Rawal of Pakistani Punjab

In this post, I will look at a little known Punjabi Muslim community called the Rawals. Like the Khatiks referred to in my earlier post, the Rawals as a community form an important part of the Punjabi Muslim diaspora, with many migrating to Malaysia and Hong King in the early 20th Century.

Like most other Punjabi groups, the Rawal have a complex origin. According to tribal traditions, they are of Arab origin. The ancestor of their tribe was an individual named Ryal, after who they are said to get their name, was in the service of the Prophet. Once when alms were being given by the Prophet, no one came forward to receive them, whereupon Ryal accepted them. Over time, Ryal was corrupted to Rawal, after their settlement in India. By the beginning of the 20th, the Rawal were found mainly in what now Indian Punjab were engaged in petty trade. They had much in common with groups such the Bhatra and Ramaiya, who were also engaged in petty trade.

Rose, the early 20th Century British ethnologist argued the Rawal were really a group of Jogi who had converted to Islam. He argued that the term Rawal was generally used as a synonym for the Jogi, though, strictly speaking, it only denoted Muslim Jogi, who was generally also known as a Jogi-Rawal. The question then is who or what is a Jogi. Jogi, or more correctly Yogi is someone, in tantra traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, is someone who is a practitioner of the tantra (a tantrika). In Classical Sanskrit, the word yogi is derived from yogin, which refers to a practitioner of yoga. Yogi is technically male, and yoginī is the term used for female practitioners. The two terms are still used with those meanings today, but the word yogi is also used generically to refer to both male and female practitioners of yoga and related meditative practices belonging to any religion or spiritual method. The yogi, or by the middle ages the Jogi had become a religious order, living a wondering life as mendicants. In Punjab, the Jogi like in many other parts of India had evolved into a sectarian caste, as distinct from a holy order. Conversion to Islam, which, if we accept Rose, did not stop the Muslim groups to continue to practice as Jogi.

Etymologically, Rawal is a title, the Sanskritised version being Rajakula, meaning lord and used by many feudal families in North India. It could be that Rawal is not a distortion of Ryal, but a title adopted by a group of Jogis, to distinguish themselves from other Jogi groups. Whether they were of Arab origin as their traditions claim, or Jogi converts to Islam, what is clear is that they had close relationship with Hindu Jogi groups in Punjab.

In the early 20th Century, the Rawals had continued the practice of acquiring knowledge from the Hindu Jogis, and many continued to live a nomadic existence. They were a classic community who practised syncretism, combining aspects of Hinduism and Islam. Many left their villages and spent part of their as wondering holy men. By the early 20th Century, many Rawals had taken up the profession of hakims (physicians), practitioners of the unani medicine. The Rawals were also employed in rural Punjab to carry out surgery and eye operations, leaving there villages at the beginning of winter to visit a well-established client network.

The Rawal like the Barwala and Khatik referred to in earlier posts were not granted agricultural status under the Punjab Land Alienation Act. The impact of this decision was that they were unable to own or purchase land. Many Rawal therefore began to migrate to British ruled Malaysia and Singapore. They now form important communities within the Punjabi Muslim diaspora communities in those two countries. The Partition of Punjab in 1947 affected the Rawal even more badly then the Khatik, with the majority found in territory that is now Indian Punjab. The effect of partition has been that almost all the syncretic traditions have been abandoned. Many of the refugee Rawal are now settled in Faisalabad, Gujranwala and Sialkot. Like the Khatik, they are now considered to be a sub-group of Shaikhs.

Distribution of Rawal in Punjab by District According to 1911 Census of India

 

District Population
Gurdaspur 4,079
Sialkot 3,687
Hoshiarpur 3,265
Amritsar 3,119
Jalandhar 2,554
Gujranwala 1,746
Kangra 1,164
Gujrat 997
Lahore 933
Jhelum 693
Kapurthala State 668
Ludhiana 400
Other districts 1,637
Total Population 24,942

 

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Khatik of Pakistani Punjab

In this post I will look at the Khatik, sometimes written as Khateek caste of Punjab, specifically those Khatiks who converted to Islam. According to the 1901 Census of Punjab, out of a total population of 23,648 about 11,362, almost half the population had converted Islam. They are one of the lesser known of the Punjabi Muslim communities. Outside Punjab, Muslims Khatiks were also found in the Jammu region and western Uttar Pradesh. But my article will focus on the Muslim Khatik of Punjab. Most Khatiks now describe themselves as sub-caste of the Punjabi Shaikhs. What makes the Khatiks interesting is that they have been pioneers in setting up the tannery business in Pakistan, which now is a major exporter of leather goods. Major clusters of the industry now exist in Sialkot and Gujranwala, initiated by long established Khatiks communities, while those in Kasur and Karachi are largely immigrants from what’s Punjab and Haryana in India.

