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. 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.
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)