Transnational Khaleeji Hyderabadi Labour Mobilities: Thinking from Long Durée Tarikh

Hyderabad or the Deccan, has been a fluid imaginary with its distinctive Dakhani Tehzeeb (culture) which has had ripples across the Islamic Ummah. The formation of the Indian State, and the violent invasion of the Indian State, to integrate it in September 1948, is a watershed moment as a Muslim polity was brought into a Hindu majority state by the sheer dent of force. However, the long durée of Indian Ocean and Islamic Tarikh or History casts a long shadow over its people. The Hyderabadi Nizam was spread over many states of the south till Nanded in Maharashtra. The people of Hyderabad have a creole past with Hadhrami’s in present day Yemen to Habshi’s from Ethiopia serving in the army of the Nizam. The Nizam had close family ties with Ottoman Istanbul, as the political heart of the Muslim World and inter-married with the royals there. Traders from Ispahan and Tabez plied their goods in the region. The contemporary post-colonial history in our textbooks mask these long-term relationships throughout the Muslim World. Hyderabadi pilgrims have had a place in Hijaz for many centuries. The place of the Hyderabadi Muslim in the Indian popular imagination is one of the razakar, the anti-national who sought independence as Pakistan, and hence must be reduced to a stereotype to snatch away any valency of worth and perennially refracted through the Owaisi lens, the predominant political family in Hyderabad and one of the few articulate Muslim voices in contemporary Indian politics beyond the mould of the Sarkari Musselman.

As the place of the Hyderabadi Muslim has been neglected in Indian internal labour markets including the IT revolution within the very city of Hyderabad. However, the working-class Urdu speaking Hyderabadi Muslim rode on long durée social and familial networks to the Gulf, from Jeddah to Muscat to Kuwait City, to create employment options which were foreclosed to them through a particular configuration of Indian labour markets. The Hyderabadi Muslim sought work in the oil boom of the 1970’s and 80’s in all kinds of clerical and manpower jobs. Manpower recruitment job adverts were mainstream in Urdu language newspapers published from Hyderabad, which was the source of information for the community. These adverts were not unusual rather the routine as my parents found work in Muscat by applying to one of these adverts a few years later as teachers. The context of the time is important, as jobs in pre-liberalisation India were hard to find and a career in the Gulf was a ticket to middle class modernity with Tangs and Toblerone to find company with. Conservative Arab Islam with its characteristics were imported along with the remittances. The best Hyderabadi biryani is found in the Gulf with the best of chefs exported to restaurant there. Deccan is a common restaurant name in the Gulf. The comforting biryani after Jumma Namaz is something I grew up with. I studied with scions of many Hyderabad families with intergenerational linkages to Oman.

The transnational Hyderabad is forged through its migrants and intermarriages with the Arabs. A lot of local Khaleeji citizens have mothers from Hyderabad, the fact of which they hide because of the politics of nasab or tribal genealogy in the Gulf. The racialised nature of Khaleeji hierarchies can be seen in Hyderabad as people who work in the Gulf are considered wealthier, however in the gulf they are clubbed as Indians despite their Muslim upbringing. Many Arabs and Arab speaking Africans in universities in Hyderabad to the present day.

The Indian Ocean History and connections with the Global Ummah (via the Khaleej) from Hyderabad yield jobs and financial returns home, even though the Indian Muslim is fighting for a legitimate voice in the pan national polity of the country.

(This blog is thanks to Vanshika Singh and the writing forum for graduate students at NUS Geography)