It is not uncommon for communities and tribes to have their own customs, lifestyles and value systems, but few would wish to be known as thieves. The koochras living in the interior of Sindh are known to fly and live as nomads, regularly moving from place to place.
The name Koochra is derived from the word kooch. And as the term suggests, Koochras, having taken as much of one place as they could, would leave, in search of another settlement, another opportunity.
“Our ancestors were habitual thieves. They lived in the forests and worked in the local fields. Stealing was an accepted way of making money,” says Papu Koochra.
According to Koochra, they are descendants of Raja Sansi. He says they are from India. Many members of the community still live in various Indian cities. Some of them have taken up residence in Kerala, others have settled closer to the Ganges.
“No one sees us as Sansi, we call ourselves Koochro and some other names. Unfortunately, we have no documents to prove our lineage, but we know our history. The Sansi are Rajputs, settled in areas near the Ganges” , says a young Koochra. “Our lives have changed for the better after we settled here (Sindh), but we will always be known as thieves”, he adds.
Most community members say they prefer to settle in Jodhpur, Jaipur, Baroda or Ahmedabad because they have ties there. Many are already settled on the other side of the border.
Many Koochra migrated to Sindh during partition. It is believed that a small minority of them lived here even before partition. Some of them came to Sindh between 1964 and 1965. After the migration, a few groups of Koochra found residence in Rahim Yar Khan.
Today, many members of the Koochra community have found decent employment in Karachi, where they work in factories. Women, too, support their families who work alongside their men and wish to distance themselves from their past.
A number of Koochras living in rural areas still work in the fields, but they feel powerless when it comes to articulating their past. They are going through a kind of identity crisis. Koochras no longer live on theft but are still called wandering thieves.
“We are known by many names. However, we cannot argue with everyone and explain that we are originally Soochi Sansi,” says Rangilo Koochro. The mystery of Koochros’ true identity continues. “Sometimes we call each other Tamachi. Koochra is our Pakistani identity,” he says..
“Well, we are known by many names. However, we cannot argue with everyone and explain that we are originally Soochi Sansi,” says Rangilo Koochro. The mystery of Koochros’ true identity continues. “Sometimes we call each other Tamachi, and that confuses some people. Koochra is our Pakistani identity,” he says.
The Koochras are mainly of Tamachi, Bajrang Bali, Merogi, Ghamandi, Ghasi origin. The community does not believe in marriage outside of their caste. Marriage is transactional among the Koochra; there is always a dowry. “At the time, we exchanged monetary gifts, but it has become quite an expensive affair now,” says Sahib Koochro.
Koochra women in the past wore ghagra and other traditional clothing but now favor local customs. They always like to adorn themselves with gold and silver jewelry. Multiple ear piercings are common and appreciated. Married women wear mangal sutra and healthydoor.
Marriage is serious business for the Koochras. Like any other community, they have their own traditions, rituals and ways of celebrating. Arranged marriages are the norm and unions are celebrated with great enthusiasm. Women often sing Sindhi and traditional Marwari songs at wedding parties.
It is customary, after the saat pheera, for the bride and groom to walk on rice; it symbolizes prosperity for the couple, says Papu Koochra.
Gul Bano, a vocal member of the community, says, “Our ancestors started all of this. They are dead and we are poor, struggling every day. That’s not the way to go on.
A new addition to the Koochra way of life is the chieftaincy system, which did not exist before. The chief today decides most questions. Back then, a person had to prove their innocence to the tribe by literally stepping on hot coals or putting their hand in the fire. Today, the chief adjudicates on all major disputes.
The Koochra living in the interior of Sindh regard Baba Ramapir as their wallshid. They do not particularly believe in modern medicine. As with any uneducated group, they always treat epileptic patients with home remedies. They hunt to eat and no source of protein is totally off limits.
Khamiso Khoochra, told TNS, “No one cares whether we die or live. There is no system in place for our protection. Our children and wives lack security – financial and otherwise. We are dying poor.
The koochras speak a mix of Urdu and Hindi coupled with local Sindhi.
They build beautiful mud houses and cook in clay pots. However, they continue to worry about the safety of their wives.
Over time, the Koochras of Sindh dwindled in number. It is a community that needs to be saved. It is also necessary to research this fascinating tribe and understand its complex composition, history and heritage.
Yes, some of their ancestors were thieves. They admit it, but it is necessary to look beyond this phase of their history and learn more about the group of people who today struggle with their identity.
The author is an independent contributor