Like many communities, there are various traditions as to the origins of the Khatiks. Traditionally, the Hindu Khatik were tanners and dyers of goats’ skins, while upon conversion to Islam, many Muslim Khatik took on the additional occupation of butchering, and selling goat meat. The Muslim Khatik in the Jalandhar/Ludhiana and Patiala region had two clans, the Rajputs and Ghori Pathan, these being the castes of the individuals at whose hand they had converted to Islam. This conversion had occurred sometime in the later Mughal period, perhaps in the 17th Century, and traditionally, these two groups did not intermarry. The origin of the Khatik community is disputed, but according to William Crooke, they were of Pasi origin, a well-known caste from eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, who had migrated westwards into the Punjab. This migration is likely to have led to a significant numbers to convert to Islam, as migrated into regions with large Muslim populations, which by the beginning of the 20th Century meant, that almost half of the Khatik caste had become Muslim. It is however worth pointing out that most Khatik claim to be of Khatri origin, who were commanded to take up dyeing. According to the British ethnologist Rose, the Hindu Khatik of eastern Punjab had the following origin myth:

“Brahma, they say, assigned to them a goat’s skin, the bark of trees and lac — so they graze cattle, dye the skins of goats and deer, and tan hides with bark and lac”

This linkage with the Khatri is also stressed by Muslim Khatiks, who argue that like most Punjabi Shaikhs, they have Khatri ancestors. It is also possible, that a group of Khatri to take up tanning as occupation, and become outcasted. At present, however, the Hindu Khatik and Khatri are distinct castes.

There are different traditions as to the etymology of the word of Kathik. According to Rose the word Khatik has been derived from the Hindi word khat, which means an immediate killing. They relate this to early days when they used to supply mutton to the various local kings and feudal lords. While other sources claim that the word khatik is said to have originated from the Sanskrit word kathika, which means to butcher or hunt. The Khatik of Punjab used salt and juice of the maddar tree (Calotropis procera) to tan and dye goat and sheep skin. This occupation was entirely in their hands until the arrival of the larger tanneries in the 20th Century.

 

Distribution of Muslim Khatik in Punjab by District According to 1901 Census of India

 

District Population
Sialkot 3,287
Gurdaspur 1,162
Hissar 993
Jalandhar 894
Patiala State 807
Gujranwala 677
Hoshiarpur 578
Firuzpur 544
Lahore 458
Ludhiana 372
Amritsar 333
Gujrat 283
Kangra 194
Karnal District 141
Malerkotla State 100
Ambala District 99
Other districts 370
Total Population 11,362

 

Most of the Khatik population was found in three clusters, around the slopes of the Himalayas, in an area extending from Hoshiarpur in the east to Gujrat in the west. The smaller Khatik population found in Jammu were part of this cluster. A second group were found in an area extending from Jalandhar to Patiala, roughly in what is now the Indian state of Punjab. A final group was concentrated in along the banks of the Yamuna, and were connected to the Khatik of Uttar Pradesh. About 60% of the Khatiks were found in the present states of Punjab and Haryan in India, and like other Punjabi Muslims they had to migrate to Pakistan as a consequence of the Partion of India.

Khatik and the Tannery Business in Pakistan

The Khatik from Indian states of Haryana and Punjab are now found mainly in Kasur and Faisalabad districts of Punjab. A small number of this group are also found in the cities of Karachi and Quetta. Building on their traditional occupation, the Khateek community is regarded as the pioneers of tannery work in Kasur. The Khateeks, who think of themselves as a kinship group, or biraderi, trace their origins to Jalandhar and other cities of eastern Punjab in India. Their self-designation is now Shaikh or Punjabi Shaikh, although both Khateek and Shaikh are used inter-changeably. The name Khateek is now used as clan designation of the Punjabi Shaikh caste. It is possible, in principle, for there to be Khateeks who are not Shaikh and vice versa. In practice, however, the two terms are used interchangeably by the people in question, not only in Kasur, but also in other sites such as Korangi where tanning work is established. The Khateek of Jalandhar arrived in Pakistan at the time of the partition of India in 1947. Various groups of families attempted to set up their traditional industry in various towns and cities, including Kasur, Karachi, and Quetta.

The Khateeks who settled in Kasur initially established cottage industries where all family members, including women, participated in the work. The first proper tannery was established by the Khateeks in Kasur in the 1960s. From then on, the tendency has been towards industrialization, with cottage industries being replaced by factories with bigger productive capacities and with the extensive use of non-family labour. The Khateeks themselves have withdrawn their labour and focus on managing their businesses.
The older established Khatiks of Gujranwala and Sialkot have been joined by many refugee families from Gurdaspur and Jammu, who have also used their traditional skills to establish these cities as important centres of tanning in Pakistan. In fact Sialkot is now the more important centre of tanning then Kasur. Pakistan now is one of the leading manufacturers and exporters of leather products, thanks to the skills and enterprise of the Khatiks. Like those from East Punjab, the Khatik now refer to themselves as Shaikh, with Khatik being referred to simply as a lineage group.

Like other Pakistanis, many Khatiks have emigrated to the United Kingdom, and form a significant part of the community of British Pakistanis, particularly in the city of Glasgow. Most of these Khatiks have roots in Faisalabad, and they in turn are refugees from Jalandhar and Patiala.