Romani (Gypsy) culture and social issues.
Britain and Human Rights:
Should Travellers be allowed
to retain their way of life?

By Colin Clark

Despite the recent publication of the Macpherson Report which closely examined the circumstances and issues behind the brutal murder of Stephen Lawrence, Britain in the late 1990s is still a tolerant nation. It is a civilised, democratic and free country. It is, when all is said and done, a pluralistic nation which respects multiculturalism and embraces difference and diversity. Equal treatment before the law is surely the starting point for any democratic society. Does Britain meet this requirement? I would argue that it does. Human rights matter to Britain; that is why we recently passed a 1998 Human Rights Act. Britain believes that every minority group should expect equality of opportunity, equal access to civic life and a day-to-day existence which is free from stereotypes, oppression, harassment and victimisation.

That is, every minority group except those known as Gypsies and Travellers. They are the last minority groups in Britain that it is still acceptable to openly hate and discriminate against. 'Their way of life', as the debating question puts it, has traditionally - in Britain at least - been a nomadic one. I am arguing in my few hundred words that this is a way of life that should not just be retained, but one that should be respected and even promoted as a valid and legal way of life. Of course, it has also been a way of life that has brought Gypsies and Travellers time and time again (from about the 15th Century onwards in fact) into conflict with a society which is best suited to the needs and wants of the settled majority population.

However, for many settled people (especially Conservative county councillors, such as Dee-Dee Dobell, and readers of the Daily Mail it seems) such 'parasites', 'invaders' and 'scum' (some 120,000 people in Britain, in all) are so outwith the 'normal' social and moral boundaries of a settled and civilised society that they should not enjoy the democratic and human rights that are found in such societies. They should, as Henry VIII and Hitler knew well, be thrown in prison, deported and even murdered for being who and what they are. After all, they are only 'dirty thieving gypos', aren't they?

Indeed, we live in a society which does just this. Our democratic and tolerant Britain gives, through its various laws and legislation, pre-eminence to a system of private land ownership and a settled (or sedentarist) way of life which upholds these rights over and above any other lifestyle. A nomadic way of life - sometimes romanticised, almost always demonised - is a criminal offence in Britain (thanks mainly to various clauses in the recent 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act). Gypsies and Travellers who follow a nomadic way of life - usually because it suits their preferred mode of economic activity - have very few legal options available to them now. If they don't 'park-up' permanently and move into a house then they risk facing heavy fines, prison sentences and even losing their caravans (that is, their homes). Such draconian measures as this - forcing an ethnic group (and, according to the 1976 Race Relations Act, Gypsies are an ethnic group) to give up its long-standing and proud traditions and heritage - is almost akin to a form of cultural genocide. I do not say this flippantly or lightly; nomadism is that important to some of the Gypsies and Travellers I know who still travel.

The nomadic, or 'Traveller' way of life, whether pursued by Irish Travellers (Minceir), Scottish Travellers (Nachins), English Gypsies (Romanichals), Welsh Gypsies (Kale), New Travellers or Showpeople is under great threat in contemporary Britain and it has to be allowed to continue and prosper. It cannot - and should not - just be swept under the carpet and allowed to fester in Romany and Traveller heritage museums just because middle-England doesn't like their property prices being occasionally threatened when some Gypsies or New Travellers park-up at the bottom of their garden. Nomadism as a way of life is a living and breathing thing. It is not a static entity and people's basic civil rights should count for something. Anyone who claims to believe in human rights should agree with this; it is really not up for debate.

Despite my cynicism, I do still believe that Britain respects human rights and accepts the need and importance of difference and diversity for our society. I also believe, perhaps foolishly, that New Labour does too. Last month a new book was published by the University of Hertfordshire Press entitled Gaining Ground: Law Reform for Gypsies and Travellers. It is hoped that it will soon be developed into a Private Members Bill as it is, in a real sense, a manifesto for change in the many areas of British law which either directly or indirectly discriminate against Gypsies and Travellers. It is my hope that the likes of Tony Blair and Jack Straw get to read this important document and hear the Bill being read, if only to understand and appreciate why the Traveller way of life needs to be allowed to continue and why Britain's anti-nomadic laws need to be scrapped. Now.

