Qassab, the caste of butcher - Tashrih al-aqvam (1825)
|Regions with significant populations|
|Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Qureshi, Chik, Shaikh|
The Qassab (Urdu: قصاب; plural of قصائی Qasai, meaning butcher) are members of the Muslim community or biradari involved in the meat business. Many members of the Qassab community are butchers and work in abattoirs and meat shops where they process and sell meat of poultry, seafood, cattle, goats, sheeps, etc. The most common surname of Qassab community is Quraishi. But all Quraishis are not Qassab. The Quraishi Qassab are found in North India and Pakistan. They are also known as Chikwa, Bare Qasab, Bakar Qasab.
History and origin
The community are the traditional butchers of North India and Pakistan, and get their named from the Arabic word gassab, which means to cut or slit. According to their traditions, they claim descent from early Arab settlers to India, who arrived at the time of the Sultanate of Delhi. These Arabs belonged to the Quresh tribe, the tribe of the Prophet Mohammed, and as such the community is thus also known as Qureshi. They have three sub-divisions, the Chikwa who are found in the Rohilkhand and Awadh regions of Uttar Pradesh, and are connected with the slaughtering animals such as sheep and goats, and the Qureshi Qassab who slaughter cows and buffaloes. A third sub-group are the Bawarchi, a community found mainly in the city of Lucknow and in Gujarat, who are professional cooks. Each Qassab group has a different traditions as their origin and migration, for example most Qassab in the Deccan region claim to have arrived with the armies of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzebs invading armies. The community is entirely Sunni, and in North India speaks Urdu.
In North India
The community remains associated with the slaughtering of animals. Apart for selling meats, they are also involved in the sale and purchase of animals, as well as trading in hides. The Chikwa of Awadh are also involved in the selling of hides. In terms of distribution, they are found throughout Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They are strictly endogamous, which marriages preferred within a small kinship circle. Most towns include distinct quarters where the community lives such as Qureshnagar in Delhi.
The Anjuman Quresh is an India wide association, and is the oldest Muslim communal organization. The community belong to both the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam, but the majority are Sunnis.. The Chikwa speak Awadhi, while the Qureshi Qassab speak Urdu.
In Rajasthan, the Qassab are found in the districts of Ajmer, Jaipur, Nagaur, Jodhpur and Pali. The Qassab speak Mewari among themselves, and Hindi with outsiders. They have two sub-divisions, the Barakasab, who slaughter cows and buffaloes and Chhotakasab, who slaughter goats. The Qassab have local caste associations, known as jamats, in each of their settlements which deal with disputes within the community.
In Bihar, the Qassab are a class of Muslim butchers, and are generally known as Qureshis. They are found throughout Bihar, and are one of the few Bihari Muslim communities that speaks Urdu. The Qassab consist of two sub-groups, the Bara Karbar who were involved in the slaughtering of cows and Chota Karbar who slaughtered goats. Closely related to the Qassab are the Chik, a caste associated with the slaughtering of goats. The Anjuman Quresh has a Bihar branch, which acts as a welfare association. They are entirely Sunni Muslims, and are fairly orthodox. They were one of the earliest groups to shift towards the Deobandi sect.
The Qassab of Maharashtra are said to have come over from Hyderabad to Amravati, and were soldiers in the army of the Nizam of Hyderabad, and still speak the Dakhani dialect of Urdu. They were initially divided into two groupings, the Gai Kasai (cow butchers) and Baker Kasai (mutton butchers). The community is further divided into three groupings, the Chaudhary, the Saudagor and Sikku. They speak the Dakhani dialect of Urdu among themselves, and Marathi with outsiders. The Qassab are Sunni, and strictly endogamous. They practice both cross cousin and parallel cousin marriages. In Maharashtra, the community are found in the cities of Amravati, Akola, Chandrapur, Nagpur, Pune, Bhiwandi and Mumbai.
The majority of the Qassab are still employed as butchers, with many are also involved in the trade of hides. They are generally are a prosperous community. Many are now engaged in business. A considerable number of Qassab are employed as truck drivers, auto mechanics, tailors and now increasingly doctors and lawyers. They are one of the more successful Muslim communities in Maharashtra. Like other Qassab, the Maharashtra Qassab play an active role in the Anjuman Quresh, their India wide caste association.
In Pakistan, the Qassab are found in the province of Punjab. They have seven major divisions, the Arbi, Bhatti, Khokhar, Goraha, Thaheem, Thaheem- Ansari and Suhal. The Punjabi Qassab claim descent from a number of Rajput tribes, such as the Bhatti or Khokhar, where an ancestor is said to have taken up the occupation of butchering. In addition to butchering, the Qassab of Punjab have been involved with cotton cleaning and the Penja community is of Qaasab extraction.
