Roma - The Invisible Desi People

December 13, 2007
Alin Dosoftei

Thinking about how to begin a proper introduction of my people in a Desi cyberspace, it seemed to me that, at least in the contemporary context, such info looks rather worthy of an ultimate 2 crore question on KBC. What do you think of this: name the South Asian population emigrated from the Subcontinent a millennium ago, nevertheless preserving all this time in the European, American or Australian heartlands of the Western civilization the caste purity rules, their Indo-Aryan language, whose number is nowadays of about 15-20 million people.

The background of the answer is a less noticed South Asian emigration that landed in the Byzantine Empire. It happened in the 11th century, in the context of Mahmud Ghazni’s attacks in Northern India. Until nowadays the details of this migration remain unclear. The ethnic names point rather to basic meanings, not to a specific group: Rom (married person)/ Chhavo (unmarried person), Manush (human being), Kalo (black). They remind somehow of the other more recent Diaspora name, Desi, expressing the consciousness of the basic South Asian identity, as revealed while living among non-South Asians. The choices of names may reflect also the conditions of the two emigrations. While the word Desi indicates the continuity of the connections with the motherland, the Romani names express a regrouping around the basic tenets of the South Asian identity and the desire to continue it wherever they live. In the 11th century’s context, when the Byzantine Empire was in a continuous conflict with its eastern neighbor, the Seljuk Empire, it would have been impossible to preserve any link with the Subcontinent. It is also probable they imagined themselves as the survivors, after witnessing that temporary destruction of the North Indian society.

Thus it appeared the Romanipen (in the last years named also Romani Dharm), the code of conduct adapted to the minority status, focused on the preservation of the identity. In this sense, for enforcing the internal social coherence, the Romanipen employs the usual South Asian means. The phralipen (brotherhood) is the main pillar of the community, emphasized, for example, by calling those of the same age as phral (brother) or phen (sister) and the older as kak (uncle), bibi (aunt). There is a set of purity rules that everybody has to keep, it is not enough just to be born in a Romani community to be considered part of it. The code is enforced by the public opinion of the community, which shuns the persons that disregard the social life inside it, everybody has to be careful of the lajav (shame). When it is necessary to judge a dispute, to clarify the application of a rule or other uncertainties, a group of pativale (respected and trustworthy) Roma assemble to debate and give a verdict.

When the Romani population grew in certain areas, the caste system reappeared, as they specialized in different economic niches. For example, in South Eastern Europe, where there are dozens of castes. This part of Europe remained until nowadays the territory with the highest Romani population (80-90% of the worldwide Roma until the middle of the 19th century, 60-70% today), also with the most important Romani influence in the local society. The other important area is Spain (mostly the southern province of Andalusia). In such territories the Romani influence is obvious in music (the proportion of Romani singers exceeds by far the percent of the Romani minority in most countries), spirituality (for example, in Romania, the use of the tilak of ash on the forehead, to keep the state of well-being). The linguistic influence is important also. Again, in Romania, the most used modality to make a family name is by adding -escu to somebody’s name (see for example the names of the Romanian presidents), or to make a locality name, by adding –eşti (for example, Bucureşti – “At Bucur” in Romani, Bucharest in English, the capital of Romania). As a note, Roma and Romanians are different people, the latter are the descendants of the colonists from the Italian city of Rome, hence their name.

Then, what causes this lack of public knowledge about us? It is mostly to the discrimination encountered by our ancestors in the new areas of settlement. The local population was not very keen to accept the existence of the Romani culture, implicitly of a multicultural society. Its focus was on assimilation, coming with “explanations” for the differences, like those medieval descriptions of the Roma as some Europeans who darken their faces and speak gibberish, in order to look different and fool the others. Then, as the time elapsed and it appeared more and more clear that this people still remains different in certain aspects, these differences were not accepted as cultural ones, as belonging to another world view. They were distorted in order to look like the local majority are right and Roma are wrong, all of this despite the non-violence of the Roma, the peaceful arrival, the absence of any attempt to destabilize the local structures.

Thus it appeared the Gypsy imagery, as a malevolent caricature of the Roma, taking the public place and perpetuating a cultural rift. The Roma became an invisible population, almost nothing is known in public about our way of life. Nobody is interested in it, as long as it is dismissed as a non-culture or as a counter-culture. When there are attempts of clarifying who are the Roma, these tend to present the Romani culture from the point of view of the non-Romani local cultures, further deepening the misunderstandings.

