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New Book on Gypsy Laws Explains Misunderstood Culture

Published: November 12th, 2001

Category: News

One thousand years ago, the Gypsies, or Roma, left India, and took with them a set of beliefs and unwritten law so different from those outside their culture that they ever since have been the target of discrimination, persecution, stereotyping, forced assimilation and violence. That is according to a new book, Gypsy Law: Romani Legal Traditions and Culture, edited by Walter O. Weyrauch, Distinguished Professor and Stephen C. O’Connell Chair. Weyrauch, who has spent many years studying the Roma, said more than one million ‘gypsies,’ as they are commonly called, reportedly live in the United States, and he believes it is time for society to begin understanding this historical people and their unwritten laws. Many Gypsies, according to the book, are or have been prominent in the professions, academia, public life and entertainment – such as Charlie Chaplin and Mother Teresa – but ignorance and misinformation about their culture cause members to avoid identifying themselves as such. Weyrauch said authorities quoted in the book report historical criminalization of Gypsies by dominant cultures results in large part “because of their insistence on separateness. Evidence also indicates because of deep rooted discrimination against them, Gypsies tend to be prosecuted for conduct that is treated with less severity or not prosecuted at all if engaged in by members of the majority.” Contributors to the book, published by the University of California Press, are internationally known authorities on Gypsy culture from England, Finland, Canada and the United States. Two, Ian Hancock and Ronald Lee, are Gypsies.

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