, a random 60,000 captives, amongst whom ‘thirty ladies of royal blood’, are said to have been reduced to slavery.

At Brahamanabad 30,000 slaves were allegedly taken. At Multan 6,000. Slave raids continued to be made throughout the late Umayyad period in Sind, amongst the inhabitants of ‘rebellious’ areas but also much further into Hind, as far as Ujjain. Equally, the Abbasid governors perpetuated raiding into the un-subdued areas of Sind and made forays far into the Punjab “where ‘many prisoners and slaves’ were taken......How many of the captives were eventually transported westward is beyond computation. But it seems the flow of slaves from Sind came to a stop (only?) when the Caliphs lost effective control over the province in 870-1, and that slave raiding was not resumed till the appearance of the Ghaznavids in the early eleventh century” (Wink, Al-Hind, I, pp. 161, 172-173 ).

In Afghanistan, after more than three centuries of vicious warfare, the Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms were finally conquered in 1004 by Mahmud Ghaznavi. Mahmud’s secretary and chronicler, Abu Nasr Muhammad Utbi, wrote that Mahmud attacked the Hindu-Shahi Raja Jaipal at Peshawar/Waihind and took ‘500,000 slaves, beautiful men and women’ (Tarikh-i-Yamini, E&D, II, p. 26).

Further East, after the capture of Thanesar in 1011: “‘The Army of Islam’ brought to Ghazny 200,000 captives, and so much wealth, so that the capital appeared like an Indian (ie, Hindu) city, no soldier of the camp being without wealth and without many slaves” (Farishta, History of the Rise of Mohammedan Power in India, I, p. 31). When Mahmud (now entitled “Hammer of the Infidels”) returned to Ghazni in 1019, Utbi writes: “the number of prisoners may be conceived from the fact that, each was sold for from two to ten dirhams”. The Tarikh-i-Alfi adds that the fifth share due to the Saiyids was 150,000 slaves (therefore the total number of captives comes to 750,000!!) (Tarikh-i-Yamini, E&D, II , p.50 and footnote).

Mahmud’s son Ibrahim also campaigned in Hindustan: “A fierce struggle ensued, but Ibrahim at length gained victory, and slew many of them. Those who escaped fled into the jungles. Nearly 100,000 of their women and children were taken prisoners”(Tarikh-i-Alfi, E&D, V, p. 163). Three hundred years of barbarian terror led to massive destruction of extensive and densely-inhabited Western and Northern regions, plunging a wealthy civilization into a Dark Age. A vast number of the helpless and terrorised civilians of all castes, classes and ranks were taken over the Hindu Kush (“Hindu Killer”) mountains and (in the case of Sind) along the Makran desert.

Many, especially women and children, would have perished along both routes. Those that survived ended up in the slave markets of the Islamic world. Over the centuries many of their descendents would have been accommodated in Islamic society, though they continued to exist separately as sects, preserving their folk memories and traditions while facing racial and religious discrimination.

Scott Levi, based on his archival studies, writes: “This evidence does support our assertion that many of the tens and hundreds of thousands of individuals enslaved in India were sold in the Central Asian markets...Our sources suggest that the numbers of individuals enslaved and exported to foreign markets was occasionally quite large, reaching even into the hundreds of thousands” (Scott Levi, Caravans, Indian Merchants on the Silk Road, pp.110, 114, 129). Most of them have been absorbed into society — Sir Alexander Burnes, after visiting Central Asia in 1832, confirmed the popular belief that ‘three-fourths of the people of Bokhara are of slave extraction’.

These raids and the capture and export of Hindus from the subcontinent ceased only after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707. However, one last terrible event took place after the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761. The Afghan Abdali, after a general slaughter on the battlefield, enslaved 22,000 Marathas and gave them to the Marri and Bugti Baluch tribes as their share of the loot. Today their descendents are the virtual slaves of the Marri/Bugti in modern Baluchistan!

It is clear from the DNA studies combined with Muslim historical records that the modern Roma (12-15 million strong) are the descendents of waves of unfortunate Hindus who were terrorized, captured, enslaved and sold in the slave markets of Arabia, Mesopotamia, Persia and Central Asia. Over the centuries, the Roma slowly began to move towards the West in search of a better life. They have been there since the 15th century.

Yet, despite being Christian, they faced racial discrimination. But in the West now (unlike in Baluchistan), modernity and social justice comes to their belated aid. Our tragic history over the last 1000 years is replete with periods of terror; first, the long 700-year Roma phase, then, after 350 years, the brutal Partition of 1947 and, now again, terror threatens our land and people.

Unless we understand the history and causes of terror and acknowledge its terrible consequences, we will not be able to defeat it.

The author is former Dean of Research and Consultancy, Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad.


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