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India’s African Nawabs: A part of history that India chooses to forget

Today, approximately 20,000 to 50,000 Siddis reside in India and Pakistan, with the majority concentrated in Karnataka, Gujarat, Hyderabad, Makaran and Karachi

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Nawab of Sachin. Image source wikipedia

 A part of history we forgot

Africans have, for centuries been a part of Indian society. While the slave trade from Africa to America and Europe is well documented, the eastward movement of African slaves to India has been left unexplored. Evidences of African slavery is available when a Muslim rulers ruled a part of the Indian subcontinent. But the systematic transportation of African slaves to India started with the Arabs and Ottomans and later by the Portuguese and the Dutch in the sixteenth -seventeenth centuries.

“When your family has been ruling for hundreds of years, people still call you by the title of Nawab,” told Nawab Reza Khan to The Indian Express, tenth Nawab of Sachin as he traces his family’s royal history. Reza Khan currently is a lawyer and lives in the city of Sachin in Gujarat. He says his ancestors came from Ethiopia in East Africa, as part of the forces of Babur. Eventually, they conquered the fort at Janjira and later occupied Sachin and ruled over their own kingdoms. The Nawab of Sachin is a personified remnant of a glorious African past in India.

 

Siddis of Bombay. Image source wikipedia
Siddis of Bombay. Image source wikipedia

“In Europe and America, Africans were brought in as slaves for plantation and industry labour. In India on the other hand, African slaves were brought in to serve as military power,” says Dr Suresh Kumar, Professor of African studies in Delhi University. Some of them also became nobles, rulers or merchants in their own capacities. They were expensive elite mililtary slaves brought mainly for their physical strength. The elite status of the African slaves in India ensured that a number of them had access to political authority and secrets which they could make use of to become rulers in their own right, reigning over parts of India. They came to be known by the name of Siddis or Habshis.

The Nawab of Sachin and Janjira

The political power acquired by the mid-sixteenth century, the Mughals had increased their appetite for the South and were aggressively trying to encroach upon the Nizam Shahi dynasty that ruled much of Deccan. In 1600 AD, the Ahmadnagar fort finally fell into the hands of the Mughals. However, the presence of the Mughals in the Deccan was still limited and Ahmadnagar’s surrounding countryside still lay with the troops deployed by the Nizam Shahi state of which Malik Ambar was a part of the Habshi military slaves there. By the mid-sixteenth century, the Mughals were aggressively trying to take over the Nizam Shahi dynasty that ruled much of Deccan. In 1600 AD, the Ahmadnagar fort finally fell into the hands of the Mughals. Ahmadnagar’s surrounding countryside still lay with the troops deployed by the Nizam Shahi state of which Malik Ambar was a part. This African slave became a political game changer, he proved to be a major obstacle to the Mughals’ crave for the Deccan.

Malik Ambar constructed a fort at Janzira, located in the Konkan coast, by the end of the sixteenth century. At Janjira, the Africans developed their own kingdom (with their own cavalry, coat of arms and currency) which the Mughals and Marathas failed to occupy despite repeated attacks. Later, the African rulers of Janjira went on to occupy another fort at Sachin in modern day Gujarat. The present Nawab of Sachin, Reza Khan says “the title of Nawab was given to our ancestors by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, since they had not allowed his competitor Shivaji to occupy the Janjira fort.”

The Habshi sultans of Bengal

The Bengal Sultanate was established by Shams al-Din Ilyas Shah in 1352. During this period a large number of Ethiopian slaves had been recruited in the army of the Bengal Sultans. They did not just work in the army, but also rose to get involved in major administrative tasks such as act as court magistrates, collecting tolls and taxes and involved in services of law enforcement. Eventually, they managed to seize power from the Sultans under the leadership of Barbak Shahzada. Barbak Shahzada laid the foundation stone of the Habshi dynasty in Bengal in 1487, and became its first ruler under the name of Ghiyath-al-Din Firuz Shah. His successor Saif al-Din Firuz is considered the best of the Habshi rulers as he was a brave and a just king and a patron of art and architecture. Most well known among these is the Firuz Minar at Gaur which still stands tall, in a good state of preservation and its significance as a victory tower. The Habshi rule came to an end in 1493 AD.

Siddi Masood of Adoni

Adoni was a part of the Vijayanagar empire situated in the Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh. Adoni got one of its important governors by the name of Siddi Masood Khan who was a wealthy merchant from Ethiopia. He was a virtual ruler and loved art and architecture. This rule came to an end when Aurangzeb captured Bijapur in 1686.

Siddi scenario in contemporary India

Siddi girl. Image source Wikipedia
Siddi girl. Image source Wikipedia

Today, approximately 20,000 to 50,000 Siddis are residing in India and Pakistan, with the majority concentrated in Karnataka, Gujarat, Hyderabad, Makaran and Karachi. Apart from their royal heirs, these live in poverty and are cut-off from a normal world. They usually maintain distance and live in forests. Dr. Kenneth Robbins, author of “African elites in India”, is of the opinion that it is necessary to shed light on the ruling status of Africans in India. “The purpose is to see India in a different light, to understand social mobility in India. It is important for Indians to take note of the place that Africans had at one point secured in the country.”

