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‘I speak Hindi and always laugh. But when I offer biscuits to the neighbours’ children, they don’t accept.’

https://www.aljazeera.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/909167453f74467da8bda131b0132a73_18.jpeg?resize=770%2C513

Zaharaddeen Muhammed, a master's degree student from Nigeria living in India, speaks at the Africa-India Solidarity Forum in New Delhi [Aletta Andre/Al Jazeera]


New Delhi/Greater Noida, India – After a year in India, Zaharaddeen Muhammed, 27, knows enough Hindi to understand what bander means. Monkey.

But it isn’t even the daily derogatory comments that make him doubt his decision to swap his university in Nigeria for a two-year master’s degree programme in chemistry at Noida International University. Nor is it the questions about personal hygiene, the unsolicited touching of his hair or the endless staring. It is his failure to interact with Indian people on a deeper level.

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Africans in India: Pictures that Speak of a Forgotten History

An exhibition on Africans in India, highlighting the long history of African communities in India, opens on March 21.

Jahnavi Sen, 20/Mar/2016, Source -- https://thewire.in/politics/af...-a-forgotten-history

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https://thewire.in/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Africa-1-1024x671.jpgSultan Muhammad Adil Shah of Bijapur and African courtiers, ca, 1640. Credit: The British Library Board

India and Africa have a shared history that runs deeper than is often realised. Trade between the regions goes back centuries – 4th century CE Ethiopian (Aksumite) coins have been found in southern India. Several African groups, particularly Muslims from east Africa, came to India as slaves and traders. On settling down in the country, they played important roles in the history of the region.

Forgotten histories

Unlike slave experiences in other parts of the world, enslaved Africans in India were able to assert themselves and attain military and political authority in their new homeland.

One of the most famous slave-turned-generals was Malik Ambar, an Ethiopian born guerrilla leader who went on to hold a prominent position in the Ahmadnagar Sultanate in west India in the 17th century. In spite of Ambar’s important role, he is a near forgotten chapter of history. Like Ambar, several other enslaved Africans rose to positions of power and prestige.

https://thewire.in/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Ikhlas-Khan-African-PM-of-Bijapur.jpgIkhlas Khan, African prime minister of Bijapur, c. 1650, Credit: Johnson Album 26, no. 19, British Library. Public Domain.

“Free African traders, sailors, and skilled artisans were part of the movement of people across the India Ocean. Later on, captives were brought by the Arabs, the Portuguese and Indians”, Sylviane Diouf, director of the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery in New York, told The Wire. “The people who became ‘elite slaves’ came mostly from the countries that today are Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan. The Portuguese brought in men and women from Mozambique. Later years also saw the arrival of people from Tanzania and adjacent countries.”

Africans in India were known as either Habshi or Sidi to denote their African origins. Even after centuries of mixing with local populations, the name Sidi remains for their descendants.

Contemporary situation

Sidis today number in the tens of thousands, and are found primarily in Karnataka, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. A majority of them are Muslims, with a few Christians and Hindus. In spite of their historical prominence and affluence, Sidi communities today are often marginalised with little access to education. A majority of the Indian population is unaware of their existence and roots. They are classified as a Scheduled Tribe in parts of Gujarat and Karnataka.

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African eunuch (3rd from left) and African queen Yasmin (2nd from right) at the court of Wajid Ali Shah. Royal Collection Trust / © Queen Elizabeth II 2013.

Though they are now far removed from their African origins and have spent centuries with other populations speaking local languages, they have retained some of their musical and dance traditions.

In contemporary times, Africans from different parts of the continent continue to come to India. Higher education is one of the peak draws, since Indian universities are known for their quality, and are also inexpensive when compared to their counterparts in Europe or North America. For those from English-speaking African countries, the language of much of Indian higher education is an additional positive.

However, assimilation is not easy. African students often face racism and discrimination when looking for housing, from their fellow students, and also in their daily lives in India. The recent event in Bangalore involving the mob assault of a Tanzanian student and her friends, and the burning of their car, was a stark example of just how ugly racism in India can get.

On the political front, relations between India and African countries continue to grow. The India-Africa Summit is now three summits old. Whether strategic diplomatic relations and increased Indian investment in Africa will have any impact whatsoever on Indian social perceptions of Africa and Africans, however, remains to be seen.

Africans in India exhibition

In order to highlight the achievements and retrace the lives of prominent Africans who settled down in India, the Schomburg Centre for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library created the ‘Africans in India: From Slaves to Generals’ exhibition in collaboration with the United Nations ‘Remembering Slavery’ programme. The exhibition is designed and co-curated by Sylviane Diouf and Kenneth X. Robbins, art collector and expert in Indian art.