In addition to the Punjabi Qassab, Pakistan is also home to communities of Qureshi Qasab, which originate from Delhi and Haryana. They are an Urdu speaking community, and found mainly in the cities of Karachi, Multan and Faisalabad. Like their Indian counterparts, the Qureshi Qassab also have a caste association or anjuman.
In Jammu and Kashmir
The Qassab of the Kashmir valley are known as the Ganai. The Ganai claim to be converts from the Hindu. They are the professional butchers of the Kashmir valley. Like other Qassab groups, many have are also involved in the buying and selling of hides, which has made the Ganai a wealthy community. The traditional caste council has been replaced by the Ganai association. Unlike rest of the Indian subcontinent the Qureshis / Qurashis / Qureashis of Kashmir are high caste Muslims whose lineage is directed towards the Sufi Saints who came from Central Asia and Arab world during the arrival of Islam in 14th Century AD in Kashmir valley. The high caste Muslims known as qureshi of Kashmir include Masoodi, Qureshi, Bukhari.
The All India Jamiatul Quresh
Like many Muslim communities in India, the Qassab have set up the All India Jamiatil Quresh, which was established in Meerut in 1927. The Jamiat was set up by Rasheeduddin Ahmed, a wealthy merchant and philanthropist. It has a federal structure, with each state have its own chapter, with its headquarters in Meerut Uttar Pradesh. Any male member of the community can be take up membership. As a caste association, the Jamait campaigns on behalf of the community as well as acting as a welfare organization, running schools and hospitals.
Bawarchi of Uttar Pradesh
The Bawarchi are a sub-group within the Qassab, and get their name from the Urdu word bawarchi, which means a cook. A split from the wider Qassab community is said to have taken place when a group of Lucknow Qassab changed their occupation from butchering to cooking. There is no intermarriage now between the Bawarchi and neighbouring Qassab communities. They are still found mainly in the city of Lucknow, in the localities of Sadar, Husainganj, Fatehganj and Chowk. The Bawarchi prefer to be known as Qureshi or Ahl-e-Quresh.
The Bawarchi speak Urdu and belong to the Sunni sect. They are a community of professional cooks, and who historically were employed by wealthy Awadh taluqdars. With the disappearance of their traditional patrons at the time of the independence of India, the community are now employed in restaurants and hotels, and specialise in Awadhi cuisine. The Bawarchi and rakabdars of Awadh gave birth to the dum style of cooking or the art of cooking over a slow fire, which has become synonymous with Lucknow today. Their spread would consist of elaborate dishes like kebabs, kormas, biryani, kaliya, nahari-kulchas, zarda, sheermal, roomali rotis and warqi parathas. The richness of Awadh cuisine lies not only in the variety of cuisine but also in the ingredients used like mutton, paneer, and rich spices including cardamom and saffron.
Like other Muslim artisan, many have seen a decline in their traditional occupation, and are now petty businessmen. The Bawarchi have no formal caste association, but each of their settlement contains a panchayat, an informal caste association. Each settlement panchayat is headed by a chaudhary, a post which was traditionally heredity. The panchayat deals with intra community disputes and punishes any social transgressions. Some Bawarchi are also involved with the Anjuman Quraish.
Bawarchi of Gujarat
In Gujarat, the Bawarchi are said to have been soldiers in the army of the Mughal Emperor Babar, and settled in Gujarat some five centuries ago. Once in Gujarat, these soldiers changed their occupation, and took up cooking, hence became known as Bawarchi. The Bawarchi are now found in the cities of Ahmadabad, Surat, and Baroda, and a few villages in Kheda District. They speak a dialect which is a mixture of Gujarati and Urdu.
Like most Gujarati Muslims, the Bawarchi have a caste association, the Ahmedabad Bawarchi Jamat. The jamat acts as both a community welfare association as well as an instrument of social control. Like other Qassab sub-groups, the Gujarat Bawarchi are strictly endogamous. Most prefer marrying close kin, and practice both parallel cousin and cross cousin marriages. The Bawarchi are entirely Sunni, but also incorporate some folk beliefs.
Like most Muslim artisan castes, the Bawarchi have seen a decline in their traditional occupation, which involved being employed as cooks in wealthier Muslim families. Other were owners of caravanserais. Very few Bawarchis have taken up higher education, as the community is economically extremely marganalized. Many are now employed as daily wage labourers.
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