Muslim Labana of Punjab

In this post I will look at Muslim members of the Labana caste. I will ask the reader to look at my post on the distribution of Labana caste according to the 1901 Census of India. The Muslim Labana often refer to themselves as Rahmani. They are one of the lesser known communities of Punjabi Muslims.

Etymologically, the word  labana is derived from two Sanskrit words, where lun from Lavana which means salt and Vana from Vani which means to trade. The Labana, Lobana or Libana  were those who were involved in salt-carrying and salt trading. Originally, the Labanas were traders and carriers and were largely nomadic, like Banjaras and Lambadis. They used animal-powered transportation and moved with entire families, cattle and dogs, around the Punjab.  During the Mughal period (16 and 17th centuries), the Labana groups in Punjab were employed by various empires for transportation of military material. The Banjaras are the traditional peddlers of North India, and their place has been taken by the Labanas in Punjab. Indeed, both groups served under empires of Mughals, British, and Sikhs as a commissariat. Sir Horace Rose, early 20th Century British ethnologists observed the following about the Labanas:

 

Indeed the Labana is occasionally called a Banjara. In Ambala he is also said to be called Bahrupia, on account of his versatility in adopting different avocations. Headmen among the Labanas are called Naik, and under them work is carried

 

This shows a very close connection between the two groups. However, the Punjab experienced war and famine throughout the 18th Century, and many Labana settled down as agriculturists. By beginning of the 20th Century, the Labanas were largely agriculturists group. A major setback to their traditional profession was the introduction of  railways by British, so there dependence on agriculture increased.

 

The Labana are of a very mixed background as shown by the fact different groups had different origin stories. In Ludhiana they claimed descent from Chauhan Rajputs of Jaipur and Jodhpur. In Gujrat Labana groups claimed that they were originally Raghubansi Rajputs, while in Kapurthala descent was claimed from Gaur Brahmans, who had come from Rohilkhand. The Labana were largely Sikh, with two exceptions. Those of Firupzur district were entirely Muslim, and were found in Abohar. A bit further down along the Sutlej, in Bahawalpur State, many Labanas were also Muslim. Their villages are found mainly along Sutluj near Minchinabad, extending towards Abohar in British territory. There was also a single Muslim Labana village in the Sirsa Tehsil of  Hissar District called Panniwala. In Abohar and Sirsa, the Muslim Labana were divided into 12 clans, the main ones being Panwar and Gujar, said to be the tribe from to which their ancestor belonged too. While in Bahawalpur, Muslim Labanas claimed to be Panwar Rajputs who had come from Delhi. The Labana spoke Labanki, which was very close Seraiki. This reflected a eastward migration from Bahawalpur towards Hissar.

 

After partition, Muslim Labanas from Firuzpur and Hissar migrated to Pakistan, where many are now found in Bhakkar District. I would ask the reader to look at Muhammad Alamgir’s excellent interview with a Muslim Labana from Hissar now settled in Multan.

 

Muslim Labana Population According to the 1921 Census of India

 

District / States Population
Firuzpur 2,730
Bahawalpur State 1,009
Dera Ghazi Khan 66
Hissar 54
Multan 51
Other Districts 152
Total 4,062

 

 

 

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