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
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.