Sunil Amrith, Islam in the Bay of Bengal: Between Tamil and Malay Worlds


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Interview Participants
Sunil Amrith, lecturer (male)
Ayesha Jalal: Hi, I am Ayesha Jalal and I would like to welcome all of you to the 5th lecture in our series on "Islam on the Indian Ocean rim" and I would like to welcome back Dr. Sunil Amrith to Tufts. He has been here when he was here last year at a conference and we are delighted that he has accepted our invitation to speak in the series. He teaches at Birkbeck College in London, at University of London. He has worked a great deal on the Bay of Bengal region; sees it as a space rightly so as one of economic and cultural interaction, he is been particularly interested in the history of migration between South India and south East Asia in the 19th and the 20th centuries and he has written a book, which he sees as the introductory text of the whole question of Asian migration and is called "Migration and Diaspora in Modern Asia" published by Cambridge University Press in 2011.
He previously worked on the history of Public health in South and South East Asia and his well regarded first spoke is called "Decolonizing International health India and South East Asia 1930-65." He is currently working on a book which is slated to be published by Harvard University Press in 2013/14 and I suspect that this particular work, this lecture, is borrowed from that particular book. He is looking again at the Bay of Bengal region again but this time trying to weave in the History of Migration with Environmental History which should be very well interesting and it is to be called "Crossing the Bay of Bengal" and without further delay please join me in welcoming Sunil back to Tufts.
Sunil Amrith: Thank you very much for the kind introduction and it's an honor to participate in this lecture series which I understand is a part of an ongoing exchange between Tufts and Lahore. I'd like to talk about one part of The Indian Ocean Rim that is, as Professor Ayesha Jalal mentioned, The bay of Bengal, and we begin in 1810 in the company of Ahmad Rijaluddin. In that year Rijaluddin [Ahmad Rijaluddin] set out on a voyage from his home in Penang to Calcutta. Passing quickly over his voyage across the Bay of Bengal Rijaluddin's [Ahmad Rijaluddin] account begins with his arrival in Calcutta.
He was enthralled by the life of the port. The teaming crowd consisted of people of different races: English, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, Bengalis, Burmese, Tamil and Malay. The street was always in his words as noisy as if they were celebrating the end of a war. He described an open field nearby with hundreds of people cooking rice, chapattis and roast meat and others selling sweets and rice crisps. The scene he said 'sounds like the roaring of thunder' - you can't imagine the noise produced by such a great crowd. Rijaluddin [Ahmad Rijaluddin] could have been writing any port city in the world age of sale, but his account also describes something more specific: A martime world surrounding the Bay of Bengal.
The peoples he described were the peoples of the Bay of Bengal rim, its imperial rulers and adventurers: the traders, the merchants, the sailors that made the Bay of Bengal as one historian has put it, "a far more tightly knit unit of interaction than the Indian Ocean as a whole". Rijaluddin [Ahmad Rijaluddin] saw the Bengal delta as a frontier of Islam. He was curious about local religious practices, he remarked on the piety of the inhabitants and he described the river and landscape in great detail.
There are 2 features of Rijaluddin's [Ahmad Rijaluddin] account that provide a way into my discussion today of Islam in the Bay of Bengal.
The first is his biography. Rijaluddin [Ahmad Rijaluddin] was the son of a Tamil Muslim merchant father and a Malay mother. His father was a leading merchant in Kedah on Malaysia's west coast. In the 1790 he moved to Penang soon after the establishment of an East India Company settlement there. Like many in that Keddah's Tamil community Rijaluddins [Ahmad Rijaluddin] father had married a local Malay woman, forming part of a mixed community that in 19th century would come to be known as the Jawi Peranakan. Rijaluddins family had been crossing the Bay of Bengal in both directions for over a century at the time of his journey.
The second feature of Rijaluddins [Ahmad Rijaluddin] account is the language in which it was written, that is Malay. It is one of the earliest Malay language travel accounts and in fact one of the first modern accounts in any Asian language of the Eastern Indian Ocean crossing.
Though of course in Chinese, Sanskrit, and in Tamil we do have such accounts from much earlier centuries. Rijaluddins [Ahmad Rijaluddin] account is amongst other things about meditation on language and translation. He remarks on the deep mutual influence between the Malay and the Bengali world's that he spans. Fragments of poetry, songs of words - his book is full of echoes, echoes of the Malay world in Bengal and echoes of the South Asian world in Malay and perhaps this is not surprising. Rijaluddin [Ahmad Rijaluddin] made his living as a translator for the European merchants of Penang. Rijaluddin [Ahmad Rijaluddin] and many others like him lived where two worlds intersected: the Malay world and the world of the Bay of Bengal and their meeting points proved fertile ground for migrations, cultural creativity new elaborations of faith and belonging.
Both worlds have attracted scholarly attention in recent years. In our search for new geographies with which to frame more mobile histories: for centuries for straits of Malacca formed a pivot point of central attraction across the very wide region that Leonard Andaya has called the "Sea of Melayu". One sea stretching from India to Vietnam. It was an aqueous world in which rivers and sea formed unities while land formed the link between bodies of water. The Malay language was the beating heart of this world not just as a lingua franca or a means of communication but as a malleable banner of identification - one that was never confined to a particular ethnicity.
Islam was central to a sense of belonging in the Malay world but not exclusively so. Non-muslim Chinese traders in Java and throughout the archipelago galvanized the development of the Malay language both in spoken and in written form. The Malay world overlapped with the Bay of Bengal though their boundaries were neither fixed nor exactly coincident. The most intensive point of interaction came at the South Eastern edge at the Bay of Bengal in the straits of Malacca. On a smaller scale though Sri Lanka too shared ground where the forced movement of the Malay soldiers by the Dutch in earlier centuries had led to the establishment of a small but thriving Malay community on the other side of the sea.
While the Bay of Bengal never provoked a singular imagination of belonging unlike the world of the Melayu, it had certainly been imagined as a totality in many registers. To ecologists and colonial geographers the Bay of Bengal appeared as the integrated heart of monsoon Asia but it was a special horizon that fired many religious imaginations too. Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists alike imagined the bay as literal of shrines and holy places.
Above all however, the Bay of Bengal was connected by an intensity of migration that no other part of the Indian Ocean experienced. There were several circuits of movement that threaded across the Bay of Bengal in the 19th century:
The more or less constant movement of people between Chittagong and Arakan, the movement of Telugu speaking laborers to Burma particularly after the 1880's, and the century long movement of Tamils both Muslims and Hindus to South east Asia and the Malay peninsula in particular. And it is the last movement in focus particularly in today's talk.
