Contesting Genealogies: Hierarchy and Social Mobility among Muslim Occupational Classes in Colonial North India (1870-1940)
Speaker: Soheb Niazi, MWS Delhi
Event date and time: 17 February 2023 from 4 pm – 6 pm
Venue: Durgabai Deshmukh Memorial Lecture Hall, 53 Lodi Estate, New Delhi-110003
Debates on the historiography of Muslims in South Asia, based on the history of elite individuals or institutions, whether religious or political, have tended to designate their life worlds through the binaries of nationalism and separatism. The first quarter of the twentieth century saw the founding of several social and political organisations led by Muslim peshewar (occupational) classes. The peshewar Muslims challenged the genealogical claims of a broad class of sayyid and ashrāf (elite) Muslims, engaging them in a public polemical debate that captured the imagination of the Urdu public sphere in the early decades of the twentieth century. Drawing on a rich archival repository of previously unexamined Urdu sources such as qaumī tārīkhs (community histories), local newspaper reports and polemical pamphlets, as well as on the conceptual frameworks of sociologists and anthropologists of caste and stratification among Muslims in South Asia, this presentation argues for a conception of Muslim society that is diverse, fractured and heterogenous.
The presentation will focus on the multiple strategies deployed by Muslim occupational classes who experienced social or upward mobility and in doing so, problematize the understanding of the process of ashrafisation, a phenomenon regarded as akin to the Hindu equivalent of Sanskritsation. The peshawar Muslim classes claimed Arabic descent, a Quraish lineage, the status of Shaikh Muslim, or privileged masāwāt (equality) and peshā (occupation) over nasb (lineage) to critique and contest the stigmatisation of their communitarian identity. The research documents and develops the political histories of organizations led by social actors representing the qassābs (butchers and hide merchants) from Amroha (United Provinces), the mīrāsīs (genealogists and musicians) from Sialkot (Lahore), and the julāhās (weavers) from Bihar.