Who are they?

Mallah is a generic term for a group of people, whose lives revolve around boating and fishing. Residing mainly in the states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and West Bengal, they are also known as Nishad, Kewat, Malso and Mallahi. In Bihar the Mallah, also known as Gonrhi, are referred to as Mandal.


According to the anthropologist William Crooke, the word Mallah comes from an Arabic word meaning `to be salt,’ or ‘to move the wings as a bird.’ It is believed that a long time ago, when there was no other means of transport, merchandise was transported by boats, and the boatmen came to referred to as Mallah, or Mal- la which literally means, ‘bringer of goods or merchandise’ in Hindi.

While Crooke describes them as descendents of Nishada, a mountain tribe of the Vindhya Range, another anthropologist, Sherring, says that they are descended from a common father whose name was Nikhad, but only the Kewat, one out of ten sub-groups, was born through a lawful marriage.

The Mallah themselves believe that they are descended from a boatman called Bali or Baliram. It is said that he was so strong that he could carry his boat to the river and back under his arm. At one time, Baliram ferried Lord Rama and his wife Sita across the Ganges River in Varanasi, and was given a horse as a token of their gratitude. Baliram did not know much about horses and so he placed the bridle on the horse’s tail instead of the head. From this act arose the custom of having the rudder at the stern and not the bow of a boat. This legend is similar to one narrated in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, in which Nishada Raja did the same to Rama and Sita.

The Mallah people are classified as a Scheduled Caste in Delhi and West Bengal. This makes them eligible to benefit from development initiatives that were put into action in 1950. In Uttar Pradesh, where the Mallah number more than a million, they have been designated a recently created category, known as the Most Backward Classes or MBC’s. This new designation will give the Mallah, along with seventy other similar background castes, an exclusive 14% reservation in government jobs and admissions to various colleges and professional courses.

What Are Their Lives Like?

Fishing and transporting people on their boats are the primary traditional occupations. Agriculture and laboring in farms is a secondary occupation. In Madhya Pradesh the Mallah grow a type of jute fibre known as sone. They only sow and cut jute on Sundays or Wednesdays as these are auspicious days. They also grow melons, and will not enter a melon field with their shoes on or allow a woman during her monthly cycle to approach it. Many urban Mallah work in factories, pull rickshaws, or are low paid office workers and watchmen.
They are very poor people, especially in rural ones. Where the Mallah sit, there a fire is always, is a local saying in their dialect. This refers to their custom of lighting a fire on the riverbank to keep warm. Another type of work the Mallah have been known for is armed robbery (dacoit). They are listed in the Criminal Tribes Act of 1924 which was passed by the British as criminals. Sociologists have long contended that criminals are not born with criminal tendencies but they become outlaws due to poverty, hardship, social stigma and oppression. These are the conditions that have contributed to the Mallah’s antisocial behaviour. Until recently, bandit gangs would rob, kidnap and murder along the ravines of the Chambal River, on the border of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The members of these gangs were recruited from the Mallah, Rajput and Gujjar castes.

Phoolan Devi, the famous ‘Bandit Queen’ is a Mallah by caste, and was a terror in these parts during the early 1980s. She massacred 22 upper-caste Thakurs in the village of Behmai in Uttar Pradesh to avenge her humiliation and repeated gang rape over a period of three weeks at their hands. She became a legend, an anti-establishment icon, who later surrendered to the authorities. Phoolan Devi ironically went on to become a Member of Parliament in 1996. She was in her second term as MP when she was gunned down in New Delhi in August 2001. Devi remains a heroine to the Mallah, and her immediate family has continued to be involved in politics, capitalizing on the wave of sympathy in her favor, especially in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

The literacy levels among the Mallah are low, except for those living in the Delhi area. However, they are not against using modern medicine, along with local cures. The Mallah of Madhya Pradesh do not practice family planning. Only a few get loans from banks though many do take advantage of government welfare schemes.

