Who are they?
The Khatik are a large community of butchers, numbering around 1.7 million. They are distributed throughout Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Chandigarh, West Bengal, Bihar and Gujarat.
The term Khatik is derived from the Sanskrit khatika meaning a butcher or hunter. Another derivation is from the word khat which means immediate killing. There are many versions about the origins of their community. In Gujarat and Rajasthan, where they are also called Khatki, they claim descent from Rajput or Kshatriya, who are the second highest warrior class of rulers. They believe they were originally warriors and somehow adopted their current occupation because of certain exigencies. In Rajasthan, the Khatik claim that because the warrior saint Parshurama (6th incarnation of Vishnu) was angry with the Rajput, they changed their identity to escape slaughter by him and became the ancestors of the Khatik.
The Khatik migrated to Delhi from neighbouring Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan roughly two hundred years ago. There, they claim, they were originally agriculturists and during the rule of the fanatical 17th century Mughal emperor Aurangzeb some of them converted to Islam. In Haryana the Khatik claim that they supplied meat to the rulers of Rajasthan and migrated to other places from there.
In Chandigarh and Haryana the Khatik believe that Brahma (the Creator in the Hindu trinity) gave them a goat’s skin, the bark of trees and lac and therefore they graze cattle, tan and dye goat and deer hides with bark and lac’’(Rose, 1919).
The Khatik speak the languages of the regions they inhabit. In Gujarat, they speak Gujarati use the Gujarati script, while in Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, Marathi is their first language. They speak Hindi in Uttar Pradesh, local Rajasthani dialects in Rajasthan, the; Haryanvi in Haryana and Bhojpuri in Bihar. All these languages are written in the Devanagari script. The Khatik are also conversant with Hindi. The Muslim Khatik speaks Urdu and use the Perso-Arabic script to write it.
The Khatik place themselves in as superior to the Chamar (tanner), Balmiki (scavenger), Lohar (ironsmith) and Kanjar (gypsy) but inferior to the Bania (trader), Brahmin (priest), Rajput (warrior) and Jat. The higher Hindu castes, however, consider the Khatik to belong to the Shudra class, the fourth and lowest caste.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The traditional and current occupation of the Khatik in the main continues to be slaughtering and sale of sheep, goats and pigs. In some states like Haryana and Punjab, where they are primarily Muslim, their main occupation is dyeing goat and sheep hides, while in other states like Rajasthan they also raise cattle and sell them in the market as a subsidiary enterprise. In Punjab and Delhi the Hindu Khatik raises and slaughter pigs. In other states they are the middle man – traditional traders in vegetables, fruits, pigs and poultry.
The landless Khatik farm other’s land on a sharecropping basis. Some sell cloth from their bicycles or back-packs, glass bangles, plastic goods or are scrap-dealers. There are a few who run small hotels. They also work as daily wage labourers – in road building and construction sites. Children are sent to work at tea stalls or automobile workshops. There are a few teachers, doctors, engineers, police inspectors, regional development officers and administrators among them. Political consciousness is seen at local and regional levels.
The literacy level among the Khatik is low. Most families encourage their sons to study to tertiary levels but daughters are not.
Though they accept modern medicine and family welfare programmes are accepted among the Khatik however they continue to use traditional medicines as well. They take advantage of the various employment-generating and other developmental programmes offered by the government. They make use of nationalized banks for savings and securing loans, but depend on local moneylenders and shopkeepers for loans as well.
Except for those living in the states of Bihar and Gujarat, this community is regarded as a Scheduled Caste (SC). This status grants them (as well as other similarly classified castes) a host of privileges and benefits, such as specially fixed quotas in government jobs and higher-educational institutions, lower benchmarks in competitive examinations, as well as reserved seats in Parliament and State Legislatures.
The Khatik are endogamous, i.e. they marry within the community only. Sometimes they are endogamous at the subgroup level too, but are always exogamous at the clan level. he subgroups in Uttar Pradesh are based on occupational, social and territorial differentiation.
Adult marriage is arranged by negotiation between family members. Dowry is paid in cash and kind. Polygamy is permitted in rare cases such as barrenness of the first wife. Marriage symbols for women are glass, plastic, and lac bangles, vermilion (sindur), dot on the forehead (bindi), finger, ear, nose and toe rings.
Junior sororate and junior levirate are allowed. Divorce, though possible, is socially discouraged and is very rare. Widow, widower and divorcee remarriage is permitted except in Andhra Pradesh, where divorce and widow remarriage is totally prohibited.
The joint family is common among the Khatik but they are living apart increasingly. Inheritance is patrilineal; the sons inherit the parental property equally and the eldest succeeds to the late father’s authority. Daughters receive no inheritance. Although the status of Khatik women is low, they do have a role in ritual, social, religious and even political activities. They also contribute to the family income by working as farm labourers, domestic servants, making clothes, knitting sweaters, making paper bags and envelopes, selling fruits and vegetables. They sometimes help their men in rearing animals and cleaning the slaughtered animals.
Regional folk music, folklore and folksongs exist among the Khatik. Folksongs are mostly sung by women and only women dance during festivals and other auspicious occasions like births and marriages. Wall paintings, making images of the goddess Durga and embroidery are some of their arts and crafts.
The Khatik have their own caste councils in each state, both at village and regional level represented by elderly people. In Gujarat the regional council is known as the Bara Panch. In Rajasthan there is a Jati Panchayat (Caste Council) at the village level that settles disputes of a social nature relating to marriage, divorce, violation of community norms and levies cash fines. The council also has the power to excommunicate.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Most Khatik are Hindu and worship all the major Hindu gods and goddesses. Many Khatik also have great reverence for various regional deities of their areas and believe in evil spirits. Ancestor worship is an additional part of their belief system.
The Khatik celebrate all major Hindu festivals like Janamashtami (Krishna’s birthday), Navratri (festival of nine nights), Diwali (festival of lamps) and Holi. Hindu Khatik’s cremate their dead and immerse the ashes in a river, preferably the holy Ganges at Haridwar. Andhra Pradesh and Muslim Khatik bury their dead.
The Sikh Khatik celebrate Sikh festivals like Guru Nanak’s birthday, Lohri (harvest festival), and visit gurudwaras, while the Muslim Khatik visit mosques and celebrate Muslim festivals like Id and Muharram.
What Are Their Needs?
The Khatik need access to education, especially for girls.