My central claim in this lecture is the Tamil speaking Muslims were central to both worlds, i.e. to the Bay of Bengal and to the Malay world. They served as a bridge between the two, their movements channeled cross cultural interactions of many kinds but these interactions were never straight forward or free from tension.
For centuries then Tamil Muslims had traded with and settled in kedah, Aceh and Java. We have only limited sources with which to construct their movements before the 19th century but we can follow their journeys through the eyes of others. Malay chronicles for example make frequent reference to South Indian Muslim traders and teachers and holy men. The Sejara Melayu gives an account of the Sumatran kingdom of Pasay's [Pasay Kingdom] conversion to Islam - the first in South East Asia in which an India emissary from the India Coromandel coast features prominently. Early modern European travelers remarked on settlements of prosperous Tamil Muslims wherever they went and with whom they competed,
and European accounts provided the terms of identification that would be attached to Tamil Muslims in South East Asia until the 20th century, and which even became terms of self identification i.e Chulia and Kling - both had their origins in the names of ancient Indian kingdoms "Chola" [Chola Kingdom] and "Kalinga" [Kalinga Kingdom] respectively. The terms left an imprint on the streets and neighborhoods of Malacca, Penang and Singapore where even today KomPong Kling and Chulia Street betray their origins. Through these accounts too we can see the mutation of names across the Bay of Bengal. Marakkar Yer now becomes Markar or Merican the latter in form still in use there today.
Tamil traders in Kedah ,liked Rijaluddin's [Ahmad Rijaluddin] father, married local Malay women and from that mixture of Tamil Malay cultural forms and practices, united by a shared in Islam, emerged one of the leading intellectuals of the straits settlements in the 19th century. And Munshi Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir is probably the most famous example of the Jawi Peranakan's community's cultural and political creativity.
A writer, a translator, a social reformer and pioneer of Malay ethnic consciousness, Munshi Abdullah [Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir] nevertheless emphasized his facility in the Tamil language and his familiarity with Tamil culture. There was no contradiction for Munshi Abdullah [Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir] in recognizing his Tamil heritage while devoting himself to the uplift of the Malay community or Bangsa with which he identified most closely.
Throughout the 19th century Tamil Muslims used the bridgeheads of imperial capitalism in Singapore and Penang to deepen in their already extensive contacts with South East Asia. As the trade of Penang in Singapore flourished Tamil Muslims prospered. But the South Asian Muslim community in the straits of Malacca was far more diverse than Traders alone and nor was it exclusively South Indian. Many of the earliest East India company soldiers in South East Asia who were Muslim Sepoys [sepoy] from the heart lands of North India. The body of convict laborers transported to the penal settlement in Bencoolen, Penang and Singapore involved Hindus and Muslims in roughly equal numbers many of them from Bengal or from North India.
For their part, Tamil Muslims worked as Dockers, mariners, shopkeepers, food vendors, rickshaw pullers, and they were joined by Telugu and Malayalam speaking South Indians - again both Muslim and Hindus. Indeed before the mass migration to the plantations, which really took off in the 1880's, Tamil Muslims were in clear majority among the Indian population of the Straits Settlements. By the end of the 1860's the chief secretary of the Straits Settlements observed the community becoming steadily more diverse and ever larger. "Almost all the boat men, coakers and laborers on boats ships and in the town", he wrote, "watermen and a large number of hawkers, traders and domestic servants or men from the madras coast."
Even after the British squeezed out the Tamil shipping merchants, imposing the monopoly of the British India steam navigation company, the Marakka Iyer [Marakkar] firms continued to operate on a smaller scale. Many of these agents took the migrants out of the French port of Karaikal along the heart land of the Marraka Iyer [Marakkar] shipping business. They evaded the restrictions British colonial authorities tried to replace as older Muslim rulers across the Bay of Bengal could override or undercut the lines of imperial sovereignty.
To a newcomer from across the bay, the urban land of the Straits Settlements might have seemed more strange and strangely familiar. They stand to this day: "Dargas" to the Saint "Shah-ul-Hamid" of Nagore, amongst the most revered figures in the South Indian Islamic tradition, on Telok Ayer street in Singapore and the Chulia street in Penang. The Penang "Darga" was built in 1801 and that in Singapore followed about 20 years later. Both were replicas of the original "Darga" in Lahore. In Tamil Nadu, though, in transit, they absorbed a wider range of architectural influences.
The "Dargas" in Singapore and Penang became places of devotion and healing attracting local worshippers well beyond Tamil Muslim community just as the original shrine in Nagore had always attracted Hindu as well Muslims worshippers. And Shah-ul-Hamid was an apt protector of the people on the move because the sea is at the heart of his story. Central to his [Shah-ul-Hamid] legend is his journey from the planes of North India to Mecca and back via the Maldives and Adam' Peak in Ceylon before his final settlement and death in Nagore where he is buried. From Nagore his followers dispersed across South East Asia and it's not surprising that the boatmen of the Penang harbor were particular devotees of Shahul Hamid. Every year he set aside a portion of their earnings to sponsor a day's feasting and procession in his honor.
In a poem written at the end of the 19th century, and interestingly published by a Chinese printer Kim Hexiang, quotes from Marakka Iyer [Marakkar] described the annual procession through Penang in honor of Shahul Hamid naming the streets and sights of along its route. The poet describes also the diversity of people who witnessed and indeed participated in the procession using his own terms. Hindus and Malays and Burmese, Chinese, Chettiars, Koringees, Parayas and Portuguese lining the streets. The sacred geography in Eastern Indian Ocean expanded too to incorporate local personages who died and were buried in the straits settlements. The 'darga" or Dato Korma to Dato Khoya in Penang another Tamil Muslim saint who died there in the 19th century is another example.
As one contemporary observer put it rightly in the 1850's: "one monument is erupted on the grave of a holy man that died in Penang. It is regarded with great respect by all classes and periodically vast multitudes visit the tomb".
The circulation of Tamil Muslim cultural symbols in the straights settlements of course took place alongside many others. They shared a shore-side location in the cities and a maritime orientation. Telok Ayer Street in Singapore, once on the coast now significantly in land,because of land reclamation, stands as a symbolic point of intersection between the Bay of Bengal and the China Sea. Within literally a few steps of one another stand the Nagore Darga; the Chinese temple of heavenly blessings dedicated to Matsu protector of Seafarers and another mosque built in the south Indian style known informally as the Kuchhipalli -- the small mosque.
