Considering we were attempting to portray life within Tihar jail, we felt that it would be incomplete if we did not dig out some information on what the place used to be before it became a jail, and who, what sort of people lived in these 200 odd acres that the jail sprawls across today. Searching and researching the net did not fetch much to the kitty, though it did unearth some interesting nuggets of historical information. A web-crawl through social media however hit a bit of paydirt. We have compiled what we found into this brief supplement to our cover and special feature, which is on tihar this issue. Do Read on …

Tihar Jail aka Tihar Ashram, is one of Asia’s largest prison complexes, located in Tihar village, situated some 10 odd km to the west of New Delhi, India. Run by the Department of Delhi Prisons, Government of Delhi, the complex houses nine central prisons, and is one of the two prison complexes in Delhi. Per recent history, Tihar was a maximum security prison run by the State of Punjab, which was transferred in 1966 to the National Capital Territory of Delhi. Since 1984, additional facilities were constructed and the complex became Tihar Prison. Th e 180 to 200 acres that the Tihar jail is located on used to be a part of Tihar Village, one of the oldest villages of Delhi. Tihar Village was also known as Kachcha Tiharor Tihar Gaon.

Earlier history, and information gleaned through our researches suggest that “Muslim Tyagis” were the predominant inhabitants of the village before the subcontinent was partitioned. Muslim Tyagis belong to the Tyagi community, with those who converted to Islam tagged as “Muslim Tyagi.” Th ey are also known as Mulla Brahmins, or Musalman Tagas. Historically, the Muslim Tyagi were to be found in the Yamuna Khadir region of Haryana and the neighbouring districts of Uttar Pradesh. Th ey claim to be originally Gaur Brahmins, who adopted the name Taga or Tyagi when they opted to abandon (Hindi – tyag dena) priestly functions and took to agriculture. According to some British scholars, they may be identifi ed with the Takkas, a tribe of Scythian origin, who had the snake as its totem. Th e Tyagis apropos, are said to be the oldest inhabitantsof the upper Yamuna Khadir.

In the present day, the Tyagi are still largely a rural community, found usually in multi-caste villages and constituting the majority population of those villages. Largely small to medium farmers (with a sprinkling of large zamindars), they grow wheat, sorghum and sugar cane. While the peasant proprietors have mostly done well taking advantage of the Green Revolution, many of the zamindars were left destitute by land reforms carried out in independent India. The communities are entirely Sunni, and split into Barelvi and Deobandi sects. Th ey speak both the Khari boli dialect and the standard Urdu. In Pakistan, there has been a slow and steady assimilation of the Tyagis by the Ranghar community, with increasing inter-marriage between the two groups. Th ey are also in the process of abandoning their distinctly Haryanvi dialect in favour of standard Urdu.

Aft er independence and the creation of Pakistan in 1947, almost all Muslim Tyagis living in Haryana and Punjab states of India migrated to Pakistan, where they are now mainly settled in Muzaff argarh and Layyah districts of the Punjab province, and Nawabshah and Mirpurkhas districts of the Sindh province, while many Muslim Tyagis living in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states moved to Karachi, Sindh aft er the partition. Now coming to our own Muslim Tyagis of Tihar, and what happened to them. During the early parts of the past century, a Taga clan had held sway over a cluster of fi ve villages, of which Tihar was the main one. Th e other four were Basai Darapur, Holambi, Shikarpur & Jhatikra. It is said that the Basai Darapur Taga were quite infl uential even during the reign of moghul emperor Shahjahan. Tihar was the original village owned by these Taga Brahmins, who belonged to the prime-ministerial family of the Pratihar (Gurjar) empire of those times. The then Chaudhary of Tihar, who was later known as the Nawab of Tihar aft er his conversion to Islam (as befi ts one amoung the richest in Delhi of that time), was called Sed Raj and took the muslim name of Md. Youssef Khan, while his brother, Ved Raj, refused to convert and moved out of the village to settle elsewhere.

Th e continuation to this story we found when we searched facebook for Taga Tyagis. We came across a post by one ‘Chaudhary Ajmal Khan Taga Tiharia,’ currently resident of islamabad, Pakistan, who on his quest to reconnect with his roots and the lost branch of his family, shared evidence and proof available with him. Th e numerous responses to his post by Indian Taga Tyagis from both the Hindu and Muslim side of the spectrum confi rms common roots and the authenticity of the original poster’s claim. According to his epistle, Ajmal’s forefathers belonged to Tihar Village, and were called Chaudharys. Researching his roots, he fi nds the caste name Taga on their old land titles, and also comes across the nomenclature Taga Muslim on family root-names like the Shajraee-e-Nasab list of forefamily names. Th e Shajra he has access to begins with Gogal Ram, who had two sons named Bed Raj and Sed Raj. It was Sed Raj, Ajmal’s forefather, who became amuslim, of that he has the proof and records. Of Bed Raj or his family, and the other people of the village from that time he has no inkling, and is now striving to seek them out and connect with them. Besides the Nawab of Tihar, other eminent contemporary Taga Tyagis include Kunwar Mehmud Ali (Ex-Governor), Ved Pal Tyagi (Ex-Chief Justice & former Governor of Rajasthan), Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi (Retd), Pandit Prakash Vir Shastri (MP & Arya Samaji), and Mahavir Tyagi (Ex-Defence Minister of India & Member of the Constituent Assembly), not to mention Javed Miandad from across the border, Pakistani Cricketer …

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