MIHTAR SIKHS, like Mazhabī Sikhs, their Punjabi counterpart, belong to the so-called scheduled castes. Mihtar, a Persian term, meaning elder, chief, or governor, is the name given to the members of the community of scavengers which stands at the lowest rung of Indian society. Scattered in different villages and towns, Mihtar Sikhs are largely concentrated in Vidarbha region of Mahārāshṭrā. As their folk songs in Mārvaṛī and Rājasthānī dialects indicate, the Mihtars' original home was probably Rājasthān. They have many customs and practices pointing to Sikh influence. For example, many of the Mihtar males use, like Sikhs, suffix ‘Siṅgh' after their names. The female names however mostly end with ‘Bāī' though in the case of the few who have been initiated as Sikhs, ‘Kaur' replaces ‘Bāī.' Many of the men keep their hair untrimmed and wear turbans. Children receive at birth pāhul or Sikh initiation, usually at the hands of Udāsī sādhūs. At the time of marriage, water for the ritual bathing of the bride and bridegroom and earth for plastering vedī or venue for the ceremonies are brought from some place of worship, preferably from a gurdwārā. Mihtar Sikhs, wherever concentrated in sufficient numbers, have their exclusive gurdwārās too. For four or five days prior to the marriage, the prospective couple carry a weapon each which they must not part with at any time until the marriage ceremony is over. Child marriage among the Mihtars is rare; gotra exogamy is observed and widow remarriage is permitted. They have faith in Gurū Nānak, Kabīr and Rāmānand, but Hindu deities such as Gaṇeśa, Śaṅkara and Santoshī Mātā are also worshipped in some homes. The marriage is solemnized through the Hindu ritual of going round a fire. Also on the death of their father, the sons undergo muṇḍān or tonsure rites.
Traditionally treated as untouchables even by the high-caste Sikhs, efforts are now afoot jointly by the Gurdwārā Board of Takht Sachkhaṇḍ Srī Hazūr Sāhib, and the Shiromaṅī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee for their social and economic uplift as well as for their religious education.
Nirvair Siṅgh Arshī