The Gypsies of India
A cluster of 5 Gypsy groups in India.
The name "Gypsy" often conjures up images of wandering bands of peddlers and fortune tellers traveling from place to place in colorful caravans. But this is not always an accurate picture, as many of the world's Gypsies can be found settled in India and the Middle East.
The largest group of Gypsies in India are the Lambadi (or Gormati) Gypsies. Other groups living there include the Tamil Nomads, the Indian Gypsies, the Kanjari, and the Baiga. Although these Gypsy groups are spread throughout India, most of them are concentrated in such areas as Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Utter Pradesh, Madras, Orissa, and Andhra Pradesh. The Arhagar Gypsies also live in neighboring Pakistan.
These groups, as well as other Gypsies around the world, are linked linguistically. All of the Gypsy languages belong to the North Indo-Aryan language family. When Gypsies began traveling from India to different regions of Europe hundreds of years ago, different dialects of their language (Romany) emerged. Each dialect became classified by the region in which a particular group settled.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Not only do the Indian Gypsies usually have more than one occupation, but they also use additional skills to supplement their incomes. Some specialize in making such items as broomsticks, iron tools, and needles. They may also repair tool or work with stone. Other Gypsies are Hindus who believe that one does not have to work for a living, but may gain income by "religious begging." They sing songs and wear special make-up while begging in the name of a specific deity. Acrobats, magicians, tricksters, story-tellers, fortune-tellers, and the like may also polish cattle horns or work as blacksmiths. Some groups have even developed the art of tattooing. Nevertheless, these various occupations are used only when the region's people have a need for them. A Gypsy will change occupations and activities, adapting to a changing society's needs, because they depend on the people in that society for their livelihood. A Gypsy will only settle down when he cannot adapt to the needs of the region. Some of these "settled" Gypsies now live as farmers.
While some Gypsies travel throughout the year, others travel only part of the year, returning to their home camps periodically. Some live in houses similar to those of the region, but many use their wagons or bull carts as dwelling places, and some live in mobile homes. Few travel by foot or on horseback, since they cannot afford such "luxuries."
Typically, Gypsies have very unclean living habits. Sanitation and good hygiene are rarely practiced. Indian Gypsies believe that babies are to be born "into the lap of mother earth." For this reason, a woman will have her baby while lying on a rug on the ground. Children are often poorly cared for; their hair hangs loosely and shoes are seldom worn.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Gypsies are a very superstitious people, and mixed with their religious beliefs are many "taboos." One taboo among the Hindu Gypsies is that a woman's hair must not be combed or let down long in the presence of men. Another is that a woman should not pass in front of a man who is sitting, but rather behind him.
Even though Gypsies are unreserved in speech, many have high moral standards. For example, chastity is very important. In the past, some girls who were involved in prostitution were buried alive. Unmarried girls are still discouraged from going into the cities, and they usually wear veils over their hands and feet while sitting with strangers.
What Are Their Needs?
Most importantly, these Gypsies are spiritually poor. The majority have no Christian resources available, and only two groups have some portions of the Bible. Christian broadcasts and scriptures must be made available if they are to hear the Gospel. Christian workers are needed to teach them how to live lives pleasing to God.Prayer Points
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Bethany World Prayer Center
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