- What is a Gujar?
- Some background on Gujars.
- What is Gujarism?
- Who opts for Gujarism?
Caste is a complicated issue in Pakistan. Islamic ideology dictates that all men are equal and most people will happily tell you all castes are equal. Speaking to people of some 'low' castes like barbers and leather workers, however, one soon learns that they believe other Pakistanis are Muslim in name only and do not really believe in their equality. The landlord family of Bhalot are Gujar. The village is multi-caste. How these caste affiliations effected relations was something I wanted to explore after my first trip to the area. I have found, to my joy and frustration sometimes, that there caste affiliation is complex and serves different purposes in different contexts. The wider division between Pathan and Punjabi has been something I have paid attention to since the beginning of this trip. In this report I will discuss some of the elements of being a Gujar and of something I have encountered called 'Gujarism'. Gujar is simply a caste or quaum, and there are numerous things associated with being a Gujar. Gujarism is a more active variant of being a Gujar which involves seeking out other Gujars within associations and consolidating and maintaining ties to those people based strictly on caste affiliation. I am currently trying to get clear for myself what it means to be a Gujar and in what circumstances Gujars decide to become Gujarism 'activists'.
I discovered that the Maliks of Bhalot were Gujars during my first pilot trip in January of 1998. My friend told me proudly that his family were Gujars. I asked what that meant and was told in a very tortuous half English half Urdu that Gujars were people who tended cows and goats. His family however do not tend livestock themselves. They own land. their occupation is to own land not to work on it directly. They supervise other people who work land. On occasion they drive tractors or operate threshers but for the most part their job is to sit on a charpai and be present while labour is being performed and make sure it is being performed correctly. They all own cows, buffalos, goats and sheep but, again, they do not tend to these animals themselves. Most of them will even admit that they are incapable of taking care of these animals themselves. They rely on trusted 'muj-walas' to feed, water and maintain the health of their animals. These men who look after their animals are not all Gujars. So during my first trip all I really learned about Gujars from my friend was that Gujars are Gujars and sometimes they look after animals-- the critical thing being that Gujars only marry other Gujars.
During my second trip in April/May of 1998 I poked a bit more into what it meant to be a Gujar and was it really true that Gujars only married Gujars. I learnt that time round that Gujars mostly only marry other Gujars but they don't marry all Gujars. Not every Gujar is an acceptable candidate for the marriage of every other Gujar's child. Since returning for the third time in December 1998, I have tentatively found that in Bhalot there are three clearly distinct Gujar biraderis (patrilineages). The land owning Malik family are all Gujar and jealously ensure that their children marry exclusively within their own biraderi1 . There is a second long established Bhaloti biraderi which once owned land but are now almost entirely landless. It was a revelation to me to discover after several months that almost every Gujar I met who was not part of the land owning Malik family was somehow part of this second Gujar biraderi. They also seem fairly enthusiastic about maintaining only biraderi marriages but the incidence of some non-rishtidar (family) marriage seems superficially slightly higher. The third set of Gujars are more recently established in the village. They are the smallest group of Gujars and are the only ones who speak the Gujree language among themselves. They do not live in the village proper but in one of the many bourré (a type of housing dug into the side of a hill-- these are by far the most comfortable places to be in the heat-- they look and feel a bit like cave dwellings) scattered among the fields. These are the poorest Gujars in the village and the ones who seem closest to my friend's description of what Gujars are. They tend goats and sheep and livestock is probably as important to them as agriculture in terms of their livelihood. Their numbers in this village are too small to really make generalisations but this group seem far more open to non-Gujar marriages than the other two groups of Gujars. I have seen examples of marriages to Pathans and heard examples from their relatives in other parts that they are not so concerned to marry only Gujars. What matters is the quality of the family and boy or girl that they are marrying their child to. Though even this group professed a preference for a Gujar marriage-- preferably within the biraderi-- cousin marriage being the highest stated preference.
In the months I have been here I have found that the importance of cast/quaum on spouse selection that I read about in England does not seem to have been exaggerated. I still was not very much closer to understanding why my friend brought up his family's quaum to me that day in January 1998 with such pride. Although I have jokingly been adopted by the Malik Gujars (Steve Gujar) everyone knows I am not a Gujar and would not be allowed to marry into their family (though the offer of wives from other quaums have not been infrequent). So what was he telling me when he said he was a Gujar? He was not telling me that he looked after animals himself because even in the few days I'd been there at that time I knew that was patently untrue. He was not telling me that he would marry his son or daughter to any other Gujar. He was telling me something about how he identified himself but it eluded me. To some extent I must admit that it still eludes me. What it means to be a Gujar apart from a label is perplexing.
There are, by common accounting, 30 million Gujars in Pakistan. Gujars claim common quaum status with Checheniyans (the break away former Soviet republic). They argue that Georgia was traditionally called Gujaristan, and all Georgians are really Gujars. They insist that Gujars went as far as Germany and many Germans are really Gujars. Some of the claims for pan-Gujarism can get downright absurd but they are always entertaining. I have heard it argued that Gujars were the original inhabitants of most of South Asia-- dispersed under the Moghul Emperor because Gujars are fierce warriors who refused to bow to this foreign Central Asian invader. There are Gujars throughout India. Many Sikhs come from the Gujar caste. Gujars may be Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Christian and presumably Buddhist since I have been told that when Alexander came and resided in Taxila over two millennia ago he encountered the original Gujar inhabitants. All historical claims aside however, Gujars today are a significant caste in Pakistan. In Kashmir and the northern areas they are a large presence, mostly living by transhumant pastoralism. In the Punjab they are well represented at all levels of government. Every time a Gujar politician appears on television I am proudly told that he is a Gujar.
