The Arain , are a Muslim agricultural caste settled mainly in the Punjab, with significant numbers also in Sindh. They are chiefly associated with farming, traditionally being landlords or zamindars.
In the Punjab Census Report (1911), Pandit Harikishan Kaul points out that members of the Arain tribe are “mostly Muhammadans,” (in the Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North West Frontier Province, Denzil Ibbetson also refers to the Arains as, “Almost to a man Muhammadans”), and as a corollary, reference is also made to Hindu and Sikh sections of the tribe which make up 3% of Arains, with 97% Sunni Muslims.
Kaul also states that the term ‘Arain’ is, “derived probably from Rain or Rahin, equivalent to Rahak (tiller of soil).” This is consistent with the Arains traditionally being chiefly associated with market-gardening.
The census reports of 1883 and 1892 record their Hindu origins and kinship with the Kamboh and Saini caste groups.
|“||Almost to a man Muhammadans and strongly inclined to orthodoxy the Arains came to be immigrants from Uch and have some affinities with the Kambohs. On the other hand some of the Arain and Hindu Saini clan names are identical, and those not always merely names of other and dominant tribes. From Uch they migrated to Sirsa and thence into the Punjab.||
|“||In Sirsa the Sutlej Arains meet those of the Ghaggar. The two do not intermarry, but the Arains of the Ghaggar valley say they were Rajputs living on the Panjnad near Multan who were ejected some four centuries ago by Sayad Jalal-ul-din of Uch. They claim some sort of connection with Jaisalmer.||
|“||The Sutlej Arains in Sirsa say they are, like the Arains of Lahore and Montgomery, connected by orign with the Hindu Kambohs. Mr Wilson thinks it probable that both classes are really Kambohs who have become Musalmans. However, other British writers discounted this viewpoint since many Kambohs are also Muslims. Lt. Col. J. M. Wikeley, in 1915, wrote a handbook for the Indian Army, Punjabi Musalmans, which described the history of the people of Punjab and in which he rejected “any supposed relationship between the Kambohs and the Arains”.||
|“||The nucleus of this caste was probably a body of Hindu Saini or Kamboh cultivators who were converted to Islam at an early period . Thus in Jullundur the Arains say they came from Sirsa, Rania, and Delhi and claim descent from Rai Jaj (grandson of Lau, founder of Lahore), who ruled Sirsa: that they were converted in the 12th century and migrated to the Jullundar Doab about 300 years ago. But the Bhuttas claim descent from Raja Bhutta, fifth in descent from Raja Karn and say they were forcibly converted even earlier – by Mahmud of Ghazni – and driven from Uch.||
Most Arain however propose descent from Arabs belonging to Muhammad bin Qasim’s expeditionary force to India. Such claims are given credance by how nearly all Arain are, and have been, Sunni Muslim, much like the early Arabs accompanying Muhammad bin Qasim. This assertion is supported by numerous references made in several Urdu language texts; Tareekh-e-Arain, Sham Ta Multan, Tareekh Frishta, Tohfa Tul Ikram and Aina-e-Haqeekat Numa, that reliably trace the lineage of many notable Arain including Zia Ul-Haq and the famous Mian Family of Bhaghbanpura. According to these sources, word Arain is derived from Areeha which is Arabic name for the city of Jericho in West Bank, Palestinian Territory, the place from where they allegedly came.
The Arain during the British Raj
The Arain land holders should not be confused with the more gentrified zamindars such as the feudal Rajput landlords of vast holdings. Polo, partridge shoots and tea parties were therefore not associated attributes. Neither were the more negative and profligate practises such as “…dancing girls, drunken evenings listening to poetry, or numerous marriages..”.
When the British wanted land developed in the Punjab after its annexation, Arain were brought in to cultivate lands around the cities, forming irrigated colonies. Arain were the largest Muslim land holders in Punjab during British rule. The British considered the Arain the best cultivators amongst all the castes, and were favoured for their “hard work, frugality and sense of discipline”. Subsequent development of towns and cities and increasing urbanisation resulted in the value of the land settled by Arain to rise significantly, and Arain families thus flourished. Education was prioritised with the new found wealthand the Arain came to dominate the legal profession amongst urban Punjabi Muslims. Many used law to enter politics.
The Arain were classified as a “non-martial race” by the British, a classification deemed arbitrary and based on prejudices prevalent at the time.
British considered Arain the landholding ‘agricultural cast. Arain and Jats were preferred over other casts for opening up the new agrarian frontier in canal colonies of Punjab between 1906 – 1940. The Arains, who were all Muslims, received 86% of the land that was allotted to Muslim agricultural castes.
It is important to note however Arain contributions to military service predating and during British rule in India. Lt. Col. J. M. Wikely acknowledged Arain presence in the military; “They (Arains) may be designated as a fighting race which has produced many Civil and Military officers who have rendered good services to the nation.” Their lack of classification as a martial race was most probably a consequence of rebellions against British rule. One such rebellion occurred in Ludhiana led by the Arain, Shah Abdul Qadir Ludhianvi in 1857 against the British East India Company.
Related communities in North India
There are a number of communities in North India, that claim kinship with the Arain of Punjab. The Arain of Delhi claim to be descended from Arains, who settled in Delhi during the rule of the Mughal Emperor Akbar.
Another community that claims a connection with the Arain are the Rayeen are Muslim tribe found in Bareilly, Pilibhit, Udham Singh Nagar, Nainital, Rampur and Saharanpur districts of Uttar Pradesh, India.