The Mallah eat meat except beef. Some Mallah also eat tortoises. Their diet consists of rice, wheat, pulses and vegetables. Those who can afford it occasionally eat seasonal fruit, milk and dairy products. They cook with mustard oil. Both men and women like to chew betel nut, while men are habitual bidi smokers and drink country liquor.


They live in nuclear families. Only sons have an equal share of the inheritance and the eldest son succeeds as head of the family. Women are consulted in social, economic and religious spheres and also help in selling fish. In urban areas a few women work in factories.

The Mallah have a rich tradition of folksongs and folk tales and sing and dance at special occasions. The image of a solitary boatman on a river singing a sorrowful song is one used in Bollywood movies.

There are a number of exogamous gotras or clans among this community. Within the clans they remain strictly endogamous, (that is, they do not marry outsiders) at the community level. Adult marriages are generally preferred, but in Madhya Pradesh both boys and girls are married at around 10-12 years of age. Though marriages are usually arranged by parents and family elders, a few ‘love’ marriages where the couple elope, do occur. Previously, the custom of paying bride price was in vogue; today the dowry has taken its place.

As a rule, the Mallah are monogamous, but in extraordinary circumstances polygamous marriages do take place. In the case of death of a spouse, junior sororate and junior levirate marriages are practiced. Divorce is permissible and can be sought by either spouse on grounds of barrenness, immorality and incompatibility. Remarriage by widows, widowers and divorcees is socially sanctioned.

The Mallah have caste councils that resolve petty crimes and other issues within the community. These councils are called by different names. The council in Bihar is known as jati panch. The council comprises of a marhar (head of five villages), baraik (five members of five villages) and sepahis (24 elected members from five villages). In Madhya Pradesh the leader is elected and has jurisdiction covers ten to fifteen villages. Each village is led by a dewan who is assisted by five elderly villagers known as the panch. Recently, an umbrella organisation called Mallah Mahasabha (Great Council) has also been set up to promote the community’s broader interests.

What Are Their Beliefs?

The Mallah are Hindus. They worship deities such as Rama, Shiva, Krishna and many other regional gods and goddesses such as Bhoomiya Mata (mother earth) and Kalka Devi (another form of Kali). Bisahari (poison remover) is the chief goddess of the Mallah of Bihar. The Mallah pray to these deities to prevent bad things happening to them and to get relief from their many problems. Some consider the aromatic Tulsi plant as sacred and venerate it.

The Mallah use the services of Brahmin priests to perform rites for births, marriages and deaths. They cremate their dead, but infants and young children are buried. The Dhobi (washer man) and the Nai (barber) are paid to help in conducting some socio-religious ceremonies. They do not accept food from some low castes like the Chamar (tanner) and the Bhangi (sweeper) or from Muslims. They celebrate most Hindu festivals like Holi (festival of colours), Diwali (festival of lights), Navratri (festival of nine nights) and Janamashtami (birthday of the god Krishna).

What Are Their Needs?

Education, health, improved living standards, and basic amenities like clean drinking water.



  1. Hi all,
    This is Vivek Kumar(Asst. Manager,SBI) from Jharkhand,If our cast got SC status in Delhi & W.B. then y not in other province of country.For this we have to become unite,we have to take a serious effort then only we could get our rights.This is a request to all of you specially from our bros. who belongs from U.P. because they are good in number in politics as well as administrative.


      • hii vivek and navneet u both are right that we shoud get equal reservation right throughout the country. but the problem is we people are not united as chamars through out india. we lack support and awareness amoung ourselves. some people of our caste dont even know that we are getting reservations. we people are far behind in literacy also.

        • I request my mallah comunnities (1) be united (2) get education (3) stop or atlest minimise alcohal intake.(4)stugglle for inclusion in schedule caste as in D
          elhi & West Bengal.

