Origin of Romani traced to India

Ancient roots of modern day European gypsies traced back to India. According to the analysis, the Romani likely came from what is now the Punjab state in northwestern India.

Romani, also known as Roma or Gypsies, are an ethnic group numbering 11 million people, They are distributed widely within Europe including the Balkans and Scandinavia where they are still shunned and victimized.

During the Holocaust, somewhere between 200,000 and 1.5 million Romani were killed by Hitler’s Nazis. After World War II, Romani in communist nations were often targeted for “assimilation,” which sometimes meant forced sterilization to lower their birth rate.

The new genetic study led by led by David Comas of the Institut de Biologia Evolutiva and Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain, has confirmed that the Europe’s largest minority group, the Romani, migrated from northwest India 1,500 years ago. The earliest population reached the Balkans, while the spread across the continent occurred about 900 years ago.

According to the researchers, the gypsies began their trek around Gilgit in the northernmost Hindukush, then along the southern Caspian littoral, the southern flank of the Caucasus, the southern shoreline of the Black Sea, across the Bosporus, and subsequently spreading across Europe since 13th century.

Comas said: “We were interested in exploring the population history of European Romani because they constitute an important fraction of the European population, but their marginalized situation in many countries also seems to have affected their visibility in scientific studies,”

To begin the study, a team of European researchers collected data on some 800,000 genetic variants (single nucleotides polymorphisms) in 152 Romani people from 13 different Romani groups in Europe. The team then contrasted the Romani sequences with those already known for more than 4,500 Europeans as well as samples from the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia and the Middle East.

Gypsies were originally thought to have come from Egypt and some of the earliest references to them in English, dating back to the 16th century, call them “Egyptians”.