From Rangoon to Saigon and even Vien Tien wherever small communities of Tamil Muslims traders settled they took with them the sacred architecture of Muslim South India.
(reference to picture on screen) This is a sign to the Jama masjid and Vien Tien which is written in Lao, Arabic and Tamil.
The 1870's saw an opening of the public sphere in Straits Settlements through the medium of print and through a flowering associational life, and Tamil Muslims were pioneer in both regards. The introduction of the moveable type lithograph led to a proliferation of small-scale Tamil publishing in Singapore and Penang, beginning around 1873. Newspapers, many of them short lived, and a number of books which ranged from manuals of Islamic instruction to genealogies of saints which connected the sacred landscapes of South India directly with the Straits Settlements as well as back in time westwards to the time of the Prophet and the Arabian peninsula.
This is one of the first known printed books in Tamil that was published from Singapore.
The first Tamil language newspaper in the Straits, Tangai Nesan, was edited by Mohammad Syed and published by the Jawi Peranakan company from 1876. Strikingly, the very same publisher started the first-ever Malay language newspaper, Jawi Peranakan, with its deep commitment to popularizing the Malay language. And I think this indicates the extent to which the Tamil Muslims or the mixed Tamil-Malay community stood aside of the cultural expression. And interestingly many of these presses were actually were backed by Chinese or even Tamil Hindu so this just went beyond Tamil-Malay interaction.
The first of the newspaper to survive in and lasted 3 years was called Singai Nesan (Friend of Singapore) published between 1887 and 1890 by a press which also published in English and Malay. The very first edition declared in English that it was designed to commemorate the Jubilee of her majesty the queen Empress Victoria, but it also contained a small dedication in Tamil to Sultan Abdul Hamid II protector of Muslims in the world. In his detailed and insightful analysis of this particular newspaper's contents, Torsten Tschacher shows that it had subscribers across the Malay Peninsula in Sumatra, Java, Sayan, Indo China and India. He shows too that the newspapers author addressed different audiences and adopted shifting terms of self identification.
'Tamils' in the newspaper terms referred largely to Tamil Hindus but they use the terms weakling Muslims as well as weakling Hindus. Singai Nesan ranged widely in the world that it evoked through print. It wrote of the micro politics of Singapore's Chulia mosque, it wrote of happenings in India and of the wider world of Islam; carrying news of Afghanistan, Sudan and of course of the Ottoman Empire. Paradoxically, as was common across the Indian Ocean most of the newspapers foreign news was actually translated from the English press.
This world of local and global influences shaped some remarkable careers I'd like to give you one example, that of Ahmad Hassan who in fact became one of the leading Muslim intellectuals of Indonesia.
Hassan [Ahmad Hassan] was born in 1887 in Singapore, his father was a locally born Tamil shopper his mother came from a Tamil family settled in Surabaya in East Java where they were in the textile business. By the time Ahmad Hassan was a teenager he was fluent in Malay, English, Tamil and Arabic. His father was deeply imbedded within this world of print and publishing as editor of the Tamil language periodical 'Nurul Islam'. Ahmad Hassan was attracted by the modern ideas that was spreading through the Malay world in the early 20th century through such journals as Al-Imam and through the teachers recently returned from Al-Azhar [Al-Azhar University] who were spreading through the Peninsula. He wrote for Utusan Melayu, the leading Malay modern newspaper, he worked as a teacher in schools but also as a perfume vendor a batik trader and a tire vulcanizer.
In the 1920s Ahmad Hassan visited Surabaya in connection with his family's business and delved into the raging debate between the old and the new factions of Islam the Kaum Tua and the Kaum Muda. He settled in Bandung a few years later and became a leading figure in the Persatuan Islam (Persis) in fact it was a intellectual guiding light. In 1934 he conducted a private correspondence with Sukarno, while Sukarno was exiled in the island of Flores. Though they were often on opposite sides of the political spectrum, Sukarno respected Hassan [Ahmad Hassan] as a teacher and scholar of Islam. Though his world views and his ideas were clearly initially shaped by the Tamil and the Malay world of the early 20th century, he chose to develop his insights, his life, his career rooted in Java and then in Indonesia.
He grew increasingly critical of Indonesian nationalism, which he saw as a form of sectarianism that detracted from rigorous and a reformed Islamic practice. The point I think is that Tamil print culture in the Straits Settlements in the late 19th/early 20th century produced 'individual and intellectual trajectories', that if I may borrow, Dilip Menon's phrase: "often ran besides Empire and nation".
By the early 20th century, by the 1920 certainly, the Tamil Press in the straits was largely Hindu hands. This was a result of demographic changing, changing patterns of migration, but Tamil Muslims acted as active participants in the Tamil public sphere and from the 1920's these newspapers engaged much more directly with the Indian politics.
But Indian politics appeared in the Malay and Tamil press as if through refracting mirror. Political currents that would have been antagonistic to one another in the Indian context shared column space literally without much sense that they were mutually exclusive. So the conflicts between congress nationalism and Dravidian regionalism, for instance, were downplayed as were conflicts between Congress and the Muslim league. Seen from Singapore or Penang all of them together seemed to represent India's march towards political modernity which inspired and reflected positively on 'Indians overseas', a term that both Hindus and Muslims had come to use in the 1920s. At the same time however these Tamil newspapers wrote of the local world of the Straits Settlements and the Malay Peninsula.
Implicitly and explicitly the Tamil press covered the gulf between Urban Tamils (both Hindu and Muslims) and the large population of plantation workers in the Hinter land. Regular and detailed features ran on the state workers wages on their moral condition and on the future of migration between India and Malay. The Madras based journalist B. Dawood Shah who sympathies were at that time firmly with Congress nationalism, wrote of the sufferings of the plantation workers in his travelogue of his journey through Malaya in 1925. He also used it as an opportunity the call for unity within the Indian diaspora in Malaya. And I quote from Abdul Fakhri's work on Shah. "All Indians formed one community we must do away with 'untouchability', caste and religious differences in Penang. We have to learn from the English on how to be united, (and) by doing so we can promote the cause of the Tamil language and the conditions of our poor brothers known as Indian coolies [explain term] whose welfare we can safeguard."