Through historic paintings and photographs, the exhibition looks at these forgotten histories in order to give them the recognition they deserve. The UN Information Centre, in collaboration with the South Asian University, Delhi and the Department of African Studies, Delhi University, is hosting this exhibition in New Delhi over the last ten days of March.

“The success [of Africans in India] is theirs, but also testimony to the open-mindedness of a society in which they were a small ethnic and original minority, originally of low status”, the curators say in an introduction to the exhibits. Whether a similar open-mindedness would be found in today’s India is a question that begs discussion.

Speaking to The Wire, Diouf described the contents and context of the exhibition. Excerpts:

The historical African diaspora in India is rarely discussed. What is the idea behind this exhibition and what is it trying to highlight?

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Sylviane Diouf. Credit: sylvianediouf.com

The idea was to show the diversity of the African diaspora in terms of geography and history. Few people know that there is an African diaspora in the east, the vast majority think only of the Atlantic world. There is also a diversity of experiences within slavery. I started with a digital exhibition: The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean World, which presents the history of Africans in Arabia, Oman, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, India, Sri Lanka, etc.  The Indian story was so unique that it I thought it had to be the focus of a physical exhibition.

What was it that resulted in enslaved Africans in India rising in the ranks?

Due to Islamic laws, enslaved Africans had greater social mobility than was the case in the Americas. In the Islamic world, contrary to what happened in the West, bondage and “race” were not linked; in addition Africans were regarded as exceptional warriors. These soldiers could rise through the ranks and become “elite slaves,” amassing wealth and power.  Elite slavery was often found in unstable areas due to struggles between factions and where hereditary authority was weak.

India had an abundance of local people to perform hard labor, so the Africans and other foreign slaves were mostly employed in specialised jobs as domestic workers in wealthy households, in the royal courts and in the armed forces. Rulers considered Africans reliable because they were foreigners without clan or caste connections to the local population. Slave soldiers, guards and bodyguards were routinely freed after a few years of service, but even when they were enslaved, many were promoted as court officials, administrators and army commanders. Enslaved or free, they were frequently at the centre of court disputes and sometimes seized power for themselves.

African groups settled in different parts of India. Were they equally successful in different parts?

The difference in success was not linked to the place but to the time period. The elite phenomenon was limited in time. Africans who arrived in the mid-1800s and later occupied lower positions at the courts. Those brought through the Portuguese slave trade, whatever the time period, were never allowed the same opportunities. Many fled to the forests or took refuge at the Muslim courts.

What is the time period this exhibition covers? Is there a change in the artists’ gaze on the African-Indian population over this period?

From the 1400s with paintings, to 1930 with photographs of the enthronement of Sidi Haidar Khan, the Nawab of Sachin, whose family founded one of two African dynasties in India (the other being Janjira). But the main periods covered are the 1600s and 1700s. We don’t notice any change in terms of how people were represented.

@kp posted:

One should read about cast Hierarchy system / slavery in Modern day Africa. Exploitation of man by Man, "Sir".

What does that have to do with the way Africans are treated in India?  A few years ago I was in India when a group of African students were surrounded in their house by a mob of Indians who accused them of selling drugs.  There was live broadcast of the siege.  It turned out the students had nothing to do with selling drugs or anything else. 

@Totaram posted:

What does that have to do with the way Africans are treated in India?  A few years ago I was in India when a group of African students were surrounded in their house by a mob of Indians who accused them of selling drugs.  There was live broadcast of the siege.  It turned out the students had nothing to do with selling drugs or anything else.

Africans are dying everyday fleeing their country/ continent to seek refuge in other countries, go see the lot in Europe. When I first arrived in Paris with the Euro-rail I thought I was in the wrong country, the majority was Africans mingling at the station.

So lets ask why they are running away from that Continent, which is Blacks controlled by Blacks. Don't look too far, right in USA the Whites are threatened by the dominance of Non Whites.  So I don't blame the Indians.

  Why waste time on this ancient subject? can you resolve the problem?

@kp posted:

When I first arrived in Paris with the Euro-rail I thought I was in the wrong country, the majority was Africans mingling at the station.

I was in Paris and wasn't bothered by their presence . Tells the mindset of some folks.

