Description of Major Muslim Communities in India : Rautara or Zamindara

This is my fourth posting on a Muslim community in India, and like the previous one, it will focus on the state of the Uttar Pradesh (UP). I shall be looking at the interesting group called Zamindara, also known as Rautara, who extremely localized, found only in Azamgarh, Jaunpur and Mau districts. During the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, most Rautara insisted on calling Shaikhs, although this has now lessened. From the late 20th Century, the self-designation is now Azmi or Azmi Biradari or Azmi Qaum, which literally means a resident of Azamgarh District.

Like most communities, there are a number of traditions as to the origin of the Rautara. The word Zamindara is simply a corruption of the word zamin dar, meaning landowner or in many instances a cultivator. In the eastern most region of, it refers to a group of Muslim communities found mainly in villages who were traditionally associated with farming. They are also known as Rautara, which a corruption of the word ryot. I shall now further explore the term ryot as it can give a clue to the origin of the Rautara. Ryot and its alternative raiyat was a general economic term used throughout India for peasant cultivators but with variations in different provinces. During the Mughal Period (circa 16th onwards), a raiyat was defined as someone who has acquired a right to hold land for the purpose of cultivating it, whether alone or by members of his family, hired servants, or partners. It also referred to succession rights. Under the Mughal system of land control there were two types of raiyats: khudkasta and paikasta. The khudkasta raiyats were permanent resident cultivators of the village. Their rights in land were heritable, while other type of raiyats was called paikasta. They did not cultivate land on a permanent basis in any particular mauza (lowest revenue plus village settlement unit), but instead moved from mauza to mauza and engaged themselves for a crop season. In terms of revenue, the paikasta raiyats were generally paid a much lower rate of rent than the khudkashta raiyats.

Under the British, two system of land tenure were established. The Ryotwari (or ryotwary) tenure related to land revenue imposed on an individual or community owning an estate, and occupying a position analogous to that of a landlord..While under zamindari tenure, the land is held as independent property; while under ryotwari tenure it is held of the crown in a right of occupancy, which is under British rule both heritable and transferable by the ryots. It is therefore interesting how closely this community’s identity is closely connected with landownership, both zamindara and rautara referring to a type of landownership. The Rautara therefore a groups of people who held the land as cultivators and or landowners under the Mughals, and continued there position under the British. British writers such as Drake-Brockman writing the District Gazetteer of Azamgarh wrote favourably about them as cultivators.

As one would expect of a community defined by land tenure, the Rautara have a number of different origin myths. The Ain-i-Akbari, referred to them being the largest community in pargana Nizamabad a Mughal area of administration that roughly covers the present Azamgarh District. In early British colonial accounts, the Rautara were referred to in their words as a broken community of Brahmans and Rajputs, who had converted during the period of the Lodhi dynasty (1451-1526). However, the Rautara of Mohammadpur near Nizamabad had traditions of Afghan origin. There story runs like this, the village of Mohammadpur was founded during the rule of Jai Chand of Kannauj (1173 -1193). When area became part of the Delhi sultanate, the Afghans were joined by Arabs, and Moghals, who identified themselves as Sheikh, Mirza and Pathan respectively. These groups intermingled with each other each other but retained their individual identities as Pathan, Sheikh and Mirza. Incidentally, the Mohammadpur tradition accept that high caste Hindus such as Chattaris, Brehmins and Rajputs who adopted Islam, were also welcome incorporated into the community. By time of the rise of the Jaunpur Sultans, these communities referred to themselves as Ryot or in the Bhojpuri Rautara, based on their position as cultivators.

It was during the rule of the Mughal emperor Akbar (1542-1605) the Afghans the people of the area including the people of Mohammadpur came under period of persecution. In the eyes of Akbar, the local Afghans had supported Sher Shah Suri, who briefly ended Mughal rule in North India. The Mohammadpur villagers, according to their stories, had to destroy all proofs of their being Afghan. They therefore emphasized their identity as ryots, and when the British arrived they noted a community of Brahman and Rajput converts, rather then Afghans or Turks. I feel that that as claims to Afghan or Arab identity are recent, while not denying that there may be some among them who are of Afghan or Mughal origin, by and large the late 19th Century and early 20th Century British writers were probably right. Incidentally, most Rautara had recorded themselves as Shaikhs, a term used through eastern UP and Bihar for recent converts to Islam. Imtiaz Ahmad has looked at the case of Kayastha Muslims in Allahabad changing their identity to Siddique Shaikhs as an attempt at raising there status. This process has been called Ashrafization, where groups start to claim an extra Indian identity to raise their social status. In Azamgarh, furthermore as communal relations between Hindus and Muslims have worsened, the insistence of Afghan and Central Asian identity has increased.