Shah's [B. Dawood Shah] visit however provoked controversy within the Muslim community of Malaya. His detractors in a rival Madras newspaper, Saif-ul-islam, accused him of harboring Ahmadiyya leanings and the slanging match ended up with a case before Singapore Supreme Court in 1926, which incidentally Shah's [B. Dawood Shah] supporters won. The quest for reform inspired many political projects in the 20s and 30s creating cleavages within as well as lines across the boundaries of communities. When the radical anti-caste reformer leader of the South Respect Movement Periyar E.V. Ramasamy visited Malay in 1929 he was received enthusiastically by Penang's Tamil Muslim community even as some caste Hindus opposed his visit vehemently.
The first decade of the 20th century saw the flourishing of associational life in the straight settlements, The Peranakan Club, the Mohammedan Cricket club, the Muslim Recreation Club, the Singapore Mohammedan Football Association, village and regional groups like the Kadayanallur Muslim Association bridged religious and secular purposes with cross cutting concerns and overlapping memberships. The opening of the public sphere was physical too, (and) reflected the changing use of urban space. This comes out very clearly from the memories of A.N Mideen who migrated to Singapore in the 1920's as a boy from the depressed weaving village of Kadayanallur. He wrote a self published memoire and also gave several hours of interviews which are preserved in the national achieves of Singapore, on cassette tapes slightly slowed down with age replete with the background noise of traffic and chirping birds, and places of consumption and entertainment feature centrally in his memory.
He remembers the particular profusion of Tamil Muslims in the food business, their food stalls providing a sight of interaction for working class men from all communities. The stalls would serve up as he remembered it plates of rice and curry megoreng, roja, payasam, payastane a colorly hybrid incorporating influences from around the region but very much in the hands of Tamil Muslims retailors. Mideen [A.N. Mideen] was a regular at the football stadium in Singapore and remembered in particular the visit of the Calcutta Gymkhana Club, where Hindus and Muslims played together. Traces of this world remain in a moving collection of the photographs taken in Penang in the 1970's by the photographer Hui Cheng, who is a medical doctor.
This (is) just outside Penang's mosque, Captain Cling Mosque, shows the street side vending of religious concerts and literature again something Mideen's [A.N. Mideen] narrative wrote strongly as a passing of 1930's. (reference to picture on screen)
And this is perhaps the last of the letter writers again a very common sight in the Penang streets of the straight settlements in 1930's, 40's and indeed up till the 70's. (reference to picture on screen)
But associational life raised question of belonging, of inclusion and exclusion of who had the right to speak on behalf of whom. There were tensions between Tamil speaking Muslims and Hindus over who could represent the community, and indeed over where the boundaries of that community should be drawn, but there were tensions too between Malay and non Malay Muslims.
As we have seen journalists, editors, and activists of Tamil Muslim background were catalysts in the development of Malay print culture. They were participants in the development of early Malay nationalism and ethnic consciousness. By the 1920's however new kinds of tensions had emerged. The Singapore Malay Union formed in 1926 aimed to rest the community's leadership from the hands of Arab Muslims. Branches of this organization spread to Penang and Malacca; the Penang branch in 1938 deciding on the pure Malays could be members. The measure of that purity of course remained in question. When a rival organizations the Straights Settlements of Malay union offered more liberal membership criteria welcoming Non Malay Muslims not all of them were flattered.
In a sarcastic letter to Singapore Straight Times one leader wrote that: "all these days I have been under the impression that as a Muslim local born Indian I can only claim to be what I am," but this new union offered to embrace him yet he felt he had no wish to become in the Malay phrase 'umang umang', which he translated from Wilkinson's dictionary as a 'hermit crab, a term of derision applied to a man in borrowed plumes'. "I would prefer to remain he signed off" as Indian Muslim.
By contrast other Muslims of Indian, specifically Tamil, origin continued to devote themselves fostering Malay consciousness especially in Penang where Muslims of Tamil background where influential for longer than perhaps in Singapore.
Over many years of doing research in Penang I have been told that even in the late 1940's minutes of meetings of some of the Malay nationalist party Umno's Penang Branch were taken in Tamil. I haven't seen any such documents myself.
The huge geopolitical shifts of the 1940's needless to say transformed both the Bay of Bengal and the Malay world and in some ways it narrowed them both. One consequence of the Indonesian revolution was, paradoxically, the final hardening of the border that it first been drawn in the 1820's between the British and the Dutch Empires, though Eric Tagliacozzo has shown it was a contested border for over a century. From the 1940's of course it marked the border of the Republic of Indonesia and what remained British Malaya.
Many radical dreams of the greater Indonesia, a political entity that would encompass the expansive Malay-world, faded after the Second World War even though they remained as a glimmer in the political imagination. At the same time the world of the Bay of Bengal became a region of in contested territorial sovereignty; governed by complex restrictions on mobility, by passports which came into widespread use almost everywhere in the 1940's and 50's.
This period saw the end of mass migration and many instances of families divided and stuck on either side of the sea. Many had to make a choice about their citizenships on terms not of their choosing. The political logic of minority status impinged in the lives of world of political rights of many communities of Indian and Chinese origin across South East Asia.
Muslims of Indian or Chinese descent were often confronted by equally unpalatable alternatives of complete assimilation or the double mind bind of being minorities twice over. Yet even in this new world of nations Tamil Muslims in Singapore, Malaysia or Indonesia, managed in fact better than some of the Hindu counterparts to maintain links with South India while circular migration in the old pattern was no longer possible a significant traffic continued to bind the Coromandel coast to the straits of Malacca.
This photograph taken in the 1950's shows a group of Tamil Muslim men embarking on a voyage back from Singapore back to India and I think some of them were returning permanently others probably on annual family visits.
Illustrating the continued traffic and people and ideas and culture between India and South East Asia. (reference to picture)
And in part because this continued in circulation, in fact the Tamil Muslims community remained predominantly male for much longer than many other migrant groups in South East Asia. They maintained what we now might call transnational families right through the 1960's and 70's if not beyond.
In this final part of the lecture I would like to just hint at few ways in which the long histories of Tamil Muslim movement across the Bay of Bengal has a lasting significance, and in some ways it might even shed light on issues of contemporary concern.
First and simply, these are connections that endure, roots of pilgrimages, geographies devotion continue to connect the coast Tamil Nadu with South East Asia
and one could argue that these connections that are being reinvigorated by the resurgence of economic connections between the two regions manifested in cheap flights which are now between Singapore and KL (Kuala Lampur) and even smaller cities in South India including Trichy and Coimbatore. These inter regional connections are alive in well in the annual festival in honor of Shahul Hamid in Nagore.
