SANHSIS, also called Sansis, Sainsis and Bhatus, are a nomadic people counted among one of the Scheduled Tribes in the Constitution of India which entitles them to certain special rights and privileges. They claim descent from one of the Aryan tribes entering India centuries ago. Some of the immigrants settled in Rajasthan and parts of the Punjab while others continued in their wandering state like their original Aryan forefathers.
The number of these latter increased as those settled in Rajasthan kept joining them under the pressure of Mughal influx. The nomenclature, Sanhsi is said to have been derived from their Rajput ancestor Sansi or Sansmal, described as the thirteenth descendant of Bhatti, a Rajput ruler of Bhatner, in Rajasthan. He is now worshipped as a tribal deity.Sanhsis are, by and large, still a wandering tribe, without any Fixed settlements of their own. They keep moving from place to place, using pack animals such as camels and donkeys for transporting their belongings.
The dog has been their reliable companion, as a guard for their animals and encampments. Their temporary settlements are always on the fringes of villages which they leave at their will. These encampments, however, are never on the southern side of the village, near a cremation ground or near the tomb of a Muslim saint. They earn their living by hunting and by doing odd jobs for the villagers where they settle. Punjab is perhaps the first state where they have now started settling, mostly as lagis or village menials, but hunting and predatory excursions are still not uncommon.
Socially Sanhsis are divided into two sections, Mahia and Bihda, commonly called Bihdu, named after the two sons of Sarismal. They are exclusively exogamous and select their mates from the other group and marriages with the children of mother`s brother and father`s sister are preferred: however, marriages with the children of mother`s sister are taboo. The prominent form of marriage among them, as in the case of other people in the region, is punn (lit, charity or gift), but the practice of marriage by exchange, capture, and elopement has not yet entirely died out. Widow remarriage and divorce are permissible.
Sanhsis are by and large a monogamous people but cases of surrogate polyandry and levirate polygyny are also found among them.Marriage rites of the Sanhsis vary from settlement to settlement. The Hindus among them observe Hindu rituals whereas those who have embraced Sikhism follow the Sikh rites. Their Panchayats represent a strong political structure. They help them settle their disputes and they are a potent factor in determining their voting behaviour. They have their distinctive dialect, but they can claim no script or literature of their own.
Most of the Sanhsis living beyond the state of Punjab are Hindus as those in Pakistan are Muslims, but the Sanhsis of the central Punjab are by and large Sikhs, though their assimilation in the Sikh way of life is still incomplete because they continue believing in evil spirits and many magical devices for their protection. They have also transformed several important mendicants of their tribe into deities whom they worship.
1. Rose, H.A., ed., A Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province. Lahore, 1911-19
2. Slier Singh Sher, The Sanhsis ofPunajb. Delhi, 1965