Deepa is a heritage speaker from the Ghisadi community, one of the Nomadic and Denotified tribes of India. As a Nomadic and Denotified tribe, the Ghisadi community has been institutionally targeted beginning with the British Colonial Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 but continuing with the post-independence Habitual Offenders Act of 1952. Ghisadi has not been studied by linguistics, and the linguistic origins and connections of the language are unknown. Deepa stated that, similar to the Romani languages, the “Ghisadi language is spoken by a nomadic community who have moved around for generations–it is a dynamic language with varied influences.” There is no census collecting data about the NT-DNT (“Nomadic Tribes, Denotified”) communities within India, so the number of speakers is unknown. However, Deepa estimates that there are around 350,000 people who speak the Ghisadi language. Since the passage of the 1871 British colonial law, Ghisadi has been consistently criminalized and persecuted, forcing heritage speakers to relinquish their language. Deepa fears that her generation could be the last fluent in Ghisadi: “The fact is that my, and many NT-DNT communities, have not been studied at all, or the rare mention is by outside researchers who know very little about us so this data has a lot of biases. Researchers from within the community are only emerging now.”

Deepa’s goal is to work with their community to create a ‘creative dictionary’ that joins words and definitions with historical context, stories, artworks, and additional celebrations of Ghisadi culture. To curate data for their dictionary, Deepa is holding workshops with elders and community leaders. Through this project, Deepa hopes to build stronger bonds within the Ghisadi community, reduce stigma, and foster pride in Ghisadi culture.