Sana Aiyar, Trade and Politics in a Diasporic Milieu: Colonial Kenya's South Asians

Aiyar, Sana 2012-02-16


This div will be replaced by the JW Player.


Interview Participants
SA
Sana Aiyar, lecturer (female)
KM
Kris K. Manjapra, host (male)
KM
My name is Kris Manjapra. I am an Assistant Professor here in the History Department and this semester as Professor Jalal is away, I am chairing the lecture series. It gives me great pleasure to introduce Sana Aiyar to you. She teaches as an Assistant Professor at the University of Wiskonsin Madison. This is her second year there. Before that she was a fellow at John’s Hopkins University.
KM
Professor Aiyar is a specialist in the study of the Indian Ocean, the study of diaspora in the Indian Ocean, and in particular she is now preparing a large scale work on the political history of the Indian Diaspora in colonial Kenya between 1910 and 1968. She has a number of important articles in the American Historical Review and the Journal of the International African International Institute and other journals and without any further ado I’ll turn it over to Professor Aiyar. It's very good to have you back in our vicinity and I want to perhaps also mention that we are recording this event.
KM
It will be eventually deposited in our lecture library so for everyone in the audience if you could please turn off your cell phones and then also for the question and answer period when we get there, if you could also identify yourself for our recording. All right so let me now turn it over to you.
SA
Thank you Kris. Thank you everyone for coming here this evening I know that there’s some stiff competition with other speakers in the area so I really appreciate the turn out and I also wanted to thank the Tufts Centre for South Asia and Indian Ocean studies for making this visit possible and I am very delighted to be able to come here and share with all of you some of my work which fits into the lecture series:
SA
Islam in the Indian Ocean rim. My research is on the political history of the south Asian diaspora in Kenya from about 1910 to 1968. The circulation of people and ideas across the Indian Ocean produced innovative constructions of political and national identities amongst diasporic Indians who were never truly separate from their homeland in colonial India, yet paradoxically never wanted to permanently return to it. Their story has been marginalized in histories of colonialism and nationalism in Kenya and South Asia due to an overwhelming focus on the territorial and racial boundaries of these colonies that became independent nation-states in 1947 and 1963.
SA
As a corrective, my research broadens the contours of colonial and national history to accommodate the experience of diasporic South Asians from whose perspective the neat historiographical separation of India and Kenya does not adequately reflect the reality of the transcolonial and eventually transnational economic and political mileu within which they operated. Towards this end, in my work, I use the Indian Ocean as my main unit of spatial analysis.
SA
As Britain’s second empire expanded from India to Africa in the mid-19th century, people, goods, and ideas crossed the Indian Ocean, creating a shared history of colonial rule across this region. You'll see here also that this is a map of the Indian Ocean. It’s a map that predates colonial rule, showing the dhow routes that went across the Indian Ocean, most of this were trade, you know, most of these people traversing the Indian Ocean were traders from the western coast of India who went across the Arabian Sea down the east coast of Africa and up through the Western coast of India.
SA
Recently works on the Indian Ocean during the colonial period have tended to make three arguments in their analysis of the Indian Ocean. One, looking at the importance of Britain’s sort of jewel in the crown India, historians have argued that the ideas of governance and actual sort of administrative sort of manpower went from India across the ocean to colonies across the Indian Ocean, creating a western sort of sphere of British-Indian influence in the Western Ocean region. Others have looked at port cities and have argued that there has been a diasporic public sphere that emerged in these port cities where cosmopolitan spaces of social, political, and cultural interaction emerged
SA
and both these, sort of historians argue, that these multicultural sort of spaces came to an end with the sort of rise of anticolonial nationalism because of ideas of territorial sovereignty that closed of this sort of Indian Ocean realm. And a third set of historians have argued that the Indian Ocean did continue to be quite important for expatriates patriots from India whose ideas sort of transported across the Indian Ocean. Building on these interventions I argue that the Indian Ocean continued to be a very important space till well into the 20th century but I make sort of two slight sort of interventions.
SA
I say that, with colonial rule political and economic changes occurred that shifted the nature of the settlement of Indian Ocean traders from port cities further inland into much more stable and sort of stable and permanent settlements and that the rise of anticolonial nationalism in India and Kenya changed the context within which political affiliations and claim-making was based. So the Indian Ocean continued to be an important realm of interaction of economic, social, and political interaction but I think it’s important to pay attention to the specific context of these interactions.
SA
Between 1910 and 1968 there was a 15 fold increase in the populations of Indians in Kenya. Although the majority of these Indians were small and large scale traders, this was not a homogenous diaspora. By the 1930’s, the South Asian population in East Africa included Gujrati and Punjabi Hindus, Muslims, and Shikhs employed in a variety of different occupations, including internal and external trade, skilled and semi-skilled labour, and government services. These different economic, regional, and religious affiliations resulted in changing and often competing political articulations amongst colonial Kenya South Asians, one of which I explore in today’s talk, Muslim loyalism towards the colonial stage.
SA
In doing so, I analyse the political and economic context mediated by Muslims in the first 4 decades of the 20th century as they negotiated changes taking place across the Indian Ocean that resulted in their vocal support of the imperial project. I argue that although this loyalism can be traced from the 1900’s to the 1940’s, what it meant to be loyal and why loyalism was an attractive option changed over these four decades. Rather than treat loyalism as an unchanging political affiliation, I highlight the deeply contested political postures adopted by Muslim merchants and professionals that resulted from two interrelated concerns:
SA
economic and political events taking place in Kenya and India and the demographic shifts within the South Asian diasporic mileu as they went from being a majority wielding economic and political power at the turn of the 20th century to being a minority who distanced themselves from anticolonial politics in Kenya to protect and preserve their communitarian identity.
SA
Traders and merchants from the Indian subcontinent have been trading along the Swahili coast for centuries before Kenya came under British rule in 1895. They established close relationships with the political elite in Zanzibar, especially after 1698 when the island came under the control under the Sultan of Oman.
SA
These traders played an instrumental role in facilitating colonial rule in east Africa, a role acknowledged by Sir John Kirk Britain’s vice counsellor in Zanzibar who commented in 1866, “But for the Indians, we British would not be here now.” Two decades later, the imperial British East Africa Company assumed administrative control over large regions acquired from the Sultan and began to expand Britain’s sphere of influence inland with the aid of energetic Indian traders and you see here a photograph of such energetic traders, of course taken you know in the 1920’s. In 1887 the census records about 6800 Indian traders trading along the Swahili coast.
SA
Amongst them were Alidina Visram and Suleiman Virji, Ismaili Khojas from Gujrat and Ali Bhai Mullah Jibanji a Bhora Sia from Karachi in Sind and if you just sort of pay attention to the map, you will see that the Jibanji, Visram and Virji were very much part of that pre-colonial Indian Ocean trade across the Arabian sea. Ali Bhai Jibanji was a trader who took advantage of the expansion of the British Empire in the late 19th century. He went to South Australia in 1886 to hawk Indian textiles and spices and arrived in Mombasa in 1890, where he established a branch of his Karachi based firm.
SA
Jibanji supplied Indian labour to the East African Company for work on infrastructural projects in Mombasa on a contractual basis and provided rations for Indian and African workers. Alidina Visram had arrived in Zanzibar in 1877 as a 15 year old boy looking to make a small fortune. He became an apprentice to Seva Haji, a trader from Kutch who set up a large trading port in Bogamoyo in the East African mainland across the island of Zanzibar. By 1896 he had emerged as a successful Indian merchant in Mombasa with a business partner in Bombay. Suleiman Virgi on the other hand had set up shops in the Swahili coast in Mombasa and Zanzibar in the 1880’s, selling hardware to Arabs and Africans.