          • I support and I appeal to allthe mallah comunity

          • The root of the name mallah and mallah people of India and the world is in Tamilnadu.. The ancient Chera Chola Pandia kings of tamil nadu are mallahs. Tamil dictionary says that mal means fertile,richness,prosperous& strength.Mallal means fertile agricultural land and the people where living are called mallah. Mallahs are basically agriculturist not fishermen. The name of the leaders of mallahs in all category are called kudumbi/kurmi means top leaders of mallah’s society- contact cellno.9442219159

          • खिलाता हुआ फूल खुशबू दे आपको , उगता हुआ सूरज दुआ दे आपको मै तो देने के काबिल नहीं देने वाले हजार खुशियाँ दे आपको
            हेलो मित्रो मै राजेश सहनी ,जो की मल्लाह जाती से सम्बन्ध रखता हूँ आज अगर एक स्तर की बात किया जय तो मल्लाह जाती बहुत ही कुचले एवं दबे हुए दिखाई देंगे इसका मुख्य कारण अशिक्षा है , अगर आपको मल्लाह जाती का उत्थान करना है तो हमलोगों को यह संकल्प लेना होगा की सभी मल्लाह जाती अपने – अपने बच्चों को एक अच्छा परवरिस करेगे यानि पढ़ने के लिए एक दुसरे को प्रेरित करेगे और साथ देगे ,

          • Main maharashtra aurangabad se hu par is elake me shirf 1000 jada mallah nahi hai aur muze mata chala hai ki mallah ja ti maharashtar chodke rajishan up mp me bhi hai mainbohat dine se janana chahata hu ki hau dusare rajay chodkar yaha kese aa ye koi muze bata sak ta hai plz

          • Apne mathe pe likh ke kyu nai ghumte ki SC banna chahte ho

          • Sir meri ek choti si request hai apse ki aap apna kuch bahumulay samay nikal kar apno ke hit ke liye samne aaye aur hamare nishad sangh se jure aur es ek Vishal organization banane me hamare sahyog kare.Akhilesh Kumar nishad, katihar Bihar 9431611160.

        • Hi Vivek & Navneet I am agree with your openion that we should get equal reservation right throughout country .second thing is that our socio-economic,educational condition is worse than at present caste in sc category .then why not we are included in schedule caste becouse of lack of political will power.

          • Ya i m totly agree with u we shuld in sc bcoz our cast so poor

          • SC banne ka bahut shuk h lagta h

    • dear sir,my residence West Bengali & also your community,pl connect BAMCEF,life of Ammedkar &know how to deprived our caste & others(85%total population of india).

    • Ye bhikmangai band karo bhai log…..SC banna ke bad jo jillat hoti h shayad tumhe pata nai….apne caliber pe age badho

      • Aditya mere bhai baar baar es bhik jaise word ka estemal karke apno ka apman mat karo raha baat ki wah caliber Hi kis kam ki fasal ham upjaye aur kaat ke bina caliber wale log aarakshan ke naam pe le jaye,to aap samne aaye aur es muhim me hamare sath jure ki ham na bhikh mangenge na bhikh lene denge.Akhilesh Kumar nishad, katihar Bihar our con text no. 9431611160.

    • My self Virendra Kumar , Dy. Director in Ministry of Textiles, Govt. of India and posted at Lucknow. I am kewat from District Ambedkar Nagar (U.P). Nishad Community is the most sufferer community in the country post Independence . Yes to include the Nishad Community in SC Category we have to make lot of efforts . I have already sought some information from Govt. of U.P in the matter . Please be in touch atleast over E mail. Thanks.


    • your thinking very good i am with you,mob no.08820777747

      • Aaraksan mallah ko bhi bhot pitch he besic facility se

  3. Mallah jatiki bahut upjatiya hai. sarkar ki udasinta ke karan ajadi ke 65sal bad bhi hamare sath nyay nahi kiyahai.hamara picchadapan. ashiksha.garibi avm rojgar nahi hona hai.yadi ham ek jut ho jaye to sarkar to kya toofano se bhi takara jaye.

  4. we are also mulnivasi( 85%of 1.21cr.) kuch korea humarra smaj ka lia hum up ko sat hai.

