Introduction / History
Takaris are known as Bhamtas in some places or Bhamtas are a branch of Takaris. In some places Bhamtas are known as Kaikadis and this means that the Kaikadis are related to Pardhis and Takaris. Members of other castes as Chatru, Kanjar, Rawat and others who have taken to stealing, are frequently known as Bhamtas. The Bhamtas proper have two main divisions, the Chhatri Bhamtas, who are usually immigrants from Gujarat, and those of the Maratha country, who are often known as Bhamtis. The sections of Chhatri Bhamtas are named after Rajput septs, as Badgujar, Chauhan, Bhatti, Kachhwaha and others. They may be partly Rajpur descent, as they have regular and pleasing features and a fair complexion and are well built and sturdy. The Bhamtis have Maratha surnames. Rajput Bhamta or Pardesi Bhamtas are a distinct class than Takari Bhamtas.
The author of Bombay Gazette considers that the Poona Bhamtas come, not from the east or southeast, but from the north and are of Rajput descent. Bhamtas consist of two exogamous sub-divisions, Jadhav and Gaikwad. Marriages are prohibited between the members of the same sub-division and within four degrees on the boy's side and three degrees on girl's side. A member of the caste may marry two sisters and brothers may marry sisters. Some say that the Rajput Bhamta or Pardesi Bhamtas are a distinct class than Takaribhamtas. The class of these Rajput Bhamtas may be different due to reasons of mixed blood but they could be related in some way or the other.
Where Are they Located?
They are located in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Enthoven (1922) found the Takaris distributed in Khandesh, Nasik, Ahamadnagar, and Sholapur. He further writes that they are considered by some to be a branch of Bhamtas. They also live in the districts of Amaravati, Akola, Buldana and Nagpur. The Bhamtas are also found in Bombay, Berar and Hyderabad. There are Dravidian (Telugu speaking) Bhamtas.
What Are Their Lives Like?
These wandering communities possess wonderful knowledge about herbs and medicines therefore their expertise can be utilized in the collection and development of herbs and medicinal plants, which are in great demand in the country and outside.
The criminal castes of the Wardha District are the Bhamtas, Mangs, Kaikaris, Kolams and the wandering Rohillas, which term includes in Wardha Afghan peddlers and gangs of Baluchis. These classes at least have a bad reputation, but in many cases their propensity to crime has decreased if not vanished, and they have settled down to respectable callings. The Bhamtas are called in Bombay 'Uchhla' or 'Lifter' and this is also the name of a subcaste of the Mangs. The Bhamtas were formerly notorious thieves, but many of the caste are now engaged in the cultivation of hemp, from which they make ropes, mats and gunny-bags. It used to be said in Wardha that a Bhamta girl would not accept her suitor until he had been arrested not less than fourteen times by the police, when she considered that he had qualified as a man.
Bhamtas, or Pickpockets, are found solely in Barsi. They look like high caste Hindus, and speak a mixture of Hindustani Gujarati and Marathi. Their dwellings are the same as Maratha houses either wattle or daub huts or houses with mud and stone walls and thatched roofs. Both men and women dress like high caste Hindus, the women drawing the upper end of the robe over the head and the skirt back between the feet. They have the same rules about food as Marathas, eating the flesh of sheep, goats, fowls, hare, and deer, and eggs, and drinking liquor. When they start on a thieving expedition either in gangs or singly the men dress in silk-bordered waistcloths and shoulder cloths, coats, colored waistcoats, and big newly-dyed turbans with large gold ends dangling down their backs and folded either in Maratha or Brahman fashion. Both men and women are petty thieves and pickpockets, and steal only between sunrise and sunset. They are under the eye of the police and those who are well known to the police and are aged give up picking pockets and settle as husbandmen.
The Bhamtas were very clever in adopting disguises, and dressing as members of another caste. They would keep to one disguise for years, and often travelled hundreds of miles entering and stealing from the houses of the class of persons whose dress they adopted, or taking service with a merchant or trader, and, having gained their employer's confidence, seizing an opportunity to abscond with some valuable property. The Banjaras are, in social estimation, on a par with Bhamtas (thieves).
A Bhamta rarely retained stolen property on his person while there was a chance of his being searched and was therefore not detected. They showed considerable loyalty to one another, and never stole from or gave information against a member of the caste. If stolen property was found in a Bhamta's house, and it had merely been deposited there for security, the real thief came forward. A Bhamta was never guilty of housebreaking or gang-robbery, and if one took part in such an offence he was put out of caste. He never stole from the body of a person asleep. He was, however, expert at the theft of ornaments from the person. He never stole from a house in his own village and the villagers frequently shared directly or indirectly in his gains. The morality of the Bhamtas is according to tradition very low. The Rohillas as the people call them, the term probably including Afghans and Baluchis, do not now visit the District so much as formerly. Their method was to sell cloths and other articles at exorbitant prices and tempt people by giving them a year's credit; if at the end of that time the money was not paid they extorted it from their debtors by threats and violence. They also made small cash loans at enormous interest. A number of Rajputs and others from Northern India are employed by landowners and moneylenders in the capacity of bullies or duns to collect debts and payments of rent.
Hemp matting is woven at Kamptee, Nagpur, and at Gauri in Ramtek tahsil by Bhamtas, who also make net bags for holding cotton in the busy season. Ropes made of san-hemp (flax) and thick screens (tarats) are also made by Bhamtas at Nagpur and Makardhokra. Flax is principally grown by the caste of Bhamtas who also weave ropes and gunny-bags from the fiber. Tenants who will not grow hemp themselves frequently sublet their field to a Bhamta so as to get a crop of hemp taken off them. The colony of Bhamtas in Makardhokala, who work up their own produce into rope and sacking, was, Mr. Craddock stated, an extremely prosperous one.
Bhamtas practice both infant and adult marriages. Polygamy is permitted and in theory there is no limit to the number of wives. No change of religion is reported among the Bhamtas but Russell and Hiralal have remarked that in the Central Provinces the Bhamtas said that they did not admit outsiders into the caste. Bhamtas worship Mari Ayi. In Tamilnadu, Muthurajas worship the same Goddess in the name of Mariamma. Previous to the wedding, goats and fowls are killed as sacrifice to the deities Mari Ai and Tuljhapur Bhawani.
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