DR ABHISHEK MANU SINGHVI
I don’t know how many of you know it—but certainly some of the non-Marwaris may not know it—the capital of Marwar is Jodhpur. I am from Jodhpur. And ‘Marwari’ had nothing to do with the vocational occupational definition. This is a corruption of later times. ‘Marwari’ was simply somebody from Marwar; it was a geographical classification—just like ‘Gujarati’ is somebody from Gujarat. I am very much from Marwar, without being in that sense a Marwari, because I am not a businessman. The origin of the word was geographical, but because all these great industrialists with huge moneybags have become so famous, therefore, Marwaris are associated with business.
Now, about your point about strengths and weaknesses, I think it is the obvious: strengths—values of thrift very early on, values of hard work... An interesting analogy would be, if you go abroad, you find generally—in communities which have more of these two nationals—Chinese and Indians do very well. So that’s a lot ascribed to values of thrift and education and hard work and to some extent, risk taking. That happens within India more with certain communities, and, I think, it certainly happens a lot with Marwaris and possibly also Gujaratis.
But, I would say that Marwaris are certainly not as progressive as those from their sister state of Gujarat. I don’t say it only because I have a daughter-in-law from Gujarat, but actually I think we still relatively remain conservative. That probably, in one sense, is one of the weaknesses. But we have a very mixing approach to the communities we go to. I mean, the saying is famous about the Parsis—I think the Sanjan—that ‘You will mix like sugar with milk.’ But a lot of Marwaris too have done that successfully. They are envied and sometimes criticised for their commercial success, but there are a large number of stories about how well they have been received in communities foreign to the Marwaris. I have a very interesting example which I read some time ago about the Rajput ruler of Bikaner, Suraj Singh, saying that ‘This Marwari family is so respected here—this Poddar family—that I am passing a decree permitting them, or forgiving them up to three murders.’ So, you know, Marwaris have also integrated well. But certainly, I think we are not as progressive as we should be, generally speaking, as some communities. And the reasons for hate are quite common. I think commercially successful communities do evoke a certain amount of it… the Jews have done it, some communities in Poland have faced the same reaction… there’s a mix of both envy and admiration.
I went to Jagdalpur, Bastar, about 25 years ago—much less developed then than now—and I found one lone grocery shop in the middle of nowhere. And Jagdalpur is the capital of the world’s largest tribal district, Bastar! That man was a Marwari: Lunia. He had come from Rajasthan some three generations earlier. He was very greatly admired, but also hated, as he was the only chap there who could do commerce and who could charge money. But he was doing a service.