On the other side, the Roma remained with a specific organization unrecognized by the others, struggling continuously for the survival of the unofficial Romani social islands. At the popular level there are, of course, many contacts between Roma and non-Roma, as presented above in the examples of Romani local influences. However, officially, nothing happened until now. This determined a perception of the Roma as second-class citizens, as easy scapegoats for any mishaps of the local majorities. Many times we shared discrimination patterns with the other historically non-assimilated European minority, the Jews. Both had to face paranoid accusations like bringing plague in Europe, stealing or killing children, various conspiracy theories, all culminating with the annihilation attempt of the Holocaust. However, for the Jews it was easier to find communication bridges, due to the similarities of the world view.

In the pre-modern context, the people managed to survive and preserve the identity. However, the advent of the modernity changes the rules of the game. It becomes obvious that the lack of involvement in the public life has far worse consequences, in many cases it determined already the institutionalization of the disfranchisement. Also the flexibility of the social life, the increased possibilities of communication, raises the pressure for self-identification and self-characterization among people from different cultures. This would be also the background of my approach, I am part of a Romani society that has to find rapidly ways for a public presence, a public voice.

It becomes clear that the social life is not the same as centuries ago and that we cannot continue to remain at an unofficial level in order to preserve our identity. For some years I have been working on a presentation of the Romani people, trying to come also with some ideas. As a result of the increased worldwide visibility of the Subcontinent and of the Desi diaspora recently emigrated, I was able to find more appropriate cultural tools for such a presentation, showing us as normal people from the point of view of our world view, departing from the usual public abnormalization. Recently I posted online what I wrote until now, in order to support the Romani focus of the upcoming Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, hoping that this secret with such ample historical proportions will come to light.

Alin Dosoftei is a Romani writer, currently working on a presentation of the Romani people and on some ideas about a public modern Romani identity.
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Deepti Lamba
December 13, 2007
12:24 PM

Alin, welcome to Desicritics and its always been a pleasure to read up on Romani people. Incidentally my father's youngest brother affectionately calls my mother- bibi- a term Punjabis use affectionately for their elder sister in laws

Alin Dosoftei
December 13, 2007
01:14 PM

Thanks Deepti for the welcoming. I didn't know about the use of bibi in Punjab. The fact is that, right now, there is such a few public knowledge both among Roma and other Desis about the cultural common points.

Thinking about them makes me wonder whether a Bollywood scenario wouldn't be better for an introduction than that KBC thing. Two brothers separated at early age, knowing nothing about each other, growing in different environments. Then the meeting, the comparisons, the understandings and the misunderstandings. Eventually, by the end, the mother intervenes and settle the things right. Sounds familiar, isn't it? :)

Btw, if readers have question or uncertainties, I'd be pleased to answer.

December 13, 2007
04:32 PM

alinescu alinesti


temporalescu temporalesti



in urdu bibi is:

- wife
- woman
- ms.

Alin Dosoftei
December 13, 2007
08:34 PM


yep, if you do a google search on fairly usual European names, like Georgescu/Georgesti, Petrescu/Petresti (from Peter), you'll find a lot of results related to Romania.

Romani preserved the -es- affix, now present in Hindi/Urdu only in uska/iska. For example in Romani: "kheresko", in Hindustani "gharka", "of the house".

December 13, 2007
09:49 PM

Alin, welcome and looking forward to more on our original NRIs - have you seen this article on historical amnesia around the Romani holocaust by one of our best writers?

December 14, 2007
03:47 AM


In the age of statism and globalization, lots of socio-cultural groups around the world feel isolated, marginalized, threatened, insecure and people in India are no exception. They feel under siege and defeated. You will find a lot in common with them, especially when your roots go back to India. India has a long history of abandoning its people, not only in India but more so its diaspora. Only recently, government of India has realized how valuable they can be in connecting India to rest of the world. India has started realizing value of its human capital, at home and abroad. Sooner or later it will also realize the value of its cultural capital. But India is not about what government does or does not do. It is about people to people interactions. As awareness grows between people of India and Romani people, so will interactions among them. I appreciate you reaching out to us. Though I am not sure forums like these can provide positive interactions for appreciation of culture or heritage - as people tend to throw brickbats rather than appreciate anybody's cultural heritage. But lose not heart or patience - there are plenty out there who can relate to you and appreciate it.