For further information, e-mail Colin Clark at colin.clark@ncl.ac.uk
Or visit the website of the e-mail discussion list Traveller-Acad:
http://www.mailbase.ac.uk/lists/traveller-acad/
 

Brief Biography

Colin Clark works as a lecturer in social policy at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. As well as teaching Romani / Traveller studies, he has conducted research and writes about the contemporary situation of Gypsies and other Travellers in the UK and Europe. He has a particular interest in New Travellers and the Romanies in Central and Eastern Europe and has published chapters and articles in a variety of academic books and journals. He is the author, along with Donald Kenrick, of Moving On: the Gypsies and Travellers of Britain (University of Hertfordshire Press, 1999). He is also a member of the Gypsy Council [UK] and various other Gypsy civil rights organisations.
 

Some Useful Addresses

Advisory Council for the Education of Romany and other Travellers
Moot House, The Stow, Harlow, Essex CM20 3AG.

Department of the Environment
Transport and the Regions, Gypsy Sites Branch
2/A1 Eland House, Bressenden Place, London SW1E 5DU.

East Anglia Gypsy Council
Plot 3, Travellers Site, Oxney Road, Peterborough, Cambs.

Enabler Publications / Alan Dearling (publishers and booksellers)
3 Russell House, Lym Close, Lyme Regis, Dorset DT7 3DE.

Friends and Families of Travellers (FFT)
Community Base, Queens Road,
Brighton, East Sussex.

Gypsy Council for Education, Culture, Welfare and Civil Rights
8 Hall Road, Aveley, Essex RM15 4HD.

Labour Campaign for Travellers' Rights
84 Bankside St. Leeds LS8 5AD.

National Asociation of Gypsy and Traveller Officers
c/o Hampshire County Council
The Castle, Winchester  Hampshire SO23 9DS.

National Association  of Health Workers with Travellers
Balsall Heath Health Centre, 43 Edward Road, Balsall Heath
Birmingham B12 9LB.

National Association of Teachers of Travellers
The Graisely Centre, Pool St, Wolverhampton WV2 4NE.

National Gypsy Council
Greenacres Caravan Park, Hapsford
Helsby, Warrington, Cheshire WA6 OJS.

National Romani Rights Association
8 Reid Way, King's Lynn, Norfolk PE30 2LL.

Romanestan Publications (publishers and booksellers)
22 Northend, Warley, Brentwood, Essex CM14 5LD.

Romani / Traveller Studies at Newcastle
Department of Social Policy, University of Newcastle
Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU.

Romany Guild
The Urban Farm, 50-52 Temple Mills Lane, London E15.

Traveller Law Research Unit
Cardiff Law School, PO Box 427, Cardiff, Wales CF1 1XD.

Traveller School Charity
PO Box 36,Grantham, Lincolnshire, NG31 6EW.
 

Web Sites: Gypsies and Travellers in Britain (a small selection)

Romani Studies at Greenwich University
http://www.gre.ac.uk/~at02/

University of Liverpool Gypsy Collections Homepage
http://sca.lib.liv.ac.uk/collections/gypsy/intro.htm

Alan Lodge's Homepage ('Tash' on New Travellers)
http://www.gn.apc.org/tash/

Scottish Traveller Education Project
http://www.mhie.ac.uk/~step/

The National Association of Health Workers with Travellers (UK)
http://nahwt.supernews.com/

Department of the Environment, Transport and Regions Homepage (UK)
http://www.detr.gov.uk/

Gypsy and Traveller Education (UK)
http://www.jokak.demon.co.uk/artemis/homepage.html

The Patrin Web Journal (section on Great Britain)
http://www.reocities.com/~patrin/countries.htm#GreatBritain

Web Homepage of Traveller-acad e-mail discussion list
http://www.mailbase.ac.uk/lists/traveller-acad/

University of Hertfordshire Press
http://www.herts.ac.uk/UHPress/Gypsies.html
 

Some Further Reading

ACTON, T. Gypsy Politics and Social Change. London: Routledge, Kegan Paul, 1974.

ACTON, T. (Ed.) Gypsy Politics and Traveller Identity. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press.

ACTON, T and MUNDY, G. (Ed.) Romani Culture and Gypsy Identity. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press.

ADAMS, B and others. Gypsies and Government Policy in England. London: Heinemann, 1975.

