The Sial tribe (also written as Siyal, Syal, Sayal) is a social group found predominantly in North India and Pakistan.
Denzil Ibbetson, an administrator of the British Raj, classified the Sials as a tribe rather than as a caste. He believed, like Nesfield, that the society of the Northwest Frontier Provinces and Punjab in British India did not permit the rigid imposition of an administratively-defined caste construct as his colleague, H. H. Risley preferred. According to Ibbetson, society in Punjab was less governed by Brahmanical ideas of caste, based on varna, and instead was more open and fluid. Tribes, which he considered to be kin-based groups that dominated small areas, were the dominant feature of rural life. Caste designators, such as Jat and Rajput, were status-based titles to which any tribe that rose to social prominence could lay a claim, and which could be dismissed by their peers if they declined. Susan Bayly, a modern anthropologist, considers him to have had "a high degree of accuracy in his observations of Punjab society ... [I]n his writings we really do see the beginnings of modern, regionally based Indian anthroplogy."
Following the introduction of the Punjab Land Alienation Act in 1900, the authorities of the Raj classified the Sials who inhabited the Punjab as an "agricultural tribe", a term that was administratively synonymous with the "martial race" classification that was used for the purposes of determining the suitability of a person as a recruit to the British Indian Army.
During the fifteenth- and sixteenth centuries, during the period of the Mughal empire, the Sial and Kharal tribes were dominant in parts of the lower Bari and Rachna doabs of Punjab. The 1809 Treaty of Amritsar, agreed between Ranjit Singh, the Sikh leader, and the British, gave him a carte blanche to consolidate territorial gains north of the Sutlej river at the expense both of other Sikh chiefs and their peers among the other dominant communities. In 1816, the Sial chief of Jhang, in Rachna doab, was ousted, having previously been forced to pay tribute to Singh for several years. The Sials in Jhang, as in many other areas of the Punjab, had once been nomadic pastoralists. They did not necessary cultivate all of the land that they controlled and it was the actions of the Sikh empire and, later, the land reforms of the Raj administration that caused them to turn to cultivation.
The Heer Ranjha, an epic poem of Punjabi literature, refers to the Sials. The heroine, Heer, is depicted as young and independent-minded daughter of a Rajput Sial chieftain, a confident woman in revolt against traditional tribal conservatism.
- Bayly, Susan (2001). Caste, Society and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age. Cambridge University Press. pp. 139–141. ISBN 9780521798426.
- Mazumder, Rajit K. (2003). The Indian Army and the Making of Punjab. Orient Blackswan. pp. 104–105. ISBN 9788178240596.
- Grewal, J. S. (1998). The Sikhs of the Punjab. Cambridge University Press. pp. 4, 102–104, 248. ISBN 9780521637640.
- van den Dungen, P. H. M. (1968). "Changes in Status and Occupation in Nineteenth Century Panjab". In Low, Donald Anthony. Soundings in Modern South Asian History. University of California Press. pp. 72–74.
- Mirza, Shafqat Tanvir (1991). Resistance Themes in Saraiki Literature. Lahore: Vanguard Books. pp. 9–17.
- Shackle, C.; Snell, Rupert, eds. (1992). The Indian Narrative: Perspectives and Patterns. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 243. ISBN 9783447032414.
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