Who is a Rajput?

Joe Shearer

Nov 25, 2017
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Hubris and Hindutva: BJP’s gambit and Rajput conscripts
For the past couple of weeks the Rajput community of Rajasthan has been in the news for all wrong reasons — owing to the range of crimes by fanatics from the community & the silence of most people from the community on these developments . Social media is flooded with articles — from “exceptional bravery and honor” to “exceptional cowardice and villany” of this community . Tragically in this exchange of apologia and polemic, certain misconceptions of Rajputs and non-Rajputs about these communities were not addressed .

1. Rajputs : Origins

[The Origin part was written by me in the month of February, based upon reading of older books on the community; thus is not completely updated].

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 Harshwardhan who is first reputed to use the term Rajputra for himself. In 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 . As per This way tribes from Gujars , Jats , Gonds , Bhars , Kharwars , Khasas , Khokhars apart from the Chalukyas and Rashtrakuts became Rajputs .[ Shailendra Nath Sen : Ancient Indian History ]Most Hindu Rajputs are either ignorant of this or arrogantly deny this as if having mlechha(foreign) or humbler origins is a shame and this defines their Caste-Consciousness today. Nijjar in his Origins of Jats and Allied Tribes discusses how many Delhi Chauhans after expulsion of their Chauhan aristocrats by Turks lost their Rajput caste status owing to landlessness . In neighbouring Karnal , he further notes Rajputs becoming Sheikhs after taking weaving as their occupation. Initially it remained a flexible identity until the 15th century this process of promotion and demotion gradually stops in Hindu-areas . This Rigidity also ensured class-hierarchies within the Rajputs and also Rajpus’ self- misconception of being an “Ethnic” group .Nijjar , using colonial data , also points out that the process of promotion and demotion continued in Muslim Punjab and Muslim Sindh until very recently with Jats becoming Rajputs and Rajputs becoming Jats .[Pg 48–49 , Nijjar , Origin of Jats and Allied Tribes]

2. Rajputs & Rajasthan

In undivided India it was the Muslim-dominated Punjab that had the largest concentration of Rajputs , followed by Hindu-majority UP and MP (totaling 9,430,095 as per 1911 Census). The Rajput community of Rajasthan was only the fourth most populous (675,789) [Pg 288–289 , Nijjar , Origin of Jats and Allied Tribes] an aspect equally true today.

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 after the Gujar / Khazar race that rose to dominance in the region in either Gupta or post-Gupta era . The state of Gujarat is still named after the Gujar pastoralists. Apart from the aboriginal Meena rulers , it were Gujar rulers who began to dominate the region in this era. A reason why even the Arab chroniclers of the battles between Ummayid and Indian forces , calls 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 Rashtrakut-origin Rathores and Kachwaha migrants from Central India .

3. Rajputs & Islam

Jaychand Gaharwar , the “villain” of Prithvirajaso was a patron of Buddhism , his diksha-guru being a Buddhist Jaganmitrananda , the Chandelas who are originally Gonds themselves were patrons of Buddhism apart from Hinduism & the Solanki Emperors especially Kumarpala of Gujarat followed Jainism, before converting to Hinduism.

Quite evidently Western Rajputs just like Jats and Gujars etc followed the popular religion of the region. Therefore it is not unusual that most Rajput commoners and Rajput Rulers in Punjab and Sindh embraced Islam soon after the Arab invasion. The Arab rule in Sindh was replaced by Muslim Sumras (Parmars) and Muslim Sammas of Thatta — — Samas are in fact a major branch of which the Hindu Jadejas and Hindu Chudasamas of Gujarat are cadet branches. In Punjab Raja Ajmaldev , descendant of the last Kabulshahi Jaipal Janjua , influenced by Turkic Sufi influence embraced Islam and established the Janjua Sultanate [Chronicles of Early Janjuas , Hussain Khan]. This was even prior to Shahabuddin Ghauri’s invasion of India. The Sultanate was finally ended by the Sikh Empire. The Muslim Rathore rulers of Poonch (J&K) were cousins of the Hindu Rathore rulers of Marwar.

In Rajasthan — most Hindu Rajput rulers were subservient to the Mughal Emperors not allies as often made out , a reason for marital pacts that reflected the Brahminical policy of anulom-vilom where Mughal elites adjusted themselves to a higher-hierarchy of Kshatriya-hood with respect to these Rajput Kings — — Kshatriya-hood to which these former Gujars and former Bhars were previously absorbed .

Even prior to the Mughal invasion , owing to similar cultural moorings as the local Muslim chiefs Hindu Rajput chiefs of Thar often had marital relationships with the former and it was always a two-way relationship . Eg. Daughers of a Hindu King Rao Bukkan Bhati were married to a Muslim Rajput Depal-de Johiya , similarly in 14th century another Bhati chief Rao Kelhana Bhati was married to the daughter of a Baloch chief Hybat Khan [Nomadic Narrative by Tanuja Kothiyal] And these are quite recurrent instances 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 their most past leaders towards Mughals , their own ignorance of the syncretic past that they share with Thar’s Muslims ,their disgust towards the existence of a huge Muslim Rajput population ,is at the root of common Rajput’s “Hindutva” , which like much of “Rajputana identity” can be traced to the British era.