    • Mallah ko b age ane ka sahara do our comunity so poor do some thing

      • Akshay bhai aap sahara kyo mang rahe hai aap apno ka sahara banane ka soche aap hamare nishad samaj sangh se jure aur apne samaj ko aage badhane me hamare madad kare. Akhilesh Kumar nishad ,katihar. Bihar,,,9431611160

  5. Hi everyone;
    I also belongs to mallah community.I am engineering graguate.I fill sorrow even after higher education.why?This is because backwardness of community. Poverty, lack of education, child marriage, drinking alcohal,lack of unity etc are major factors which are pulling backward.we are also thrashed by govt. policies, especiaally in jharkhand.In Dehli and West Bengal mallahs are treated as SC but in jharkhand we are OBC.How it is treatment like this?
    I requested all awared people of mallah community to come forward to fight for our right.It should be council or organisation for community for social development and welfare development.I am ready all the time.With hope ………….. VIKASH 08809093125

    • SC banne ka bahut shuk h lag raha tumko… bheek mangne wali adat khatam karni chahiye….apne caliber pe age badho

  6. I also belongs to mallah community.I am engineering student .i am agree with you and i alwayes with you.

  7. kuch to milkar mallah ke liye karo

  8. kuch to karo mallah ke liye

    • aap ne kya ki mallah ke liye

    • Han kya kar dein tum batao….bheek mangne ki adat padd gai h kya

  9. hii guys all of you i m ugrsen nishad from Dholpur Rajasthan

  10. nishad cast is help god ram in ramayana and ram also help nishad cast in kalleyug because bhagwan[god] ke yaha der hai andher nahi [ ram[god] ka avtar jarur aayga]

  11. NISHAD helps always people and people helps NISHAD
    NOTE [ we change our thought since all CAST are EQUAL because we are human not GOD ]

  12. namste! unbeliveble happiness to join mallah community. I am become IFS OFFICER AND SHOW THE ABILITY NISHADRAJ [I am B.Sc. and p.g. diploma in remote sensing &gis in

  13. Hello there. Good to know about my community in India. We have here in Pakistan a large community of Mallah. Other than Mallah, we are also known as Amirul Bahar, Mir Bahar, Mirani and some 30 other sub tribes.

  14. Mallah communities need universal health,education and co-operative zeal to each other, so that they may reach the standard level of living at par with other developed castes . They all should join a new organisation which has a great mission to abolish mental and physical disparity prevalent among the people of Indian society .. Balrangi Mandal mobile Phone no –9430576514

  15. I am proud to be a member of mallah I think we should help by our communities mallah are poor

    • Aap sabhi mallah jati ke bhaiyo se anurodh hai ki sirf apni jati ke logo ke parti chinta karne se kuch nahi hoga uske liye aap logo ko aage aa kar kuch karne ki jarurat hai ,aap hamari nishad samaj sangh se jure aur ese ek Vishal organization bana kar hame hamari jati ke logo ko aage badhane me hamari madad kare.Akhilesh Kumar nishad , katihar,Bihar….. 9431611160.

  16. मुझे गर्व है की मै इस मल्लाह परिवार का सदश्य बन पाया हु । मुझे और भी गर्व होगा जब मैं अपने मल्लाह जाती के लोगो के प्रति कुछ कर शकु.. हमारे जाती के लोग आज भी बहोत पीछडे हुऐ है. हमे 1 हो कर अपने जाती और अपने जाती के लोगो को आगे लेजाना है …..

  17. Mitro
    Sab mil k sakalp le ki hum apne pariwar & samaj me sabko ucch star ki shichha (quality & competitive education) pradan karne me sahyog karenge and her tarah k competetion me merit me laane me apni her sambhav bhumika nibhaayenge taki baaki sab logo ko ye vishwash ho ki hum her tarah se yogyea(qualified& talented) Hi ek rasta hai Jo hame apna hak & samman dila sakta hai. Dhanyabad(thanks)

    Sanjay kumar
    Asst. Manager
    Union bank of India

    • Yes , but our community has to be politically strong also . Let us together make efforts to include the community of UP and other states , in SC Category. I am Virendra Kumar , a Kewat from District Ambedkar Nagar, U.P (mB. 07565091344)


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