For the past couple of weeks, the Rajput community in Rajasthan has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Even though Rajput communities across India are well knit, we (or rather, our rural brethren) make the news for rioting, lynching and other such crimes. Besides, the social media is often filled with articles speaking of either the ‘exceptional courage and honour’ or the ‘extreme cowardice and villany’ of this community.
However, in the exchange of apologia and polemic, certain misconceptions regarding the Rajput community held by Rajputs and non-Rajputs alike are not being addressed .
While claims to the Kshatriya origins have been common from the Buddha to the Jain Tirthankars and also the Mauryans, it was the Buddhist emperor Harshavardhana who is first reputed to use the term ‘Rajputra‘ for himself. In the post-Gupta era, gradually, the term began to be adopted by all the warring agricultural tribes from Swat and Chitral in Pakistan to Bihar and Nepal . This way, tribes from Gujars, Jats, Gonds, Bhars, Kharwars, Khasas, Khokhars – apart from the Chalukyas and Rashtrakuts – became Rajputs.
Most Hindu Rajputs are either ignorant of this, or arrogantly deny this. This is because they feel that having mlechha (foreign) or humbler origins is a subject of shame. Unfortunately, this view has come to define the caste-consciousness of Hindu Rajputs today.
Nijjar in his “Origins and History of Jats and Other Allied Nomadic Tribes of India” discusses how the Delhi Chauhans lost their Rajput status, owing to their landlessness, after their loss and expulsion by the Turks. He further notes that in neighbouring Karnal, many Rajputs became sheikhs after taking up weaving as their profession.
As is evident, the ‘Rajput’ identity was initially a very flexible and inclusive one. This stopped from the 15th century onward, when this social mobility disappeared especially in the Hindu territories. The ensuing rigidity also ensured the creation of strict class-hierarchies within the Rajputs, and also the beginning of Rajputs mistakenly viewing themselves as an ethnic group.
Using the data from the colonial era, Nijjar however points out that the social mobility of Rajputs continued to thrive in Muslim-dominated Punjab and Sindh, till very recently – with the Jats becoming Rajputs and vice-versa.
In undivided India, it was Muslim-dominated Punjab that had the largest concentration of Rajputs. This was followed by Hindu-dominated UP and Bengal. There was a total of 9,430,095 Rajputs, according to the 1911 census. The Rajput community in their headquarters at Rajputana (now Rajasthan) numbered only 675,789.
Popular culture associates all Rajputs with Rajasthan due to the state’s former name ‘Rajputana’, which John Keay notes to be of recent British-origin. The ancient name of the region was ‘Gurjaratra’, named after the Gujar/Khazar race that rose to dominance in the region in either the Gupta or post-Gupta era.
The state of Gujarat is still named after the Gujar pastoralists. Apart from the aboriginal Meena rulers, it was the Gujar rulers who began to dominate the region in this era. This is the reason why even the Arab chroniclers (of the battles between the Ummayid and Indian forces) call the Pratihara emperors of Kanauj (and their Gahlot and Chauhan feudatories) as Gurjars. Even today, the Gujars are the largest contributors to the Rajput demography of these states despite the later dominance of the Rashtrakut-origin Rathores and Kachwaha migrants from Central India.
Jaychand Gaharwar , the ‘villain’ in “Prithviraj Raso” was a patron of Buddhism. His diksha-guru was a Buddhist called Jaganmitrananda. The Chandelas, who were originally Gonds, were also patrons of Buddhism, apart from Hinduism. The Solanki emperors, especially Kumarpala of Gujarat, followed Jainism, before converting to Hinduism.
Similarly, Western Rajputs like the Jats and the Gujars followed the popular religion of the region. It is not unusual that most Rajput commoners and Rajput rulers in Punjab and Sindh embraced Islam soon after the invasion by the Arabs. The Arab rule in Sindh was replaced by the Muslim Sumras (Parmars) and the Muslim Sammas of Thatta . In fact, the Sammas were a major branch of which the Hindu Jadejas and Hindu Chudasamas of Gujarat are cadet branches.
In Punjab, Raja Ajmaldev, descendant of the last Kabul Shahi Jayapal Janjua, embraced Islam and established the Janjua sultanate, after being influenced by Turkish sufism. This was even prior to Muhammad of Ghor’s invasion of India. The sultanate was finally ended by the Sikhs.
The Muslim Rathore rulers of Poonch (Jammu and Kashmir) were cousins of the Hindu Rathore rulers of Marwar. Evidently, the spread of Islam in South Asia can be owed to both Muslim Rajput influences and the Turkish and Arab influences.
In Rajasthan , most Hindu Rajput rulers were subservient to the Mughal Emperors, and not allies, as is often made out. This was also a reason for marital pacts that reflected the Brahman policy of ‘anulom-vilom (breathing in, breathing out)’, by which the Mughal elites ‘adjusted’ themselves to the higher hierarchy of ‘Kshatriya-hood’ with respect to these Rajput kings. Even the Gujars and the Bhars had been previously absorbed into the ‘Kshatriya-hood’.
Prior to the Mughal invasion, owing to similar cultural relationships with the local Muslim chiefs, the Hindu Rajput chiefs of Thar often had marital relationships with the former, and it was always a two-way relationship.