December 15, 2007
01:52 PM

Hi Alin,

Not only Bibi, even Phral is similar to Bhra (brother) in Punjabi. And Punjabi word for Sister "Bhen" resembles Romani "phen" too closely to be a coincidence. And Punjabis look like the Romani people too!

Deepa Krishnan
December 16, 2007
03:20 AM

There are many invisible people in the world. I had an Estonian friend, every time she introduced herself to anyone, they would go, er, sorry, Estonia?

Alin Dosoftei
December 23, 2007
03:34 PM

@Aaman, thanks for the welcoming and for pointing to the article about the Romani Holocaust. I found it interesting and well documented.

@kerty, thanks for the encouragements, I am a bit aware of the issues you presented and I'm determined to achieve good things in this direction.

@Sanjeev, yes Romani is closer to Punjabi, Punjab-Rajasthan was the area of departure of our ancestors.

@Deepa Krishnan, it is interesting the comparison you brought, in fact it may enlighten a bit the issue presented here. If you'll go to Wikipedia at the article about the Romani people, you'll find in the first sentences the expression "The Roma are among the best known ethnic groups that appear in literature and folklore". How does it harmonize with the invisibility I describe here? It would be very pleasant to know that we became overnight invisible as the Estonians. But the current status of the Romani people combines the fact that we are one of the "best known" people, by hijacking our public image through the Gypsy imagery, with the fact that nobody knows almost anything about us, a dreadful combination for the socialization. Nobody among the local non-Roma is interested to know who we really are, our cultural expressions are hindered being dismissed as non-culture or counter-culture. That's why it is normal to look for outlets of expression among people who may be interested and may understand what I'm talking about.

December 24, 2007
01:01 PM

Dear Alin, what you present here is true about the Hindu way of life too! More non Hindus have written books about one way of life than those who actually live it!! Welcome aboard DC. This is a great place to network and document online the amazing culture of the Roma.

December 24, 2007
02:02 PM

Romanian escu, esti, are traditional romanian names has no connection with gypsies.

They are antique Pelasgian suffix ascus, asci, which corresponds to the Romanian escu, esci, was still used during the Roman epoch by the Ligurii of upper Italy, and has been preserved to this day in a big number of localities from those lands, for ex. Rimasco, Romagnasco. (Pelesgians habited)

Pelesgians lived in Balkan Peninsula and in Romania territory.


the aromanians, istro-romanians (Romanians who live outside romania, mostly in balkan peninsula) istro-romanians use ascu do designate "I am" for example they say armănescu to define themselves and this haven't been in contact with gypsies.


It's absurd and absolutely hypocryte what you're trying to do..STOP LIEING!!!!!

December 24, 2007
02:12 PM




it has no connection with gypsies, maybe they stole this from romanian and not viceversa . STOP LIEING !!!

December 24, 2007
02:17 PM

If romanians took this termination from gypsy language this means also Italians, French, Spanish took it also from gypsy language...

how do you dare to lie this way you idiot?

em. Thus the word theodisc evolved from the Germanic word theoda (the people) with the Latin suffix -iscus, to mean "belonging to the people", i.e. the people's language.


Alin Dosoftei
December 24, 2007
02:25 PM

Thanks blokesbogin for the welcoming, I will continue to post more info about the Roma.

As for Adrian, this is an insane Internet stalker who is following me on-line. I explained in detail in other article the Romani origin of -escu and -esti, not any "Pelasgian origin" would refute it (btw one may see in the Wikipedia article that it is not even known what kind of language was). These are Indo-Aryan postpositions.

December 24, 2007
02:31 PM

watch this you lier, read this and answer me. How come was used by all romance speaking nations, did they also steal this from gypsy language?


em. Thus the word theodisc evolved from the Germanic word theoda (the people) with the Latin suffix -iscus, to mean "belonging to the people", i.e. the people's language.

why are you lieing? de ce minti ma ordinarule?