This is the invitation to 2011's festival this year. (reference to picture on screen)
And still today ten's and thousand's descend on Nagore at the time of the saint's festival every year. It stands as a testament to the connections with South East Asia.
When I observed the festival in 2009, I met from Malaysia alone Tamil and Malay Muslims, Tamil Hindus and even Chinese Buddhists devotees who had embraced Shah-ul-Hamid locally in Singapore and Penang. Plaques around the complex commemorate donations by the fateful in South east Asia, marble for the court yard floor, canopies to shelter the shrine's schools.
This is one such gentleman resident in Kuala Lumpur who had donated money for the renovation for one part of the structure. As Engseng Ho has argued that the old maps of diasporas have often out-lasted of those Empires and States, and it is not only scholars who are today interested in the Malay-world or the bay of Bengal. These old geographies taken on residents in many ways and all traditions of migrations find new routes. Since the 1990's a significant number of young Nagore Muslims have gone to the Middle East as contract laborers renewing the tradition of mobility in the other direction.
My second point is a more local one and draws on some recent anthropological work on contemporary Malaysia, and that has to do with the role of Tamil Muslims in the social fabric of South East Asian societies of port Malaysian cities in particular. Since the 19th century as I have tried to suggest Tamil Muslim communities created new spheres of linguistic exchange and social interaction in Penang, Singapore and Malaysian towns. They continue to do so.
In a brilliant work of historical anthropology Joel Kahn concludes that in the practice of their everyday life and despite the powerful discourse of race and contemporary Malaysia there are, quote, "no cultural beliefs and practices that are not hybrid".
It is at the level of everyday life and sociability the Tamil Muslims play a central role. Recent work by the Malaysian anthropologist Gaik Cheng Khoo has argued for example the Tamil Muslim coffee shop or 'mamak' stall continues to play a pivotal role in the elaboration of what she calls 'working class cosmopolitanism' in contemporary Malaysia. These 'mamak' stalls are Halal and inter cultural, there are sight of social interaction across the boundaries of race and generation, they remain a place where Muslims and non Muslims can and do inch together despite growing sectarian divisions in Malaysian society. Sumit Mandal has evoked their capacity to engender what he calls 'trans ethnic solidarities'.
And one reason why Tamil Muslims might have been able to play such a role for such a long time is the comparatively speaking the history has been free from trauma. By which I mean that unlike so many others around and the Indian Ocean in the 20th century, Tamil Muslims in South East Asia have by and large been spared violent displacement, communal violence or massive persecution. Which is not to say that they haven't suffered prejudice and indignity and various kinds of exclusion, but to look at their history one has less the sense of watching the pilling of catastrophe. As Walter Benjamin put it, "we will and we must continue to explain and remember the displacement and dispossession that so many confronted around the Indian Ocean in the past century", but we might also benefit from a side long glance - a vantage point, of a history characterized by a quiet survival and every day sort of pluralism."
Thirdly and finally I'd like to return to the role of Islam in imagining the Bay of Bengal as a region today. Islam's history in the Bay of Bengal has intimately been intertwined with water. It spread along with the ocean's rim. It forged new forms of oceanic connection.Tts universalism was rooted in an aquatic landscape though never constrained or limited by it. Most of the Tamil Muslims who made a life in South East Asia came from communities historically linked to the sea: traders, shippers, fishing people. By contrast the Tamil Hindu migrants to Malay plantations were mostly cultivators. Their imaginations and practices deeply rooted in land and landscape. I don't think it's surprising that even in the hay day of the nation state Tamil Muslims found it easier than their Hindu counterparts to maintain their Bay of Bengal connections.
Yet among Tamil Muslims too, a process of territorialization set in the 20th century. This was seen not least in the investment of mercantile wealth inter landed property but also in the imposition of state sovereignty over the Malay world.
A striking feature of the Bay of Bengal world the late 19th century was the melding of different ways of imagining the sea. The coasts were represented in new ways by hydrographic maps [hydrography] and authoritative forms of cartography but older ways of knowing and navigating water remained always important. The Islamic connections across the coastal arc and in particular remained vital. There was no stark divide between scientific and spiritual geographies of the coast, they overlapped.
Ecologists were often amateur ethnographers, pilots and mariners and fishing community's beliefs and rituals incorporated scientific knowledge and new technologies.
Today the idea of Bay of Bengal in its ecological frontier is again of vital relevance in the context of climate change. The profusion of recent discussion and prognosis about an upsurge of environmental refugees fleeing rising sea levels in low lying areas of the Bay of Bengal, restores the older idea that this is a region where climatic forces shape human activity, human security and mobility. But the history of Islam in the eastern Indian Ocean reminds us that other maps can be overlaid on once again what geographers are once again calling monsoon Asia.
The region is also knit together by diasporic threads and Islamic networks, if millions of people are going to be displaced by the rising sea over the next 30 or 50 years many of them will follow old routes. Routes far older than the National borders that now constrain them and we can draw on fragmented archive of what Mike Davis has called the ecologies of fear: changing visions of the risks and opportunities posed by water both in its absence and its excess that might help them form how we see the Bay of Bengal as both an ecological region and a human sea today. Thank you.
Ayesha Jalal: Thank you very much Sunil for this fantastic lecture. Listening to you makes me think of a term that you don't use, but really is sort of, 'transnational regionalism. You talked about Empire Nation I wonder (and) couldn't help thinking (the) extent to which the Tamil region informs this particular interaction (and you) yourself hinted at it by talking about the lack of trauma. I mean, but surely, there are other regions also represented in the Malay Peninsula (and) I wonder what their experiences (are) like, just relatively?
But (as for) my question really, there are two, one very short question and that has to do with Shahul Hamid. Clearly he is from a Sufi order: which one?
And number two, you mentioned in passing Sultan Abdul Hamid [Abdul Hamid II] and his following, or at least some recognition of his claims to be the Sunni Caliph, and I wonder, what echoes, if any, this has been a great mystery for us that we have,I mean you know we have the Khilafat agitation [Khilafat Movement] in India, and as much as we have tried we actually have very little information about the response during this period, I mean even earlier, to explain his claim to caliphate, and what kind of reaction may have been in Malaya during the era, I mean in the post World War I period when Muslims in India agitating, is there any at all, any repercussions at all? So those would be my comments, and I would just simply say that you need to speak into this instrument since we are recording this lecture and please introduce yourself when you start asking questions. Thank you.