The Rautara speak a distinct dialect of Bhojpuri, although most also speak Urdu. Greater Ashrafization has meant that the Rautara have begun to call their Bhojpuri dialect Azmiat. Most Rautara sub-divide themselves into three groups, the Shaikh, Pathan or Khan and Turk. Azamgarh District remains the centre of the community, substantial number in neighbouring districts of Mau and Jaunpur, and in certain pockets of Gorakhpur and Sultanpur. In terms of major villages, starting with Shaikh sub-division include Sanjarpur (King Sanjar Shaikh) Amilo Khas, Saat Gao, Mangrawan Raipur, Kundanpur Kotila, Bindawal- Jairajpur, Bisham, Nandao, Anjan Shahed, Mahwara , Ashrafpur, Mande and Sarai Poohi. Among the Pathan sub-division, the main iinclude Mohammedpur (Ghazni), Fariha (Farah) Khandwari, Daudpur, Sherwaa, Surahi and Rajapur Sikrour. While the Turk sub-division villages include Muslim Patti, Manjeerpatti, Mirzapur, Hasanpur-Beenapara and Shahpur.

Description of Major Muslim Communities in India : Muslim Gujar in Uttar Pradesh

This is my third post on Indian Muslim communities, and here I will only focus on Muslim Gujjars found in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India. They are Muslim converts of the wider Gujjar community of South Asia. The Gujjar of Uttar Pradesh are, in fact, three distinct communities, those of the Doab region, those of Awadh and the nomadic Van Gujjar. Their early history is shrouded in mystery, and each of the three communities has different traditions as to their conversion to Islam. Furthermore, each of these three communities is endogamous, with no case of inter-marriage, and having unique customs and traditions.

The Muslim Gujjar of the Doab

The Muslim Gujjar of the Doab region are found in the districts of Saharanpur, Muzzafarnagar, Meerut, Bulandshahr and Aligarh. They were said to have peacefully converted to Islam during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. Gujjars traditionally belonged to the OBC.

Some Muslim Gujjars are cattle herders, breeders and land owners. They are engaged in the production and distribution of milk and milk products. The Muslim Gujjars are small and medium-sized farmers, and cultivate wheat, paddy, maize, millets, pulses, sugar cane and vegetables. They also grow fodder for their cattle. Their customs are similar to the other Muslim cultivating castes, such as the Ranghar and Muley Jat.

They are an endogamous community, and practice gotra exogamy. Their main gotras are the Panwar, Nagar/Nagra, Nirbaan, Tak, Banja, Bhati, Chandel, Chechi, Dodhar, Gorsi, Jinar, Katarya, Kasana, Kasave, Poswal, Rawal and Tomar. Each of these clans is equal status, and they all intermarry.[3] The Gujjar are Sunni Muslims, and many especially those in Saharanpur District have been affected by the reformist Deobandi sect, while those in other districts are Barelvi. They speak Khari boli and most educated Gujjar speak now Urdu.

In Saharanpur District they are found mainly in Nakur and Saharanpur tehsils, and Nakur was at one time known as Gujrat or the land of the Gujjars. In neighbouring Muzzafarnagar District Muslim Gujjar villages are found mainly in the valley of the Yamuna. A small number of Muslim Gujjar are also found in neighbouring districts of Meerut, Bulandshahr and Aligarh in the Doab, and the districts of Bijnor and Moradabad in Rohilkhand.

