Mobility and Translocality in the Indian Ocean: Transforming Notions of Racial, Religious and Diasporic Identities in the Siddi and Hadrami Communities of Hyderabad, India

Khatija Sana Khader

This research paper engages with histories of migration of two diasporic communities – Siddis and Hadramis, in Hyderabad, India, from the colonial period to postcolonial times. Siddis are an Indian African community, which came to the subcontinent as slaves from the East African coast. Hadramis hail from the Red Sea region of Hadramawt, Yemen. Migration from Hadramawt was voluntary and for the purposes of trade, religious and military activities. The Hadramis were instrumental in spreading Islam along the Indian Ocean and in weaving complex networks of kinship and economic relationships along its ports and cities. Both communities were primarily employed in military and police services in the Princely State of Hyderabad under the Asaf Jahi Dynasty. This study charts out the social and economic transition of these two communities as they lost the patronage of the colonial Asaf Jahi State and elites, which for example allowed Hadrami families like Al Quaiti, Al Awlaqi and Al Kathiri to finance and establish the Al Quaiti and the Al Kathiri sultanates in Hadramawt. In modern India, politically underrepresented, economically marginalised and educationally backward, these communities allow for an engagement with different notions of racial, religious and diasporic identity formation that existed in the eighteenth century in established networks of diasporic mobility in the Indian Ocean. Further, it enables a constitutive engagement with how identities have been realised in multi-ethnic, multilingual and racially diverse non-western spaces like the Indian Ocean. This research contends that the existing concepts, like ‘slavery’ imagined only as trans-Atlantic or ‘assimilation’ understood as an extension of the modern nation state, are inadequate in grasping the ‘everyday’ as historically informed. By focusing on the ‘everyday’ as a site of enquiry this study probes into the continuous process of identity formation and boundaries making, meanings/subjectivities that we create to make sense our contexts and makes apparent hierarchies of domination and strategies of subversion in modern postcolonial societies like India. By casting the Indian Ocean region within frames of migration/mobility, it is the contention of this study that a richer understanding of this region can be developed. Therefore, this research will focus on how diasporic identities have been produced from the colonial period to contemporary times, located as these are in complex regional and global circuits of knowledge production. By foregrounding itself in the literature on Indian Ocean, which allows for a unique perspective on the history of this region that is not bound by rigid territorial divisions, this study will engage with different meanings of slavery, assimilation and integration. Further, this paper will engage with tropes of homeland, host society, and territorial imaginations of identity, through which these diasporas have interacted and defined themselves. This research paper will draw on fieldwork done in the neighbourhoods of African Cavalry Guards (A C Guards) and Barkas (a colloquial spin on the English word ‘Barracks’) in Hyderabad, where most Siddis and Hadramis reside respectively.