This is a major discovery of the African history, as India is the only country where they could rule because racial discrimination was not a feature.

-by Vrushali Mahajan.

Vrushali is pursuing her graduation in Journalism and an intern at NewsGram. Twitter handle- Vrushali Mahajan 

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As Federal Government Retreats from Dealing with Climate Change, Corporate America Moving Forward Anyway

Some of the largest companies in the United States are pushing local authorities for renewable energy

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Corporate, America, Climate Change
The blades of wind turbines catch the breeze at the Saddleback Ridge wind farm in Carthage, Maine, March 19, 2019.. VOA

As the federal government retreats from dealing with climate change, major parts of corporate America are moving forward anyway.

Some of the largest companies in the United States are pushing local authorities for renewable energy, such as solar, wind or hydro power. In some cases, they’re pushing harder than those local authorities are ready to go.

One place to see this happening is Northern Virginia, in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

The brains of the internet are housed here in anonymous office parks. Warehouse-sized buildings filled with row upon row of computers process clicks, taps and swipes from around the globe.

Corporate, America, Climate Change
Some of the largest companies in the United States are pushing local authorities for renewable energy, such as solar, wind or hydro power.   VOA

Northern Virginia is home to more of these data centers than anywhere else in the world, according to real estate firm JLL.  Each building draws an average of 30 megawatts of electricity, roughly equivalent to 7,500 homes, according to Stan Blackwell, head of economic development at Dominion Energy, the region’s electric power company.

The region topped 1 gigawatt of capacity recently, according to real estate brokers CBRE. And another roughly 140 megawatts of data center demand has hooked up to the grid each year for the last several years, Blackwell said.

“The industry as a whole is the fastest growing segment in our territory,” he added.

Tech wants clean power

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The companies behind those power-hungry buildings include some of the biggest names in tech: Facebook, Amazon and Google.

These companies have plans to get all their power from renewable sources. Google says it’s there already.

“It’s important that what we build leaves a positive legacy, that we don’t build it on the back of fossil fuels, but rather, we build it on the back of the next generation of energy technology of wind and hydro and solar,” said Brian Janous, lead energy manager for Microsoft, another major data center customer in Northern Virginia. Microsoft is aiming for 70% renewable energy by 2023.

So when Dominion submitted plans last year to meet demand growth with natural gas-fired power, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and seven other companies wrote to the state regulator to demand less gas and more renewables.

Corporate, America, Climate Change
As the federal government retreats from dealing with climate change, major parts of corporate America are moving forward anyway. Pixabay

“Dominion Energy … fails to fully take into account the energy preferences of the data center industry — by limiting the amount of competitively procured solar energy, neglecting to consider energy storage as a cost-effective and beneficial energy resource, and continuing to plan for the development of additional natural gas infrastructure,” the letter said.

Blackwell says a mix of power sources is best to ensure a reliable supply. And Dominion has worked with tech companies before to get solar power on the grid.

Driving change

Facebook approached Dominion several years ago about building solar capacity to power a new data center.

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“Regulation required you to build the lowest cost source of generation,” Blackwell said. “Solar resources in that case were slightly above that, and so they agreed to make up that difference.”

Facebook helped modify state regulations so Dominion could sell the company power from several solar farms and build several more, Blackwell says.

“Facebook drove that change and that new tariff and we’re very happy with it,” he added.

But the cost of wind and solar have plunged in just the last few years. In many cases they are now the cheapest option. Data center companies now say they have an economic case for renewables as well as a climate argument.

“We just don’t really see why utilities should be talking about building new fossil fuel plants that realistically may only have a useful life of a few years before their costs are significantly undercut by wind and solar paired with storage,” Janous said.

Regulators ultimately approved Dominion’s plan. But the company is required to include cost estimates for solar power plus battery storage in its next planning update.

Corporate commitments

Nearly half of Fortune 500 companies have set at least one climate or clean energy target, according to a 2017 report.

Even in states where fighting climate change is not a priority, local authorities are finding that companies are demanding renewable energy.

“Our first solar decision in the state of Alabama was based solely on the Walmart decision to come in and use solar power,” Alabama Public Service Commissioner Jeremy Oden told a recent coal industry conference.

Outside of Walmart, the state still has negligible amounts of solar power on the grid, and has no policies to encourage renewables.

But Oden says from retail to manufacturing, states are often finding that if they want to recruit major industries, offering renewable energy is a must.

“You’re seeing some of this demand, especially in these car companies that we’re dealing with, like Toyota and Mazda, and Honda and Hyundai, they all have … (a certain amount of) alternative energy in their production. And so, whatever we do to recruit these, we have to offer (it).” (VOA)