Introduction / History
The Batwal people of Punjab trace their ancestry to the town of Batmalu in the Kashmir Valley, and the word 'Batwal' in Punjabi means literally "the inhabitants of Batmalu." Other traditions place their origin to the town of Batbal in Jammu. The community provided the traditional watchmen of the Punjab.
Where Are they Located?
According to the community's own tradition, the Batwal people were forced to flee their settlements when India was attacked by Alexander the Great. Once the Greek armies retreated, the Batwal people found that their neighbors had seized their lands and they were forced to become village watchmen.
Like other communities of similar status, the Batwal people have been granted Scheduled Caste status, which allows them to avail a number of affirmative action schemes by the government of India. In the Jammu region, from where the Punjab Batwal people claim to have originated, there are a number of traditions as to their origin. One tradition refers to the fact that the Batwal people were tied to the land by the Dogra land owners, and the word 'Bat' in the Dogri language means someone who is bonded. They were for generations bonded to particular families of Dogras, and were practically serfs.
The Batwal people are found mainly in Kathua, Jammu and Udhampur Districts.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Important Batwal villages include Bhadurpur, Bhaore, Chaute Miani, Azadpur, Habowal, Kakowal, Machiawara, Nurewal, Sarhind, Walipu, Batala Camp, Jawahar Nagar, Chuhala, Findar, Bajiru Chack, Garhi, Shahzadpur, Mulke Chack, Makwal, and Hakkal. These villages are owned by the Batwal community, and they are the dominant community. But many Batwal people have started to immigrate to towns and cities where their main occupations are agriculture, government jobs, transport, trade and commerce.
The Batwal people are divided into thirteen clans which include Kaith, Motan, Lakhotra, Dhagge, Nandan, Jhanjotra, Lahoria, Sargotra, Targotra, Mandee, Basae, Sandhu and Linder. Like other neighbouring Hindu communities, the Batwal are strictly exogamous, never marrying within the clan. The Basae, a name derived from the Beas River and meaning those settled along the banks of that river, and the Kaithie, those who were inhabitants of Kainth gali (in Udhampur).
What Are Their Beliefs?
Most Batwal people in India have been strongly influenced by the Arya Samaj movement, while some Batwals have come under the influence of other Hindu reformist sects. The Batwal people shares the customs and traditions of the locally dominant Dogra ethnic group and speak Dogri. The Batwal people were found historically in the sub mountain region of Punjab, roughly stretching from Gujrat District in the west to Hoshiarpur District in the east. All the Hindu Batwal people immigrated from what became Pakistan at the time of the partition of India. Historically, the Batwal had two functions: the heredity position of the village watchmen as well as those who summoned the village for work. Many were allocated land by the British authorities, and this saw a transformation, as the Batwal took to agriculture.
The Batwal community has also produced a renowned Punjabi Singer from Punjab, India, popularly known as 'Lal Chand Yamla'. He was the doyen of Punjabi Music and first singer that comes to mind who laid foundation of Punjabi music in Indian Punjab. He was widely revered as 'Ustad' among his singer contemporaries and as 'Yamla' by his audience.
Each of the Batwal clans has its own temples, e.g. the Kaith at Umran Ali in Sialkot, Meer in Udhampur and Pindi Kudoyal, Langotian and Domana in Jammu; the Jhanjotra at ghuhe in Zafarwal and Chinia in Jammu; Motan at Gillianwala in Zafarwal and Deoli in Jammu.
What Are Their Needs?
Similarly, each clan has its tutelary male deity, e.g. the Kaith has Sankri Dev; the Motan has Sukhdev Singh Manhas; the Lakhotra has Thakur Jai Pal; the Mandee has Jagdish Manhas; the Sargotra has Baba Badgal; and the Jhanjotra has Kalu Chouhan.
Each clan has also its god also, e.g. the Kaith has Attar; the Sargotra has Kandal; the Nandan has Janjua; the Jhanjotra has Kashyap and the Motan, the Targotra and the Lakhotra have Bhardwaj. Once a year, the members of each clan organize congregations at the temples before which they prostrate themselves, each head of a family sacrificing at it a goat in honor of his eldest son.
A huge segment of Batwal people worship Sri Guru Gyagi Ji Maharaj and follow his teachings and also, every year on Magh Purnima, celebrate his birthday at Shahzad Pur Kothi (in Tehsil Jammu) with enthusiasm.
Since the Batwal community people were economically most backward, and as such, the government of India in 1994 ordered the Planning Commission of India to undertake their ethnographic study which was accordingly undertaken by the Census Operation J&K and its report was personally collected by the Deputy Registrar General, India, New Delhi. Now almost 20 years have passed but no step has yet been taken by the Government to enhance their economic position.
Some information from "The Scheduled Castes" K. S. Singh, ed. Oxford University Press, USA (1994)