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Who are they?
The name Baghban comes from the Urdu Baghban, which means one who looks after the garden. The Bagban or Bagvan are a horticultural community residing mainly in the state of Uttar Pradesh (around 420,000 in number) and the southern state of Karnataka. The Baghban living in Uttar Pradesh identify themselves as an independent occupational group of the Kunjra, a community of greengrocers who sell vegetables and fruits.
The Baghban speak Urdu and use the Persian-Arabic script to write. In Uttar Pradesh they also speak Hindi and a dialect called Awadhi, while in Karnataka they are fluent in the regional Kannada language which is their secondary language along with its unique script.
In the Mughal period (16th to 18th centuries AD), the Baghban migrated from West India to Uttar Pradesh, and today are found in the districts of Kanpur, Lucknow, Allahabad, Bahraich, Barabanki, Faizabad, Gorakhpur, Saharanpur, Sitapur and Sultanpur. In Karnataka, they are in the districts of Belgaum, Bellary, Bidar, Bijapur, Dharwad, Gulbarga, Raichur and Shimoga. They are also found in the town of Bhusawal in the western state of Maharashtra.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The Baghban, in Uttar Pradesh are a landholding community who grow and sell their own vegetables. They also make and sell confectionery and work in government and private sectors. In Karnataka, traditionally gardeners, they are now self-employed in selling fruit and vegetables, and some are engaged in the wholesale vegetable market. There are also doctors, engineers, teachers and entrepreneurs among the Bagban as well as regional political leadership.
The Baghban eat all meat except pork for religious reasons. Their staple cereal diet includes wheat, rice and jowar (a coarse millet), supplemented by lentils, vegetables and fruit, milk and dairy products. Alcohol is avoided. Baghban only accept food and water from some superior Hindu castes like Brahmin’s (highest priestly caste) and Thakur’s (second highest caste of warriors) and from all Muslim communities. They share water with all except the Balmiki (low caste of sweepers and scavengers), Dom (crematoria attendants) and Dharkar (rope or cane makers).
The Baghban believe in educating both boys and girls and prefer modern medicine. They do not however practice family planning, which results in larger families. They use facilities provided by the government – banking, electricity, irrigation and clean drinking water.
In Uttar Pradesh, Baghban daughters receive a smaller share of ancestral property, but in Karnataka brothers and sisters receive an equal share. In both states, the eldest son inherits his late father’s authority as head of the family. The women contribute to the family income by selling produce at the local market, in addition to domestic duties. They are considered lower than men in all aspects of their lives, including religious.
The Baghban have a caste council. In Uttar Pradesh, it is a three-tiered structure, comprising the community village council, regional assembly, and the Baghban Muhamad Milee or religious level. The council heads are elected by voice vote. This council resolves social problems, such as divorce, adultery, remarriage, and community matters. In Karnataka, the council is called the Bagvan Jamat.
The Baghban only marry within the community. Marriage alliances are arranged through negotiations between parents and elders of the bride and groom. Adult marriage and monogamy are the norm and although a man is permitted more than one wife, such instances are rare. Marriages between cousins, i.e. marriage with an aunt’s or uncle’s (father’s sister or brother or mother’s sister or brother) children are prevalent. Glass bangles, nose rings, toe rings, anklets and a marriage pendant (lachcha) are all symbols of matrimony for women. Divorce and remarriage of widows, widowers and divorcees is permitted. According to Shariat (Islamic law), a fixed sum, mutually agreed upon by both parties when terminating the nuptials is paid to the divorced wife as compensation.
Among the Baghban of Uttar Pradesh daughters receive a smaller share of the ancestral property than the sons but in Karnataka their inheritances are equal, and in both the states the eldest son succeeds to the late father’s authority as head of the family. The Baghban women in addition to carrying out all the domestic duties contribute directly to the family income by selling fruits and vegetables in the local markets. But they have a lower status than the men in all walks of life and their role in the ritual and religious spheres is also restricted.
The Baghban have a traditional caste council which, in Uttar Pradesh, has a three-tiered structure, namely, the Biradari Panchayat (Community Council) at the village level, Jamat (Assembly) at the regional level and the Baghban Muhamad Milee at the religious level. The heads of these councils are elected by a voice vote and social problems relating to divorce, adultery and remarriage are resolved by them. Decisions regarding community matters are also taken by them. In Karnataka their traditional council is known as the Baghvan Jamat and performs similar functions.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Muslim Baghbans belong to the dominant Sunni sect of Islam. They worship Allah as Creator and Almighty and revere Prophet Muhammad, (literally, the praised One) god’s messenger to whom the holy Koran (recital in Arabic) was revealed by the archangel Gabriel. The Bagban pay homage at tomb-shrines of Muslim saints. They believe these saints intercede for them to have their wishes fulfilled. The main religious fair is held at Dargah Sharif in the month of June every year.
The Koran is their final authority. The Koran is shorter than the New Testament, nearly three quarters of the text is similar to the bible and was written 500-600 years later. They celebrate all Islamic festivals such as Id-ul-Fitr (Feast of Alms held on the first day of the tenth Islamic month), Shab-I-Barat (fifteenth night of the eighth Muslim month), Shaban, (when sweets are offered to ancestors and when people’s fortunes are believed to be recorded in heaven), Id-ul-Zuha or Bakr Id (feast commemorating Abraham’s sacrifice) and Id-Milad or Bara Wafat (Prophet Muhammad’s birthday).
All day fasts (roza) are observed for forty days during the holy ninth month (Ramzan or Ramadan) of the Islamic calendar. The Baghbans of Uttar Pradesh also participate in the Hindu festival of Holi (festival of colors) and attend the weddings of Hindu neighbour’s. A Haj or holy pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina is desirable at least in a life time, especially for those who can afford it.
A qazi or maulvi (priest) from their own and other Muslim communities perform all sacred rituals to do with births, marriages and deaths. The priests also impart religious teaching to children.
The Baghban observe birth pollution for forty days after childbirth and the aqiqa (tonsure ceremony) is performed for both male and female children when it ends. Boys are circumcised and puberty rites are observed for girls. The dead are buried and a ceremony is performed on the fortieth day after death which marks the end of ritual taboos.