Impoverishment of Gurjars is a legacy of Muslim rule
Which ethnic community lent its name to Gujarat province and Gujjarwal village near Ludhiana; Gujranwala city, Gujjar Khan village and Gujrat district in Pakistan? The same ethnic group also produced Pratihara dynasty of Gujarat with illustrious kings like Nag Bhatta, Samrat Mihir Bhoj, Mahipal-II and Yaspal etc. When Sahib Singh Verma, the then Jat Chief Minister of Delhi, renamed the NH-24 (Sarai Kale Khan Village to Moradabad via Hapur bypass) as Samrat Mihir Bhoj Marg, it was in response to the community's demand, that it would remind the country of their glorious history.
We are speaking about the Gujjars (rather Gurjars), who were recently up in arms for their inclusion in Scheduled Tribes list in Rajasthan. It was nothing short of an uprising that left behind a huge trail of corpses, damaged public property, and loss of business. The Gujjars took it to various highways and disrupted traffic. Samrat Mihir Bhoj Marg (NH-24) ' a reminder of their glorious history ' was blocked off by around 1,000 protestors on June 3. Ironically, Mihir Bhoj Inter College in Dadri provided an ideal venue for the meeting of the blockaders.
A youngster Manvinder Adhana based in Victoria, Australia, runs a Gurjar community website www.gurjarsonline.com since 2005. 'It is a small effort for my royal community' informs Manvinder about the website. 'Royal' not 'tribal' is the word used by Manvinder whose site reflects a legitimate Gujjar pride. Read on:
"Our community people are brave, hardworking and independent minded people who have desire to excel. The Gurjars are characterized by their strong and large build. The Gurjars have a very good self -esteem and they are a proud people. They posses both the desire and ability to rule the world. In the ancient time we had blessed with the great leaders like King Mihir Bhoj, Vijay Singh Pathik, Sarder Vellabh Bhai Patel and many more. As per the Varna (Caste) system, the Gurjar/Gujar/Gujjar are traditionally belonged to the Kshatriya Caste or the warrior class, and formerly ruled the Gurjara-Pratihara Kingdom, which included much of northern India during the 8th and 9th centuries" (original spelling retained).
Reading this, while witnessing the clamour in Rajasthan and elsewhere for ST status, we discover an astounding mismatch between the perception and aspirations of the community. It will be worthwhile to investigate the reasons behind the community's reversal of fortunes.
The Hindi media should be complimented for using the term Gurjar (instead of distorted Gujjar), meaning in Sanskrit vanquisher of the enemies. That the Gurjar history had fascinated scholars in modern times is indicated by a score of books written on the subject. K.M. Munshi, founder of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, himself a Gurjar, wrote the 'Glory that was Gujjar Desh'. Famous historian Baij Nath Puri wrote, "The History of Gujjars and Patiharas'. Jats and Gujars: Their Origin, History and Culture (Reference Press, New Delhi) by Rahul Khari appeared earlier this year.
The Gurjar leaders attribute their ruin to British rule which dismissed them as 'criminal tribes.' Their participation in the failed 1857 uprising also proved calamitous. The Gurjars of Delhi, whose participation in 1857 uprising is recorded by William Dalrymple in The Last Mughal, are still struggling to get their lands back from the government of India (vide Gujjars still struggle to get back right to land, The Asian Age, March 15, 2007).
But the 1857 did not spread to Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, and Kashmir. Actually, the impoverishment of Gurjars is legacy of the Muslim rule in India. It uprooted Gurjar dynasties, including Pratihara, from power. Jats, their cultural kinsmen, also came bore the brunt of attack. Uprooted from habitations and livelihoods, Jats and Gurjars were reduced to banditry. They were the highwaymen we read in history, who swarmed upon Delhi-Agra highways plundering the caravans. Thus it was not the first time the Gurjars took to the highways!
Defeat in the hands of Turks, Afghan or Mughals also entailed conversion to Islam, on pain of death. This is how a large share in Gurjars became Muslims. In Pakistan, they constitute nearly 20 percent of population. Choudhary Rehmat Ali, who coined the term Pakistan, was a Gurjar. So was Fazal Illahi Choudhary, the President of Pakistan between 1973 and 1978. The current Speaker of the National Assembly in Pakistan Choudhary Amir Hussain is also a Gurjar.
As late as 1757, Ahmed Shah Abdali carried out a massacre of Jats and Gurjars while invading Mathura, Vrindavan and Gokul during the Holi. But many Gujars had always chosen death to Islam. The most revered instance is that of Mata Gujri ' the mother of Guru Gobind Singh ' who along with her two grandsons Baba Zorawar Singh and Baba Fateh Singh chose to be bricked alive in a wall by Aurengzeb's henchman rather than reciting Kalima.
Jats, however, chose to pay back the Mughals in the same coins. It was the Jats, who thronged to the brotherhood of Khalsa in Misls, after growing beard and hairs. They emerged as a bugbear for Mughal governors in Punjab. Sardar Baghel Singh, a Dhaliwal Jat, captured Red Fort in Delhi from Shah Alam II on March 11, 1783. Jats whether Sikh like Maharaja Ranjit Singh or Hindu like Maharaja Suraj Mal, dug the grave of declining Mughal rule. The Gurjars apparently missed out on this Jat resurgence. Their position as 'power elites' became irredeemable in 20th century independent India.