Sunil Amrith: Are we going to collect first or shall I answer one by one? Ok, thank you very much Ayesha.
I think transnational regionalism is a very useful way of looking at this because I think the specificities of the Tamil region do play out across the Bay of Bengal as well. One way in which they do that is, I think, the centrality of the Tamil language to a lot of these debates and forms of cultural expression that both Tamil Muslims and Tamil Hindus engage in, and I think back to Abdul Fakhri's work of the late 1990's, which I think was published in Chennai a few years ago, in which he talks about the Tamil Muslim matrix and the sort of importance of language and religious faith interacting with one another and he has very rich account of the particular involvement of Tamil Muslims with the Dravidian movement which was one of course one of intimate involvement by participation and enthusiasm but of course also differences in internal diversities.
And so when Periyar [E.V. Ramasamy] visits Malay and I think it brings out lot of the politics of Tamil Nadu overseas in the sense that you have all sorts of cross cutting agendas trying to either claim Periyar [E.V. Ramasamy] for themselves or to reject his legitimacy as a political leader and indeed to protest against him being allowed to visit Malaya. And Tamil Muslims in Penang were in particularly central in organizing committees the reception committees that welcomed him. No doubt other South Asian communities resident in South East Asia had very difficult kinds of histories. One of the other things that has always struck me in the really muted response to South Asia's partition in Malaysia. Even among, for example, the Punjabi community of Singapore and Malaysia.
Partly I think this has to do with the fact by the 1940's they are quite deeply rooted in the local politics, that circular migration has more has come to an end after 1930's that is, there are repercussions of partition there are expressions of support for either Pakistan or India as the case may be but I am always struck when I look at the press in Tamil and in English from that period there is a sort of deafening silence about partition and I think that has something to do with the ways in which different kinds of South Asia specific political conflicts were translated in different ways in South East Asia. As I said that there might be a conflict between Gandhi [Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi] and Periyar [E.V. Ramasamy] appears almost nowhere if you even read the reformist Dravidian papers of Singapore. They'll feature Gandhi as our great hero and Periyar [E.V. Ramasamy] as out great hero in sort of adjascent pages.
I think that does interesting things which I am still trying to sort of fully understand to how, when and what happens in South Asia plays out, reverberates in the Diaspora.
The Khilafat Movement, very interesting, that is covered quite extensively in all kinds of press in South East Asia in 19th late teens and twenties of course, this specifically does later comment about the importance of Hindu Muslim unity; a universalism that is anti colonial which starts to really take hold in South East Asia this time. And there is then a sort of puzzlement about the Khilafat. Right through the late 20's you have the correspondence to both Tamil and English language newspapers with correspondents asking about what do we do now after what has happened in Turkey by the late 1920's.
Where does that leave us as a Muslim community in the world as specifically in the Indian Muslim community in South East Asia and I think that the reverberations have a long life. Shah-ul-Hamid absolutely member of the Naqshbandi order and he is a very interesting figure. I think when I spent some time in Nagore, there are all of these, 'rumours' is not the right word ,there are many stories of there being Darga's [darga] all over South East Asia, many of which can't now be located all of Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia apart from the two that survive in Singapore. Susan Bailey tells me that there's one in Hoi which was destroyed during the Vietnam war actually. So his followers, and because of Nagore's economic position of the centre of a particular Bay of Bengal world traders from Nagore did sort of disperse all the way through South East Asia very long before the colonial period as well.
My name is Shayan, and I am a student at Tufts, you have described a very rich exchange between Muslim worlds in India and Malaya and I was wondering what the career are the North Indian movements like or Deobandi Islam [Deobandi movement] or the Ahmadiyya is in it? And I am also wondering if membership does specifically Shafi'i Islam [Shafi'i maddhab] limit that involvement in this exchange between these two worlds.
Sunil Amrith: Thanks for that question Shayan. The North Indian currents including the Deobandi movement and Ahmadiyya movement do have a presence in South East Asia. In fact the first Muslim association setup in the Strait Settlements is Ahmadiyya Association which was led by a judge Hafiz Ghulam Sarwar who was of Punjabi origin. His grandson, I think is a major playwright and poet in Penang, is Ghulam Sarwar Yousof. Adherence to Shafi'i Islam [Shafi'i maddhab] actually makes connections possible between the Marakka Iyer [Marakkar] community, the elite among the Tamil Muslims, and the Malay community with which they have the interaction but it is not necessarily a sort of exclusive thing, because someone like Ahmad Hassan for example, whom I mentioned in the lecture, who ends up as a major reformist in sort of Indonesia very much condemned the sectarianism that this sort of led to arguing the actually schools of legal interpretation were useful but could be distracting and in fact he used a printing metaphor.
He said just as the block print and the ink and typesetter doesn't end up not in the book so we must differentiate between schools of interpretation and the fundamental principles of religion. And so I think there are all sorts of conflicts but also powerful universalistic strains which are quite widespread throughout the late 19th and certainly to the 20th century.
Thank you. My name is Shazia and I am a fellow from Harvard University. I am from Aceh which is a part of Indonesia now. And I have a question with regards to the relation the Sultan of Pasay [Pasay Kingdom] with the Muslim Tamil because after the Tsunami they found a lot of graves, actually, emerge and this was never found before.
You know when there was conflict and then even earthquake and Tsunami but after they found this massive - it's written in Arabic and Tamil; so I was of wondering if there is a sort of relation between the sultan of Pasay [Pasay Kingdom], that's my first question and the second question is: during the partition of Malaysia and Singapore do these Tamil Muslims stay in Singapore or do they migrate in Penang? Because if you look at by numbers, I think Malaysia has more Muslim Tamil and their activities. Thank you.
Sunil Amrith: Thank you so much for that question. That's absolutely fascinating what you say about the post Tsunami finds in Aceh and I can't comment specifically on the relations between the Sultan of Pasay [Pasay Kingdom] and the South Indian world because I think the evidence we have is not particularly extensive on that though I think if we read later accounts critically we can see that they might well have been a connection but what there are undoubtedly is long settled communities of Tamil Muslim in Aceh from the 15th/16th century there is no question about. They played quite an important role in Aceh's pepper trade after the Portuguese conquered Malacca and many of them actually moved from Malacca to Aceh.
At that point Aceh becomes, as you know, a rival trading centre for the Indian Ocean trade and the Indian Muslims, Tamil Muslims specifically, I think had a very deep presence in that part of the world but of course many of them inter married into local families and therefore I think their specifically Tamil origins might well have been forgotten over time or certainly shifted from centre stage, and its interesting now but new sorts of finds are are coming up.
