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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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Analysts Claim, China’s New Silk Road May Raise Concerns Of Italian Workers

U.S. and Europe most impacted by trade with China are the ones which in recent elections and plebiscites have backed populist candidates and nationalist causes like Brexit, support fueled by anger at the effects of globalization.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte shake their hands following the signing of a memorandum in support of Beijing's "Belt and Road" initiative, at Rome's Villa Madama, March 23, 2019. VOA

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed up his country Saturday to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an ambitious trillion-dollar transcontinental trade and infrastructure project. The memorandum signing in Rome was the centerpiece of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s three-stop visit to Europe and it will make Italy the first G-7 nation to participate in China’s so-called New Silk Road.

Italy’s endorsement of the BRI, which spans Eurasia as well as the Middle East and parts of Africa, has prompted the disquiet not only of the United States, but also of European Union leaders, who have voiced concern about Beijing’s growing political clout in Europe and its use of commerce as a tool of statecraft. The U.S. has been critical of the trillion-dollar project and warned about the risks of “debt-trap diplomacy.” Members of the EU are worried the plan could add to fissures in an already strained coalition.

They aren’t alone in worrying about what the longer-term consequences on Italy might be if signing up for BRI moves from symbolism into full participation. Matteo Salvini, head of the populist Lega party, which represents one-half of Italy’s coalition government, is indicating his opposition by staying away from the signing ceremony and won’t be present at a scheduled gala dinner afterward.

Salvini, an ideological bedfellow of Donald Trump and friend of the U.S. president’s former adviser, Steve Bannon, frets the BRI risks turning Italy into a Chinese colony and will saddle it with more debt. He also has publicly indicated his security concerns about allowing the Chinese control of critical infrastructure, including major ports.

“Before allowing someone to invest in the ports of Trieste or Genoa, I would think about it not once but a hundred times,” Salvini said earlier this month.

Some Italian officials in the economy and finance ministry have also offered behind-the-scenes warnings. They argue that while engaging with Beijing in this manner may help boost Italian exports to China, a prospect highlighted by Xi in marketing BRI, it will likely result in a bigger boost for cheap Chinese exports to Italy.

FILE - A map illustrating China's so-called "One Belt, One Road" megaproject, is displayed at the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong, China, Jan. 18, 2016.
A map illustrating China’s so-called “One Belt, One Road” megaproject, is displayed at the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong, China, Jan. 18, 2016. VOA

Such a scenario, they caution, could have a ruinous impact on domestic Italian producers and workers.

“If trade does take off significantly, it might be a matter of short-term gain, but long-term pain,” one official told VOA.

Despite the warnings, as well as U.S. and EU disapproval of Italy’s BRI endorsement, Conte and Luigi Di Maio, leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which makes up half of the country’s populist coalition government, says Chinese investment could kick-start Italy’s sputtering economy.

Several of the EU’s smaller cash-strapped nations have also signed up in the past two years to China’s BRI, hoping that by doing so their economies will be boosted.

Italy slipped into recession last year and its debt levels are among the highest in Europe. The populist coalition government came to power in June 2018 with high-spending plans, promising expensive pension reforms and a living wage for all Italians.

Italian ministers favoring BRI accuse other large EU countries, including France, which is critical of the BRI, of hypocrisy, saying they conduct multi-million-dollar deals anyway with China albeit outside the framework of the New Silk Road initiative.

“The way we see it, it is an opportunity for our companies to take the opportunity of China’s growing importance in the world,” Italy’s under secretary of state for trade and investment, Michele Geraci, told foreign reporters.

FILE - Journalist take pictures outside the venue of a summit at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, China, May 15, 2017.
Journalist take pictures outside the venue of a summit at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, China, May 15, 2017. VOA

But some Italian officials worry that view might be short-sighted.

They say while the BRI may offer Italy new funding sources — the country is still lagging well behind the foreign investment levels it enjoyed before the 2008 global financial crash — it could trigger a significant wave of Chinese imports, which would have long-term detrimental consequences for Italian industry, employment and politics.

The officials in the country’s finance ministry, who declined to be identified for this article, have been scrutinizing recent academic studies on the impact of Chinese imports on local labor markets. A series of studies, including those by economists David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson, suggests that Western countries and regions exposed to rising Chinese import competition see a major jump in unemployment, lower labor force participation and lower wages. Unskilled and manual workers are especially adversely affected.

The impacts “are most visible in the local labor markets in which the industries exposed to foreign competition are concentrated. Adjustment in local labor markets is remarkably slow, with wages and labor force participation rates remaining depressed and unemployment rates remaining elevated for at least a full decade after the China trade shock commences. Exposed workers experience greater job churning and reduced lifetime income,” noted Autor, Dorn and Hanson in a paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, an influential U.S.-based nonprofit.

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Other recent academic studies have noted that the regions of the U.S. and Europe most impacted by trade with China are the ones which in recent elections and plebiscites have backed populist candidates and nationalist causes like Brexit, support fueled by anger at the effects of globalization. Brexit is Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

“Ironically, looking to Beijing for an economic boost and to alleviate economic deprivation could well hurt the workers and businesses who backed populists in the first place and who the populists want to help — Salvini gets that, but the rest of the coalition doesn’t,” observed an Italian official. (VOA)