Nashya Shaikh

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The Nashya Shaikh or Nashya Sekh(Bengali: নইস্য শেখ) is a Muslim community found in northern parts of the state of West Bengal in India. They are culturally and linguistically similar to both Rangpuri people of northern Bangladesh and Goalpariya people of Assam. A small number of the community are also found in the neighboring state of Bihar, where they are known as the Bengali Shaikh. These people are more commonly known as Rajbongshi Muslims. The Nashya are considered to be an important indigenous group found in northern West Bengal.[1] They are homogeneous with the Koch Rajbongshi people and are bi-linguistic speaking both Bengali language and Koch language with Koch Rajbongshi language being replaced by Bengali language among the newer generations.

Etymology[edit]

Being Rajbongshis, which were originally animist who converted to Hinduism, these people were loose followers of Hinduism. But when a small section of these people converted to Islam, the act was frowned upon. The local Hindus started calling them 'nosto seikh' meaning impure Seikh or spoiled Seikh. But as more number of people got converted to Islam with time these people came in contact with mainstream Muslims, and the term 'nosto seikh' slowly got islamicised into 'Nashya seikh'.

Origin[edit]

The Nashyas trace their origin to the indigenous communities of Koch Rajbongshi of northern West Bengal, though some of them are also from Mech community. There conversion to Islam is said to have taken over two to three centuries, and the Nashya still retain many cultural traits of their pre-Islamic past. Most people of the community are non-practicing Muslims though the newer generations are becoming increasing Islamic due to globalization. From historic evidence, it seems a segment of the indigenous population of north Bengal converted started to convert to Islam when the region fell under the control of Bakhtiyar Khilji. Some of the earliest converts were the chiefs Ali Mach and Kala Pahar. Tradition also ascribes the conversion of several lineages to Sufi saints such as Torsa Pir, Pagla Pir, Shah Fakir Sahib and Shah Gari Sahib.[2]

Present circumstances[edit]

The Nashya were at one time substantial landowners, generally known as jotedars. Below this class was a substantial strata of medium-sized peasants. With the independence of India in 1947, the larger estates were broken up. The community's contribution to the agriculture of northern West Bengal is substantial, with the Nashya growing jute, tobacco, and rice.[3]

The Nashya as a community were once strictly endogamous but their marriage with mainstream Bengali Muslims brought them more close to Bengali culture. Their physical appearance seems to be more similar to Bengalis rather than Rajbongshi people. They are divided into leneages such as Bepari, Pramanik, Sarcar and Sekh. Each of these lineage groups intermarry. The community is mainly follows hanafi school of Sunni islam. They concentrated in the districts of Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Dinajpur (north and south). They are also found in the neighbouring Purnia Division of Behar, where they are known as Bengali Shaikh.

The community have set up their own political and cultural organization, the Uttar Bango Angrassar Muslim Sangram Samiti, which acts as pressure group for this community.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Marginal Muslim Communities in India edited by M.K.A Siddiqui pages 74-89
  2. ^ Marginal Muslim Communities in India edited by M.K.A Siddiqui pages 74-89
  3. ^ Marginal Muslim Communities in India edited by M.K.A Siddiqui pages 74-89