Who are they?
The Julaha are an important artisan community who weave cloth on handlooms. They live in Uttar Pradesh (2.9 million), Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir and Chandigarh. The term Julaha is derived from the Persian word julah, meaning ball of thread. The word is commonly associated with the Hindi jala or jali, meaning interlaced thread.
The Julaha are listed as a Scheduled Caste (SC) under the provisions of the Indian Constitution. This grants them and other SCs many benefits like fixed, reserved quotas in government jobs, in admissions to various government-sponsored professional colleges and welfare schemes for economic and social improvement and reserved seats in parliament.
The Julaha speak the local languages of the states they live in. In Himachal Pradesh, where they live mainly in rural areas, they speak Kangri and Chambali. They speak The Indo-Aryan language of Haryanvi in Haryana. In Delhi, where they are migrants from Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, they speak Rajasthani, Haryanvi or Hindi. All these languages use the common Devanagari script. In Chandigarh they speak Punjabi and write in the Gurumukhi script.
The Julaha belong to the Shudra caste, the fourth and lowest class of the Hindu caste system. The higher castes consider the Julaha as a lower class especially in rural area and do not accept food and water from them. The Julaha, in turn, do not exchange food with communities considered lower than them like the Churha (sweeper), Chamar (tanner), Dhanuk (laborer) and Raigar (tanner).
What Are Their Lives Like?
The Julaha used to be handloom weavers but industrial change has introduced cheaper, machine-made textiles to the market which has caused them to look for work in other fields. Some still continue weaving, making coarser cloth for bedspreads or Kharad (a large, thick cloth on grain at harvesting time to protect it from getting wet in the rain) and dhurries (floor rugs). Previously they wove intricate designs and patterns in beautiful colors. Cooperatives have been formed to regulate prices and help the Julaha sell cloth at local markets.
Some Julaha have taken up other professions and work as skilled and unskilled laborers, run small scale industries, shops or are businessmen. In the hilly state of Himachal Pradesh, they work for daily wages in building roads and forestry. They sometimes also work as farm laborers or plough land on a contract basis. Some Julaha rent out threshing machines during the harvesting season. Many Julaha do not own land, like those of Chandigarh. Breeding and caring for animals, tailoring, masonry, dyeing cloth and calico printing is some other types of work they do.
Child labour exists among the Julaha with children learning and working on the looms from a young age. The poor people send their children to work at tea stalls, small roadside restaurants, automobile workshops or factories to earn their living.
The literacy rate is very low and children do not complete their education. They practice family planning in order to have fewer children. They use both local remedies as well as visit clinics. They have benefitted from the facilities provided for them by the Public Distribution System and have electricity, water supplies and are given equipment at subsidised rates. In Himachal Pradesh, they have been allotted land for cultivation.
The Julaha are endogamous at the community level, i.e. they marry only within the community. They are exogamous at the gotra (clan) level, and sometimes at the village level too. Adult marriages are gradually replacing child marriages and are arranged by family members. Monogamy is preferred and sindur (vermilion), glass bangles, bindi (coloured dot on forehead), and rings for the nose and toes are the marriage symbols for women. Dowry is paid in cash by the bride’s parents to the bridegroom’s family and goods such as utensils, furniture, linen, gold ornaments and clothes are also given. The earlier practice involved the husband paying a bride price to the bride’s family. Divorce is socially unacceptable and rare but can be granted on ground of adultery, cruelty, insanity, impotency or incompatibility. Widows, widowers and divorcees are permitted to remarry. Junior levirate and junior sororate are prevalent and preferred.
Families live as smaller unit with parents and children and also in extended families with other relatives. The family is male-dominated and inheritance is only given to sons. The women are considered lower than men even though they are active in social and religious spheres. In addition to housework, they work as weavers, rear cattle or collect fuel. Urban women work in small industries. The Julaha have a rich tradition of folklore and tales and both men and women sing at celebrations. Women dance at births and marriages. They are good at performing comedy.
The Julaha have panchayats (community councils) at village and regional levels that settle community issues. Political leadership has emerged largely at the village level.
What Are Their Beliefs?
The Julaha are Hindu or Sikh by faith. The Hindus worship the gods and goddesses of Hinduism and celebrate all Hindu festivals. They also observe weekly fasts on Monday, Tuesday and Friday. A Brahmin priest performs rituals. The Himachal Pradesh Julaha have a priest from their own community who is called a purohit. The dead are cremated and the ashes immersed in a river, preferably the Ganges at Haridwar, Uttar Pradesh, which is considered holy. Ancestor worship is prevalent. The Julaha believe in witchcraft and superstition and make use of sorcerers to cure diseases and make their wishes come true.
The Sikh Julaha (living in Chandigarh, Haryana and Delhi) follow Sikhism and revere their ten Gurus as well as their holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib. They believe in the creator of the universe, and do not worship idols and believe that people are created equal and practice service to the community. The priest is called a giani and he conducts prayers at the gurudwara. Sikh festivals are celebrated by them. Some Julaha are also followers of guru-centric sects like the Arya Samaj and Radha Soami.