SOCIAL STRATIFICATION AMONG KONKANI MUSLIMS – Masjid Alfalah

SOCIAL STRATIFICATION AMONG KONKANI MUSLIMS

The Konkani Muslims are divided into at least two major categories, namely those who are the progeny of Arab intermarriages with the women of the cultivating castes, and those who are converts to Islam. The former are known as the Jamaatis, and the later as Daldis; the later however, resent this term and prefer being called Mahigir (fishermen), another indication of the desire of some Konkanis for Arabic/Persian terms instead of Indian, which can be interpreted as another instance of homogenization with the Urdu speaking Muslim communities. The Jamaatis are conscious and proud of their Arab ancestry and constitute the elite group. The Mahigirs are the descendants of the Kolis, the Konkan fishermen. The Mahigirs continue their traditional occupation even in the late 1990s. The two Konkani groups are spatially differentiated due to occupational differences. Mahigirs live in the fishing villages by the creeks, whereas the Jamaatis are mainly concentrated in the inland villages as agriculturists and as those involved in forestry and mango orchards. The Konkanis possess most of the important attributes of an ethnic group. Like the Moplahs of Malabar, they are the progeny of Arab immigrants and Indian women, they speak the same dialect of Konkani language, and marry among themselves, in anthropological terms they are generally endogamous. Yet, according to A.R. Momin, “the Konkani Muslim community has a well defined system of ranking and stratification. Topmost in the hierarchy are those who distinguish themselves from the rest on account of purity of descent and ancestral nobility. Families with surnames like Faqih, Farid, Khatib, Patel, Burbere, Narvil, Hani, Qazi, Tase, [among others] and Muallim belong to this category. Next come people with surnames like Chivne, Bolinjkar, Bhoje, and Jairumi. They are considered to be lower down in the hierarchy on account of differences in occupation and family background. Some of them are believed to have married or kept Hindu women in the nearby villages and so their families carry a stigma. Lower than these two are the Wazah (or Wajas as they are locally known). The Wazahs were traditionally a weaving sub-caste. Some of them formerly used to sell dried fish which is considered to be a lowly occupation in the Konkani Muslim subculture. Until quite recently, the Wazahs were supposed to be next to the lowest in the hierarchy, almost to the extent of being outside the group. They used to live in separate localities. Until a few years ago, there used to be no intermarriage between the Wazahs and other Konkani Muslims. Till very recently, the Wazahs did not observe purdah which the Konkani Muslims of Bhiwandi consider to be a mark of backwardness. Of late the Konkani Muslims have started giving their girls in marriage to the Wazahs as a consequence of the impact of industrialization, Islamization and the spread of modern education. However, this privilege is restricted to those Wazah boys who have acquired wealth and education and have thereby raised their status in the social hierarchy. At the lowest rung of the hierarchy are the Telis. The Telis are oil-pressers. They came to Bhiwandi from the neighboring villages. Though settled among the Konkani Muslims, they were barely considered a part of the group. Their dialect, rituals and customs are the same as those of the Konkanis, but there is no intermarriage between them and the latter”. Finally, a group of Muslims known as “Chorvad” (in Raigarh district) are considered to be the illegitimate offspring of Konkani Muslim landlords and Koli peasant women. The expansion of communication network leading to ease, frequency, and decreasing cost of travel led to greater socialization between and among various sub-groups of the Konkani Muslims. Spread of modern education universally tends to level the ground between various groups, and the Konkanis are no exception. The leveling of ground is greatly aided by accelerating Islamization (defined in our context as the rejection of beliefs, customs, rituals, and structures originating from non-Islamic sources and the adoption of the Islamic notion of the equality of believers, (female and male) further decreasing the boundaries between Konkani sub-groups. However, marriages are still arranged by the parents, although independent mate selection commonly known as “love marriages” through contacts at college and work place is not uncommon. Most middle class Konkani Muslim families prefer marriage within their own group, failing which second preference is given to the Deccani Muslims, followed by other Urdu speaking Muslims. Considerations of education, occupation, and wealth are always present in negotiations for marriage, as is the case in any other ethnic group, thus A.R. Momin reports Konkani intermarriages with upwardly mobile Momins of Bhiwandi. Divorce and remarriage is rare among the Konkanis, but it is likely that both may increase as a result of expanding modernization and westernization. Marriage age for women has increased as a result of longer years spent in college education. An inadvertent outcome of large scale male migration is the relaxation of purdah among Jamaati women in Ratnagiri as women are forced into roles and responsibilities held previously by men, according to A. R. Saiyed.

