chapter  1
20 Pages

Border Transgressions and the Frontiers of Faith in Kachchh, Gujarat

WithFarhana Ibrahim

This essay is based upon ethnographic work among the Muslim Jatts of Kachchh in Gujarat.1 The Jatts are divided into three subgroups — Daneta, Garasia and Fakirani — and span the geographical area encompassed by Kachchh district in the Indian state of Gujarat, and Pakistan’s Sindh province. The essay explores the implications for the Jatts of their situation along the faultlines of the nation-state, in a region which has been increasingly identifi ed with growing sectarian and communal polarisation. The ethnography is located both physically and analytically along boundaries, and suggests that the boundary is vital to the production of culture; it is not merely a product of an a priori cultural difference. This essay seeks to present an ethnographically grounded and historically informed glimpse into the lives of this Muslim community that lives along the Kachchh-Sindh border, frequently also crossing it in either physical or metaphorical terms. By situating my analysis in the realm of the everyday, I examine how everyday interactions, for example, religious practices, culinary preferences, clothing regulations or language use, help to create powerfully entrenched, yet historically contingent, ideas of boundaries and frontiers, generating compelling notions of insider and outsider that may or may not coincide with the production of space and boundaries at the level of the nation-state. Using specifi c examples from the domains of dress code, kinship rules and religious practice, the essay will seek to understand how the Jatts attempt to produce themselves as a distinct community of

worship and kinship, vis-à-vis other Sunni Muslim groups in Kachchh on the one hand, and with certain Hindu communities on the other. Yet, a deeply rooted regional tradition of pastoral nomadism and goddess worship among these communities serves to simultaneously blur the distinctions between groups that might otherwise like to present themselves as discrete.