|Born||February 3, 1950
New Delhi, India
|Died||June 28, 2005(aged 55)|
|Education||Doctor of Philosophy|
University of Strasbourg (M.A.)|
Paris-Sorbonne University (Ph.D.)
|Thesis||Les Sinté du Pays Rhénan. Essai d'une Monographie d'un Sous–groupe Tsigane (M.A.)|
Les Ghorbat d'Afghanistan. Aspects Économiques d'un Groupe Itinerant ' Jat' [note 1] (Ph.D.) 
|Doctoral advisor||Xavier de Planhol |
|Institutions||Former co-chairperson, Commission on Nomadic Peoples of the International Union of Ethnological and Anthropological Sciences|
Aparna Rao (February 3, 1950 – June 28, 2005) was a German anthropologist who performed studies on social groups in Afghanistan, France, and some regions of India. Her doctorate studies focused on anthropogeography, ethnology, and Islamic studies. Rao taught anthropology at the University of Cologne, serving for a brief time as chair of the Department of Ethnology at the South Asia Institute of Heidelberg University, Germany.
Rao's research focused on peripatetic, agrarian populations in Afghanistan, France, Jammu, Kashmir, and western Rajasthan. Rao researched the impact of the conflict in Kashmir on the environment and lives of people. Her 1982 work, Les Ġhorbat d'Afghanistan. Aspects Économiques d'un Groupe Itinérant 'Jat', researched the ethnic makeup and local economy of Afghanistan. Her book Autonomy: Life Cycle, Gender, and Status among Himalayan Pastoralists received the 1999 Choice award.
Aparna Rao was born in New Delhi, India to Oxford–educated parents who were political activists.  In 1980, she married Michael J. Casimir (*1942 in Berlin), an ethnologist who retired in 2020 as professor emeritus from the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the University of Cologne, Germany.   
Rao studied French literature, linguistics, cultural anthropology, physical anthropology, sociology, and ethnology at the University of Strasbourg.   She received her M.A. in anthropology from the University of Strasbourg in 1974, and later in 1980, completed her Ph.D. in ethnology from the Paris-Sorbonne University.   Rao studied anthropogeography, ethnology, and Islamic studies during her doctorate studies. She spoke multiple languages including Bengali, English, French, German, Hindi, Persian, Romanes, and Urdu. 
Rao taught anthropology as an associate professor at the University of Cologne.  She became a member of the Société Asiatique in 1981.  From 1993 to 1995, she was chair of the Department of Ethnology at the South Asia Institute of Heidelberg University, Germany.    From 1995 to 1998, she served as the co-chairperson of the Commission on Nomadic Peoples of the International Union of Ethnological and Anthropological Sciences, along with Michael Casimir.  She had been on the board of directors of the Association of Gypsy Lore Studies.  She was editor-in-chief of the Nomadic Peoples [note 2] journal. 
Between 1995 and 1997, she was invited as a visiting scholar by the Institute of Development Studies at Jaipur, and between 2003 and 2004, by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies at Delhi.  Before her death in June 2005, she was scheduled to be the research director at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris. 
Rao performed field studies on the farming, pastoral, and peripatetic peoples.  She researched the economy, ethnicity, gender relations, and social organization of pastoralist and peripatetic peoples in Afghanistan, France, and Kashmir.  She studied cognition, economy, environment, and social change in the midst of social groups in Rajasthan and Kashmir.  According to Jadwiga Pstrusińska, utilizing her native-level knowledge of an Indian language, she discovered previously unobserved phenomena on the languages of Afghanistan during her ethnological studies on the country's peripatetic populace in the 1980s.  In her research in Afghanistan, Rao identified the Jalali, Pikraj, Shadibaz and Vangawala peoples as four clans of "industrial nomads" who speak a north Indian dialect and have characteristics of gypsies. In 2004, the four clans' total estimated population in Afghanistan was 7,000.  Between 1980 and 1992, she performed ethnographic research on the agency and autonomy within the Bakarwals whose traditions have incorporated elements from those of the Pashtuns and Punjabis. 
Rao's research works included the impact of the conflict in Kashmir on the environment and lives of people,  and from 1991 to 1994, she did research on the ethnic, religious, and political conflicts in Jammu and Kashmir.  Rena C. Gropper of Hunter College noted that Rao was one of the few anthropologists who had carried out research studies in the midst of groups who draw their basic livelihood from other cultural groups.  The term "peripatetic peoples", that was coined by her, has become a part of academic terminology.  She defined the peripatetic peoples as "the endogamous groups who employ regular spatial mobility as an economic strategy". 
In Les Ġhorbat d'Afghanistan. Aspects Économiques d'un Groupe Itinérant 'Jat,' [note 1] Rao discussed the livelihood of the Jat people of Afghanistan, with a focus on the Ghorbat people.   Asta Olesen suggested that in the book, Rao had filled "an almost complete gap in the knowledge of the ethnic puzzle of Afghanistan".  According to University of North Carolina's Jon W. Anderson, the book made accessible the 19 months of fieldwork presented in it. 