SA
Unlike Virji who initially remained on the coast, in 1894 Visram turned his attention inland to Uganda where he believed cotton of the finest quality could be grown. As he ventured inland, he found an abundance of crops and African produce including hides, ground nuts, chillies, and simsim with no regular buyers for them. Therefore Visram set up shops across East Africa to trade in these products. Visram hadn’t been the only person to notice the trading opportunities in the hinderland. As Britain expanded her sphere of influence through military conquest in the 1880’s to bring Christianity, civilization, and commerce to East Africa
SA
Sir Frederick Lugard, a member of the British East Africa Company, suggested building railways from Mombassa to Lake Victoria to enable African produce to enter the global market. And the image there on the right is a poster of the Uganda railways where you will notice, you know, the built up area is the old, you know, the pre-colonial trading port of Mombassa and then the railways are step by step through nature’s zoo are sort of built, it really did expand the colonial sort of state inland to sort of Nairobi and eventually to Lake Victoria.
SA
Because of the military wars that had taken place in the 1880’s, the African population in this region had moved inland and so Frederick Lugard had to find labour on the railways to build the railways and he suggested that 30,000 Punjabis be imported from India to work as indentured labourers on the railways and they came across in, about 10,000 of them ended up staying back after the end of their contracts to offer themselves as semi-skilled sort of artisans in other infrastructural projects. Jivanji with his Karachi and Mombasa firms produced, procured construction supplies for the railway line, as well as rations for these as indentured labourers.
SA
He made a small fortune as a contractor, ship-builder, and general merchant, quickly earning a reputation of being a hustler.
SA
While the pre-colonial Indian Oceaner networks of these entrenched Muslim merchants had made them indispensible to the early development of the colonial state by facilitating internal and external trade, these entrepreneurs took advantage of the new opportunities opened up by the consolidation of colonial rule as they expanded their business into the hinterland, an expansion made possible by the East African railways.
SA
Adamji Alibhai had opened the first shop in the interior in Machakos in 1892 and Machakos on the map is just below Nairobi. Following suit as the railway expanded, Visram and Virji set up shops along the line trading in everyday goods, ivory, and currency. While Mombasa remained an important port for export and import, from 1902 onwards Nairobi emerged as a new trade centre with a population of just 5000 that rapidly increased to 16,000 in 1910. Jivanji and Visram bought land in Nairobi and set up an Indian bazaar where retail and wholesale merchants such as Virji opened shops.
SA
With the proliferation of Indian dukas, as they were called, along the railway line the Indian rupee that had been the medium of external trade began to circulate in the internal bazaar economy. This immediately linked internal Kenyan trade with the Indian Ocean economy, putting Indian merchants, big and small, at a distinct advantage. For example, Visram set up sawmills in ginneries to tap into the global trade and prized Uganda cotton. Having made a handsome profit from the shop in ginneries, he became a money lender to Europeans and Indians alike.
SA
As the British became the new political elite in East Africa, Muslim merchants maintained their economic position as intermediaries both between the emerging colonial state and the global market, by exploiting their pre-colonial Indian Ocean networks and also in internal trade that linked local African produce with the new colonial economy. As is evident, the colonial state relied heavily on Muslim networks, capital, and entrepreneurship to expand and consolidate its economic position.
SA
So much so that British officials considered these intermediary capitalists partners in the imperial project, transforming the economic monopoly into a political advantage. Indeed in his capacity under Secretary of State, Winston Churchill announced that the Indian traders had quote, “More than anyone else, developed the beginnings of trade by penetrating where no white man would go.” By 1905 Visram had emerged as such an important figure that the Aga Khan on a visit to the protectorate appointed him Waris, head of the Ismaili community in East Africa. In 1909 Jivanji was nominated to the legislative council of Kenya, on Churchill’s recommendation as a reward for his pioneering work in developing the protectorate.
SA
Muslim merchants from the western coast of India were not, however, the only partners in the colonial administration. In 1901, Sir Charles Eliot, Britain’s commissioner to East Africa identified an uninhabited region of about 12,000 square miles of fertile land that laid in elevation of 6 to 12,000 feet. These highlands which you will see there on the map just north of Nairobi had been the ancestral land of the Kikuyu who had moved inland during the military campaigns of the late 19th century.
SA
Eliot concluded that the highlands could be made a white man’s country, similar to the settler societies of Australia. He began to encourage the migration of Europeans from Britain and South Africa to Kenya as agricultural settlers. And the second poster that I have of the East Africa railways advertises the highlands as, you know, the winter home for British and European aristocrats. In the absence of cheap labour, however, European farmers were unable to turn a profit. Unlike the Indian traders who had amassed great wealth in the initial phase of colonization by aligning themselves ideologically and physically with the imperial project
SA
and this sort of last image on this slide is of sort of shoemakers and a shoe shop in the Nairobi bazaar and this sort of really shows that these traders, while they had been part of the Swaheli coast Indian Ocean trade, you know, in the pre-colonial period, they really took advantage and physically moved inland as colonial rule expanded and set up shop in Nairobi. The economic success of Indian settlers made them indispensible to the colonial administration that encouraged Indian immigration, a policy resented by the Europeans.
SA
Fearing that their prized highlands would be bought by rich Indian merchants, from as early as 1904, Europeans began to demand that Kenya be treated as a white man’s country by excluding the Indians from the highlands and restricting their immigration into the new protectorate. Unable to make an economic argument about their own ability to develop commerce and trade, these settlers used the racial rhetoric of the civilizing mission of Europeans in Africa to pit Eastern civilization against Western civilization, pointing to the racial differences and the Indians’ bad hygiene. As the colonial state expanded in Kenya, Europeans were recruited as officials and administrators.
SA
This gave them the opportunity to pass legislation that effectively prevented Indians from buying lands in highlands. Moreover following several outbreaks of the plague in Nairobi, in 1910 European officials announced plans to demolish the Nairobi bazaar, claiming that the plague had started there due to unsanitary conditions in the area. Camouflaged in this talk of public health was the desire to break the commercial monopoly of Muslim merchants. At the same time, they established a European trading centre in Nairobi from where South Asians were banned.
SA
As their business interests were being encroached upon, Jivanji and Visram who owned the Nairobi market and other merchants organized themselves politically, establishing the East African Indian National Congress in 1914, modelled loosely on the Indian National Congress in India. They particularly objected to the reservation of the highlands for the Europeans as creating a distinction amongst imperial citizens on the basis of race and the attempts at enforcing racial segregation in commercial areas.
SA
The political stand of this first generation of activists, who transitioned from being traders to political leaders, was based on a threefold articulation of diasporic subjectivity that made it possible for Jivanji’s president of the Congress to demand economic and political rights on the basis of three distinct affiliations. First as the sub imperialists in Kenya, he stated, quote, “We advance our claims as first makers of East Africa that we have adopted as our country and made our home”. Jivanji emphasized his demand for equality with his fellow citizens, the white settlers, uncritically internalizing the white man’s burden as one that was shared by all imperial citizens including Indians but of course at this point excluding Africans.
SA
Highlighting the Indian's pioneer work in converting the hopeless desert into a fertile field, Jivanji emphasized the Muslim merchant’s role in, quote, “Lifting the land and inhabitants of Africa out of their savage state.” Second as a proud and loyal subject of the British Empire, Jivanji reminded the colonial administration in London that his politics was anti-settler, not anticolonial. “We are proudly announced of being citizens of an Empire over which the sun never sets.”
