Of Punjab’s partition, castes & martial races

Division of Punjab in 1947 produced a Pakistani side heavily weighted in favour of martial castes than trading castes.

Aakar Patel January 07, 2012

We were looking at the importance of caste in explaining the dominance of the army in Pakistan.

At Partition, Pakistan got two-thirds of Punjab, while India got one-third. More Punjabis live in Pakistan than in India. However, in the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires, there are four Indians from the Indian side of undivided Punjab. They are the Singhs of Ranbaxy, Mittal of Airtel, Jindal of Jindal steel and Thapar of Avantha. There is no Punjabi from Pakistan. Why? Because the conversion of Hindus has been the conversion of castes, not individuals (for a moment, let us discard the myth Muslims feed themselves about their Arab/Persian/Central Asian origins). All four of these individuals are from trading communities, Baniya and Khatri.

Few mercantile Hindu castes took up Islam. The Lohanas of Gujarat, who produce India’s and Karachi’s great Memon/Vora/Khoja communities, are among those who did. Lohanas dominate the economy of Karachi and its stock market. But not many Punjabi trading castes took up Islam. All Baniyas and most Khatris in Punjab remained Hindu while a few became Sikh.

My hypothesis is that the division of the Punjabi nation in 1947 produced a Pakistani Punjab that was heavily weighted in favour of the martial castes. The trading castes, which tend to be more pragmatic and balance society’s extremism mostly left to come to India. This has produced the imbalance which explains Pakistan’s fondness for a state dominated by soldiers. Gen Pervez Kayani runs the state’s foreign policy, security policy and most of its economic policy because the majority of Punjabis are comfortable with the idea of a warrior being in charge.

India is ruled by a Punjabi from the Khatri trading caste, Manmohan Singh of Chakwal. The question is: Can caste be a predictor for such things? Yes it is. I did two studies that demonstrated it to me. The first was on the castes of the 55 Indians in the Forbes list of billionaires. The second was on the castes of those Indians who did honour killing. (They can be found here and here). A reading of them will show to what extent the behaviour of Indians in these aspects is predictable by caste. I see no reason for this to be different in Pakistan, an area that used to be India till 65 years ago and has the same culture.

In India, honour killing is done by particular castes that feel honour. The Baniyas and Brahmins don’t murder their daughters for falling in love. It is the peasant, mainly the Jat, who does this. Even within the peasantry, there are some that don’t do honour killing because there’s no honour to be had in their culture. The peasant from Gujarat does not do honour killing because unlike the Punjabi, his culture is mercantile.

If we were to look at the castes of famous Pakistanis, we would begin to see a pattern. To illustrate this, I’ll name some Pakistanis from trading castes and you will see what I mean. Pervez Hoodbhoy (Lohana/Khoja), Abdus Sattar Edhi (Lohana/Memon) and Najam Sethi (Khatri). These three men represent the best of Pakistan.

It is not my intention to say that the qualities of these three great men emanate entirely from their caste. But the fact is that their castes have a culture of sobriety that produces such men with ease. This is difficult for the peasant castes, who dominate the population of both India and Pakistan. Their caste and cultural traditions are about honour, not pragmatism.

General Kayani, who is a Punjabi from the martial Gakhar caste, has made the statement that “Pakistan’s honour will not be traded for prosperity”. Only a warrior would make that statement and only a nation of warriors would accept it. In India, we have far more people like Hoodbhoy and Sethi and Edhi to counter those Indians who think like Kayani.

Pakistan’s problem isn’t that it doesn’t have any people who can resist the warrior-like tendencies of the state. Its problem is that it doesn’t have enough of them because of the partition of Punjab.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2012.



Ali | 9 years ago | Reply

@Author I agree with all of your statements, which is indeed very intelligent analysis, but please make the factual error about Najam Sethi correct. He has remained the part of London group, a group of communist students, who joined Balochs war of Independence in 1970s. see


Naseem Islam | 9 years ago | Reply

Super.We need to know more on what makes Pakistani identity.It is so warped.

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