Taniya Kothiyal in her book, “Nomadic Narratives: A History of Mobility and Identity in the Great Indian Desert” provides examples of such relationships. The daughers of a Hindu king, Rao Bukkan Bhati, were married to a Muslim Rajput, Depal-de Johiya. Similarly, in the 14th century, another Bhati chief, Rao Kelhana Bhati, was married to the daughter of a Baloch chief, Hybat Khan. Such instances kept recurring in the societies of Thar, where both Persian Islam and Sanskritised Hinduism are overshadowed by nomadic cultures.
The alleged shame associated with the subservient nature of most of their past leaders towards Mughals, their own ignorance of the syncretic past that they share with the Muslims of the Thar region and their disgust towards the existence of a huge Muslim Rajput population – these are at the root of the common Rajput’s ‘hindutva‘, which, like much of the ‘Rajputana’ identity, can be traced back to the British era.
Well, the answer to this question is ‘neither’.
Looking back in history – the battle against Arabs by the Pratihara emperors, the legend of Padmini (real or historical), the skirmishes against the Turks to regain Chittorgarh by Hamir, the battle of Khanwa, the resistance to Mughal army at Haldighati – all these are exclusively related to Mewar having no contribution from most of the other Rajput states.
The alleged ‘Rajput Resistance’ at Khanwa led by Mewar’s Gehlot ruler, Rana Sanga, was joined by the aboriginal Muslim Meos led by Raja Hasan, Mahmud Lodi’s Pathan troops and troops from Rathore-ruled Marwar . Kachwaha-led Jaipur and Bhati-led Jaisalmer were all absent in this battle.
The battle of Haldighati showed participation by the Pathans of Tonk led by Hakim Sur , Mewar’s Bhils led by their autonomous ruler Rana Poonja and the Tomars of Malwa. Mewar’s troops were Rajput-dominated but not ‘exclusively’ Rajput . Besides, other Hindu Rajput principalities stayed strictly neutral. Some like the Jaipur’s Kachwaha rulers openly sided with the Mughals.
Therefore, it is disturbing when sacrifices by the citizens of Mewar are misappropriated by Rajputs outside Mewar for their insular caste pride, and by Hindus outside the region for hindutva.
The ‘historical revision‘ under the chief minister (CM) of Rajasthan and the attack on Sanjay Leela Bhansali by the Jaipur-based Karni Sena are full of historical ironies, in light of the history of the Rajputs.
Firstly, the revision was done under the CM, whose Scindia ancestors were equally guilty of plundering the region along with the Timurids. Secondly, the revision was proposed by two ministers – Kali Charan Saraf (a Marwari bania from Jaipur) and Rajpal Singh Shekhawat (who is a Kachwaha Rajput himself). Thirdly, the Karni Sena is a Jaipur-based organisation founded by Lokendra Singh Kalvi, a patriarch and currently a BJP activist, who hails from the state of Marwar.
So why these theatrics?
This is not about alienating Muslims, but more about showing the ‘hindutva strings’ still attached to the Hindu Rajput youth, especially those from the rural and working classes. This is exactly what was revealed in west UP in a very violent fashion - Dadri and Farrukhabad are examples that come to mind.
Since the 1990s, hindutva has depended on the vulnerabilities of the poor dalit youths and the youths from other backward castes to do much of its dirty work. However, with the rise of caste-based parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party (SP) and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), many dalits and rural people from the backward castes have been gradually leaving the hindutva camp.
Hence, the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) has been forced to renew its grip on the Rajputs in various states. There can be no doubt that rural Rajputs are among the most socially and educationally backward sections among the non-backward castes. They have more in common with their fellow Jats and the Ahir farmers, than with the upper echelons of their own caste . This is a class inequality which is often ignored.
Furthermore, barring a few exceptions, a majority of upper-caste Rajput politicians (especially those who were previously jagirdars) are members of the BJP. The country’s only Prime Minister from the community (VP Singh), known equally for his secularism and anti-casteism, came from the influential Manda family. However, he chose to ignore the moral crisis of the rural youth and the pressing need of social reforms in his own constituency.
Despite this overwhelming historical baggage, privileged people from the Rajput community are moulded by premier educational institutions and call for ‘dismemberment’ of the ‘Brahminical’ Indian state. Sadly, hardly anyone among these educated youths feels the need to address and fix the rot in their rural society.
These circumstances have made rural and working-class Hindu Rajputs perfect foot-soldiers both for ‘fixing Muslims’ and for the anti-reservation struggle’. On the other hand, the issue of Rajput jagirdars refraining from addressing class inequalities within their caste and refusing to take responsibility of reforming the rural laity remains conveniently ignored.
The 1911 census showed a population of nearly 10 million in imperial India. Their population in India is significant even today.
In the past, Rajput sepoys and conscripts participated on both sides of warring parties . Muhammad Ghori’s army had recruits from Punjab’s Rajput community, Babur’s army at Khanwa included Purbiya mercenaries (from Bihar) while Maratha armies invading Rajasthan had Rajput conscripts from Madhya Pradesh.
However, unless the educated populace within the Rajput community takes constructive steps to mend their society, a ‘one-sided’ event of Rajputs becoming self-destructive may soon be witnessed.
The post was first published here. It has been published on Youth Ki Awaaz by the author’s permission.