The Gujjar of Awadh

The Gujjar of Awadh are found mainly in the districts of Raebareli, Sultanpur, Barabanki, Gorakhpur and Bahraich . They claim to have settled in the Awadh region, after the fleeing the countryside near Delhi from the forces of Tamelane. The Awadh Gujjar are small to medium sized farmers, often inhabiting multi-caste villages. Their main gotras are the Ekkisa, kharroha, pasuwar, kori, Chauhan, Godha, Ghongar, Ghori, Kathariya, Muker, Nagarpanthi, Panwar and Sengarwar. The community do not practice gotra exogamy, and marry close kin. They speak Awadhi, but most also speak Urdu. Historically, many were tenant farmers or dairymen, but the abolishment of the zamindari system has led to redistribution of the land, and many are now owner cultivators. In Raebareli District, they make up a quarter of the Muslim population of that district, and it is always considered the centre of the Gujjar of Awadh. They are found mainly in Salon and Maharajganj tehsils, especially in Rokha. While in Sultanpur District, they are found chiefly in Jagdishpur, Gaura Jamun and Amethi. The Gujjar are largely Sunni, but many in Barabanki District are Shia.

The Van Gujjar

The Van Gujjar are a nomadic tribe found in the jehlem state and forested Bhabar tract of Uttar Pradesh . They get their name from the Hindi word ban or van which means a forest and the word Van Gujjar literally means a forest dwelling Gujjar. According to their traditions, the Van Gujjars originate in Jammu, and some three hundred years ago the community accompanied a princess of the royal house of Jammu who married a prince of Sirmaur in Himachal Pradesh. The community moved from Sirmaur to the Uttarakhand region in the early nineteenth century. They are now found in the forests of Dehradun, Saharanpur, Bijnor, Pauri Garhwal and Nainital districts. They undertake an annual migration to their summer pastures in Uttarkashi and Kedarnath. The Van Gujjar follow defined routes, and with each clan assigned a particular route. The governments of both Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have made repeated attempts to settle them.

The Gujjar economy revolves around the buffaloes, and they survive by selling milk and milk products to settled villagers. They often rely on middlemen of the Bania caste, to whom many are now indebted. They also suffer discrimination at the hands of forestry officers, who often extract money from the Gujjars. As nomads, the Gujjars have difficulties proving land ownership, and often face eviction from their camp sites. The Van Gujar of the Rajaji National Park have been involved in a campaign to safe their pastures from the state authorities.[10]

The Van Gujar are strictly endogamous, and maintain a system of gotra exogamy. Their main gotras are the Kasana, Lodha, Padhana, Bagri, Dinda, Bhainsi, Chauhan, Baniya, Bessuwal, Chechi, Khatana, Chopra and Kalas. They are Sunni Muslims, but have maintained a number of pre-Islamic customs. They speak the Gojri language and most understand Hindi.

The religious identity of indigenous Gujjars (particularly the Van Gujjars) in the Himilayan region remains largely unexplored. David Emmanuel Singh’s recently concluded research presents a detailed account of Deobandi Islamization among them and argues that the Gujjar choice to associate with Deobandis occurs in the wider context of conservation debates, local government-led efforts to relocate them from the Rajaji National Park in Uttarakhand, India, and the failure of NGOs to fully represent their interests. Based on documents and interviews, this detailed work explores both the continuing expansion of Deobandi reform and the responses of the Gujjars. It points too toward the role of Islam in integrating marginal groups in South Asia.


Muslim Gujjar in People of India Uttar Pradesh Volume XLII Part Two edited by A Hasan & J C Das, pages 1031 to 1041, Manohar Publications

Rivalry and brotherhood : politics in the life of farmers in northern India / Dipankar Gupta pages 50 and 51 Delhi ; Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1997 ISBN 0195641019
Gujar in Tribes and Castes of North Western Provinces and Oudh by William Crook Volume II
Status and Power in a Muslim Dominated village by Zarina Bhatti in Caste and social stratification among Muslims in India / edited by Imtiaz Ahmad page 211 New Delhi : Manohar, 1978.
Politics, power, and leadership in rural India / SM Ijlal Anis Zaidi pages 39 and 41New Delhi : Commonwealth Publishers, 1988. ISBN 8190006630

At the Tail of the Buffalo: Van Gujjar pastoralists between the forest and the world arena by Pernille Gooch Dept. of Sociology, Lund University (1998)