@Django posted:

‘I speak Hindi and always laugh. But when I offer biscuits to the neighbours’ children, they don’t accept.’

https://www.aljazeera.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/909167453f74467da8bda131b0132a73_18.jpeg?resize=770%2C513

Zaharaddeen Muhammed, a master's degree student from Nigeria living in India, speaks at the Africa-India Solidarity Forum in New Delhi [Aletta Andre/Al Jazeera]


New Delhi/Greater Noida, India – After a year in India, Zaharaddeen Muhammed, 27, knows enough Hindi to understand what bander means. Monkey.

But it isn’t even the daily derogatory comments that make him doubt his decision to swap his university in Nigeria for a two-year master’s degree programme in chemistry at Noida International University. Nor is it the questions about personal hygiene, the unsolicited touching of his hair or the endless staring. It is his failure to interact with Indian people on a deeper level.

Read More



I read an article about this sometime ago.

Much of what is reported here about Indian racism towards Africans in India probably misinterpreted. There are Indians who treat their own relatives and friends in a similar way. For most Indians, the African in India is a novelty.

But there is also a history of Indians who live in Africa being treated in a similar or worst way by Africans in those countries. Idi Amin and Uganda comes to mind. Most of the Indians were driven out from Uganda..

This does not excuse the behavior of the Nigerians who are now residing and studying in India. But they have no moral basis to accuse Indians of racism when their countrymen have practised an extreme form of racism against Indians.

I experienced hatred for just being Indian by blacks in all the Caribbean islands during the early 80’s when I fled Burnham dictatorship. In Tortola where I lived for a while, I remember I respond to ads in the newspaper for apartment and got turned away when I showed up as Indian. My cousin kid top the school as valedictorian but never got the scholarship that goes with it. Government jobs was for belonger only. There were many opportunity in the white owned marine businesses where they hire and promote on merit but Indians were hated even more when they excelled. Guyanese Blacks were migrating there by even larger numbers because it was easier for them but if you check today guess which of Guyana’s migrant group owns the top supermarket, car dealership, machine shops, restaurants, nightclubs etc....coolies! I guess coolie haters - Totaram, Tola, Django would say dem Guyanese coolies marginalize the poor blackman even on a playing field that favor blacks...

People will always hate other people even of the same race. I juss live talking to anyone I please to regardless of race. I am smart to know if I am not liked and stay away, that does not make me in inferior. Why the importance of wanting to be accepted by some one else. I am Indian and all of NICIL is Indian, and dem prejudiced ppl still dislike me. So far from my years of experience, Indian ppl have more hate than any other race of ppl. Iz like dem ppl dat live on hate.

The Oghuz descendants invaded India as the Mughals. Dem blasted muslims is to be blamed for Africans in India. They used their African slaves converted to islam to beat up the hindu ppl dem. That was the beginning of ppl being superior to another.

@VishMahabir posted:


I read an article about this sometime ago.

Much of what is reported here about Indian racism towards Africans in India probably misinterpreted. There are Indians who treat their own relatives and friends in a similar way. For most Indians, the African in India is a novelty.

But there is also a history of Indians who live in Africa being treated in a similar or worst way by Africans in those countries. Idi Amin and Uganda comes to mind. Most of the Indians were driven out from Uganda..

This does not excuse the behavior of the Nigerians who are now residing and studying in India. But they have no moral basis to accuse Indians of racism when their countrymen have practised an extreme form of racism against Indians.

Amin's expulsion of Asians in 1973 was an act of a demented, ignorant leader.  He thought that the cheating Indian business people could have been easily replaced by cheating African business people.  He failed to realize that there is an art to cheating that the Indians had perfected and the Africans couldn't imagine.  Now Vish Mohabir claims that while actions like Amin's cannot be used to justify the treatment of Nigerian students in India he nevertheless asserts that "they have no moral basis to accuse Indians of racism when their countrymen have practised an extreme form of racism against Indians".  Well, Vish, Africa is not a country and Nigeria is not Uganda.  What does the current issue have to do with Amin's expulsion of Asians?  Does the fact that Amin's action was cruel mean that Nigerians cannot complain about discrimination they face in India today?  What kind of warped logic is this?  It must be knuckleheaderism!

Well, in Ghana they pulled down the Mahatma Statue, purely on a racial issue. And that was less than a year ago. People are RACIAL or RACIALIZED. Love they neighbour only going happen when Christ returns. And he must be coming soon because everybody want Marley's "One Love."

@seignet posted:

Well, in Ghana they pulled down the Mahatma Statue, purely on a racial issue. And that was less than a year ago. People are RACIAL or RACIALIZED. Love they neighbour only going happen when Christ returns. And he must be coming soon because everybody want Marley's "One Love."

