I am interested in the history of Pakistan, and in particular its people. Trawling through the net, I find that there is little or no information on the history of this great nation. By history, I don’t mean descriptions of major events or incidents, but rather the history of its local traditions and customs. This is my first attempt at blog writing, so please bear that in mind when reading the rest of this article.
I thought that I should start off by looking at a region in western Punjab, known as the Thal, and in particular some of the tribes that inhabit it. The Thal is a large desert situated between the Jhelum and Sindh rivers just south of the Pothohar Plateau. Its total length from north to south is a 190 miles, and its widest is 70 miles (110 km) and narrowest is 20 miles. The Thal is all that remains of the semi-arid uplands that existed between rivers of western Punjab prior to the 19th Century constructions of canals by the British colonial authorities that led to the creation of what is now a largely irrigated region. This process also involved settlement of peasant colonists from what is now Indian Punjab.
This region is home to a number of tribes that can be loosely grouped under the name Jat. In the Thal, the term refers to any tribal grouping that practiced pastoral nomadism. Each tribe historically occupied distinct areas where they enjoyed prerogatives to grazing, and often claimed descent from a common ancestor. Among the larger tribes of the region that come under the rubric Jat include the Aheer, Aulakh, Baghoor, Bhachar, Chhina, Gahi, Ghallu, Jhammat, Johiya, Kanyal, Khokhar, Majoka, Mammak, Naich, Parhar, Panwar, Rahdari, Saigra, Sandhila, Sial, Talokar, Tiwana, Uttra and Wahla. In addition, this desert region is also home to some Baloch tribes such as the Kulachi, Lashari, and Waghra Magsi. I shall in this blog look at five such tribes, the Aheer, Bhachar, and Talokar individually. I would also ask the reader to look at my article on the Tiwana, which gives some further background on the history of the Thal.
Hopefully, time permitting; I shall expand this by looking at some of the others mentioned in the list. Below is a list of tribes that were categorised as Jat by 1911 Census of India for what was then the Khushab Tehsil, which occupied a significant area of the Thal desert.
While in Bhakkar Tehsil of the then Mianwali District, the following were labelled as Jats by 1911 Census of India:
Most of these tribes are no longer pastoral, having all settled down to a sedentary agricultural based lifestyle. Furthermore, as the Thal was the site of large scale settlement of refugees from eastern Punjab by the Pakistan government, cases of compact territory are rare, and restricted to those areas of the Thal which have not seen canal colonisation, for example Rahdari still occupy a compact territory near the village of the same name. Despite differences, the tribes share a common language, Thalochi, and other customs and traditions. They also all share a common traditions of migration, with an ancestor leaving territory in India and migrating to the Thal, and converting to Islam at the hands of the Sufi saint during the course of this migration. In addition, almost all the tribes claim to belonging to larger tribal grouping, such as the Panwar of central India, or claims to be sub-groups of larger categories such as Khokhar or Bhatti. For exambly, the Baghoor and Bhachar both are clans of the Khokhar tribe, while the Tiwana claim to Panwar ancestry. I shall however start with a tribe that makes no such claim, the Aheer, who are one of the larger tribes of the Thal, with their villages scattered from Khushab all way down to Noorpur Thal.
The Aheer, are found throughout the western districts of the Punjab, In the Thal region, they are found mainly in Khushab District, concentrated in the headquarters in Khushab. The Khushab Aheer, are often in the news in Pakistan, due mainly to their active participatiojn in politics, having produced Malik Nasim Aheer, a former interior Minister under General Zia. This article will not concentrate on that family, but will be a general description of the tribe. Urdu sources, which often dismissed by those who either have no knowledge of the language, or pretend they don’t, will be the main basis of this summary. My main source shall be Aqvam-i Panjab by SultÌan Shahbaz Anjum.
So who are the Aheer, and the answer is not that simple, in fact with regards to tribal origins, it never is. The name Ahir, which is actually pronounced as Aheer, is used for a large caste cluster found throughout North India, many of whom prefer to call themselves Yadavs. An obvious conclusion would be therefore to conclude the Aheer of the Thal, and others parts of western Punjab, are one and the same as the Ahir. The Tehreek Aqwam e Punjab is silent on this issue, however most Aheers claim descent from Qutab Shah, the ancestor of the Awan and Khokhar tribes, and deny any conection with the Ahir of North India. Denzil Ibbetson, the colonial ethnographer, in his account of the 1881 Census of Punjab, argued that Aheer and Heer was one in the same tribe. Those who spoke dialects of Lahanda, such as Seraiki or Thalochi tended to refer to themselves as Aheer, while those found in central Punjab refered to themselves as Heer. The Heer, a large Jat clan found throughout central Punjab, stretching from Gujrat to Patiala, together with the Bhullar and Maan clans, claim to be the nucleus of the Jat ethnic group, all other tribes were said to be latter incorporated into the Jat. There is a further division as the Heer can be either Muslim or Sikh, while the Aheer are always Muslim. The 1917 District Gazetteer of Shahpur District, which then occupied most of the Thal, simply refers to the Aheer as “an ordinary Musalman peasants, like their neighbours”. So I started off this paragraph by asking the question, who are the Aheer, and the only fact that be confirmed is that they were once a large pastoral tribe, occupying the northern portion of the Thal, whose chiefs or Maliks in the 19th Century confirmed ownership of their lands, which helped to transform them into large landowners in what became Khushab.
