Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Bohra divide in Udaipur & the recent clash among the two sects

The clash between two groups of the minuscule Bohra community in Udaipur made headlines in national media on Saturday but it's an age-old schism (nearly a century old) and the dispute over claim on mosques also dates back to several decades.

It was in the 70s in this Rajasthan city when a section of local Bohras had revolted against the religious establishent and formed the Progressive Bohra community. The Dawoodi Bohras are a sub-sect of the Ismaili Shia community (there are some Sunni Bohras as well) and have the reputation of a hardwork businessmen.

number around a million (10 lakh) in India and have main concentration in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Malwa (Western MP). Udaipur has a population of 15,000 Bohras. The Bohras here got divided first in the early 20th century over alleged misappropriation of Jamaat funds.

The rebel 'aamil' could be buried on his death only after the intervention of the ruling family of the princely state. In the 70s, the local religious leadership that was allegedly under corrupt influence asked the Bohras to vote for certain candidates but the popular Youth Party candidates won as they got overwhelming votes.

Subsequently, misappropriation of Jamaat funds, corruption and high-handedness of local Bohra clergy became a major issue and the rift kept widening. The majority of local Bohras supported the Youth Party ie the reformist movement.

The problem took a serious turn when members of Progressive group were ex-communicated and there relatives in other parts of the country had to shun contact with them. In those days Jaiprakash Narayan and other prominent leaders of stature tried to intervene.

As far as I know, the group that calls itself 'Progressive Bohra' don't claim to be another sect and also don't question the authority of Syedna Sahab. The images from Bohravadi (Udaipur) surprised many as Bohras concentrate on trade (and also education) and stay away from such street fights over trivial issues.

I wonder why the Bohra establishment doesn't try to settle this old dispute and win over the other smaller group, if there is no theological issue involved. Of course, it's an outsider's opinion as Bohras better know if it's just an old dispute, a problem of ego or something else!