KONKANI MUSLIM ECONOMY AND SOCIETY TODAY

As a minority within a minority, the Konkani Muslims do not exhibit political preferences greatly different from Muslims of other ethnic, linguistic, or sectarian backgrounds. Thus in the 1930s and 1940s, many supported the Muslim League, exemplified by the cases of Aziz Abdulghaffar Kazi (MLA 1937-46) and Waziruddin Ahmad Parkar (MLA 1946-52) just as men like Muin al-Din Haris, (1907-83) a member of the Maharashtra State Legislative Assembly remained a firm supporter of the Indian National Congress. His example has been followed by men like Ghulam Mustafa Faqih, (1909-94) (Minister in Maharashtra state cabinet), Husain Dalwai, former MLA, as well as Rafiq Zakaria. Born in 1920, Zakaria is the author of several books on Islam and Muslims in India. He held Maharashtra state cabinet posts for a number of times (minister for public health, in 1960s and 1970s) as well as the inspiration behind founding of Muslim educational and charitable institutions such as the Mawlana Azad College in Aurangabad and Maharashtra College in Mumbai. Politically the most successful Muslim to date has been Abd al-Rahman Antulay, (b. 1929) becoming Chief Minister of Maharahstra (between June 1980 and January 1982) and later on elected to Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian parliament in 1996 from the Kolaba constituency on a Congress Party ticket, though defeated in 1998 elections. He also served as minister for health during the prime ministership of Narasimha Rao, 1995-96. The integration of the Konkani Muslim society within the larger Maharashtrian society no doubt played a part in Antulay’s election as Chief Minister of India’s most industrialized state, besides his own superior organizational skills and the leadership qualities, although he claims to have been victimized in a bribery case due to his being a Muslim. The long era of Congress Party rule from 1947-95 was generally one of peace in Bombay except for two major riots in Bhiwandi (1970) and Bombay (1984). The major outbreak of anti-Muslim violence in January 1993 shortly after the Babari Masjid demolition in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 was the worst since independence. However the coming to power of the blatantly anti-Muslim Shiva Sena party has sent shock waves among Muslims communities of all categories in Maharashtra. There is a concerted attempt by the Shiva Sena government to erase aspects of Muslim culture in the state including those associated with the sufis, as exemplified by the attempt to claim the dargah of Haji Malang in Kalyan as one belonging to a Hindu Macchindranath.

ECONOMY AND MIGRATION PATTERN

The main occupation of most Konkanis is agriculture, followed by animal husbandry. Barring Mumbai, the greater portion of Konkan is generally backward industrially and agriculturally. For instance, the Ratnagiri district, the heart of Konkan is generally hilly, with several creeks. The hilly terrain does not give much scope for cultivation, though rice is grown wherever possible. There is some forest wealth. The district is the home of the alphonso variety of mango, renowned and exported worldwide. Harvesting and marketing mangoes is a lucrative, though only a seasonal business.There is plenty of sea food such as shrimps, prawns, and a variety of fish. In the last several decades, the mechanization of fishing has brought prosperity to some families. The amendment of the Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural Lands Act of 1956, giving the tiller the right of the land ownership deprived some Konkani Muslims of some privileges relating to rice cultivation. Subsequently the legislation regarding the allotment of forest resources to cooperative societies as opposed to individual owners curtailed the wealth of some Konkani families. Some consequently took to the powerloom industry in Bhiwandi. But on the whole the region remains undeveloped and its natural resources yet to be exploited. As a result the entire Konkan belt became a satellite society to Bombay, with both Hindus and Muslims seeking jobs in the great metropolis and elsewhere. A demographer has found simultaneously depletion of Muslim population in Ratnagiri and manifold increase in Bombay and Thane, so it can be inferred that Ratnagiri’s loss has been Bombay and Thane’s gain. In the nineteenth century, the career of Sardar Abd al-Haq, ( 1853-96) shows a meteoric rise and fall. Coming from Konkan at the young age of 20, he entered the Nizam’s civil service, and received the title of Dilayr Jang, ending his career as the Agent of the Hyderabad State Railways in London before a mining scandal led to his fall. Konkani Muslims have sought careers beyond the country’s shores in significant numbers. Several Konkanis found jobs or businesses in the oil rich Arab sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf, (estimated numbers between 3000-4000) East Africa (5000) South Africa, (40,000-50,000) Britain (7000, of which a majority came into Britain via East Africa), North America (3000-5000), Southeast Asia and Australia (1000), according to Abdullah Muqaddam of Kokani World Muslim Federation. When Mukhtar Mohiuddin of Blackburn, U.K., a native of Borli Panchattan, won a huge lottery, the media focused attention on the Konkanis in England. The existence of Konkani Muslim Club, in Nairobi, Kenya, and the Konkani World Muslim Federation in London are indications of an emerging diaspora. Following the footsteps of some of their forefathers, large number of Konkani Muslims can be found in the Indian and foreign merchant navies.

CONCLUSION

The Muslim community of the Konkanis have survived thirteen hundred years in India. As the oldest surviving Muslim community, their history is truly fascinating. Sea-faring commerce demands exchange of capital and enterprise among peoples of difference races, religions, and cultures. This probably explains why, despite the advent of foreign immigrants –Persians, Arabs, Jews, Christians of various denominations, and the Parsis in the coastal areas of Gujarat, Konkan and Malabar– the local societies did not undergo ethno-religious strife, so common a feature of upper and peninsular India. Since the early Arabs were either refugees or traders and not contestants for power as in the Deccan and North India, the integration but not assimilation of the Arabs and their progeny was a smoother process in Konkan. Trade in goods and services involves exchange, unlike extraction of revenues by the force of arms. Thus trade contributed to the harmonious relations between the Muslims and the local communities.