The term ‘Modi’ is not mentioned even a single time either in any of the Caste Census conducted in india till the year 1931 or the district gazetteers written by colonial officers for every districts of India during early 20th century. Modh is the term used in the census as well as gazetteers which is close to define any community in Gujarat. The complete name of the caste of Narendra Modi is ‘Modh Ghanchis.’
Modh & Ghanchis: Region to Caste
The caste of Modi, ‘Modh Ghanchis’ is combination of two communities: Modh and Ghanchis. Modh were people living in the region around Modhera while anyone involved in the business of oil making or selling were called Ghanchis. Modh were supposed to be originated into the Modher region (Chanasma Taluka) of the Mahesana district of Gujarat. During the pre-independence era this region was part of Baroda princely state.
There were various kind of Ghanchis including Gola Ghanchis, Modh Ghanchis, Muslim Ghanchis etc. Similarly there were various categories of Modh including Modh Vania, Modh Brahmin, Modh Vohra, Modh Jain and Modh Ghanchis.
There were around 9039 Modh Brahman and 4268 Modh Vania in Baroda state. So anyone from any caste or religion, living in the region around Modher were called Modh. The Muslim Ghanchis were similar to Hindu Ghanchis in many aspects including the names, dress, food, language and many cultural practices of their daily life.
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Modh Vania are now found almost every district of Gujarat and even in Malwa. They were all migrated into these region from Modhera region of Mahesna district when Alaudin Khilji invaded Gujarat in 1298.
Anyone cutting across the religious identity who were involved in business of oil pressing were called Ghanchi. According to the census of 1931, there were 14300 Hindu and 7426 Muslim Ghanchi in the region of Baroda state. The Muslim Ghanchis were also called Ghanchi-Vohra. In rural areas Ghanchi and Vohra were used interchangeably. They were believed to be the descendants of the Hindus of the Pinjara and Ghanchi castes.
Modh Ghanchi are the oil pressing community. During those days the oil pressing communities were keeping surnames such as Gohel, Jhala, Parmar, Solanki. Out of 8 kind of oil pressing communities Modh and Sidhpurias were the most respectful and they never intermarry or accept food from other six oil pressing communities. In terms of respects they were close to Bhavsars and Sutars.
In terms of social status the 1931 census divided the Gujarati communities into 6 caste categories. Ghanchi along with Barot, Tapodhan, Vyas Brahman etc were included into the category of advance castes.
The Hindu Ghanchis were advance in elementary education while widow remarriage was allowed among them. Out of 1000 male members 688 among Ghanchis were literate in 1931 while the corresponding number for Saiyad community was 557 and 537 for Maratha-Kashatriya. There were only 324 male literate among 1000 Rajput of the region.
Some of the Modh Ghanchis were claiming to be treated as Vanias since the beginning of he 20th century. They claimed that they were originally Modh Vania in the past but due to economic starvation they were compelled to do business in oil and thus were begin to be called Modh Ghanchis. During the early 20th century some of them, especially those living around Ahmadabad, began to abandon their involvement in oil business and they start demanding Modh Vania status again.
Their demands were brought down by the census commission in 1921. During the 1931 census few of the Modh Ghanchis enrolled themselves as Modh Vanias. They claimed that all the Modh Ghanchi were originally Modh Vanias. Apart from them Dabgars, and Sonis were also managed to enrolled themselves as Vanias in 1931 census.