SA
Alidina’s son, Abul Rasul, in his opening remarks at this meeting pointed to the vested interests of Indian business in Kenya that ran into huge sums of money. He too was careful to state that the disabilities faced by Indians had only recently been imposed by European farmers and it was with them rather than the colonial administration that the Congress had a problem. Finally, exploiting the position of India as the jewel in the crown, Jivanji suggested that if Kenya were be placed under the control of the colonial Indian government rather than the local Kenyan administration, it would become a second India and be more beneficial to Great Britain and here of course he was alluding to the economic troubles of the European settlers.
SA
By linking the local economic situation in Kenya with Britain’s prized colony across the Indian Ocean, Jivanji alluded to the extraterritorial affiliations of Muslim merchants in East Africa who had not only found an ally in Churchill in 1906 but also other Indian political organizations. As the only Indian member of the legislative council, Jivanji protested against the encroachment upon Indian economic rights in East Africa on a visit to London. Although he did not explicitly reach out to it, the London branch of the All India Muslim League took up Jivanji’s grievances since Muslims consisted of more than half of the Indian population in Kenya at this time.
SA
The secretary of the League sent a formal letter of protest to the colonial secretary, criticizing the exclusion of Indian traders from the highlands and the threatened demolition of the Indian bazaar in Nairobi. Like Jivanji and Visram he also pointed to the invaluable work of Muslim traders in developing the protectorate. The East African Indian National Congress represented the trading interests of Muslim merchants who positioned themselves as sub-imperialists with an equal investment in the imperial project as the European counterparts.
SA
Although their religious and regional identity have facilitated their entry into the pre-colonial Indian Ocean network, citizenship of the empire gave Jivanji and Visram access not only to opportunities within the protectorate but also to an extraterritorial diasporic milieu that brought them into a transnational Muslim political realm, as was evident in London. Between 1901 and 1919, the colonial state remained committed to using its loyal Indian and European subjects to the service of developing their new possession despite their emergence as rival sub-imperialists. Loyalism did not, however, make Europeans and Indians equal partners in the imperial project.
SA
Unable to turn a profit either on their farms, because of the absence of cheap labour, or compete with Muslim traders, because of their entrenched economic networks and expertise across the Indian Ocean, European turned to their allies in the colonial administration to thwart the further growth of Indian merchants.
SA
During the First World War, the Europeans had become a powerful lobby in Kenya as their numbers increased to about 9,000. They succeeded in changing the currency from the rupee to the East African shilling in an attempt to undermine the Indian Ocean trading network with which they could not compete.
SA
In August 1918, the European dominated municipal council in Mombasa prevented Indians from making a bid to buy 21 plots in the city that had come up for auction. The resentment amongst Indians that had thus far been focused on the highlands and the Nairobi market now came to include the coastal belt in Mombasa where Indians had lived for centuries. As the European farmers enacted land, public health, and economic legislation detrimental to them, Indian associations in Mombasa and Nairobi began to petition the colonial office to intervene, to remove these, quote, “humiliating conditions and save the community from plunging into active agitation.”
SA
After their death, Alidina and Sulieman Virji’s sons Abdul Rasul and Husain Bhai Virji emerged as leaders of the next generation in the public political realm joined by new arrivals in the colony who did not belong to the rich Muslim merchant class. These included Gujarati Hindu Manilal Desai who was a legal clerk and Shamsuddin, a Kashmiri Muslim from Punjab who arrived in Kenya around the turn of the century to work in the railway services. These new members of the Congress marked the beginning of its transition from being an organization that represented the trading interests of Muslim merchants to one more representative of the changing demographics of the diasporic community.
SA
However, in 1919, as you see here on this slide, the new leaders of the Congress made the same appeals of the colonial office as Jivanji and Visram had to remove racial segregations to land ownership and segregation in commercial areas. In 1920, the colonial office did intervene. The Secretary of State, Lord Milner announced that because of racial differences between Indians and Europeans social convenience necessitated the exclusion of Indians from the highlands. May 1920 marked a turning point for Jivanji, Virji, Abul Rasul and others who had begun to realise the limits of imperial citizenship as the colonial state appeared to distinguish between its subjects along racial lines despite the sub-imperialist proclamations of Muslim merchants.
SA
Disappointed with the colonial office the Congress began to look elsewhere for support. In doing so, the leaders didn’t have to look too far. The undeniable racial discrimination embedded in Milner’s policy alienated not only Jivanji and Virji but also loyalists such as the Aga Khan who took a particular interest in the situation in East Africa because of his Ismaili followers who lived there. The Aga Khan warned that racialism in Kenya would, quote, “seriously jeopardise the post-war improvement amongst Muslims across the Empire.”
SA
In particular he juxtaposed the sobriety of Ismailis, who had stood aloof from political unrest, to the aggression of European settlers with regard to the highlands and currency. The need to reward the loyalty of Indian Muslims was further emphasized by Desai and Shamsuddin who pointed out, quote, “it must not be forgotten that in East Africa and other eastern campaigns in Mesopotamia and Palestine, the loyalty of his majesty’s Indian Musliman troops, who were mostly Sunni by religion, was put to a very severe strain because they have to fight their own fellow Muslimans and their own Khalifa.”
SA
And here when they are talking about the eastern campaign they of course are talking about the defeat of the Germans in Tanganyika.
SA
Indian Muslims in Kenya were not the only ones disappointed with the lack of rewards coming their way in return for their war time loyalism. During this time the anticolonial critique that had developed across the ocean in Indian had resulted in the rise of the Khilafat Non-cooperation Movement under Gandhi’s leadership. Having established himself as a formidable challenge to colonial rule within a similar diasporic setting in South Africa, Gandhi had returned to India a mahatma, exemplifying the significance of the circulation of ideas and colonial subjectivity across the Indian Ocean.
SA
The transnational dimensions of Gandhi’s South African and Khilafat agitations brought the plight of Muslims in East Africa within the legitimate orbit of anticolonial agitation in India. Members of the National Congress in India criticized Milner’s decision that restricted the activities of Indian imperial citizens purely on the basis of their race. Jivanji, Shamsuddin and Desai use this extraterritorial interest to argue that it would be a mistake for the imperial authorities to treat their grievances as a purely local concern
SA
and Shamsuddin and Abul Rasul during this time were deputed to go to India, meet with the leaders of the Khilafat Non-cooperation Movement, and represent the grievances of the East African Muslims and East African Indians more generally to nationalists in India.
SA
In an ironic twist of imperial sensibilities as the Khilafat Movement gained momentum, the Secretary of State for India Edwin Montagu and the Indian Viceroy Lord Chelmsford announced that the colonial government of India would not tolerate racial discrimination against Indians in East Africa.
SA
They publicly objected to Milner’s segregationist highlands policy and tried to have it reversed by the new Secretary of State Winston Churchill. Churchill, the post-war statesman entrusted with the task of keeping the empire together, was a far cry from Churchill the Undersecretary of State for Colonies who had only a decade earlier remarked that it was impossible for a government with any scrap of respect for honest dealings to discriminate against Indians in Kenya. Refusing to buckle under the pressure of the India office in London, Churchill emphatically stated that he would not break up East Africa for the sake of Gandhi, the half-naked fakir whose Satyagraha in South Africa had won him Churchill’s lifelong enmity.
SA
Ignoring their repeated claims to loyalty, Churchill, the governor of Kenya Edward Northey, and the European settlers all argued that the Muslim agitation in Kenya was simply a Gandhian conspiracy to overthrow the Empire.
SA
While Indians in Kenya certainly exploited the nationalist uprising taking place in India, they maintained a distance from it and never indicated their support for the specific political and territorial aims of the Non-cooperation Movement, whose tenor was decisively nationalist. They were careful to emphasize the specific nature of the predilections of Indians in Kenya who were concerned with local issues of racial and political parity with the Europeans.
