The Role of Religious Procession among the Afro-Indians of the African Cavalry Guards in Hyderabad

 

MIHE Public Lecture Series
Dr David Emmanuel Singh, Research Tutor and PhD Stage Leader at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, UK, delivered a presentation on 26 November 2019, at Markfield Institute of Higher Education, as part of its 2019/2020 Public Lecture Series.

Lecture title:
The Role of Religious Procession among the Afro-Indians of the African Cavalry Guards in Hyderabad’

During the 19th Century the Nizam of Hyderbad invited East Africans to serve in his army as African Cavalry Guards, which was a largely ceremonial role. Subsequently, they were bequeathed land on which to settle, while successive generations continued to reside in the area. The lecture delivered by Dr Singh focused on a particular aspect of this diaspora settlement employing an ethnographic description of an annual sacred performance within the Afro-Indian community of Hyderabad centred on Khwaja Gharib Nawaz, the Persian Sufi mystic who led the Sufi Chistiyyah order.

The annual procession mobilises both the Afro-Indians engaged in the procession and the crowds gathered to enjoy the ambiance, involving drumming, and dancing based on martial movements. This event promotes social harmony and brings disparate sectors of the local communities together. Here, this religious-cultural performance was discussed through the lens of artful resistance rooted within a concept of ‘aestheticized politics’ or ‘sacralised politics.’ This aimed to promote social cohesion, embrace or socialise new ‘members’ and keep ideological challengers away. Evidence suggests that the primary element of tension in AC Guards lay not within the Afro-Indians but operated externally, as they have sought to relate to the factionalised diversity characterising Indian Islam, and the wider political fissures arising from Indian society.

As part of his research Dr Singh spent three years living among the Afro-Indians and witnessed at first hand their valuable efforts to promote cohesion and deepen integration within local communities.

To conclude, Dr Singh deftly responded to a range of pertinent questions from the audience which arose in response to his discursive and valuable discussion.

Dr David Emmanuel Singh delivering lecture at MIHE
Dr David Emmanuel Singh delivering lecture at MIHE