In recent months I have been introduced to several members of the Gujar Youth Forum. A 'Gujarism' association whose goals seem slightly unclear apart from generally promoting Gujar unity. If Gujar unity is truly their goal then they have an uphill battle-- 30 million people with disparate economic lifestyles, education, languages and religious sects do not easily fall behind a single banner for long. One unavoidable aspect of Punjabi society is that people depend on other people's resources and contacts to carry out the ordinary things of life: getting jobs, finding places to live, buying cars, getting married, resolving disputes with neighbours. The Gujar association, and in general caste, often serve as one of the factors in making up a list of potential 'helpers'. The Gujar association that I have been privileged to see up close seems, in part, to be simply a way of making contact between people that cuts across class lines. Poor Gujars and wealthy Gujars alike are involved in the Gujar association. The wealthy Gujars may be attracted to the potential client pool such an organisation offers. The poor Gujars may similarly be attracted to the potential new patrons they can make use of. Although the association literature and the rhetoric of its members suggest something far more sentimental and altruistic, in practice what I have seen is resource networking. That is to say that when I have seen these Gujars get together they spend an inordinate amount of time finding out what the others are doing and sharing information about other Gujars. They seem to be gathering information which may become useful some day in the future when they need the help of a particularly placed Gujar. I refrain from saying well placed because in Pakistan the most efficient contact may end up being the lowest clerk or servant in an organisation.
Not every Gujar approves or participates in these Gujar associations however. I have been told privately that Gujarism is a silly thing that serves no purpose. From what little I have been able to observe I would have to disagree with that. It may be silly but it serves a purpose. Gujarism puts people in contact in a way that favours may be asked. It is a non-kin based network in which all 'quaumis' may theoretically make requests of each other. The request, as seems to be usual in Pakistan, may not be made directly but rather to one of the people who are active within the Gujar association. He then filters through all of the information he has gathered about the various Gujars known to him and tries to find someone who may be able to satisfy the request. The Gujar association exists, therefore, not only to serve the needs of its active members but to act as a kind of hub for resource pooling. One need not be directly active in the association to ask for help-- one need merely have contact with someone who is active (even indirect contact may work).
Gujarism seems to conform to a more general pattern in the area of knowledge-resource sharing networks. As with kin groups, the most solid of these kinds of networks, Gujarism and Gujar associations give individuals access to a wider base of knowledge of who is out there who my be able to help. Individuals within kin groups are hard pressed to refuse a request coming from the right family member (regardless of who the request is really for). For example, it may be irrelevant that I despise my cousin if my cousin goes to my mother or my grandmother and asks them to ask me. If my mother or grandmother decide to make the request and urge me to comply then I must be very careful how I refuse (given examples I have seen refusal will not happen but the service/favour may get postponed an awfully long time, and ultimately may bear little resemblance to the original request). Within the context of this caste based association, the pressure to comply to requests is decidedly less. A fellow Gujar does not have the kind of clout that close blood relatives possess. However what they have is the promise of future help of an unknown nature. With kin, individuals know more or less who is what and where they are. They have an idea of what sort of contacts they have within the family and what sorts of favours may be asked. Caste associations are less distinct. A small favour from a member of the association may be well advisable to grant. There will certainly come a time when every individual needs help with something and it may come at a time when relations are strained within the family. Although requests may still be made even in periods of strained relations, individuals try to avoid it if possible.
Thinking this through helped me to understand why certain people in the village were more active in the Gujar association and others considered it a foolish and pointless thing to do. Those Bhaloti Gujars who are very active, coincidentally seem to be in the middle of most of the disputes within the family. Since I have been coming to this village (starting in January 1998) there is one 'nuclear' family2 who seem to be involved in almost every family dispute. Every family is involved in some disputes-- there is not one member of this family over the age of 30 who seems to have escaped becoming embroiled in some ongoing serious dispute-- however relations between some 'nuclear' families are very close and seem more resistant to fracture. For most families, even while they are arguing and disagreeing with one member of a faction they may maintain good relations with individuals close to their current 'disputant'. The problem is that if one has half a dozen serious arguments every year, one finds that the number of people that turn into direct 'disputants' becomes very high-- thus restricting the number of potential favour doers within the kin group. Further compounding the problem for ambitious men, it reduces the number of potential favour seekers within the kin group. People who are actively disputing do not seek help from each other (though I suspect they would give help if the other person requested it for a number of reasons which anthropologists should be able to guess). The Maliks that are most embroiled in contention and dispute are potentially at a disadvantage should they need some action they cannot perform themselves. For those who rely almost exclusively on the kin group for support this places more pressure on them to resolve disputes quickly and to avoid allowing them to become serious. The family in question, the Gujarism 'activists', have more latitude. To some extent they can weather nastier and more frequent disputes within their kin group without suffering significantly increased vulnerability in relation to the outside world.
I do not pretend to have come up with any world shaking revelations, merely some interesting observations. It puzzled me why my friend felt it important to tell me he was Gujar when he had no clear definition for me of what a Gujar was and being a Gujar did not seem to imply anything concrete by itself. Following the trail of Gujarism showed me that for some people there were concrete and clear motivations for accentuating this affiliation. At this point I am a little closer to understanding part of the phenomenon of Gujarism and it has helped me to understand other caste associations I have come in contact with. My thesis revolves around a single village but it has become unavoidably clear to me that in order to understand this single village I must understand all the strands leading in and out of it. Kinship and caste are two important strands that build links to wider areas. In future I intend to pursue other 'link-builders' such as school friendships, development workers and government representatives, occupational acquaintances and others that come up.
As always I welcome comments on how I may be missing things or over emphasising or misunderstanding things.