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Caste

Bihar Caste Survey: The Who’s Who in the Data | Dhuniya

Dhuniyas are Muslims who fall in the backward category.

Beyond politics, the Bihar caste survey is a revolutionary document.

A public document, the first ever after 1931, allowing for people to stand up and be counted.

We go down to the wire, on what each of the numbers unveiled mean.

Who are the people referred to by percentages in the survey?

Today we look at Dhuniya (18,68,192 people).

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The job of a Dhuniya is to scutch cotton. In rural areas, people of this caste can be seen carrying dhanuhi and jista on their shoulders even today. Tant in a dhanuhi is a strong rope which is made by drying the intestines of dead animals. They hit the dhanuhi with the jista and beat cotton. It has been a traditional and noble profession. The cotton fluffed up by them is used in several ways, such as making thread which in turn is used to make clothes. Cotton is also used in towels, quilts and pillows etc.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

Dhuniyas are Muslims who fall in the backward category. One may call them Pasmanda, which means people left behind, as against the Ashraf. Interestingly, Tipu Sultan belonged to this caste, whose indomitable courage is inscribed in gilded letters in the history of India. Those who frown at the name of Tipu Sultan know that the blood of Pinjara or Dhuniya of Shramana tradition flowed through his veins.

There were Dhuniyas among Hindus but they had learned this art from Muslim Dhuniyas. As far as their place of origin is concerned, they do not hail from here but are basically natives of Persia (today’s Iran) and Afghanistan. But now many of their generations are buried in graves in this country.

Earlier they were called Pinjara and not Dhuniya, but their job was the same as it is today. In India, three terms are used to refer to them – Pinjara, Mansoori and Dhuniya. In Gujarat, they are called Mansoori. However, Bihar also has a sizeable population of Mansooris, including in Gaya and Bhagalpur and its surrounding districts. They also have a significant population in Uttar Pradesh, especially in the eastern belt.

Although classical mystic poet Kabir was a weaver, the people of the Dhuniya community considered Kabir as their guru. Radha Swami sect is a sect inspired by Kabir. Dhuniya people also believed in this sect, which is highlighted in several hymns written by Shiv Dayal Singh, the founder of the Radha Swami sect.

Dhuniyas have been closely associated with religion. One example is Persian Sufi mystic Mansur al-Hallaj who was also a weaver like Kabir. His followers were called Mansoori. It is documented in history that they first landed in Gujarat.

However, other stories are being spread these days by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh that the Pinjara caste originated in India and they were originally Hindus from Rajasthan.

Beyond all such claims, research has firmly established that they are a backward Muslim community and face neglect despite the fact that their population in Bihar is 18,68,192. Most political parties have also ignored this caste till now.

The people of this caste travelled far to reach India from Iran and made this country their home. Now, India is their country and they are its citizens.

Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman. Read the Hindi original here.

Read earlier parts of the series on the following communities by clicking on their names: Ghasi | Santrash | Madaria | Koeri/Kushwaha | Chaupal | Nai/Hajjaam | Pasi | Rangrez | Chamar | Gorkan | Jutt | Yadav | Kamar | Chik | Bari and Bauri.

The series is available in Hindi here and in Urdu, here.