SA
And here of course these Indians continued to see themselves as equal to the Europeans, not to the Africans. Astutely identifying this subtle but significant difference between the political ambitions of Indians in Kenya and India, Montagu and Chelmsford put pressure on Churchill and Northey to appease the moderate demands of loyalist Muslim merchants as a way to prevent the Nationalist Movement in India from becoming truly transnational. Although unwilling to restrict Indians from Kenya entirely as the European settlers had hoped, Churchill and Northey stood firm on the segregation of the highlands especially as Europeans threatened a coup if Indians were allowed access to their lands.
SA
With nationalists in India positioning themselves to overthrow the British Raj and taking up the cause of Indian sub-imperialists in Kenya, Muslim traders in East Africa exploiting the nationalist upsurge in India, even though their own aspirations were not anticolonial and the India office under direction from Montagu and Chelmsford supporting Indians against Europeans, the colonial office reached an impasse. In 1923, the Duke of Devonshire, newly appointed Secretary of State for Colonies, published a white paper ending the almost decade long agitation, announcing that the highlands would be reserved permanently for the Europeans but he gave Indians political representation on the Kenyan legislative council.
SA
For loyalist Indians, imperial citizenship seemed to take away more than it had offered as Devonshire legitimized the racial considerations that had motivated European policy against them. As Manilal Desai stated, quote “If those governing the Empire are following a policy refusing to recognize the rights of their people because of the colour of their skin, we are afraid the British Empire will prove to be a failure. Either the British must admit the equality of all its different people or it must abandon its attempt to rule a mixture of races. There can be no half way.” Desai’s statement marked a change in the political posture adopted by the Indian diaspora in Kenya.
SA
The transition amongst Congress leaders, from highlighting their sub-imperialist contributions to realizing the colonial subjectivity of their racial identity, coincided with the arrival of a new generation of Indians, changing the political, social, and economic milieu of diasporic politics.
SA
Between 1921 and 1931, the number of Indian residents in Kenya increased from about 26,000 to 42,000 and further doubled by 1948 to about 98,000. Muslims, who had been a numerical majority in the first two decades of the 20th century, became a minority in the 30’s and 40's.
SA
The majority were Hindus from Gujarat and Punjab who emerged as the petty bourgeoisie in Kenya, setting up dukas across the colony while the third, primarily Sikhs from Punjab, served as skilled and semi-skilled workers. The changing regional, religious, and occupational composition of Indian migrants was reflected in competing diasporic political articulations that underscored a deep engagement with changes taking place in India and in Kenya.
SA
The depression of the interwar period created economic and political convulsions that resulted in an anticolonial critique amongst Indians and Africans. In 1947, India gained independence, at the same time as nationalists in Kenya gathered mass support against the colonial state.
SA
Moreover, a new nation-state for Indian Muslims, Pakistan, emerged, whose creation was accompanied by large scale violence, unprecedented in the sub-continent, especially in Punjab. These tumultuous events resonated within the diasporic political sphere because of the continuing circulation of people and ideas across the Indian Ocean in the 1930’s and 40’s. The demographic changes within the diasporic milieu and the emergent nationalist movements across the Indian Ocean opened up new possibilities of interracial and transnational alliances of anticolonialism and loyalism.
SA
These opportunities caused fissures within the colonial Kenya South Asians that reflected the different political concerns, solidarities, and diasporic musings of a community negotiating its understanding of and relationship with a changing homeland and host-land. The experience of being colonized subjects in Kenya, where the administrative structure was set up unapologetically in favour of European settlers, became the foundation for anticolonial political collaborations across racial lines. Desai’s critique of the racial underpinnings of empire and the arrival of new immigrants from India who had witnessed and participated in mass anticolonial movements of civil disobedience, opened up the space for the East Africa Congress to express solidarity and eventually ally with Africans.
SA
Although they did not go unchallenged, emergent Kenyan nationalists of Indian and African descent came together as non-Europeans with similar aspirations to equality and freedom that rejected racial discrimination and eventually colonial rule. This interracial anticolonial public realm emerged in Nairobi where Indians constituted about 35% of the population. And I just wanted to talk to you about one of the most successful of these interracial collaborations that took place amongst workers of Indian and African descent. In the 1930’s Makhan Singh who had been a part of the Punjabi Sikh immigration, whose father had worked on the railways, successfully organized Indian workers into a trade union
SA
and managed to lobby successfully to get better working conditions, higher wages, and sort of shorter working hours for Indians Sikhs, for sort of Indian workers. And he – if you sort of look at the very first poster there, you will notice that the languages in which his meetings were being publicized were English, Punjabi, Urdu, and Guajarati, and this really sort of highlights the diversity of the diasporic community in Kenya by the 1930’s. And the second poster which is basically a translation of this announcement is in Gikuyu in Kiswahili because he was very keen to make sure that the trade union movement was an interracial one and you know here he is sort of supporting the speeches that are going to be made to support 6,000 African workers who went on strike in Mombasa.
SA
And this sort of the trade union movement had been so successful in its interracial collaboration that Makhan Singh went to India where he again, you know, in 1942, where he got involved in sort of trade union movements over there. He was arrested, sent into exile for five years. He was released at independence. He came back to Kenya and in Kenya the colonial government was so worried that he was going to, you know, sort of, you know, sort of antagonize Africans again, that they arrested him, threw him into exile for 11 and half years and he was only released about a year before Kenyan independence.
SA
Indian Independence in 1947 served as an inspiration to Indians and Africans in Kenya who celebrated the event at mass meetings organized by the Congress and the Kenya African Union which emerged after the Second World War as the main Kikuyu Nationalist political party. This embrace of anticolonial politics in Kenya was criticized by some Africans who were sceptical about the participation of Asians, as South Asian Indians were called in Kenya at the time, in their independence movement but also by Gujarati and Punjabi, Ismailis and Ahmadiyyas who had not joined the Congress.
SA
These Muslims had limited their public activities to communitarian associations as their sectarian leaders including the Aga Khan had urged their followers to remain loyal to the colonial government in both Kenya and India. In 1931, a Muslim association in Nairobi, the Anjuman-e-Islamia sent a memorandum to the Kenyan governor in an unsuccessful attempt to disassociate the Muslims from the Congress. The organization had been in existence for about 30 years but this was its first political engagement. Its president Mia Allah Bakhsh was a Punjabi Muslim who had risen to prominence in the 1920’s as a chief railway clerk and was the chairman of a Nairobi mosque fundraising committee.
SA
In 1931 he announced that the Congress did not represent Indian Muslims who formed, he calculated inaccurately at the time, 43% of the Indian population. He claimed that the tyranny of the Hindus within the Congress had led to the exploitation of, quote, “inarticulate Muslims” and asked for his community to be put on a separate electoral role. The governor ignored Bakhsh’s demands since several Muslims including Shamsuddin who I had mentioned earlier were elected members of the legislative and municipal councils.
SA
And that is sort of a photograph of the mosque that was built in the 1930’s. Bakhsh had been very successful in raising money amongst Punjabi Muslims for this mosque and it was opened by the Aga Khan in 1933. It sort of remains in Nairobi as a huge, as sort of one of the more prominent sites. Although Bakhsh used his organization’s communitarian identity to distance himself from the Congress, he was motivated less by spiritual concerns than by political expediency. Just as it had been the case in India, the Muslim separatist concerns were less to do with their religion as it was practised as a faith and more to do with religion as a signifier of political identity.
SA
While he tried to present them as a unified group, far from being a singular category, Indian Muslims in Kenya in 1930’s were divided by class, region, and sectarian beliefs. And you see some of the sort of sectarian divisions that the census of 1931 noted and I will show you in a few slides further divisions, you know, in the 1940’s. They included large scale merchants, small shopkeepers, and low ranking civil servants whose political tenure differed according to their regional affiliation and employment status. Bakhsh died shortly thereafter but within a decade, political changes in India and demographic changes amongst Indians in Kenya created a conjunction in the late 1940’s that brought Muslims of different political persuasion together.
