In this post I will look at the Turk biradari, community found mainly in the Rohilkhand region of Uttar Pradesh and Udham Sing Nagar district of Uttarakhand. The term Turk here does not imply any connections with Turkey, as the Turks of Rohilkhand claim descent from individuals of the Turk ethnicity from Central Asia. The first known mention of the term Turk applied to a Turkic group was in reference to the Göktürks in the 6th century, who were based in modern Mongolia. Overtime the term has devolved onto the Turks of modern day Turkey, but historically was also used to describe Central Asian Turkic groups. The Turk biradari claim their descent from the latter group.
Like most communities, the Turks of Rohilkhand and the Terai, they have a number of origin myths. One such tradition claims that the Turks came to India as soldiers who accompanied the 11th century warrior-saint Ghazi Saiyyad Salar Masud or Ghazi Miyan (circa 1014 – 1034 CE). However, it likely the Turk settlement took place at a latter date. Indeed some Turks groups, particularly those in Rampur, say that are originally emigrants from Central Asia, and came in the army of Shahubbin Ghori. These Turks had come from Turkistan region in what is now Central Asia, especially the modern Uzbekistan.
However, most Turk claim that their ancestors came to India during the period of the Slave Dynasty (1206 to 1290), with two periods of settlement. During the rule of second sultan Illtutmish (1211-1236), who conquered Badaun and Aonla (Katehr) in Rohilkhand, that their first settlement took place near Aonla. During the rule of Ghiyasuddin Balban (1266-86), who made Badaun an important centre of his empire, was when the second settlement of Turks occurred. After ascending the throne, Balban broke up the Amir-i-Chahalgani group of up to the forty most important nobles in the court which was by Iltutmish. As a result, these nobles fled to different villages in Rohilkhand and settled down in the region. The Turks claim descent from these nobles.
Some of these claim to be descended from a certain well-known and pious Abdullah Turk who originally settled in the village of Ronda in the Moradabad district, where his tomb still exists. His descendants do not intermarry with other clans, and anyone who infringes this rule is cast out from the brotherhood. The author of the Rampur State gazetteer took the view the Turks are really a branch of the Muslim Banjaras.
Turks numbered 32,938 persons, a surprisingly large figure five times as great as the These Turks are apparently Banjaras, Turkia being the name of one of the chief Banjara sub-divisions. The Turkia Banjaras state that they came from Multan and that their first settlement in Rampur was at Tanda Badridan. It is a well-known fact that the northern portion of Eampur and the Tarai parganas of Naini Tal swarm with Banjaras and the supposition that these people prefer the name Turk is strengthened by the appearance of only 8,102 Banjaras in the state according to the 1901 census report. General tradition indicates that all Banjaras were originally Hindus.
However, the author conceded that Rampuri Turks had a contrary origin myth:
On enquiry from some of those who called themselves Turks it appeared that they were originally Sheikhs, who belonged to the Siddiqi and Faruqi elans and came from Bokhara. A party of Sheikhs is said to have first settled in Herat, whence they came to the Punjab and settled in the Jalandhar district and afterwards made their way into the districts of Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar and Meerut. In these latter districts they are known under the name of Garha, while in Bijnor and Moradabad they are called Jhojhas, and in Bareilly, Rampur and Budaun as Turks.
The differing traditions as to their probably reflect that there were several migrations. Indeed the Turks are divided into three sub-tribes Jhoja Turk, Khoja Turk and Bobna Turk. The Rohilkhand region is also home to a large community of Muslim Turkia Banjaras, and it is possible the Turks are somehow connected with the Banjaras.
The Turk are an endogamous community, and prefer marrying close kin. They are essential small and medium sized farmers, and their villages tend to be uni-caste. The Turk cultivate wheat, paddy, maize, sorghum and sugar cane. Those in north Rohilkhand have benefited from the effects of the Green Revolution. Their customs are similar to other neighbouring Muslim communities such as the Rayeen and Rohilla. They have fairly active caste council, which deals with community welfare as well as an instrument of social control. The Turk are entirely Sunni Muslims, like other Muslim communities in western Rohilkhand, they have seen a growth in madrasas in their villages. Notable people from the Turk caste include the cricketer Mohammed Shami and Dr.Shafiqurrahman Barq – former Member of Parliament from Sambhal.
In terms of their distribution, most Turks are found in Rampur District, which home to around 50 village. Their remaining settlements are in the districts of Amroha, Sambhal and Bareilly. In Bareilly, the Turks are concentrated in Baheri. They are spread across the towns of Sambhal, Moradabad, Rampur, Amroha and Nagina in India’s largest province of Uttar Pradesh (UP). There are large number of Turk villages in the Terai region of Udham Singh Nagar in Uttarakhand state. The city of Sambhal, popularly called ‘little Turkey’, is known for its artisans who make decorative pieces from animal horns and also the cultivation and export of mentha oil. The Turk population in the city accounts for 350,000 to 400,000.
Turk population according to the 1901 Census of India
The 1901 Census confirms where the greatest concentrations of Turks was then the Rampur State. This remains the case now.