And as for the separation in Malaysia and Singapore and from Singapore to Malay and I think it's the other way round. Penang initially was definitely the centre of Tamil Muslim life in the Malay Peninsula broadly, but Singapore in a way sort of becomes a very important centre for their cultural expression right through the 20th century.
And even after the mass migration of largely low caste or Dalit migrants to the plantations, the migrants from South India to the port cities of Singapore and Penang are still predominantly Muslim and that remains the case right through the 1950's and 60's. So I don't see much movement of population between Singapore and Malaysia, what you do have of course families that are divided between or sort of spread out across Penang, Singapore perhaps also South India and some even in parts of Indonesia.
I am Sana Aiyer from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Sunil [Sunil Amrith] I was wondering if you could speak a little bit more about the fault lines of race , that sort of, or ethnicity that emerged. It seems that if at least if not in the public sphere I think you can talk a little bit about in even in the private rim they seem to have inter marriages that come to an end at some point, and you know, does that in some way play into this sort of pure Malay ethnicity that is been talked about in the 30's and 40's. Is it just the question of the Nations State in the territorial sovereignty or there is something social, you know that is changing in terms of the demographic of migrants specially when the circular migration sort of comes to an end? And second and perhaps related to that, you know, it was very interesting what you called you know sort of the Tamil Muslims in Malay being free of trauma because they are really sort of different to other groups of South Asian Diaspora around the Indian Ocean and did that have something to do with the existence of the Chinese Diaspora?
Is there another sort of you know, is there some protection with these different ethnic groups in the way in which false lines are being drawn around race, ethnicity and nationalism?
Sunil Amrith: Thank you Sana [Sana Aiyer] those great questions. Absolutely I think the hardening of the public boundaries takes place and that has a lot to do with demography. Partly simply to do with scale. I think inter marriage is relatively easy and smooth when rather small numbers of Tamil Muslim traders are on a constant, but relatively limited basis, moving to settling in the Malay peninsula. It is not just plantation migrations even of semi skilled unskilled migration, it's on a whole another scale of to the 1880's and just demographically I think that means inter marriage declines quite significantly though it never entirely vanishes and indeed it continues to this day.
Partly there is another sort of class dimension to this, in that the nature of even Tamil Muslims migrants to South East Asia shifts until the 1870's it is largely the elite Marakka Iyer [Marakkar] community of Tamil Nadu (but) by the 20th century Tamil Muslims from poorer in land leaving villages like Thenkasi, Telena Nallur are coming to Singapore in large numbers to Malaysia as well and there is more of a barrier between such. Inter marriages is a very elite thing traders would marry quite prominent local families not just commoners, often members of the ruling families of the Malay states, so I think that is definitely going. One of the things that is most interesting is that to somehow trace the relationship between the private and the public sphere you know how does changing, how do you change families map on to changing forms of political identification and expression. And I think that is at least as important part of the story as policies of the colonial State and the hardening of the territorial soveriegnity. So I think that's really very important.
The point about them being free of trauma and of course I mean this very much in relative sense compared with so many other communities in the Indian Ocean as you point out I think has a lot to do with exactly something what you say which is the specific nature of the port cities of the Malay peninsula. In Singapore and Rangoon make a great in contrast. Rangoon is a place which during the depression experiences significant inter-communal violence and specifically against Muslims of Indian descent in the late 1930 and. the early 1930 during the Saya San rebellion it was more general. There are no episodes of inter-ethnic or other violence in Singapore and Penang until arguably the so called racial rights in Malay in the late 1960's but I think partly that is because they had developed a certain cultural pluralism.
Partly it's because of their sheer diversity as you say that Singapore and Penang were predominantly Chinese cities by already by the 1850's, 1860's and that lands a very different past I think to public culture and to the nature of communal, inter communal interactions that are taking place. So I think yes absolutely.
One final point I would like to make is I think there is something interesting that might be done comparing the position of Tamil Muslims, Chinese Muslims in south east Asia because in some ways Chinese Muslims occupy a similar sort of space that by faith, by marriage. by language they are very much part of the Malay world but also maintain connections with China. And they too once you have a majority of Chinese in places like Singapore and Penang are Non Muslim Han Chinese and this you have the majority of Indians in Malaysia are Hindu Tamils by the 1880's and 1890's.
They have interesting dilemmas of affiliations, either they become 'double-minorities' that is religious minority within an ethnic minority or there is a pressure towards assimilation as natives, so to speak, and I think both the Tamil and Chinese Muslims communities have carved an interesting path between those poles and continue to do so.
Thank you for that wonderful talk, my name is Rachel and I am from, I am a post-doctorate fellow at Harvard. I wanted to just follow up on just want to ask you to speak a little bit more about how Muslim communities who are racial minorities, did they ever attempt to forge sort of solidarities with each other on the basis of, they as being Muslim?
And this is not just within the Chinese Muslims and the Tamil Muslims but also with Malay Muslims who might have before the intense politicization about the 1920's. Were they making associational links with each other on the basis of shared language, did they speak Arabic or Malaysia? What were these factors of solidarity? And I just wanted to ask you as well what your thoughts are on the place of Sri Lankans in this story about Indians in Malaysia .
Sunil Amrith: Thanks Rachel absolutely I mean sort of universalizing solidarity at the banner of Islam I think were very common. I don't think they disappear even at the height of racializing politics, many of the early associations are muslim association. They might have been by chance dominated by one or other ethnic group but that was never their focus that was never there they were necessarily about think the press is a very good example of this.
You look at the early Tamil and Malay newspapers they published by same people they are talking to each other they are also talking across the boundaries. Torsten Tschacher has foun,d in fact that Singai Nesan, and I have seen this myself is engaging in an extended correspondent with the new Tamil Muslim newspapers published from Sri Lanka about global issues and not just issues that are sort of specific interest to them. I think language is often essential basis of solidarity. I think universalism is another, and I think that those do have a long life, I think they persist as a cross cutting pressure against sort of ethnicization of politics which sets in the 1920's and 30's.
The place of Sri Lanka has, in general in this story I think, is a very interesting one. Partly you have a small Malay community in Sri Lanka that is established there in the time of the Dutch, and that remains to this day. Equally you have what we might think of 'twice migrants' that is Ceylon Tamils moving to South east Asia to Singapore and what's very interesting is that Ceylon Tamils are a lot singled in those debates of the 1920's and 1930's as the 'excluded party'. So Tamil and Hindu are, sorry, so Muslim and Hindu Tamils agree that what we do Ceylonese Tamil dominating representative politics, places in the legislative assembly, the legal profession, etc, and they are seen as not of the community despite being Tamil speaking.
