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Regions with significant populations
• India • Pakistan • Nepal
Related ethnic groups

The Mallah are the traditional boatmen caste of North India, East India and Pakistan. A small number of Mallah are also found in Nepal.[1] In the Indian state of Bihar, the term Nishad includes the Mallah and refers to communities whose traditional occupation centred on rivers.

The word mallaah is said to come from an Arabic word ملاح which means a motion of moving like bird’s wing.[citation needed] In Bengali the words majhi and mallah usually go together and refer to communities affiliated with the river and sea.[citation needed] Those of India are largely Hindu, with a small Muslim minority, while those of Pakistan are Muslim.

Phoolan Devi belonged to the Mallah community.[2]

In North India[edit]

Many Mallaah are now cultivators, with a few now have also taken to other occupations. In Uttar Pradesh, they speak Khari boli, Awadhi and Hindi.The majority of the community are Hindu, although there are a small number of Muslim Mallah.[3]

In Bihar, they are both cultivators and boatmen. They claim descent from the Hindu god Nisadh. The community is also known as Mandalji or Machua. They speak the Angika dialect of Hindi. The community consist of three sub-castes, the Dhoar, Parbattikurin, and Semeri.[4]

In North India, the Mallaah have set up a caste association, the Akhil Bharitiya Nishad Sabha (the All India Nishad Association), which acts as a community welfare association.[citation needed].

In East India[edit]

In West Bengal and Orissa another sub-group of the Mallah community is present and they are known as Mahishya. This community is found mainly in the coastal region of the Bay of Bengal. They speak Bengali and are Hindus.

In Pakistan[edit]

In Sindh[edit]

In Sindh, the Mallaah are traditionally boatmen and fisherfolk, living along the inlets of the Indus delta. They speak Sindhi, and are close associated with Mohana tribe. The Mallaah are found mainly in the coastal districts of Thatta and Badin, and most are largely still fishermen. Many have seen their traditional areas of habitation washed away by the sea. The Indus Delta is also silting, which makes cultivation difficult. An important subsidiary occupation is animal husbandry, with the Mallaah raising cattle. Although living in close proximity to the Jath community, who customs are similar to the Mallaah, there is almost no intermarriage. The Mallaah community consists of a number of clans, referred to as nukh, the largest Mallaah nukh being the Dablo.[5]

In Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa[edit]

In Punjab, the boatmen belong either to the Mallaah or Jhabel tribe. In south west Punjab, they are often regarded as a clan of Rajputs, and found mainly along the banks of the Indus. They extend as far north as Dera Ismail Khan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where there settlements are found mainly along the banks of the Indus. In this region, many Mallaah are cultivators, and have given up their occupation as boatmen. They generally combine their specialized occupation of boat management with other occupations such as fishing and the growing of waternuts.[citation needed]

In neighbouring Punjab, the Mallaah are found mainly in the districts of Muzaffargarh, Dera Ghazi Khan, Rajanpur and Layyah, and said to be by origin Jhinwar. While Bahawalpur, the Mallaah, Mohana and Jhabel are said to have a common origin, with Mohana being fishermen, the Mallaah being boatmen and Jhabel being cultivators. The Mallah speak Seraiki, and are entirely Sunni.[citation needed] There are also Mallaah communities in the Hazara Division of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. They live along the banks of the Indus in the Haripur and Mansehra districts and speak Hindko, a dialect of Punjabi.[citation needed]


  1. ^
  2. ^ I, Phoolan Devi: The Autobiography of India's Bandit Queen by Phoolan Devi ISBN 9780751519648
  3. ^ People of India Delhi Volume XX edited by T Ghosh & S Nath pages 445 to 448 Manohar Publications
  4. ^ People of India Bihar Volume XVI Part Two edited by S Gopal & Hetukar Jha pages 668 to 670 Seagull Books
  5. ^