Yes, university students in Ghana pulled down a statue of Gandhi. I was taken aback by that but then looked closer at why the students acted that way.  It was because they perceived Gandhi to have been prejudiced against Black people.  And, believe it or not, he was.  His fight against injustice in South Africa was Indian centered.  Look at the history of that period and situate Gandhi, a young British trained barrister, trying to assert his place in the social hierarchy.  He quickly realized that being Indian meant he couldn't travel first class but his subsequent agitation was not for all people of colour but just his group.  The more mature freedom fighter he became in India would certainly not have fallen into that trap. 

@sachin_05 posted:

I experienced hatred for just being Indian by blacks in all the Caribbean islands during the early 80’s when I fled Burnham dictatorship. In Tortola where I lived for a while, I remember I respond to ads in the newspaper for apartment and got turned away when I showed up as Indian. My cousin kid top the school as valedictorian but never got the scholarship that goes with it. Government jobs was for belonger only. There were many opportunity in the white owned marine businesses where they hire and promote on merit but Indians were hated even more when they excelled. Guyanese Blacks were migrating there by even larger numbers because it was easier for them but if you check today guess which of Guyana’s migrant group owns the top supermarket, car dealership, machine shops, restaurants, nightclubs etc....coolies! I guess coolie haters - Totaram, Tola, Django would say dem Guyanese coolies marginalize the poor blackman even on a playing field that favor blacks...

You must have been a dum-ass  Indian who went to Tortola with a Burnham chip on you shoulder, to be treated that way.  Where many Indians exceled, some in African business, or Indians allowed to build a high-rise building in Road town, including more than one house. How de rass are so many Indians marrying or renting apartments from blacks in Tortola ?  Or working at marinas repairing boats ?   

If Indians are disliked so much in the BVI, why de hell were they allow a vibrant Mandir to be established at Sea Cow Bay, or blacks join the Indian cricket team.  You must have not been to Guyanese Indian Ruby Roti shop where blacks line up for food every day. Or a Berbician Indian becoming  the security chief for a number of  hotels.

At an Indian funeral, why were there more blacks than Indians in attendance, who were at home drinking rum  and beating their wife ?   

You sound like Ilumb, who left Guyana by calling blacks  the 'scourge of the earth' and a deep hatred that  will continue for the rest of your life. Get over what Burnham did to you, he already dead and gone.

Get your ass in gear and study why Guyanese Indians were first invited to the BVI and what year, when we also first visited and yearly afterwards.       

Last edited by Tola

  This is Racist to the Extreme to decline to over 4 years of garbage.

Chris Columbus was also racist to the Natives, but who cares TODAY.

   Talk about White Cops killing Blacks in the USA, everyday, is that OK? if you live in US that's OK, Uncle Sam watching all Blacks.

@Django posted:

I was in Paris and wasn't bothered by their presence . Tells the mindset of some folks.

Blacks don't see colour difference, it's an achievement to breed with Whites while neglecting their own.

When I first went to Paris in 1983, travelling from England, it was a surprise to me to see so many Africans at the station, nothing to do with mind set.

A surprising find at the source of the Nile is a shrine to Mahatma Gandhi. As per his wishes, on his death in 1948 his ashes were divided up to be scattered in several of the world's great rivers, including the Nile in Uganda. This bronze bust, donated by the Indian government, commemorates the act.

...................................

Until a few years ago, this statue was not vandalized. But some animosity still exist between Africans and Indians in Kampala. Indian money changers treat Indians better than Ugandans. 

@Totaram posted:

Yes, university students in Ghana pulled down a statue of Gandhi. I was taken aback by that but then looked closer at why the students acted that way.  It was because they perceived Gandhi to have been prejudiced against Black people.  And, believe it or not, he was.  His fight against injustice in South Africa was Indian centered.  Look at the history of that period and situate Gandhi, a young British trained barrister, trying to assert his place in the social hierarchy.  He quickly realized that being Indian meant he couldn't travel first class but his subsequent agitation was not for all people of colour but just his group.  The more mature freedom fighter he became in India would certainly not have fallen into that trap.

Mandela was reluctant to having Indians in the ANC, somehow he changed his bias. Just a note in history.

@kp posted:

Blacks don't see colour difference, it's an achievement to breed with Whites while neglecting their own.

When I first went to Paris in 1983, travelling from England, it was a surprise to me to see so many Africans at the station, nothing to do with mind set.

Exposed how much you know about African presence in France .

Last edited by Django