SA
First, support for Pakistan that had emerged as a new homeland for Punjabi Muslims alienated them from the Congress that supported only Indian independence. Second, due to increased immigration amongst Hindus in the 1930’s, Muslims became a numerical minority within the racial diasporic minority. They began to fear that their communitarian interests would be submerged within the Hindu dominated Congress. Third, Muslim loyalists distanced themselves from the anticolonial stance of the Congress in Nairobi when interracial nationalist fear had emerged amongst Indians and Africans.
SA
As I had mentioned earlier, India’s anticolonial national movement had crossed the Indian Ocean and voiced itself on the streets of Nairobi in the 1940’s through anticolonial slogans such as “Long Live Gandhi,” “Jai Hind,” and “Freedom is our Birth Right,” at public meetings and rallies organized by Hindu and Muslim leaders at the East Africa Congress. Support amongst expatriate patriots for Indian independence was accompanied by public criticism of Jinnah and his movement for Pakistan. This led to the alienation of Punjabi Muslims who perceived Jinnah to be their sole spokesman, much in the same way as Hindus had appropriated Gandhi as their leader.
SA
Although Gujrati Muslims remained unaffected by the creation of Pakistan, those from Punjab who amounted to about a third of the Muslim Indian population in Kenya resented the Congress’s criticism of Jinnah since their families were now in Pakistan. And although Bakhsh had died by 1947, I think it’s not a coincidence that his homeland, his you know, where he came from was Gujranwala, you know, which ended up, the district sort of ended up being on the side of Pakistan at partition and Gujranwala really sort of witnessed some of the worst communal violence during partition. It’s also actually ironic that Makhan Singh who remains sort of within the Congress was also from the same district, though I haven’t found any evidence that they actually ever met and had a political debate.
SA
Such regional differences between Muslims came into play not only with regard to their homeland but also the host land. Although Nairobi had been the hot bed of anticolonial politics in the 1940’s, Mombasa remained relevantly isolated from the interracial radical political sphere. Indian workers who had allied with Africans lived primarily in Nairobi, while Indians in Mombasa did not confront the racialism of European settlers who were concentrated in the highlands and Nairobi, the new colonial capital.
SA
Within Mombasa, Muslim traders and professionals had remained in a slight numerical majority amongst the Indian diaspora and they came into providence – to prominence during this period because of their vocal support for Pakistan. For example, Mohammad Ali Rana was a Punjabi Muslim doctor, who in 1936 became a city councillor in Mombasa. He established a Muslim Association of Mombassa and emerged as a community leader who was awarded an MBE in 1944 for his services during the war. A year later, he was elected to the legislative council. Rana was simultaneously the President of the Muslim Mombasa Association and a member of the Indian Congress but in the late 1940’s he took the lead in criticizing the Congress for its uncritical support of India and its implicit condemnation of Jinnah.
SA
In 1946, his association in Mombasa organized meetings to celebrate Jinnah’s birthday and raised funds in support of Pakistan.
SA
At these mass meetings however speakers focused on local issues. They called for the political reorganization of Muslims in Kenya to avoid Hindu domination. When the Congress celebrated National Day in Nairobi in September 1946 to commemorate Nehru’s interim government, the majority of Muslims instead held a day of grief to be passed in silence in Mombasa. Subsequently, Rana resigned from the Congress with several hundreds of other Punjabi Muslims following him, on the grounds that the Congress had provoked them with public celebrations and demonstrations of Indian independence.
SA
These resignations gave the Anjuman-e -Islamia under a new President Allah Ditta Qureshi the perfect opportunity to present itself as a legitimate political alternative for Muslims to the Congress. Qureshi was a Punjabi Ahmadiyya who had been a government school teacher and in the 1930’s, he had been a part of that Nairobi mass fundraising committee that Bakhsh had been part of. In 1943 he renamed the organization the Central Muslim Association or the CMA and became an alderman in Nairobi in 1946. He used his new position to resurrect Bakhsh’s old demand for a separate Muslim seat in the legislative council, especially as the association now appeared to have mass support amongst Muslims.
SA
Perhaps most telling of the fractures that emerged amongst Hindus and Muslims at this time was the endorsement given to the CMA by Shamsuddin who in 1931 had dismissed Bakhsh’s demands but by 1946 became convinced that the interests of Hindus and Muslims were indeed different. As a prominent Indian leader from 1919 onwards, Shamsuddin had simultaneously participated in the political activities of the Congress and the communitarian activities of the CMA. And he also had been part of this mosque, the Nairobi mosque fundraising committee and had very much been at the forefront of setting up educational institutions for Muslim boys and girls.
SA
During this time, Shamsuddin had tried to get Hindu members of the legislative council to put up a united front with him to get the state to recognize Muslim religious marriages. The Hindus refused to, fearing that such a move would result in colonial interferences in all other aspects of Hindu religious practices, forcing Shamsuddin to present himself as a Muslim rather than an Indian representative. He therefore came round to the view that the CMA’s demand for separate political representation for Muslims in the legislative council was not just legitimate but necessary to preserve his community’s self-interests.
SA
And during this time, he set up an organization called the Fauj-ul-musalman where he wanted to train young Muslim boys who devoted their life to Allah so, you know, this really I think signifies this interest in protecting and preserving communitarian identity but again you know he was quite old by this point and he died soon after and after his death you know this organizations seems to have disappeared.
SA
Much as the communitarian focus of Shamsuddin’s activities and the fear of Hindu domination by Qureshi came from the demographic change in Indian immigration into Kenya.
SA
Between 1930 and 1950, Muslims had showed the lowest population growth of all communities. While the number of Hindus and Sikhs in the colony had increased by about two and half times, the Muslim population had not even quite doubled. Khoja and Bhora merchants such as Jivanji and Visram had pioneered Indian settlement in East Africa and had been at the head of economic and political negotiations with the colonial state in the first two decades of the 20th century. With the immigration of Hindus and Sikhs in much larger numbers than Muslims and their alliances with African nationalists in Nairobi,
SA
Muslim pioneers were pushed onto the margins of radical diasporic politics. Although it was support for Pakistan that triggered Rana’s resignation from the Congress, the increase in the number of Hindus residing in the colony created fear amongst other leaders with different political aspirations such as Shamsuddin and Qureshi of the numerical submersion of their community. Significantly, politically vocal Gujrati Muslim lawyers and journalists remained within the Congress and opposed the CMA’s demands for separate electorates.
SA
However, rather than highlighting their communitarian identity as Shamsuddin and Qureshi did as Muslim politicians, these Gujarati Muslim lawyers and journalists did so, positioned themselves as racially identified Indians whose political affiliation lay with the anticolonial nationalist tenure of the Congress and the KAU.
SA
Historians have assumed that the political divide between the Hindus and Muslims in Kenya emerged due to the events taking place in their homeland that was divided into Pakistan and India. Support for Pakistan had certainly heightened diasporic communitarian identity amongst Muslims of all political leanings.
SA
But the CMA’s politics was not entirely derivative of Jinnah’s movement. While expressions of Indian nationalism amongst Hindus in Kenya alienated Muslims whose new homeland Pakistan appeared to be antithesis of Indian nationalist sentiment, CMA’s opposition to Hindu domination was less about what was going on across the ocean in the subcontinent and more about local Kenyan politics. The movement for Pakistan and undivided India was an anticolonial nationalist one. However Muslims within the CMA’s underscored their different religious identity to separate themselves from anticolonial politics in Kenya.
