The Rajput Thakurs of Uttar Pradesh



Encouraging! One little fillip, and they will come back to their
ancient
roots. Just hang on.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
MUSLIM THAKURS OF EASTERN UTTAR PRADESH ARE KEEN TO RETAIN THEIR
RAJPUT LEGACY.

(See bottom of article for source)

Sajjan Khan prays at a temple at his house every day, likes to be
called Sajjan Thakur and yet is a staunch Muslim. The forefathers of
the wealthy 40-year-old farmer from Ajitganj village in Uttar Pradesh's
Fatehpur district were Bais Rajputs who had converted to Islam. But
Sajjan puts more store by his lineage than his ancestors' acquired
faith. The idol-worshipping Khan couldn't care less about being branded
a kafir (unbeliever) by the village maulvi. "I don't care about our
community leaders. We are Thakurs by blood. Besides, we are treated as
inferiors among the Muslims, so why shouldn't we remain loyal to our
roots?" he argues defiantly.

Khan is not a chance deviant. Hundreds of Muslim families whose Rajput
ancestors had converted to Islam six centuries ago prefer to be called
Thakur Sahibs in villages of central Uttar Pradesh. And it is not just
about titles. The "Muslim Thakurs" live, dress and even worship as
Rajputs do-in stark contrast to the "original Muslims". It was in the
14th and 15th centuries that three Rajput sects-the Gautam, Bais and
Dikhit-converted to Islam and settled in Fatehpur, Banda and Unnao
districts. These people, particularly the Gautam Muslims, still cling
to their Hindu origins.

Rather proudly too. Declares Hasan Thakur, the pradhan of Missi village
in Bindki, the erstwhile headquarters of the Gautam Thakurs of
Fatehpur: "Our community members do not keep long beards and refuse to
obey fatwas, the men don't wear lungi, the women avoid the burqa
(veil)." Sajjan's father Mijjan Thakur affirms the cultural anomaly:
"We have worn the dhoti and kurtas for ages. Why should we change?" The
women too opted for the Hindu sari rather than the more
community-specific salwar-kameez and burqa.

This fusion of culture goes much beyond clothes. Rajput traditions have
eclipsed the religious divide and forged a common identity for the
Hindu Gautam Thakurs and the Gautam Muslims. Says Hasan: "The Gautam
Thakurs are like one big family." Hindu Gautam Thakurs participate in
Muslim Gautam functions and vice versa. "When we meet, we touch the
feet of the elders among the Gautam Thakurs just as younger people from
their side would touch my feet," says septuagenarian Gautam Nasruddin
Khan, the head of Sabada village in nearby Banda district.

These intercommunity functions include religious ones as well. The
Gautam Muslims help organise Holi milans, Ram Lilas and kirtans. The
wedding ceremonies of the former Rajputs retain many Hindu rituals: the
bridegroom sports a safa (headgear) like the Hindus do and a raucous
band is a must in a wedding procession as are firecrackers.

In this cultural melee, it is not unusual to find multireligious
practices. Sajjan, who is yet to visit Mecca, recently went on a
pilgrimage to Chitrakoot. Hasan Thakur too frequently goes to Vaishno
Devi with his wife and children.

The Gautams' relations with their fellow Muslims have faded into
irrelevance as community bonds take precedence even in times of
communal riots. If Gautams face a threat to their lives and property,
the Gautam Muslims rush to protect them, and if Gautam Muslims are
outnumbered in any particular place the Gautam Thakurs swell their
ranks. "For more than 50 years in Independent India, none of our
brothers has been killed in communal riots," says Hasan.

Politically too, the Gautam Thakurs-from both sides of the communal
divide-form a cohesive and substantial vote bank. The Gautam Muslims
number more than a lakh though that is a fraction of the Gautam Thakur
population. Hasan Thakur's considerable influence among both the
Thakurs and the Gautam Muslims brought former prime ministers Chandra
Shekhar and V.P. Singh to his house to solicit votes. Hasan's politics
are dictated entirely by community concerns. "If there is a contest
between a Muslim and a Gautam Thakur, our first choice will be a Gautam
Thakur," he explains. The Thakur clan's views on political
issues-generally pronounced by Hasan-are uniform, and more importantly
for the political parties, they vote as a community.

Historical links are sometimes highlighted to forge a common identity.
The Muslim group wants to build a memorial for Raja Bahrawat Singh, the
Argal king who converted to Islam. Another concerns the martyrdom of 52
Gautam Thakur clansmen of Fatehpur who were hanged by the British for
involvement in the 1857 war of independence. The Government has built a
park around the tree on which the soldiers were hanged, but the Gautam
Muslims want to develop it into a grand memorial.



Instead of weakening with passage of time, the ties among the Gautam
Thakurs are showing all signs of strengthening. The Muslim families are
keen to bring "the family" closer through marriages. "I am making a lot
of effort to unite the family once again, but society does not allow us
to do so," says the patriarchal Nasruddin Khan.



Such clanish tendencies do not go down well with the more orthodox
among the Muslims. "Their Hindu origins and customs are a major hurdle
to roti-beti ties (economic and marital)," says Mohit Siddiqui, an
"original" Muslim of Bindki.



The segregation leaves the Thakur Muslims unmoved. They generally marry
among their own group or at most with other converted groups. "The
original Muslims look down upon us because we are converted and taunt
us for behaving like Hindus. But we don't mind," remarked Mushtaq, a
Gautam Muslim working at the Central Ordnance Depot in Kanpur.



While the Gautam Muslims are unabashedly seeking to reunite with the
Thakurs, the Bais and Dikhit groups are doing so more unobtrusively.
But whatever the degree of caste affiliations, all three of these
unique communities stick to their traditional Hindu way of life and are
desperately seeking to claim a Thakur identity. It is, in many ways, a
reconversion not of faith but of culture.





http://www.indiatoday.com/itoday/20020715/living.shtml

By Subhash Mishra in India Today

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