Kanjar

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See Khanjar for the bladed weapon.
Kanjar
Regions with significant populations
India • Pakistan
Languages
HindiRajasthaniBhojpuriUrduPunjabi
Religion
HinduismSikhism • Islam
Related ethnic groups
PatharkatMirasi

Kanjar is a traditionally nomadic ethnic group found in North India and Pakistan. The community is also known by the names of Nath, Marwari Kumar and Banchra.

The Kanjar speak the Kanjari language, a little studied Indo Aryan language, but almost all also speak Punjabi and Urdu.[1]

History[edit]

The word kanjar is derived from the Sanskrit kanana-chara, which means wanderer in the jungle.

They claim to have originated in Rajasthan. All Kanjar trace descent from common ancestors, who were said to be a sedentary agriculturist, a Manu Guru and his wife Nathiya Kanjarin.

Many Kanjar fled to the jungles to avoid Mughal persecution. Since that period, many have stayed living in the jungle, and make their living by hunting. The Kanjar supplied the executioners during the period of Mughal and Sikh rule in the Punjab.[citation needed]

A section of the Kanjar of the Punjab converted to Islam, but at an unknown time. The Muslim Kanjar of Punjab might have begun in the Kanjar tribe.

In the Colonial period, Kanjars were listed under the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871, as a tribe "addicted to the systematic commission of non-bailable offences."[2]

Present circumstances[edit]

They are divided into four clans, the Callad, Superala, Diyal and Rachhband. A fifth group, the Patharkat no longer inter-marry with the other Kanjar groupings.[3] Multi-generation members are called deradars, and look down upon the latter recruits.

India[edit]

Kanjari were denotified in 1952, when the Criminal Tribes Act was replaced with the Habitual Offenders Act, but the community carries considerable social stigma. Kanjar's are also known as Gihar which is not notified.[citation needed]

The traditional occupation of the Kanjar was hunting, but over time, many took to agriculture. They still depend on the forest, extracting roots of the khas grass and collecting reeds from river banks. From the stalks of the munji grass and the roots of the palas tree, they made ropes to sell. The community is involved in tanning, from which drums are made and sold. Many urban Kanjar are now wage labourers and involved in rickshaw pulling.[3]

The Kanjar community council exercises a hold over the community. This caste council resolves disputes within the community, and is headed by a mukhiya or chieftain. The Kanjar of India are Hindu and Sikh, and their community deity is Mata, worshiped by all the Kanjars.[4]

The Kanjar speak 4-5 languages along with their native language called Narsi-Parsi. It consists of different sounds of animals and birds, coded words and signs.[5]

In Rajasthan, the Kanjar are nomadic and said to have been the genealogists of the Jat community. The Kanjar are found mainly in the districts of Bhilwara, Chittorgarh, Banswara and Tonk. They speak Mewari and have Scheduled Caste status. The Kanjar are divided into twelve exogamous clans, the Bamnawat, Malvi, Karkhar, Chitrawat, Singhawat, Karmawat, Gudrawat, Jhalawat, Singauri, Suklawat, Nanawat and Kachrawath. Unlike other Kanjar communities, those in Rajasthan are mainly a community of cultivators and agricultural labourers. The Kanjar are Hindu and pay special reverence to Mata.[6]

In Bihar, the Kanjar are involved in trapping birds and animals, which they sell to local traders. As a semi-nomadic community they are perceived as distinct from nearby settled communities. There camps are often found on the outskirts of villages. The Kanjar speak the Magadhi dialect of Hindi. They are found mainly in Madhubani and Purnea districts in Bihar.[7]

The 2011 Census of India for Uttar Pradesh showed the Kanjar with a population of 115,968.[8]

Pakistan[edit]

In Pakistan, two distinct communities go by the name Kanjar. Over the centuries they became associated with the profession of prostitution and a peripatetic community of craftsmen and entertainers, best known for the terracotta toys they manufacture and peddle. Both groups of Kanjar live in Punjab. The term 'Kanjar' is more generally used to refer to a pimp or a person of low moral character than as a reference to the tribe.[9][10]

