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Who are they?
The Mochi are cobblers and saddlers and make up 4.5 million living in North, Central and some parts of South India. They are also known as Muchia, Muchhir, Mochavaru, Dalera, Kattai, Machi, Rishi, Ravidas, Sochi, Arya Kshatriya Chumas and Papachulolu.
According to Russel and Hiralal (Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India, 1919), and G.W. Briggs (The Chamars, 1920), the Mochi are an offshoot of the Chamar’s, who are tanners.
However, the Mochi’s themselves do not consider themselves superior to Chamars. Chamars do the initial preparation of make leather from raw hides, which is a smelly, degrading work, while Mochi’s use the finished leather to make shoes, boots and handbags. .
The Mochi also claim that they are descended from the Rajputs or Brahmins in order to give their caste a better standing in religious and social hierarchy. In Madhya Pradesh, they have assumed the title Rishi and profess to be debased Brahmans. To reinforce that belief, they have adopted the higher caste practice of not eating the flesh of dead animals or beef and do no permit their wives to be midwives.
Legend says that god Brahma’s son used to sacrifice cows to the gods, eat a portion of the sacrifice, then restore the offering back to life and drive it into the forest. Then one day he failed to resurrect the cow because his pregnant wife had secretly stolen a portion. This resulted in a curse and she gave birth to the first Mochi.
Another myth is told that Mochiram, the first Mochi, was born from the sweat of a dancing Brahma. Mochiram offended the sage Durvasa who sent a pretty Brahman widow to seduce him. When Mochiram resisted, Durvasa used his miraculous powers to cause her to become pregnant in order to frame Mochiram. The Brahmin widow gave birth to twin sons who are the descendents of the Mochi caste in West Bengal.
They are found in the large numbers in Sitapur, Allahabad, Sultanpur, Faizabad, Gonda, Kanpur and Lucknow districts of Uttar Pradesh (160,000), Punjab (150,000), Maharashtra (120,000), Gujarat (170,000), Assam (190,000), West Bengal (1.2 million), Bihar (49,000), Madhya Pradesh (34,000), Haryana (28,000), Andhra Pradesh where many live Krishna, Guntur, East Godavari, Hyderabad, Kurnool and Adilabad districts (16,000), Karnataka (28,000) and Orissa (9,000).
The Mochi speak the language of the region they live in. In Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, they speak Hindi with the Devanagari script. Their respective first languages are Bengali in West Bengal, Assamese in Assam, Gujarati in Gujarat, Marathi in Maharashtra, Telugu in Andhra Pradesh, Punjabi in Punjab, Bhojpuri in Bihar, Bhojpuri, Kannada in Karnataka and Oriya in Orissa. They all also speak Hindi.
What Are Their Lives like?
The Mochi are cobblers who make and repair leather footwear. They also make leather handbags, suitcases, saddles, harnesses and leather aprons. They sell from shops in the bazaar or from a pavement or from under a shady tree. They also polish shoes and sell shoelaces and upper soles with their portable shoeshine boxes in busy public places like railway stations, bus stations, market squares and busy street pavements. A few are employed in government offices doing lowly clerical jobs. Some work as casual daily labourers in agriculture and industry. Most of them do not have any land so they may practice sharecropping in someone else’s fields.
Mochi’s are non-vegetarians and eat fish, pork, mutton, chicken and eggs but not beef. Muslim Mochi will not eat pork as it is forbidden. Wheat, rice, maize and millet are staple cereals, which are supplemented by lentils and vegetables in season. Fruit and milk products are occasional luxuries. Alcohol and tobacco are acceptable for men.
Literacy levels for the Mochi are a low 15% and below. Attitudes are changing and more boys go on to do secondary school and some also graduate from university. Despite this, the dropout rate is high because of they cannot afford school.
The Mochi are receptive to family planning methods and do trust modern medicine. They take advantage of the governments development programs through the Public Distribution System (PDS). They also take loans from banks to set up their businesses.
The Mochi is community is endogamous at the community level, i.e. the Mochi marry only within their community. It is exogamous at the clan level and the number of clans varies among the different regions. A man may not take a wife from his own gotra or even that of his mother’s gotra.
They are monogamous and a second wife is permitted in exceptional cases of barrenness. Marriages are arranged by families and dowry is given by the bride’s family in cash and goods. Adult marriages are replacing the practice of child marriage. Vermilion (sindur), glass bangles, toe-rings, nose studs and a mangalsutra – a necklace only worn by married women, are the symbols of matrimony for women. Divorce is permitted on grounds of maladjustment, cruelty, impotency and insanity and in these cases, remarriage is sanctioned.
The majority of the Mochi live in smaller family units though joint families are also exist. Ancestral property is divided equally among sons and the eldest succeeds as head of the family. Daughters do not receive a share of parental property except in Andhra Pradesh where they receive an equal share. Mochi women are lower in status to men, even though they play a large part in the social and religious events and contribute to earning income with the men.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Sixty five percent of Mochi’s are Hindu and worship all the gods of Hinduism but especially revere the medieval saint Raidas or Ravidas who was a cobbler by profession. In Andhra Pradesh, the prominent deity is Nimishamba Devi (a form of the Mother goddess). The family deity of those from Madhya Pradesh is known as Mair, whose form is represented as a lump of clay and is enshrined in their homes.
The Mochi celebrate all major Hindu festivals of Diwali, Holi, Maha Sivaratri and Dusserra. A Brahman priest performs all their life ceremonies. The dead are cremated (except in Andhra Pradesh where they are buried in a sitting posture) and the ashes immersed in a river. Ancestor worship is prevalent as well as a belief in evil spirits. Exorcism is performed on people believed to be possessed by evil spirits. A set time is kept after births and deaths as pollution.
Muslims from the Mochi community follow the tenets of Islam and worship Allah as Creator and Almighty, and revere Prophet Mohammed as his chosen messenger. They celebrate the festival of Id-ul-Fitr (Feast of Alms), Bara Wafat (Prophet Mohammed’s birthday) and Muharram. A maulavi (priest) conducts all rites relating to life and imparts religious teaching. Males are circumcised and the dead are buried.
What Are Their Needs?
The Mochi‘s worth and self esteem is linked to their status as degraded people under the Hindu caste system. The Mochi need schools and the finances to send their children to school.