SA
Qureshi’s demand for separate electorates was accompanied by a strong vote of confidence in the government and a rejection of what he called the Congress’s Hindu nationalism. Emphasizing Muslim loyalty, the CMA announced that Hindus were unduly influenced by Indian subcontinental nationalism and were prone to revolutionary and subversive protests. Bakhsh, Qureshi and Rana had risen to prominence under the patronage of the colonial administration in the service of the government and did not share the grievances of working class Indians in Nairobi or anticolonial nationalist elite within the Congress who had joined forces with Africans.
SA
From the mid 1940’s onwards, the CMA thus created a platform for the voice of loyalist Muslim Punjabi, Ahmadiyya, and Ismailis, who joined public politics as the Aga Khan used the Ismaili loyalism to extract concessions for his community from the governor relating to communitarian welfare. And these are just sort of two photographs taken of the Aga Khan who you see there in the middle under the umbrella on a visit in 1938 to sort of put down the founding stone for a Muslim girls school and he is actually flanked by both Shamsuddin, who at this point was involved in communitarian activities but hadn’t yet you know been completely upset with Hindus and the Congress, as well as Allah Ditta Qureshi
SA
and the second is a photograph of the Aga Khan a lot older, this is taken a 10 years in 1948, seated with the entire Ismaili Jamat in Nairobi. So you really see a sort of focus now on community building where there are many more – much more frequent visits by the Aga Khan and the empty chair there is the Aga Khan’s son who is apparently out playing and wasn’t seated in the position when the photograph was clicked. This resurgent loyalism won the CMA a much needed audience with the governor, who during this time was dealing with an increasingly hostile and vocal African political realm in and around Nairobi.
SA
The governor needed allies within the colonial state to contain the rising tide of nationalist politics amongst Africans and he turned to the Europeans and loyalist Muslims for support. Despite the presence of Indian Muslims in the legislative council, the governor announced in 1948 that communal riots would break out in Nairobi unless the CMA’s demands for separate representation were met. He nominated Ibrahim Nathu, an Ismaili businessman based in Nairobi to join Rana in the legislative council along with Ibu Pir Bhai, the Ismaili President of the CMA who was knighted in 1952, who was one of the richest businessmen in all of Kenya.
SA
On his part, the governor announced that he was pleased to see, quote, “The return of well to do middle class merchants and professionals to the legislative council who replaced the wild radical flag waving Congressmen who had represented the Indian diaspora through the 1930’s and 40’s.”
SA
As loyalist Muslim merchants returned to the service of the colonial state in the early 1950’s, it seemed as though they had come full circle back to regaining their prominence as sub-imperialist partners in the colonial project. However, loyalism in the early 1900’s was shaped by completely different concerns and ended up with vastly different results from loyalism in the 1940’s.
SA
While the Indian Ocean trade network had won sub-imperialist Muslim merchants who were the majority within the diaspora, rewards that consolidated their economic and political position in the newly acquired and expanding protectorate, by the 1950’s, the colonial project was been seriously threatened. Loyalism to the rapidly weakening colonial state made these Muslims a vulnerable minority both within the diasporic milieu and the public political realm in the colony more generally. 1950 saw the outbreak of the Mau Mau Rebellion, the most radical and violent expression of Kenyan nationalism.
SA
Although the East African Indian National Congress supported these rebels, Indian loyalists found themselves under physical attack. While both articulations of loyalism resonated across the Indian Ocean it is only through a close analysis of the particular political and economic context in India and Kenya that historians can reconcile the paradoxically competing aspirations to loyalism and anticolonial nationalism amongst colonial Kenya South Asians for whom trade and politics in a diasporic milieu opened up a wide range of political possibilities. Thank You.
KM
Thank you very much Sana for that really fascinating and bracing historical narrative and set of explanations that you have provided very rich. I wanted to begin the discussion with a question that has to do with the two key terms that seem to structure at least part of your analysis, the dialectic or the tension between loyalism and anticolonial nationalism. So those are two major concepts at work but then there is throughout your discussion also this emphasis, I think, on different kinds of productivity: economic productivity of the land, political productivity of various kinds of political movements, also even reproductive productivity in terms of you know relative declines of demographic groups
KM
and so that made me think about another kind of productivity, that being cultural and intellectual productivity, and if we think of the realm of the cultural and the intellectual and then connect it with these two major forces at work – loyalism and anticolonial nationalism – I wonder whether those two political terms really allow us to open up the space to understand what’s happening in the cultural-intellectual realm? So in particular I was quite interested in kind of some of the mentions you have made in some of the schools that were being formed, certainly in the pictures that one sees of the Aga Khan there is actually a kind of a spatial representation of cultural order that’s being produced.
KM
And so if we moved away from these political categories of loyalism versus anticolonial nationalism and moved maybe to intellectual and cultural categories of cultural productiveness versus cultural constrictions and how – what is the relationship between loyalism and a kind of new cultural productiveness and how would that actually be expressed within the Ismaili community, other communities? Can you fill in some of that area for us and I am also interested in why or to what extent you think the intellectual and the cultural really need to be a part of the story.
SA
Thanks Kris that’s a great question and you are absolutely right that there are these different realms at play. There is the political and the political is almost always mediated by the state but there is of course a very rich sort of social history that can also be told. But the reason why I keep the cultural story, you know, what you call the sort of culture and intellectual sort of story a little bit at bay is because of the particular context within which the diasporic political realm emerges in Kenya. Because the colonial state especially after 1923 is really looking to divide citizens or understand sort of how colonial subjects can be categorized along racial rather than any other lines
SA
because of the presence of European settlers, the Indian diaspora, and also Africans, the language of claim-making ends up being racial – the term Asian, you know, which is sort of the term used for Indian South Asians, was the only way in which, you know, to frame yourself politically as a Muslim or as a Hindu or even as a Sikh, right up to the mid 1930’s, didn’t really give you anyone’s sort of ear, right. Allah Bakhsh tries to do this as a Muslim and the governor immediately sort of takes his letter and throws it away because he says well, you know, they don’t seem to be – you know, they are sort of the Muslim realm of cultural productivity but that isn’t really translating into the political realm at all
SA
and people like Shamsuddin who had been part of both the communitarian sort of realm and the political realm – within the political realm, you know, he isn’t talking in terms of being Muslim at all. He will use the Khilafat movement where he can. He’ll sort of in the 1940’s things change a little bit but I think because of the structural way in which the colonial state had set itself up, it sort of forced colonial subjects – African and Indian – to make their claims on the basis of their racial identity which is why the East Africa Indian National Congress ends up this umbrella organization
SA
where, you know, Indians are for different religious but also different regional and occupational sort of statuses can come in. Now this isn’t to say that the cultural doesn’t have an impact on the political at all but I, and you know this something as I am revising this into a book manuscript, I do struggle to find a place for the cultural story within the framework of the diasporic public political realm until these demographic changes suddenly make those who are involved in communitarian activities like mosque building and education suddenly be, you know, they are suddenly then seen as the political leaders of their community and not just the social leaders
SA
because the earlier focus on the economic productivity is what is allowing Indians to sort of say well we are a little better off than the Africans and we should be equal to the Europeans. But I think that, you know, I think that it is a good question and I am trying to sort of find ways of bringing that back in.
JS
I am Julie Stevens. I am PhD student in the History Department at Harvard. Sana, I wanted to ask you about, in the census data you showed for 1930 and 1950, in the 1930 slide it seemed like the vast majority of Muslims are just identifying as Mohamedans rather than as a specific sect whether Sunni or Ismaili
JS
and then by 1950, it seems like a lot more people are identifying yet as a particular sect and what’s the kind of element of your story that has to do, within the Muslim community, an increasing emphasize on kind of having – not only being an Indian and a Muslim but also being of other particular sect?
