In this post, I will look at two little known communities found mainly in north eastern Punjab province, roughly the area stretching from Lahore to the Himalayan foothills of Sialkot and Narowal districts, between the Ravi and the Chenab rivers. Unlike earlier groups looked at, neither the Baddun nor the Barwala have played a major roles in the history of this region. However, they form an important element of the population of the upper Rechna Doab. On account of their lifestyles, they also suffered persecution at the hands of the British colonial regimes, particularly the Punjab Land Alienation Act, which restricted land ownership to certain communities. Its effect on both the Baddun and Barwala was that they were deprived the right to own property, rendering them landless. This legacy still affects both groups, with many members still in poor economic circumstances.
The Baddun or sometimes called Badu are a community of Punjabi Muslims. So how did this community of Punjabi Muslims get the name Baddun. According to their own traditions, the word Baddun is a Punjabi mispronunciation of the Arabic Bedu, or nomad, and until the arrival of the British in 1848, the Baddun were entirely nomadic. Their ancestors are said to have first settled in Sindh, having come from Iraq. They then moved into the Rachna Doab, sometime during the rule of the Mughals. Here in the Rechna, the Baddun became classic peripatetic nomads. In this kind of nomadism, those who move from place to place offering services in specific trades to the settled communities. The Baddun provided work in straw, made pipe- bowls, with their women peddling goods. In addition, they also captured and trained bears, taking them from the hill country of Jammu just north of Sialkot. Most of these bears were latter sold on to the Qalandar communities, which are associated with bear entertainment. However, with partition in 1947, they have discontinued this activity, as Jammu now lies within Indian territory.
The etymology of the word Baddun is most likely from in Arabic bidun, meaning without, or in some cases outside. As peripatetic nomads, the Baddun would be seen as outside the community of settled villagers, therefore bidun or outsiders. A further distinction from the settled villagers was that the Baddun were and are followers of Imam Al-Shafi‘i, as opposed to the settled population who are followers of Imam Abu Hanifa. As Shāfiʿī Sunnis, the Baddun did eat crocodiles, tortoises and frogs, although this is no longer the case, which caused some tensions with other Muslim groups. The Baddun are further divided into three clans, the Wahla, Dhara and Balara, although all three intermarry.
The other community that I will look in this post are the Barwala tribe, historically found in Sialkot, Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur districts. They are largely Muslim, with a Hindu minority. Both groups lived interspersed prior to partition in 1947. In addition to the Hindu Barwala, the Muslim Barwala are said to have close relations with the Hindu Batwal caste. According Arthur Horace Rose, the early 20th Century British administrator and ethnographers, both the Barwala and Batwal are the same community. However, geographically, Batwals were found largely in Jammu and the Himachal region, and were Hindu, while the Barwala were found in the plains stretching from Hoshiarpur to Sialkot, and were largely Muslim.
There are essentially two traditions as to the origin of the Barwala. The traditional occupation of the Barwala was the manufacture of mats and winnowing fans, and the name is probably derived from bara or baria, the kind of grass used as the main raw material. Another tradition is that in Barwala is the mispronunciation of the word. Batwal or batwar, which means a tax collector in the Pahari dialect of Kangra region of Himachal. When the Batwals, migrated from the Himalayan hills of the Kangra and Chamba region, their name was changed to Barwala. While in the hills, the Batwal are largely Hindu, there migration to the plains led to a significant portion also converting to Islam. In this region, other than the manufacture of mats, the Barwala were also the traditional village watchmen. In the plain country, according to Rose, other groups of lower castes who took to the occupation of manufacturing of mats and winnowing fans, were are all included under the generic term of Barwala, if they were involved. Perhaps the most outlandish origin story is that the name of Barwala is said to be a corruption of baharwala or “outsider,” because, like all outcasts, they live in the outskirts of the village.
But the beginning of the 20th Century, many Barwala in the Sialkot and Gurdaspur areas had begun to till land, largely as tenants and field labourers of the Rajputs, whose caste traditions prevented them from cultivating with their own hands. In the traditionally feudal setup of early 20th Century village Punjab, the Barwala were required to attend upon village guests, fill pipes, bear torches, and carry the bridegroom’s palanquin at weddings and the like, and receive fixed fees for doing so. The post of village chaukidar was also heredity within particular Barwala communities. The Barwala community is sub-divided into clans or gots, who traditionally did not intermarry. In Sialkot the Barwala gots are
Distribution of Muslim Barwala in Punjab by District According to 1901 Census of India