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.