Villages in Thal
In Khushab District, there villages include Aheerpur, Rakh Baghoor, Aheer Jagir, Rahdari and Girote near Khushab city. Staying within the Thal, but outside Khushab, important Aheer villages include Aheeranwala, Aba Khel, Ahheranwala, Jandanwala and Wandhi Aheeranwali near Pai-Khel, all in Mianwali District, while across the Jhelum, in Sargodha District, there are several Aheer villages near the town of Sahiwal, such as Ahir Fateh Shah and Ahir Surkhru, and Lakseem near Kot Momin. In Mandi Bahauddin District, Chak Nizam near the town of Malakwal is an important village. Finally in Bhakkar District, they are found in Aheeranwala and Wadhaywala.
Outside the Thal,
The Aheer are found in Rawalpindi, Lodhran, Khanewal, Sahiwal and Faisalabad districts In the canal colonies of central Punjab, Aheers from the Thal, like many others have settled in chaks, or settlements, with important ones being Chak 142J.B (Khai Aheeran), Chak 235JB (Haiboana), Langrana and Mouza Lodhran in Chiniot District, Chak 452 JB (Aheeranwala) in Jhang District, Chak 7 (Aheeranwala) in Mandi Bahauddin District, Chak 77/12-L in Sahiwal District. In southern Punjab, the Aheer are found in scattered settlements in Khanewal District in villages near the towns of Kabirwala and Qadirpur Raan, and in Lodhran District, their most important villages being Basti Aheer and Jhok Aheer.
Isolated from other Aheer settlements are the villages of Ahir and Bher Ahir in the Gujar Khan Tehsil of Rawalpindi. These Aheer claim Rajput status, and have customs similar to other groups Rajput groups.
Distribution of Muslim Ahir in Punjab by District According to 1911 Census of India
|Shahpur (Sargodha & Khushab districts)||1,017|
|Chenab Colony (Faisalabad)||345|
Leaving the Aheer, another interesting tribe found mainly in the periphery of the Thal are the Bhachars, who are found mainly in the town of Wan Bhachran, and villages nearby such as Dera Atta Mohammadwala at the northern edge of the Thal desert. The Bhachars are a clan of the historic and large Khokhar tribe. They state that their original home was in the Gujrat District, from where they migrated, first to Buggi Bhooki near Girot in Khushab District, and later to their present site, which was chosen on account of the “wan” or large well said to be built by the Emperor Sher Shah Suri. These wells were placed at intervals of about a day’s march apart on the road from Gujrat to Bannu in what is now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The name “Bhachar” seems to have been a form of endearment applied to them by some forgotten Pir, from the word bhachra meaning a calf. According to the 19th Century gazetteer of Bannu District, the Bhachars are really a branch of the Bandial tribe, also Khokhars. The lands surrounding Wan Bhachran were acquired by a Bandial chief named Malik Surkhru Khan, who established a fort from where he ruled the adjoining region till the rise of the Sikhs in the 19th Century. The Maliks of Wan Bachran are descended from him. Whether they are branch of the Bandial are not, what is clear that they are closely connected with the Khokhar clans of the Sindh Sagar Doab, such as the Bandial, Ghanjera and Ganjial
Like the neighbouring Pathan tribes such as the Niazis, the Bhachars are subdivided into clans that go by the name khels. Among larger Bhachar clans are the Dadukhel, Mohammad khel, Arori khel, Wadoo khel, Tahir khel, Pehlwan khel, Bego khel, Basharat khel, Jany khel, Kory khel, Mamo khel, Ali khel, Mian Ahmad khel, Mian sher khel, Shaho khel, Sui and Dharoi.
Interestingly, there is still village called Bhachar near the town of Mandi Bahauddin, although the population of the village is largely Gondal, with no Bhachar families. However, the Wara Chamian near Malakwal in Mandi Bahauddin districts is still home some Bhachar families. In neighbouring Khushab District, there are several Bhachar families in the village of Mohibpur along the banks of the Jhelum. The presence of these Bhachar settlement does suggest that there was some sort of migration from the east, and valley of Jhelum where the districts of Jhelum and Khushab meet is also home to several other Khokhar clans such as the Bandial, Gunjial and Jalap. Other then Mohibpur, Bhachar are also found in the villages of Dera Atta Muhammadwala, Jhajha, Mehro and Shahwala Shumali near the Khushab Mianwali border, not far from Wan Bhachran. Outside this core area, Bhachar are also found in Talokar village. From what I know, there is no link left between the Mandi Bahauddin Bhachars and those of Wan Bachran.
The Talokar are another large an important Jat tribe of the Thal. Like the Jhammats, the Talokar claim to by descent Panwar Rajputs. According to their traditions, they are the related to Sial and Tiwana tribes. Supposedly all three tribes descend from three brothers, Tila, Sila and Taloka. Once again, like the Jhammat, the Talokar traditions state that they accepted Islam at the hands of the famous Sufi Baba Farid Shukar Gunj. The Talokars came from East Punjab in India, and first settled near Bhera in Sargodha District. Their first settlements were the villages were Kalara and Kurrar Talokar. From there, they spread to the east side of the Indus River, founding the villages of Bakharra (Kacha), Ding and Khola (Thal), in Mianwali District. Like the Niazi Pashtuns, who are their neighbours in Mianwali, the Talokar are subdivided in clans, referred to as khels. Important Talokar khels in Mianwali include the Lato Khel,Shahbaz Khel,Baqir Khel,Yaroo Khel, and Rangay Khel
Important Talokar villages include Talokar, Talokar Shumali, Talokar Jannubi and Chak Talokaranwala and a good many other villages near the town of Noor Pur Thal in Khushab District. A small number of Talokar are also found in Bandial village near the border with Mianwali District. In Mianwali itself, there villages include Ding Khola Talokar (New Ding Sharif, Saeed Abad (Sharqi and Gharbi), Lal Khelan wala, Zaman Kelan wala, Hashim Naggar, Tahir Abad, Shahbaz Khelanwala and Khanqah Sirrajia.