Gropper suggested that her book The Other Nomads: Peripatetic Minorities in Cross–Cultural Perspective (1987) lacked structure and relevancy to future work. 
While reviewing Culture, Creation, and Procreation: Concepts of Kinship in South Asian Practice, a book that was co–authored by Rao in 2000, Ann Grodzins Gold of Syracuse University pointed out that a large proportion of its content had been drawn from anthropological field studies concluded or initiated in the 1970s and early 1980s and that the book lacked "new ethnography".  Gold also said that a one-sided presentation of cultural essentialism didn't give much credence to a postcolonial interpretation. She noted that the authors substantially covered the "geographic and ethnographic contexts" of South Asia. 
Rao's coauthored book Customary Strangers: New Perspectives on Peripatetic Peoples in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, published in 2004, was a set of mainly ethnographic essays surrounding the role of interactions between settled and displaced peoples. In one of the essays, she analyzed research conducted on some Afghanistani nomadic people in 1975–1978, their self-perception, and how they were perceived by the sedentary populace of Afghanistan.  In the book, Rao built off previous work conducted by Georg Simmel. University of Pittsburgh's Robert M. Hayden reviewed the book, believing that the book might in the future serve as a benchmark study of displaced peoples. Hayden also believed that Rao's explanation for why the peripatetic lifestyle is successful was a good summary of the scholarly consensus surrounding the peripatetic lifestyle. 
Rao's co-authored and co-edited book Nomadism in South Asia is a series of essays on nomadism in South Asia.   Vinay Kumar Srivastava said that the ethnographic investigations done on nomadism by the authors were extensive. He further added that "...this is the first volume of its kind that brings together different writings, from different cultural contexts on nomads".  According to Denison University's Bahram Tavakolian, the book clarified the understanding of how "environment, structure, and agency" interacted in nomadic cultures. 
They occupy what the German anthropologist Aparna Rao dubs the "peripatetic niche" (1993: 503-509) - and Alan Barnard (1993: 35) refers to as the san in any city.( registration required)
Aparna was born on 3 February 1950 in New Delhi as the third child of a historian and an Anglicist. Both her parents had studied at Oxford and both had been engaged in the political struggles of India during their time. Through her parents, Aparna was confronted with the grave socioeconomic problems of India and became acquainted with the role of academia in societal struggles. Although belonging to an elite family, social conscience and personal responsibility were core motivations for her later academic engagements.( registration required)
APARNA RAO (1950-2005)
The Late Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Cologne, Germany
Aparna Rao has taught anthropology at the University of Cologne and acted as Head of Department, Ethnology, at the South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg. She was cochairperson of the Commission on Nomadic Peoples of the International Union of Ethnological and Anthropological Sciences and is chief editor of the journal Nomadic Peoples. She has spent several years doing field research among peripatetic pastoral and farming communities.
APARNA RAO did her schooling in India before studying Social Anthropology, Sociology, Human Geography, Islamic Studies and French Literature at the Universities of Paris (Sorbonne) and Srasbourg. She has researched mobile populations of peripatetics and pastoralists, in France, Afghanistan and the Western Himalayas (Kashmir), and published extensively on aspects of social organisation, economy, gender relations and ethnicity. She has taught Anthropology at Cologne University and is acting Head of Department, Anthropology, University of Heidelberg.
Dr. Aparna Rao At present: Institut für Völkerkunde der Universität zu Köln Albertus–Magnus Platz D-50923 Köln Germany Present research: in South Asia, among various communities in Kashmir and Rajasthan Subject: economy, cognition, social change, environment
In so far as we are concerned with works on secret languages (and similar phenomena) and their speakers from Afghanistan itself, relevant information can be found in works by French researchers (Kieffer 1983; Dor 1977). Among the most valuable of these we can list the works of Aparna Rao, who, while conducting ethnological research on peripatetic groups, made important observations in relation to their "own languages." This research dates back to the 1980s—that is, it emerged subsequent to the Polish findings which will be discussed later. Rao's chief asset was her knowledge of a language from the Indian group at a level attainable only by a native speaker. This enabled her to perceive phenomena not previously noticed by anyone else, during her field studies in Afghanistan. The archives of the author of the present book preserve fragments of her correspondence with Aparna Rao and Andreas Tietze, dating from 1987–1988, related to research on secret languages.
Afghanistan is the first country to the west of India and Pakistan where we can identify industrial nomads who do not speak any of the local languages but a dialect from North India, in this case, Inku. Aparna Rao has identified four clans – Jalali, Pikraj, Shadibaz and Vangawala – who fall into this definition of 'Gypsy'. The locals call them 'Jat', which is used in a pejorative way. [..] They number in total some 7,000 and live on the edge of Afghan society.
The terminology used for this adaptation had not always been consistent in these studies, but the term 'peripatetic peoples' proposed by Rao has now gained general acceptance.( registration required)
The concept of peripatetics has been introduced in Romani studies by scholars such as Aparna Rao (1985, 1987), Joseph Berland (1982) and Salo and Salo (1982). Peripataticism is a mode of subsistence of great adaptive value. Peripatetics are endogamous groups who "employ regular spatial mobility as an economic strategy" (Rao 1987, 1).