Urban areas[edit]

The neighbourhood of Heera Mandi, in the walled city of Lahore, is the tribe's main centre. Wives have historically been purchased from other poorer communities. When a girl attains puberty and co-habits with a man for the first time, a feast called shadi missi is given to the whole community.[citation needed]

The Kanjar are most famously associated with the Lahore neighborhood of Shahi Mohalla. This has been home to a large community of Kanjar for centuries. Many musicians in Pakistan have their roots in the Kanjar community. A recent study found that:

“A Kanjar hears the music of tabla and ghungroo from the day of her birth and must begin her formal education before her non-Kanjar friends start going to school.”[11]

The community has a symbiotic relationship with another community, the Mirasi, who are the traditional musicians of North India and Pakistan. In Pakistan, the Kanjar are a particularly vulnerable community, with a lifestyle that is seen as deviant. Their non-conventional behaviour makes them subject to discrimination, and unlike India, no affirmative action schemes help the socially disadvantaged. As members of the minority Shia sect, they are additionally disadvantaged.[10]

Nomads[edit]

The nomadic Kanjar are traditionally involved in the selling of terracotta toys, which they hawk door to door in settled communities. They supplement this activity through begging as well as entertaining village communities by providing rides and singing traditional folk songs, while female Kanjar dance.

The puki or camp is the basic social unit of the Kanjar society. Technically, all those who are part of the camp are related, and marriages occur with individuals of other camps, or with unrelated groups that do not affiliate themselves in a camp. The Kanjar are strictly endogamous, and marriages are arranged. Intra-tent or camp disputes are resolved by senior adults, not directly involved in the dispute.

Although nomadic, the Kanjar follow a set route, and often maintain a relationship with the villages they visit. Many of the men work as agricultural labourers. Their tents are made from split bamboo or munji grass, and their ecampments can be found at the edges of villages, as well as in urban areas such as Faisalabad and Lahore.[1]

Popular culture[edit]

They are the subject of the Hindi story Indrajal (English: Magic), by Jaishankar Prasad.

In the Lollywood film Bol, prominent character Saqa Kanjar financially helps a fanatic hakim after the latter bribes the police to bury the case of honour killing of his own son Saifi. The hakim in return had to bear a girl child for Saqa Kanjar's wife Meena.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Kanjar Social Organization by Joseph C Berland in The other nomads : peripatetic minorities in cross-cultural perspective / edited by Aparna Rao pages247 to 268 ISBN 3-412-08085-3 Köln : Böhlau, 1987.
  2. ^ Nanta Village The Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1908, v. 18, p. 367.
  3. ^ a b Kanjar in People of India Uttar Pradesh Volume XLII edited by A Hasan & J C Das page 704 ISBN 8173041148
  4. ^ Kanjar in People of India Uttar Pradesh Volume XLII Part Two edited by A Hasan & J C Das page 707
  5. ^ Madan Meena: Secret Language of the Kanjar Community, Fellowship from Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research, USA
  6. ^ Kanjar People of India Rajasthan Volume XXXVIII Part Two, edited by B.K Lavania, D. K Samanta, S K Mandal and N.N Vyas, pages 498 to 500, Popular Prakashan ISBN 81-7154-769-9
  7. ^ Kanjar People of India Bihar Volume XVI Part One edited by S Gopal & Hetukar Jha pages 445 to 448 Seagull Books ISBN
  8. ^ "A-10 Individual Scheduled Caste Primary Census Abstract Data and its Appendix - Uttar Pradesh". Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. Retrieved 2017-02-06. 
  9. ^ Kanjar Social Organization by Joseph C Berland in The other nomads : peripatetic minorities in cross-cultural perspective / edited by Aparna Rao pages247 to 268 ISBN 3-412-08085-3 Köln : Böhlau, 1987.
  10. ^ a b Taboo: The Hidden Culture of a Red Light Area by Fouzia Saeed, Oxford University Press ISBN 0195797965
  11. ^ Taboo: The Hidden Culture of a Red Light Area by Fouzia Saeed, Oxford University Press, page 61