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A Home For Gypsies: Gabrile’s Story

In the middle of prosperous cosmopolitan Europe I saw beggars whose destitution was shocking. I was warned by several locals to not give them any money and to watch my belongings when I was around them. It was the same story from Dublin to Berlin to Warsaw and now in Prague in the Czech Republic. They are the Romas and Gypsies- Europe’s dirty little secret.

This marginalized ethnic group is believed to have its roots in India and have been persecuted, deported and ostracized for centuries. The Nazis sent tens of thousands to their death in concentration camps and millions still live in run down Ghettos just outside Europe’s largest cities.
There are up to 12 million Roma in the EU, most living in dire circumstances, victims of poverty, discrimination, violence, unemployment and bad housing.

Their life expectancy is several years lower than the ethnic population of the countries they call home. Their children are rarely admitted or accepted in the public school system and are stigmatized as dirty, liars and thieves.

The Romani are a nation without a state. Recently French President Nicholas Sarkozy faced the ire of the European Commission when he ordered the systematic clearing of hundreds of Roma camps all across France. The Roma were to be deported to Romania and Bulgaria. Senior officials in the European commission compared it to the deportation of Jews to concentration camps and rued the discrimination based on ethnicity.

All this- smack in the middle of what is called ‘The Decade of Roma Inclusion’- an unprecedented political commitment by European governments to improve the socio-economic status and social inclusion of Roma. The Decade focuses on the priority areas of education, employment, health, and housing, and commits governments to take into account the other core issues of poverty, discrimination, and gender mainstreaming.

1.6% of the Czech Republic’s population is Roma- roughly 180 thousand people. The country also holds the Presidency of the decade long commitment since September 2010.
In Prague I met an amazing Roma girl who’s leading by example and changing the perception and plight of her people in the Czech Republic.

At just 31 Gabrile Hrabaňová is the Director of the Council for Roma Affairs in Prague. She advises the Czech government on all policies regarding it’s Roma citizens. It’s a tough balancing act for a girl so young- adhering to political protocols and being respectful of the office entrusted to her and staying true to her cause and meeting the expectations of her people.

Gabi derives her Roma heritage from her mother and is immensely proud of her people. By her own admittance- she grew up a trouble-maker while in school but got away with it because she was an outstanding student. Her brilliance at school was the primary deterrent to any discrimination that might have been her lot as a Roma student.

“In my late teens I had strong anarchist leanings. I was living in squat houses with others like myself but still trying to do what I could for my people. I soon realized that if I really wanted to make a difference I’d have to change my level of influence and go main stream”.

Since then, Gabi has received multiple scholarships and has systematically educated and positioned herself as the leading voice for Roma rights all across Europe.

She knows it’s an uphill battle but she keeps her faith in the system and her eyes on the goal. “My own sister faced discrimination on her first day in a public school and she never went back there. The prejudice has been passed on from generation to generation. Recently I met a educated young man at a social gathering who told me bluntly to my face that he could never take me to his home because his parents and grandparents would not allow a Roma girl in their home”.

We talked for hours- about our homes, our culture, how proud we are of our heritage and how much we both loved being gypsy women.

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13 Responses to “A Home For Gypsies: Gabrile’s Story”

  1. kiran says:

    the story of the landless and the homeless has a common thread of hopelessness across the world. India too has its nomads and gypsies. While we enjoy the romance and color of their free lifestyles, they are looked down upon as thieves and liars not worthy of trust. My hats off to Gabrile! Keep up the fight for the respect and rights of people who value life beyond material things.

  2. Andrew Elwell says:

    you hit the nail on the head with identifying this issue.

  3. Rajat Bajwa says:

    so the romas are like the dalits or biharis of india

  4. Dilip Mahanty says:

    great article tithiya

  5. Michelle Conard says:

    Nicolas Sarkozy told other EU nations to take in Roma when there was a furore. Jack Ass

  6. Arnab says:

    its such a fascinating journey, love reading your posts

  7. Devendra says:

    Racism has historical roots in the European colonialism, this was their way of defendingtheir oppression of the native populations and taking them via sea to serve . they still continue to pay the price.

  8. Madhur says:

    truly a noble cause to stand for.

  9. Kannan Sankaran says:

    for all the equality, one world bullshit, being roma strongly influences the possibility of getting a job as well.

  10. Sahu says:

    this is the biggest hurdle in inclusive growth

  11. Ekvira Gupte says:

    from Bosnia to Macedonia this is the most important but understated issue that EU faces today.

  12. darren reid says:

    Most Roma families live in small shacks with no electricity or running water, and international institutions calculate that Roma poverty rates are up to 10 times higher than those of the majority population where they live, while their lifespan is 10 or 15 years lower. You are right. They are Europes dirty little secret.

  13. Avipsa says:

    Great piece Tithi!

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