SA
That’s another great question. Of course, as South Asians we all are always sceptical about seeing census data as determining too much, the actual divisions that might take place, but my sense is, you know, I had access to this 1911 census, the 1921 one, both of them just had Muslims and in fact they counted Arabs and Indians within that and its only from the 1931 census that you actually beginning to see a little bit of a division
SA
and then suddenly in the 1948 census there is, you know, this huge sort of division but that division, in fact, you know, within the Muslim-Indian community, doesn’t seem to be reflected in the politics. The politic, you know, certainly Ismailis and the Aga Khan is making many more visits to Nairobi at this point, so I think that there is a sense of identifying yourself not racially as Asian but you know beginning to sort of identify yourself as Muslim but there didn’t seem to have been any divisions within Muslim loyalists over this issue of separate electorates, though Gujarati Muslims and of course here the Gujarati Muslims are Bohra but also sort of Ismailis, so some of them are loyalists and followers of the Aga Khan but there are others who end up remaining within the Congress who don’t identify themselves politically at all as Muslim.
SA
So while that data I think tells us in fact something more interesting about Allah Bakhsh in 1931, trying to present Muslims as unified community when they in fact they weren’t, though the census gives you much fewer sort of divisions that, as you said, the majority are just identifying themselves as Muslims and I think sort of Bohras were just twelve, and you know that certainly doesn’t really reflect the reality. I think that the heightened sense of communitarian identity both in terms of the community but also how the state is beginning to try and understand you know these people who are politically changing and moving away from being loyal or not is reflected in those divisions that emerge.
Hello Professor, thank you so much for the talk. I am Nadia and I am a masters student here at Tufts. I was actually just wondering if some of these different political identities that you just discussed a little bit reflected in the spatial landscape of Nairobi as well because I know you showed us the slide where the Aga Khan was coming and building schools and there was another masjid being built as well so I was wondering if these communities especially as the statistics between Muslims and Punjabis, or excuse me, Muslims and Sikhs and Hindus coming in changes during the 40’s and 50’s, if that’s reflected spatially as well.
SA
It is and it isn’t. The Nairobi mosque sort of emerges in, you know, it’s open in 1933 but because of the, you know, because of the centuries sort of centuries long network in Mombassa that emerges as a major centre, the bigger mosques you know as early as 1911, Visram actually Jivanji and Visram’s son Abul Rasul hold a coronation ceremony to celebrate King George the Fifth’s coronation at the Jamat Khana, the Ismaili mosque in Mombassa from as early as 1911. So these, I think sort of these sort of physical markers and places of, you know, to go back to Kris’s question, the places of sort of cultural productivity had existed all along, you know, even among Hindus there would be the Gujarati Traders Association, the Gujarati Hindus Association.
SA
M.A. Desai who was a Gujarati his, you know, he set up a huge library, and his library was the centre of a lot of activity and meetings. So there is certainly, there is a little more focus on the Aga Khan coming in to make these openings of the Muslim girls school a much more sort of flamboyant occasion but right through from 1911 onwards, you know, diasporic communities would come in the minute they would make a little money and, you know, this was a rich – even the Sikhs were fairly well off compared to the Africans certainly.
SA
They would immediately set up a Gurudwara, a place to worship, a place to meet socially, and, you know, so those are fairly consistent from, you know, from 1910 onwards and though I will say that, you know, going today Mombasa certainly has many more of them and the older mosques, the grander mosques, but again I think that goes back to the Indian Ocean realm issue.
Hi, my name is Shiyan. I am a master’s student at Tufts over here. I was wondering if you could talk a little more about what motivated immigration from Gujarat and the Punjab.
SA
You hinted that there were pre-existing networks, straight networks, before colonial times but did the Aga Khan’s loyalism, did his connection with the British, kind of encourage more immigration of Ismailis? As far as the Punjabis are concerned, I know that a lot of them were going to the US at this point to work on railways. So was this part of that colonial project to also send them into Kenya to build railways?
SA
Yes so the Punjabi Sikhs were certainly part of the colonial project, you know, it’s only from 1896 when the Secretary of State in London, you know, allows indentured labourers, contract labourers, from Punjab and the reason why they chose Punjab was because initially the poster that I showed you of the Uganda railways is really sort of built across nature’s zoo and as far as the colonial state was concerned, there was no one living in these fertile lands. Now, of course, there were Africans living there but they were sort of invisible in many ways. They had been, you know, the population density had fallen because of the military wars of the late 19th century and also natural disasters that had pushed the population inland.
SA
So on the one hand they needed cheap labour and they wanted – the colonial state really wanted to get away from the legacy of slavery which had been one of the ideological sort of justifications to you know expand inwards so they didn’t want to force African labour out but they also wanted to find a community that would come along and actually be able to cultivate these fertile lands so that it would be economically productive. And in, right up to 1915, British officials are actually talking about developing Kenya as the America of the Hindu,
SA
and that’s what why they focus on Punjabi immigrants because they see that by this point Punjab, you know, agriculture sort of experiments in Punjab have been very successful. Punjab is one of the more rich sort of areas in sort of British India and so they really are determined to try and get these Punjabi migrants to come along, not just as indentured labourers, but also sort as agricultural sort of colonists and settlers who will teach quote on quote, “teach Africans agricultural methods and settlements.” But the European settlers get very upset about this because they really wanted, you know, thought that it would be developed as the white man’s country and so they manage to stop the immigration of any new agricultural settlers coming in.
SA
But you know that sort of answers the question about the Punjabis but the Gujaratis were certainly part of this older Indian Ocean network, you know, I think that after Zanzibar comes under the rule of the Sultan of Oman those networks become even more important and although there is a drop in this Muslim population in Kenya, actually they all move to Tanzania and Tanzania sort of again remains predominantly Muslim, the network with Zanzibar remains because of sort of, you know, it’s only in 1964, that, under a coup the Arab sort of elite are pushed out. So although from Kenya you see a drop in Muslim merchants and Muslim immigrants, it isn’t as if they aren’t in East Africa. It’s, you know, the same sort of network and circulation is continuing but they just sort of end up settling in Tanzania because they have those older networks.
JS
Hi, I am James Schmidt. I am a PhD student in the History department here at Tufts. I know you just cautioned against attributing too much significance to census data but I have a question regarding that very issue. You mentioned the most sort of the most noteworthy swift occurring between, in terms of motivation for Muslim loyalism in versus, you know, the first decade of the 20th century versus the 1940’s, was, you know, the shift from being a majority to being a minority and you know this was rooted in local politics and it’s true that the numbers themselves are actually rooted in the space of East Africa yet though the importance of numbers, you know, originates, it seems like it originates elsewhere and I am wondering to what extent the anxiety about being a minority community is an autochthonous development or if it’s sort of circulation from across the Arabian sea?
SA
The CMA right from Allah Bakhsh who very cleverly, you know, he sort of claims that Muslims at that point are 43% majority but they aren’t. But he is the first person who I have found who begins to talk about the sphere of Hindu domination in the Congress and in 1931 he still isn’t really, he is not really using the language of communitarian politics in South Asia and brining it across to Kenya. I think that this is something that emerges locally but in the same letter that he wrote to the governor, he also said, “I haven’t taken a public referendum on this because I don’t want to create too much trouble publically.”