4. Mewar : Rajput Resistance or Hindu Resistance ?

Well it was neither . Looking back in history , whether the battle against Arabs by Pratihar Emperors , the legend of Padmini (real or historical) , the anti-Turk skirmishes to regain Chittorgarh by Hamir , battle of Khanwa , resistance to Mughal army at Haldighati — — all are related to the Mewar and with exclusion of most Rajput states.

The alleged “Rajput Resistance” at Khanwa led by Mewar’s Gehlot ruler Sanga was joined by the aboriginal Muslim Meos led by Raja Hasan and Mahmud Lodi’s Pathan troops apart from Rathore-ruled Marwar . Kachwaha-led Jaipur , Bhati-led Jaisalmer were all absent. The Battle of Haldighati showed participation by Pathans of Tonk led by Hakim Sur , Mewar’s Bhils led by their autonomous ruler Rana Poonja , Tomars of Malwa apart from Mewar’s regular troops ; Mewar troops were Rajput-dominated but not exclusively Rajput . Not just that other Hindu Rajput principalities stayed neutral but some like the Jaipur’s Kachwaha rulers were infact collaborators .Therefore it is disturbing when sacrifices by citizens of Mewar across religions and castes are misappropriated by Rajputs outside Mewar for insular “Caste-pride” and Hindus outside the region for “Hindutva” .

5. Rajputs , Rajasthan and Contemporary politics

The historical revision under the current Chief minister and the attacks on SLB by Jaipur-based Karni Sena are full of historical ironies . Firstly, the revision is being done under the current CM whose Scindia ancestors were as much guilty of plundering the region as the Mughals. Secondly and more importantly the revision has been proposed by two ministers — Kalicharan Saraf — a Marwari bania from Jaipur and Rajpal Singh Shekhawat — a Kachwaha Rajput himself . Thirdly , Karni Sena is a Jaipur-based orgaisation founded by Lokendra Singh Kalvi ,a patriarch & current BJP activist , who hails from the state of Marwar ; he is also its current leader.

So why these theatrics ?

Pan Singh Tomar: An army Subedar with Bengal-Engineers and an athlete who later became a dacoit ; Irrfan Khan playing Tomar in a Bollywood flick
This is not about alienating Muslims, but more about reinforcing the Hindutva strings attached to the Hindu Rajput youths ,especially the rural and working class which is exactly what happened in western UP in more violent fashion — Dadri and Farukhabad are examples that come to mind . Since 1990s ,Hindutva has depended on vulnerabilities of poor Dalit and Backward Caste youths for much of its’ dirty work. But with the rise of caste-based parties like BSP , SP , RLD promising more tangible material progress and upliftment many Dalits and rural BC people have been gradually leaving the camp . Thus the only option left by BJP is to renew its grip on the Rajput caste as a whole across regions and strengthen the puppet-strings . There must be no doubt that rural Rajputs are among the most socially and educationally backward sections of the Forward castes , having more in common with fellow Jats and Ahir farmers than with the upper echelons of their own caste — a Class inequality that is often ignored . Further, except a few like Manish Sisodia , Karan Singh , many Rajput politicians like Rajnath Singh or Gen. VK Singh as former Jagirdars belong to BJP . The country’s only PM from the community — known for his Secularism and Anti-Casteism equally — VP Singh was from the influential Royal family of Manda but he too chose to ignore the moral-crisis of the rural youth and the pressing need of social-reforms even in his own constituency . Despite this , there is a minority of privileged people from the community moulded in the cultures of priemier institutions like JNU or TISS often calling for dismemberment of the “Brahminical Indian State” but hardly anyone has felt the need to even attempt fixing their own rural society’s rot. These circumstances make rural and working class Hindu Rajputs perfect foot-soldiers for both” fixing Muslims” and “Anti-Reservation struggle” even as Rajput Jagirdars refrain from addressing class-inequality within the caste and taking responsibility of social reforms for the rural laity.

Conclusion :

The 1911 census showed Rajputs of Undivided India to be more than 10 million which may be even larger now and even though that is a fraction of India’s billions , it is nevertheless a huge population . In the medieval past Rajput sepoys and conscripts were present on both sides of the warring parties — Ghori’s army had recruits from Punjab’s Rajputs , Babur’s army at Khanwa included Purbiya mercenaries (Rajputs from Bihar) , Maratha armies invading Rajasthan had Rajput conscripts from Madhya Pradesh serving it. But Unlike the past , unless some steps are taken by the educated liberal minority from within the community, it will be a complete one-sided event making the whole community more akin to self-destructive suicide bombers.