In this post, I will look at four communities, which were settled largely in cis-Sutlej territory that now forms parts of Punjab and Haryana State in India. At the time of partition in 1947, all of these communities as Muslims immigrated to Pakistan. In Punjab, it is often said that there is a strict division between the tribes that practice agriculture, and those that don’t. What these castes had in common in this that they occupied a borderline status, not quite zamindars, but certainly above the occupational castes. They owned land, and many were farmers. However, the Kohja difer in that their claim to Jat status was unchallenged. In terms of distribution, the Harni were the most widespread, there territory extending from Ludhiana to Sialkot, the other three tribes were much more localized, with Khushabi as most eastern most, found in a territory extending from Rupar to Sunam, while, the Sahnsar and Kohja were located between the Khushabi and Harni.
Khushabi is a geographical term meaning the native of Khushab in Pakistan. However, the Khushabi were found in the Rupar Tehsil of Ambala District (now Rupnagar District) and near the town of Sunam in what was Patiala State. According to the 1911 Census Report, the Khushabi arrived from the Khushab in the early 19th Century. The community are said to have been peddlers and merchants, and generally claimed to be of Jat extraction. Once settled in Patiala, they were involved in the carrying of lime between Pinjore and Patiala. Eventually, the Patiala state authorities granted the Khushabi land north of Sunam. There they settled as farmers and with groups spreading as far north as Rupar. Although of Jat origin, the Khushabi remained distinct from neighbouring Muslim Jats, and continued to speak the Shahpuri dialect of Punjabi, which is quite distinct from the Malwai dialect spoken in the cis-Sutlej tract.
Distribution of Khushabi in Punjab by District According to 1911 Census of India
The Kohja or Kauja are Jat clan, with an interesting origin myth. The original homerland od Kohja was the portion of Jallandhar District, where the Kingra stream enters that district. They lived in five villages, the largest and most important was also called Kauja. Interesting the Kohja were only entirely Muslim Jat clans found in Jalandhar District. The other villages included Kauja, Dhurial, Nangal Fida, Alamgirpur and Kotla Kauja in north of what was then Jalandhar Tehsil
According to their tribal tradition, their ancestor was a giant who accompanied Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna in one of his invasions and settled downalong the banks of the Kingra Cho. His name was Ali Muhammad or Manju, and he was nicknamed Koh-Cha, or ‘little mountain’ on account of his size. Over time, the name changed from Koh-cha to Kauja or Kohja . The Kohja are further divided into six clans, namely he Sim, Sadhu, Arak, Sin, Dhanoe, and Khunkhun, all of whom claim to be of Arab descent.
After the partition in 1947, like other Punjabi Muslims, the Kohja migrated to Pakistan. Most are now found either in Sahiwal District, in Chak 46/5-L, or Faisalabad District in Chak No 273 J/B Mahlaan Gondiaan. Other Kohja are distributed in Jhang, and Nankana Sahab districts.
The Harni were found mainly in Ludhiana, Jullundhar and Hoshiarpur districts. Harnis called themselves Bahli. Different groups of Harnis had different origin myths.For example, the Harnis of Ludhiana had a curious tradition of descent from one Najaf Khan, a Pathan, who was a friend of Shah Abdul Karim of Gilan. With his eight sons, Najaf Khan accompanied the saint in the army of Mahmud of Ghazni, receiving for his service lands at Mansuri near Delhi. The sons married Hindu Rajput wives and thus became Rajputs. Najaf Khan’s descendants settled in various parts of India, those of his four younger sons in Bhatner (now Hanumangarh), Uch, Dhodukot and Multan, from wher in 1671 A.D. they migrated into Kapurthala. At Harnian Khera, their settlement in Bikaner, the Bhattis among the Harnis quarrelled with the Tur and Mandhar septs, and were driven out. But they were accompanied by those of their women who had married into other septs and whose children fled with them. According to another version is that famine drove them from Bikaner.
This is however no the only origin myth. In Jallandhar, there was a tradition that the Harnis became mercenaries of Rai Kalla Khan Manj of Raikot and he gave them several villages in jagir. In return they ravaged his enemies’ lands, but when the Rai’s family declined the Harnis’ villages were handed over to the Kapurthala chief by Ranjit Singh, and they themselves were soon banished from the State on charges of killing kine. This was in 1818 and in 1847 they made an unsuccessful petition to the British authorities to be reinstated in their land. They were then allotted some waste land near Jagraon in the Ludhiana district, but it was wholly inadequate for their support and the Harnis settled down to a life of crime.
There are various explanations of the name Harni, for example heri meaning huntsman, from her a herd, and from har a road. Others say that Rai Kalla so nick-named them from harni, a ‘doe,’ because they were his huntsmen.
The Harni gots were numerous, considering the smallness of their numbers. The Harni genealogies were kept by the family of Pir Shah Abdul Karim of Delhi, and his descendants.
Tur Dhoduke or Dhuddike.
Ghunia or Ghumia.
The curious point about these gots is that the forebear of each is specified in the table of descent from Najaf Khan. All these gots are descended from his four younger sons. To these must be added the Gul and Pachenke gots found in Tappar and Kiri respectively. The superiority of the Bhatti got is recognised by placing several cloths over the corpse of one of its members on its journey to the grave : other Harnis have to be content with a single cloth.
Distribution of Harni in Punjab by District According to 1911 Census of India
The last community I will look at are the Sahnsar. Like most Punjabi tribes, there are several origin myth stories. In Hoshiarpur, there was a tradition that they were Panwar Rajput, who had taken to growing vegetable, as such they were ranked with the Arain. However, the two castes did not intermarry. But other traditions gave the Sahnsar a Bhatti origin.The Sahnsar were found in Hoshiarpur around Tanda and Dasuya.
The Sahnsar were of quasi-Rajput status, and may be an offshoot of the Mahtons a caste of Sikhs who also claimed Rajput ancestry. According to other traditions, they were once called Hazara and that Sahansar is a translation of that name (sakans=1000=hazar). If this is correct they may be Hazaras and although unlike the Hazara, the Sahnsar were and are Sunni. Another tradition claims that they originate from Pattehar, a place which is said to be in Saharanpur, and Sahnsar is the shortened form of Saharanpuri. By occupation they used to be weavers, and involved in the manufacture of ropes, mats made of grass and mors or coronets for weddings.
Distribution of Sahnsar in Punjab by District According to 1911 Census of India