SA
So you know I think it’s pretty clear that in 1931 he was some – you know, he was a bit of exception to the rule. But this does change in the 30’s and the 40’s and it is by this point that communal riots have broken out in India, that there already is talk of these numerical majorities and minorities and in the 30’s and 40’s a lot of the new immigrants who are Hindus are coming across from Punjab but also from Gujarat and of course Muslims who are very much aware of what is going on in India. And so this talk of the numerical majority and minority becomes important, not so much for those who are living their everyday life, going to the Jamat Khana, but for those who are within the CMA trying to find some way of going to the governor and saying well this is a legitimate issue
SA
and in fact they then use these example of India – the 1909 separate electorates, the 1919, the 1935 sort of events – and say, well look even in India, Hindus and Muslims are being put on separate electoral roles so you have to do that in Kenya as well. In Kenya of course it’s also called communal roles but the communal there is racial and not religious but the governor also sort of says, well, you know, even though Shamsuddin had been part of the legislative council, an elected member, you know, he was Muslim, a guy S. Ameen who had been the President of the East Africa Congress in early 1940, he was another elected member of the legislative council but then the CMA says well you know these guys don’t really represent the minority that we are, they aren’t talking about, you know, they aren’t sort of claiming to be Muslim leaders, they are just claiming to be Congress leaders themselves.
SA
So the numbers, you know, the numbers are always helpful in trying to convince someone who wants to be convinced but I am not convinced that that is actually the reason for this, you know, I think that it’s just an anxiety but the underlying sort of desire to remain loyal, people who are uncomfortable with this anticolonial turn of the Congress, certainly found comfort, I think, and found you know a sort of a common ground and a platform from which to speak and protect their own political interests in the CMA.
Your response to my earlier question got me wondering about Ismailis in Tanzania. Why did you decide to limit your study to India and colonial Kenya and not look at the broader East African diaspora? Is that something that the diaspora itself is reproducing in how it sees itself or is there something else?
SA
Well I got interested, I think that the case, you know, all too often, in fact, East Africa is studied as the same but I think in fact Uganda, Tanganyika, and Kenya have very distinct histories in Kenya, in particular, because of the European settler element and the European highlands that didn’t exist in sort of Uganda and Tanzania.
SA
So in many ways, Indian loyalism continues but then it also is sort of able to very unproblematically shift into sort of collaborations with Africans because of the absence of, you know, the European settler element that certainly existed in Kenya which I think made a huge difference in terms of Indians first positioning themselves as sub-imperialists and equal, sort of equal partners to the Europeans and then being sort of pushed out and in many ways their critic of empire comes from the experience of actual sort of racialism on the part of European settlers that didn’t exist in Uganda and Tanzania and, in fact, you know, through the 20’s and 30’s, the colonial government is trying to also administer the area, you know, because they didn’t have a lot of money. So this was empire on the cheap.
SA
They are trying to sort of get the same governor to you know rule over Uganda and Tanzania and there is a huge move to try and create a federation of sort of East Africa but both, you know, the European settlers are kind of okay with this in Kenya because you know their rule, they will only need more people within the state so they’ll get more representation so it would be okay for them but Africans in Uganda and in Tanganyika, you know, they really say we don’t want this because Kenya is sort of the bad egg in all of this because of racialism in Kenya, because of these European settlers were such that hadn’t really been faced by African or Indian communities in Uganda and Tanzania and even the name East Africa Indian National Congress when it’s sort of set up in 1947,
SA
it’s set up as a region-wide East Africa-wide colony – sorry organization – but in fact every single meeting is held either in Nairobi or in Mombassa. There are a few in Kisumu which was where European settlers also and Eldoret European settlers also lived. In the 50’s, that was sort of trying to signal really, “Well we’ll come into your area and still sort of protest against you.” But in about 1951 or in 1952 they say, “Well it’s stupid to use the phrase East Africa Indian National Congress because we’ve never sort of actually held meetings there.” So they changed the name to the India – Kenya India Congress – so I think that it does also reflect, you know, and in that way, though I think that extraterritorial sort of networks certainly exist and shouldn’t be forgotten, there is a certain logic to boundaries and territorial boundaries that do shape and limit, both shape and limit the way in which politics played out and claim-making played out.
KM
Kris Manjarpa and the History Department. Sana one thing that’s becoming clear to me in terms of one of the real insights that I can take away is, you know, the relationship between empires and the age of empires and let’s say an age of nations. And there seems to be an important shift, a watershed moment, of course I am wondering if this is the case that the First World War, there’s a shift I am getting in your discussion between a kind of era of imperial citizenship versus an empire of loyalism and anticolonial nationalism. But what’s interesting is what does loyalism mean in this context?
KM
I mean there has been some really fascinating work about in some ways the viability of imperial citizenship, you know, in the 1880s through 1914 period for these middling groups. And I think even of Andrew Zimmerman’s work on how the German empire was using African Americans as these kind of middling capitalists and scientists even, to come and train the Africans in Togo of how to plant cotton and so forth, somewhat similar to perhaps the way Indians were. So there was a time in which, which is I would probably say up to 1914,
KM
up to the First World War, when a kind of imperial vision of global integration and global citizenship was very viable and so inherent in this discussion of or this continuity or this rise again of loyalty or loyalism, is it really about the insufficiency of the nation after the First World War in order to really capture the imagination, the political energies, the cultural energies, or whatever that is, of various groups who previously, up to 1914, were actually quite invested in an ocean of imperial citizenship – so is it, is this really a story of the insufficiency of the nation and isn’t that, that really would be quite important because, you know, South Asian scholarship has for such a long time assumed that the nation is sufficient.
SA
Yeah, no absolutely. I think that you are right and that certainly is the argument that I am trying to make. That loyalism wasn’t just politically expedient up till the First World War. There certainly was an investment and actual sort of belief in the imperial project, in its civilizing mission for Indians who were in East Africa and also on part of the colonial government that really did rely heavily on sort of these Indian intermediary capitalists. But I wouldn’t say that the resurgence of loyalism can tell us a little bit about the limits of the nation because in fact I found that the rise of anticolonial nationalism opens up new and different possibilities of political collaboration,
SA
not, you know, which in fact took people away from the colonial state. So the collaborations with African nationalists, with African workers, even with the Mau Mau who were sort of the rebels, I think that those would not have been possible without this, you know, and this is where the history of ideas is also important, without this investment in the idea that the nation – it doesn’t have to be the territorial nation state that will only give, allow you singular loyalty, but the idea that independence, that nation states, that self governance is important, and is something that will allow the diaspora to not only support the Indian nation and Indian independence but also African nation, the African sort of independence movement and be equally invested in the emergent Kenyan nation.
SA
So I would say that and in fact it’s the loyalists even within the Muslims, the loyalists I think are a bit on the outside of the mainstream of diasporic politics because you know they really are, you know, they end up having to be nominated into the legislative council because the elections are throwing up these Congress leaders, both Hindu and Muslims, into the legislative council and within the legislative council Shamsuddin, Ahmed Desai, and others are really talking and articulating an anticolonial critique which is why the governor there is so relieved to have Ibu Pir Bhai, just an ordinary business but a rich but politically ordinary businessman come in and join Rana who again you know was outside of the centre of political activity in Mombasa coming in.
SA
Yeah, so I don’t think that I would agree that national – you know I think that empire and loyalism and imperial citizenship certainly opened up opportunities and in fact what closed them off was the emergence of a colonial state in Kenya that really did racially did divide society into this three-tier division but the nation state and ideas of anticolonial nationalism opened up a whole new realm of anticolonial collaborations because even the Muslim loyalists in fact are talking about Pakistan and there is a feeling that their homeland, that their new nation state is an important one, and you know that’s another reason to distance themselves from these Muslims, from these Hindus, even though they weren’t, it wasn’t really about the nation state of Pakistan but the existence of this new nation that is a new homeland allows them again to have a little more legitimacy in saying, “Well we have to be separated from the Congress and the Hindus.”
  3
  4,
  5