Nearly 180 kilometers (110 miles) from the Indian capital New Delhi, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Turkic descent people will vote to decide the fate of candidates in about 17 assembly constituencies in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), which is going to polls in seven phases starting from Feb. 10.
While this population is spread across the districts of Moradabad, Rampur, Amroha, and Nagina, their largest concentration is in Sambhal – known as little Turkiye in the heartland of India.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Mohammad Saood, an ethnic Turk residing at Deepa Serai locality in Sambhal town, said the region was reeling under unemployment and inflation. He said these issues were heavy in the minds of voters.
He said since most of the people in the locality used to earn a living by engaging in the transportation industry, rising fuel prices and other factors have brought decline to the sector, adding that people in this locality alone used to own over 300 trucks.
“All people here are into business, so whosoever is coming to see voters, we are raising these issues with them,” he said, adding that the politicians who come to power should focus on these issues.
Just a few miles from Deepa Saria in another locality, Sarai Tareen housing skilled artisans making export-oriented handicraft items from animal horns and bones are demanding schools and health centers.
As per one estimate, some 40,000 artisans are presently engaged in the work of transforming bones and animal horns into ornaments.
“We want good schools for kids and the best health centers for people,” said Mohammad Anas, who is engaged in the export trade.
Lack of education facilities
Author and academician Mohammad Osman told Anadolu Agency that the people in Sambhal rue lack major educational centers.
“Over the years, the situation has improved, but a lot more needs to be done in the education sector in Sambhal,” he said.
Osman maintained his area has no college which could have provided professional courses.
“The result is that students have to travel faraway places for the same,” he said.
The elders in the area who boast of their ancestral Turkic links are discussing chances of young Zia Ur Rehman Burq, an ethnic Turk, from contesting elections from the Kundarki constituency in nearby Moradabad district.
His grandfather Shafiq-ur-Rahman Barq is the tallest ethnic Turkic face in the current Indian political landscape.
“The Samajwadi Party has given him a ticket. Let us see if he wins the election. We are hopeful that if he wins the elections, he may resolve the problems of the public,” said Saood.
Burq is promising to work against hate and promote love and harmony if elected in the polls.
Tracing their origins, locals are here are well aware of the common ancestry they share with the Turkic population elsewhere in the world.
History of Turkic population and traditions
Historians believe that a majority of the Turkic population in the region were largely part of an army led by the 12th-century warrior-saint Ghazi Saiyyad Salar Masud or Ghazi Miyan. But the influx continued ever after under Muslim rulers.
Osman said that while Deepa Sarai has a good number of Turkic-origin people, a large number of people have settled in the outskirts of Sambhal in different villages.
Even after hundreds of years, they have continued to live with traditions and culture.
“Several words are still spoken among the people like many call their mother as anne etc. Also, the Turk origin people marriages within their community and only in rare chances they marry outside their community,” said Shakir Ali, who runs a school in the neighboring Rampur city.
On festive occasions, the people eat together from Rakavi (a big-sized aluminum plate), a practice prevalent in Turkic countries. Turki Tabaq (rice cooked with clarified butter and sugar) is another dish prepared for festive occasions or to serve guests.
While tea in India is served with milk, this is an island where many in the community prefer black tea prepared without sugar and milk and resembles Turkish Cay (tea).
Many, however, said over the years, the customs and traditions are slowly dying.
“We are proud of our descendants, but at the same time, it is painful to see our old traditions slowly dying or to see the younger generation not interested in adopting those traditions fully,” said Liyaqat Ahmad, another Turkic descendent residing in Dipu Sarai.
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