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See Khanjar for the bladed weapon.
Regions with significant populations
India • Pakistan
HinduismSikhism • Islam
Related ethnic groups

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 word kanjar has been derived from the Sanskrit kanana-chara, which means wanderer in the jungle. They claim to have originated in Rajasthan. The Kanjar then had to flee to the jungles to avoid Mughal persecution. Since that period, they have been living in the jungle, and make their living by hunting. According to their traditions, they are descended from a Manu Guru and his wife Nathiya Kanjarin. They are divided into four clans, the Callad, Superala, Diyal and Rachhband. A fifth group, the Patharkat are now a distinct sub-group, no longer inter-marrying with the other Kanjar groupings.[1]

A section of the Kanjar of the Punjab have converted to Islam. This community is historically associated with prostitution.[who?] The Muslim Kanjar of Punjab might have had nucleus in the Kanjar tribe, but the community has always accepted fresh recruits. Those who have followed the profession for generations are called deradars, and look down upon the latter recruits. The Kanjar also supplied the executioners during the period of Mughal and Sikh rule in the Punjab.[citation needed]

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

Present circumstances[edit]

In India[edit]

After independence, they were denotified in 1952, when the Criminal Tribes Act was replaced with the Habitual Offenders Act, but the community continues to carry considerable social stigma. In present Kanjar's are also known as Gihar which is not notified by government of India.[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 banks of the rivers. From the stalks of the munji grass and from the roots of the palas tree, they make ropes which they sell in villages. The community is also involved in tanning of skins out of which drums are made and sold. Many urban Kanjar are now wage labourers and involved in rickshaw pulling.[1]

The Kanjar community council is very strong, and exercises a strong hold over the community. This caste council resolves disputes within the community, and head by a mukhiya or chieftain, who is seen as the leader of the Kanjar. The Kanjar of India are Hindu and Sikh, and their community deity is Mana, who worshiped by all the Kanjars.[3]

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

In Rajasthan, the Kanjar are a nomadic community, 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 the Mewari and have been granted Scheduled Caste status. The Kanjar are further divided into twelve exogamous clans, the Bamnawat, Malvi, Karkhar, Chitrawat, Singhawat, Karmawat, Gudrawat, Jhalawat, Singauri, Suklawat, Nanawat and Singawat. 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.[5]

In Bihar, the Kanjar are involved in trapping birds and animals, which they sell on to local traders. As a semi-nomadic community they are perceived as distinct from other settled communities. There camps are often found in the outskirts of villages. The Kanjar speak the Magadhi dialect of Hindi. They are found mainly in Madhubani and Purnea districts in Bihar.[6]

The 2011 Census of India for Uttar Pradesh showed the Kanjar as a Scheduled Caste with a population of 115,968.[7]

In Pakistan[edit]

In Pakistan, there are in fact two distinct communities that go by the name Kanjar, an urban community, which has over the centuries become 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 the province of 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 an actual tribe.[8][9]

The urban Kanjar[edit]

Little is known how this nomadic jungle tribe became urbanized, and converted to Islam. The neighbourhood of Heera Mandi, in the walled city of Lahore, is the main centre of the tribe. The unmarried girls within the community are prostituted, but wives and son's wives are kept in strict seclusion. 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 giving to the whole community.[citation needed]

The Kanjar are most famously associated with the locality of the Shahi Mohalla, within the walled city of Lahore. This has to home a large community of Kanjar for centuries. The Kanjar have also been connected with music, and 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.”[10]

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 deviant to the cultural norm of an orthodox Islamic society such as Pakistan. Their non-conventional behaviour makes them subject to discrimination, and unlike India, there are no affirmative action schemes for the socially disadvantaged. Furthermore, as members of the minority Shia sect, they are additionally disadvantaged.[9]

The nomadic Kanjar[edit]

The nomadic Kanjar are traditionally involved in the selling of terracotta toys, which they hawk door to door in sedentary 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. All Kanjar trace descent from common ancestor, who was said to a sedentary agriculturist, but are unsure as to when they converted to Islam. The Kanjar speak the Kanjari language, a little studied Indo Aryan language, but almost all also speak Punjabi and Urdu.[11]

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, although many unrelated groups 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 folk are employed 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.[11]

In literature[edit]

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

In films[edit]

In the Lollywood film Bol, there is a prominent character Saqa Kanjar (played by Shafqat Cheema) who financially helps a fanatic hakim after the later has to bribe 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 (played by Iman Ali).


  1. ^ a b Kanjar in People of India Uttar Pradesh Volume XLII edited by A Hasan & J C Das page 704 ISBN 8173041148
  2. ^ Nanta Village The Imperial Gazetteer of India, 1908, v. 18, p. 367.
  3. ^ Kanjar in People of India Uttar Pradesh Volume XLII Part Two edited by A Hasan & J C Das page 707
  4. ^ Madan Meena: Secret Language of the Kanjar Community, Fellowship from Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research, USA
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ Kanjar People of India Bihar Volume XVI Part One edited by S Gopal & Hetukar Jha pages 445 to 448 Seagull Books ISBN
  7. ^ "A-10 Individual Scheduled Caste Primary Census Abstract Data and its Appendix - Uttar Pradesh". Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. Retrieved 2017-02-06. 
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ a b Taboo: The Hidden Culture of a Red Light Area by Fouzia Saeed, Oxford University Press ISBN 0195797965
  10. ^ Taboo: The Hidden Culture of a Red Light Area by Fouzia Saeed, Oxford University Press, page 61
  11. ^ 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.