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The Dhanka are a tribe of India who believe themselves to be aboriginal, although they are unable to assert from whence they came. They are historically neither Hindu nor Muslim and their occupations have changed over time, as circumstances have dictated for survival. Although similar groups in India are often referred to as adivasi, the Dhanka generally reject this term.
They are a sub-division of the Bhil tribe. Dhanka do craft work on bamboo and prepare different items of basketry, winnowing fans, bow-arrows, sticks, and guns. Dhanka females make strings and ropes of forest grass, jute and similar materials.
Historically, Dhanka were soldiers and forest hunters of the northwestern part of India. Since they used to prepare bows (Dhanush) they are called Dhanka. Another interpretation about its origin is that the word Dhanka consists of 'Dhan' which means ‘Paddy’ and the person who grows paddy is known as ‘Dhanka’. In the pre-independence period, some Dhanka were engaged in the services of jagirdars / landowners as farmers and cultivators in paddy fields. They used to do agricultural activities and cattle breeding. Some were soldiers too.
Historically, some Dhanka were associated with caring for the horses used by royal families of the then Princely States and British colonial people. They are placed in the middle strata in the social hierarchy as a forest tribe. Since the Dhanka meet the criteria for tribal communities as specified by social anthropologists and the Government of India, they were placed in the category of Scheduled Tribes in five states of India. These are Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan. In the latter, the major concentration is in the districts of Alwar, Jaipur, Ajmer and Sirohi. Other districts have comparatively low density of Dhanka population.
Today, Dhanka live in almost every part of India and many have migrated to foreign countries. Nonetheless, they remained concentrated in a few states and union territories.
Dhanka regard Prithu as their ancestor. He always kept bow-arrows with him and was the first to sow paddy, which literally means dhan. According to mythology, Prithu wanted to destroy the Earth because there was no production on the Earth and consequently there were no grains. The Earth requested him not to kill her and advised him to level the land and to grow crops.
Traditional and alternative sources of income
Both males and females of Dhanka community work to get their living. Children are engaged in subsistence activities from a very young age. The traditional occupation of Dhanka is to prepare bow and arrows, different items of basketry, winnowing fans, sticks, strings and ropes.
Dhanka women look after the household affairs in their families. They collect firewood from nearby forests and sell it to support their families. They also contribute to their family income through making strings and ropes of forest grass and jute. Some of the Dhanka women work as mid-wives, visiting the pregnant women regularly and suggesting precautionary measures.
After the abolition of jagirdari, and also because of the scarcity of bamboo, nearly 70 per cent of the Dhanka had migrated to cities by 1960 in search for new openings and better sources of livelihood. Some started to earn their livelihood as daily wage labourers. These people no longer have any land for agriculture and many of them no longer possess farming skills.
- Moodie, Megan (2015). We Were Adivasis: Aspiration in an Indian Scheduled Tribe. University of Chicago Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-22625-304-6.
- Lok Nath Soni, K.S. Singh (1998) People of India, Rajasthan, Part –I, Volume XXXVIII