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"Your arrival to the city of your forefathers has filled me with emotion as if my lost blood had reached to my doors tracing the footsteps of its ancestors"

Dr Jiwan Shuklā, Kannauj 23.10.2003

Dr. Marcel Courthiade
Mahmud of Ghazni Conqueror of Kannauj, the original city of the Roma in India 979 - 1030 A.D.

Amaro phuro, o Marcel (Dr. Marcel Courthiade) brought this note for us from Kannauj, the original city of the Roma in Western India.

In the early eleventh century, Kannauj, spread out on four miles along the Ganges banks was still a major cultural and economic center of northern India. Not only did the most learned Brāhmans of India claim to be from Kannauj (as they still do today), but it was also a town that attained a very high level of civilization in terms of what we would now call democracy, tolerance, human rights, pacifism and even ecumenism. Yet, during the winter of 1018-19, a raiding force came from Ghazni (now in Afghanistan) and captured the population of Kannauj, subsequently selling them as slaves. It was not the Sultan's first raid, but the previous ones had reached only as far as Panjāb and Rājastān. This time he moved on to Kannauj, a major city of more than 50,000 inhabitants, and, on 20 December 1018, captured the entire population, 'rich and poor, light and dark [...] most of them 'notables', artists and craftsmen' to sell them, 'entire families', in Ghazni and Kabul (according to Al-'Utbi's text).

Abu Nasr Al-'Utbi (961-1040), reported on Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni's attack on the imperial city of Kannauj, which resulted in its plundering and destruction and the deportation of its inhabitants to Afghanistan over the mountains in December 1018.

Sadrī speakers have the habit, during special ceremonies, of pouring a little drink on the floor before drinking, saying: 'to our brothers carried away by the cold wind beyond the mountains'. These 'brothers' could be Mahmud's prisoners. Roma today do preserve a similar habit when talking about their dead relatives: they also pour some drink on the floor before drinking and would say something about the person and then in the end would end by saying “O Del te jertoj leske/lake” May God forgive him/her..

Sadrī: a specific Indian language used mainly for intertribal communication. Sadrī seems to be the Indian language which allows the easiest communication between its speakers and speakers of Rromani.

According to Al Utbi’s chronicle both light and dark people, high born individuals, notables, artists, craftsmen, people from all casts of the contemporary society were captured by Sultan Mahmud. This explains the reason for the vast diversity of Rromani people and their culture.

Main differences between the dialects are not to be found in the Indian component of the language but in the vocabulary borrowed on European soil. European loan-words entered Rromani mostly as a consequence of the need to express new concepts, as well as those of everyday reality (clothes, food, fauna and flora) and those related to administrative and technological evolutions.

The protecting goddess of Kannauj was Kali, a divinity who is still very popular among Rromani people all over the world.

The former name of the city of Kannauj was Kana Kubdźa (also Κανόγυζα in Greek sources) that meant "hunchbacked". "Hunchbacked maiden" was one of the titles used to refer to Durgā, the warrior goddess, another form of Kali.


Great Migrations

There have been several great migrations, or diaspora, in Romani history. The first was the initial dispersal from India about a thousand years ago. Some scholars suggest there may have been several migrations from India. The second great migration, known as the Aresajipe, was from southwest Asia into Europe in the 14th century. The third migration was from Europe to the Americas in the 19th and early 20th centuries after the abolition of Romani slavery in Europe in 1856-1864. Some scholars contend there is a great migration occurring today since the fall of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe.



A group of Romani prisoners, awaiting instructions from their German captors, sit in an open area near the fence in the Belzec concentration camp. Photo credit: Archives of Mechanical Documentation, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives

Romani (commonly but incorrectly called Gypsies) were considered by the Nazis to be social outcasts. Under the Weimar Republic--the German government from 1918 to 1933--anti-Romani laws became widespread. These laws required them to register with officials, prohibited them from traveling freely, and sent them to forced-labor camps. When the Nazis came to power, those laws remained in effect--and were expanded. Under the July 1933 sterilization law, many Romani were sterilized against their will.

In November 1933, the "Law Against Dangerous Habitual Criminals" was passed. Under this law, the police began arresting Romani along with others labeled "asocial." Beggars, vagrants, the homeless, and alcoholics were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

The Nuremberg racial laws of September 15, 1935, did not specifically mention Romani, but they were included along with Jews and "Negroes" as "racially distinctive" minorities with "alien blood." As such, their marriage to "Aryans" was prohibited. They were also deprived of their civil rights.

By the summer of 1938, large numbers of German and Austrian Romani were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. There they wore black triangular patches (the symbol for "asocials") or green patches (the symbol for professional criminals) and sometimes the letter "Z."

As was the case for the Jews, the outbreak of war in September 1939 radicalized the Nazi regime's policies towards the Romani. Their "resettlement to the East" and their mass murder closely parallel the systematic deportations and killings of the Jews. It is difficult to determine exactly how many Romani were murdered. The estimates range from 220,000 to 500,000.

Source: Dr. William L. Shulman, A State of Terror: Germany 1933-1939. Bayside, New York: Holocaust Resource Center and Archives.