The Koochra community is facing an identity crisis aggravated by a less-than-empathic approach to their past
t is not unusual for communities and tribes to have their unique customs, ways of living and value systems, but not many would wish to be known as thieves. Koochras living in interior Sindh are known for thieving and living as nomads, regularly moving from place to place.
The name Koochra is derived from the word kooch. And as the term suggests, Koochras, after taking away as much from a place as they could, would leave, looking for another settlement, another opportunity.
“Our ancestors were habitual thieves. They lived in forests and worked in local fields. Stealing was an accepted means of earning,” says Papu Koochra.
According to Koochra, they are the descendants of Raja Sansi. He says they are originally from India. Many members of the community still live in various Indian cities. Some of them have found residence in Kerala, others have settled closer to the Ganges River.
“Nobody sees us as Sansi, we are called Koochro and some other names. Unfortunately, we have no documents to prove our lineage, but we know our story. Sansi are Rajputs, settled in areas close to the Ganga,” says a young Koochra. “Our lives changed for the better after settling here (Sindh), but we will always be known as thieves,” he adds.
Most members of the community say they would prefer to settle in Jodhpur, Jaipur, Baroda or Ahmedabad because they have ties there. Many are already settled across the border.
Many of the Koochra migrated to Sindh during the Partition. It is believed that a small minority of them were living here even before the Partition. Some of them came to Sindh between 1964-65. After migration, a few groups of the Koochra found residence in Rahim Yar Khan.
Today many members of the Koochra community have found decent employment in Karachi, where they work in factories. The women, too, support their families working alongside their men and wish to distance themselves from their past.
A number of Koochras living in the rural areas still work in the fields, but they feel helpless when it comes to articulating their past. They are experiencing an identity crisis of sorts. The Koochras no longer live on theft but are still called nomadic thieves.
“We are known by many names. However, we cannot argue with everyone and explain that we are originally Soochi Sansi,” says Rangilo Koochro. The mystery of Koochros’ real identity continues. “Sometimes, we refer to ourselves as Tamachi. Koochra is our Pakistani identity,” he says.
“Well, we are known by many names. However, we cannot argue with everyone and explain that we are originally Soochi Sansi,” says Rangilo Koochro. The mystery of Koochros’ real identity continues. “Sometimes, we refer to ourselves as Tamachi, and that confuses some people. Koochra is our Pakistani identity,” he says.
The Koochras are primarily of Tamachi, Bajrang Bali, Merogi, Ghamandi, Ghasi origins. The community does not believe in marrying outside their caste. Marriage is transactional amongst the Koochra; there is always a dowry. “Back in the day, we exchanged monetary gifts, but it has become quite an expensive affair now,” tells Sahib Koochro.
Koochra women in the past would wear ghagra and other traditional clothing but now favour local customs. They still love to adorn themselves with gold and silver jewellery. Multiple ear piercings are common and well-liked. Married females wear mangal sutra and saindoor.
Marriage is serious business for the Koochra. Like any other community, they have their own traditions, rituals and ways of celebration. Arranged marriages are the norm, and the unions are celebrated with great enthusiasm. Women often sing Sindhi and traditional Marwari songs at marriage parties.
It is customary, after the saat pheera, for the bride and the groom to walk on rice; this symbolises prosperity for the couple, says Papu Koochra.
Gul Bano, a vocal member of the community, says, “our ancestors began all this. They are dead, and we are poor, struggling every single day. This is not the way to carry on.”
A new addition to the Koochras’ way of living is the chieftaincy system, which did not exist earlier. The chief today decides most matters. Back in the day, a person would have to prove their innocence to the tribe by literally walking on burning coals or thrusting their hand into the fire. Today the chief rules on all major disputes.
The Koochra living in interior Sindh consider Baba Ramapir their murshid. They do not particularly believe in modern medicine. As with any group lacking education, they still treat epileptic patients with home remedies. They hunt to eat and no source of protein is quite off-limit.
Khamiso Khoochra, tells TNS, “no one cares whether we die or live. There is no system in place for our protection. Our children and our women lack security - financial and otherwise. We die poor.”
Koochras speak a mix of Urdu and Hindi lined with local Sindhi.
They build beautiful mud houses and cook in clay pots. However, they continue to worry for their women’s safety.
With time, Koochras of Sindh have diminished in numbers. It is a community in need of saving. There is also a great need to research this fascinating tribe and understand their complex makeup, history and heritage.
Yes, some of their ancestors were thieves. They admit to it, but there is a need to look beyond this phase of their history and learn more about the group of people who are today struggling with their identity.
The writer is a freelance contributor