CARDIFF UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF EDUCATION. Traveller children and educational need in Wales. Cardiff, 1998.

CENTRE FOR GYPSY RESEARCH. The education of Gypsy and Traveller Children: action research and co-ordination. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 1993.

DALEY, I and HEDERSON J. Static Life on the Site. Yorkshire Art Circus, 1998.

EARLE, F. et  al. A Time To Travel: An introduction to Britain's Newer Travellers. Lyme Regis: Enabler Publications, 1994.

DEARLING, A. Almost everything you need to know about the Travellers' School Charity. Lyme Regis: Enabler Publications, December 1997.

DEARLING, A. No Boundaries. Lyme Regis: Enabler Publications, 1998.

FORRESTER, B. The Travellers' Handbook. London: Interchange Books, 1985.

FRASER, A. The Gypsies. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992.

FRIENDS, FAMILIES AND TRAVELLERS SUPPORT GROUP. Planning Appeals and Gypsies and Travellers. (Results of a study of planning appeal decision letters). Glastonbury: FFTSG, 1998.

HANCOCK, I. et al. The Roads of the Roma. A PEN anthology of Gypsy writers. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 1998.

HAWES, D. Gypsies, Travellers and the Health Service. Bristol: Policy Press,1997.

HAWES, D and PEREZ, B. The Gypsy and the State: the ethnic cleansing of British society. Bristol: Policy Press, (2nd edn)1996.

KENRICK, D. Gypsies: From India to the Mediterranean. The Interface Collection. Toulouse: CRDP, 1993.

KENRICK, D. Historical Dictionary of the Gypsies (Romanies). Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 1998.

KENRICK, D. and PUXON, G. Gypsies under the  Swastika.  Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 1995.

KENRICK, D. and CLARK, C. Moving On: The Gypsies and Travellers of Britain. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 1999.

LEBLON, B. Gypsies and flamenco. The Interface Collection. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 1995.

LIEGEOIS, J-P. Gypsies. London: Al-Saaqi, 1986.

LIEGEOIS, J-P. Roma, Gypsies, Travellers. Council of Europe, 1995.

LOWE, R. and SHAW, W.  Travellers, Voices of the New Age Nomads. London: Fourth Estate, 1993.

MCKAY, G. Senseless Acts of Beauty: cultures of resistance since the Sixties. London: Verso.

MAYALL, D. Gypsies and the State: public power and English Gypsies in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The Interface Collection. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 1995.

MORRIS, R. and CLEMENTS, L. (Eds.) Gaining Ground: Law Reform for Gypsies and Travellers. Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 1999

NEAT, T. The summer walkers: travelling people and pearl-fishers in the Highlands of Scotland. Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 1998.

NINER, P. and others. Local Authority Powers for Managing Unauthorised Camping. Research Report. London: Dept of the Environment, 1998.

OFFICE FOR STANDARDS IN EDUCATION. The Education of Travelling Children. London, 1996.

OKELY, J. The Traveller-Gypsies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

REHFISCH, A and REHFISCH, F, 'Scottish Travellers or Tinkers', in Rehfisch (Ed.) Gypsies, Tinkers and Other Travellers. London: Academic Press, 1975.

REISS, C. Education of Gypsy Children. London: Macmillan, 1975.

SANDFORD, J. Gypsies. London: Sphere, 1973. New edition forthcoming.

SCOTTISH ASSOCIATION OF HEALTH COUNCILS. Health Care and Travelling People: A Charter for Health and Travelling People, September 1992.

SCOTTISH OFFICE CENTRAL RESEARCH UNIT. Counting Travellers in Scotland: the 1992 Picture. Edinburgh, 1993.

STANGROOME, V. New Nomadic Groups: an information pack on the New Age Traveller phenomenon.  Self-published, 1993.

WILSON,M. A directory of planning policies for Gypsy site provision in England. Bristol: Policy Press. 1998.

DoE Circulars
1/94 Gypsy Sites and Planning
18/94 Gypsy Sites Policy and Unauthorised Camping

DETR and Home Office. Managing Unauthorised Camping: A Good Practice Guide. London: DETR, 1998.


Posted by the Patrin Web Journal with permission of the author, 14 June 1999.


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