December 24, 2007
02:31 PM

Hi Alin
Btw, there is something called an Indo-Roma dialogues site, which carries a lot of essays and ideas by Indians and the "gitanos" (most people seem to be Spanish) on it. I found this to be very interesting:


Alternatively you could just access svabhinava.org on all sorts of Indic issues.

December 24, 2007
02:33 PM


[from Italian -esco, from Vulgar Latin *-iscus, of Germanic origin.]


December 24, 2007
02:37 PM

ar these regions from lower danube (where proto-romanians live) also tooken from gypsy language?

Andriscus, Daciscus, Threciscus, Teurisci, Scordisci, Ardescos, Securisca, Transmarisca

why are you lienig

Alin Dosoftei
December 24, 2007
02:49 PM

Thanks Anamika for the link, I didn't know about it I'm studying it right now.

As for this public danger, I'd remind him that his examples have some similarities because they are Indo-European, but they do not match the similitude with their use in Romani, their overwhelming use in Romanian the same as in Romani and they do not explain the prevalent use of -esti only in the areas of contemporary Romania where the Roma were kept as slaves for five centuries.

Alin Dosoftei
December 24, 2007
02:51 PM

What's the importance of Tedesci? Thousands miles away today it is used in Hindustani uska/iska. It is important that their use and the frequency of their use in Romanian match their use in Romani.

Alin Dosoftei
December 24, 2007
02:55 PM

They are mere translations from Romani, they are not directly understandable in Romanian, as I made in the comparison between the names derived from the father and the names derived from the mother.

December 24, 2007
02:56 PM

are you idiot?

em. Thus the word theodisc evolved from the Germanic word theoda (the people) with the Latin suffix -iscus, to mean "belonging to the people", i.e. the people's language.

it has the same meaning are you blind?, they are antique palesgian suffixes and have the same meaning in all latin languages.

read Sulla fortuna del suffisso latino -iscus, "Incontri linguistici" by Prof. Vincenzo Orioles

why are you lieing, are you not ashamed of what you do?

Alin Dosoftei
December 24, 2007
03:12 PM

There is nothing similar in other Latin languages as the use of -escu/-esti in Romanian, there are just some sporadic reminiscences from the Old Indo-European, nothing to match the overwhelming use in Romanian. There do not exist Giovannesko, Juanesko, Joaoesko, Jeanesko.

December 24, 2007
03:24 PM

Italy :
Ligurii in upper italy use names ending in asco, asgo and has the same meaning

Rimasco http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rimasco


The English word "Basque" comes from French Basque (pronounced /bask/), which itself comes from Gascon Basco (pronounced /basku/) and Spanish Vasco (pronounced /basko/). These, in turn, come from Latin Vasco (pronounced /wasko/), plural Vascones (see History section below). The Latin labial-velar approximant /w/ generally evolved into the bilabials /b/ and // in Gascon and Spanish, probably under the influence of Basque and Aquitanian, a language related to old Basque and spoken in Gascony in Antiquity (similarly the Latin /w/ evolved into /v/ in French, Italian and other languages).


the aromanians use armanascu which means exactly the same thing and etc etc..

why are you liening, I ask you again?

December 24, 2007
03:25 PM

if is used in gypsy language it was taken from Bizantine Empire where it was spoken Latin and Greek languages both using this term.

I didn't think one second the gypsies can get this low, you change my perception forever now, I can see why you are having this bad reputation in the whole wide world.

the evolution of escu, esci it's like this

pelasgian --> latin,ancient greek --> spanish, italian, french, romanian.(with all their dialects)

If in gypsy language it exists it was taken from Latin where you were slaves in Bizantine Empire

December 24, 2007
03:47 PM

Romanesque (Romanesc)

1715, originally "descended from Latin" (cf. romance), later "architectural style in Europe between Roman and Gothic periods" (1819), from Roman (q.v.), influenced by Fr. romanesque, from L.L. Romanice "in Vulgar Latin" (see romance).


December 24, 2007
03:51 PM

• suffix (forming adjectives)

-- ORIGIN French, from Latin -iscus.


January 16, 2008
10:55 PM

The Roma - India connection always fascinates.

We are having a similar conversation here. In fact this article was brought to my attention by a reader in the comments thread.

January 17, 2008
09:00 PM

by Roma you mean gypsies...and yes it has connection with India because they are indians.

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