So there I also a line of exclusion there. On the plantations to Sri Lankan Tamils often had the role of the Kangani or of the over seer the supervisor so there was class distinctions and tensions that were there so again I think language is one terrain of solidarity but also in this particular case class and origin started to draw other kinds of cross cutting lines there.
Sugata Bose: Thanks Sunil [Sunil Amrith] for the characteristically evocative sort of eloquent lecture. Let me begin with a few stray reflections. I was just wondering if one brought in the context of ,you know, the demographic and environmental contexts in which the big mass migrations of the late 19th century took place then one would in fact see a certain difference between the Tamil out-migrations and the Bengali out-migrations.
In the Tamil case it would seem that the balance is shifting towards Tamil Hindus from the rural hinter lands, while in fact in Bengal you have a short to a medium distance migrations of the Bengali Muslim peasants facing the new kind of demographic pressure to the Brahmaputra valley and Assam.
The second sort of general, you know, impression that one gets from your lecture is that,in some ways British colonialism impeded as much as facilitated some of the movements, at least regulated and controlled these movements in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. And yet the Tamil Muslim migrations were not bounded by the British empire in this period. There seems to be a, you know, a strong current of Tamil Muslim migration to the Dutch East Indies to French Indo-China and so I just wonder whether you would reflect on, perhaps, the relative lack of salients of the British imperial formation in the Eastern Indian Ocean, perhaps compared to the Western Indian Ocean.
The other question that came to my mind as a follow up to Sana's, and it relates to the lack of trauma and so on. Is it possible to generalize about the Tamil Muslim political allegiances during both you know the late 19th century colonial conquest as well as the period of you know anti colonialism in the early 20th century? I ask this because, you know, if think about the Aceh war, you know, which side were the Tamil Muslim traders on? You know the Aceh Sultan of course seeks the help of the Ottoman Sultan Hamid [Abdul Hamid II] in the late 19th century. You mentioned how in one of the Tamil Muslim papers there is this apparently contradictory evocation of this sovereignty of this Queen Victoria [Alexandrina Victoria] and the sovereignty of the Ottoman Sultan. So by and large which side were they on, for example during the Aceh war?
And certainly even if there were differences between Sukarno in Indonesia seems as if there were Tamil Muslim intellectuals who were part of the broad sort of anti colonial current. Say in Indonesia you see Indonesian nationalism taking a stance against Chinese middleman, you know, there is a certain kind of anti capitalist strain to the politics of, say, Sarekat Islam but where did the Tamil Muslim stand in these kinds of political questions?
And finally I just wondered, you talked about Islam and, you know, the role of Islam in the imagination of the Bay of Bengal as a interregional arena. Is there any comparison to be made with, you know, with what role does Buddhism play? Can one sort of try and draw an analogy?
Of course formal Buddhists are much fewer in number in India in the modern period but beginning with the connections of Theravada Buddhism between Sri Lanka on the one hand and Burma and Thailand on the other, but also you know some kind of a Buddhist universalism that you see in the late 19th and early 20th century that has been in some ways less studied than the rise of Islamic universalism in the same period? I just wondered whether, you know, there can be some kind of comparative statements that could be made about religious universalisms and imagination of inter regional arena so just the Bay of Bengal. You don't need to answer all of these questions and comments just pick and choose, whatever you want to respond to.
Sunil Amrith: Thanks you very much Sugata [Sugata Bose] for those very stimulating directions.
I think it's absolutely right that British colonialism didn't impede Tamil Muslim mobility as much it impeded in other groups of people in their mobility. I think one reason is quite straight forward is that the Tamil Muslim networks in South East Asia were quite deeply rooted they were quite long standing and while they were certainly marginalized, they had their ways of survival and in fact one of the things they did was precisely to exploit inter imperial rivalry. So you had a lot of muslim shipping merchants sending migrants from French Pondicherry to Dutch Sumatra completely circumventing British sovereignty and this was of course driving British administrators to distraction in the 1870's and the 1880's.
There is one particular ship that from Karaikal to Sumatra and they couldn't do anything really about it. And I think it's not a coincidence that these Sumatra and that particular stretch of the Tamil Nadu coast were along the Marakka Iyer [Marakkar] shipping businesses.
The other thing is because as you pointed out with your first point I don't know a single case of a Tamil Muslim recruited for plantation labor in Malaysia. Because of that they counted them in the British colonial times as 'free migrants' on whom there were no restrictions at all. It was protected migrants or initially intense and then indebted Kangani migrants whose mobility was very tightly controlled and of course the colonial state went through all sorts of wrangling about who was free and who was not free but Muslim traders were always in the 'free-migrants' category.
So even colonial law didn't seek to limit them in quite the same way and yes they are absolutely stretched far beyond the British Empire, which of course the plantation laborers prisoners never did to some extent. Indo-China was a major centre all over Indonesia. The Tamil mosque in Saigon was built in 1935 at a time despite the depression of relative prosperity amongst that community wanting to lay down some roots but the French clamped down on them as they did on the Chettiars in the 1930's and there was a sort of flight from Indo-China at the same time though they were small in number.
I think it is difficult to generalize about Tamil Muslim politically allegiances over this long period. It seems us perhaps contradictory that they are invoking Queen Victoria [Alexandrina Victoria] and Sultan Abdul Hamid but I don't think they would have seen it necessarily that way from there, I think there was a lot of uncertainty at that time about how these different imperial jurisdictions fit with one another, whether they were mutually exclusive perhaps they weren't.
I think there is a strong loyalist strain among the Tamil Muslim community in Malaysia that lasts through the 1920's or 30's, but there are also many other kinds of alegience. The Khilafat movement as suggested earlier does inspire a lot of attention. Tamil Muslims were not so much involved in the other kind of anti colonial movements that for example Singapore witnesses in the 1910's, the mutiny of 1915, the influence of the Ghadar movement is mostly Punjabi's and other North Indians who were participating in that particular movement. But Tamil Muslims as I say do start to associate themselves with traditions of anti-colonial nationalism both in India and in terms of the rise of Malay nationalism. Suppose one other thing is that Malay nationalism is not actually anti-colonial until quite a lot later. Malay nationalism starts as an anti-immigrant, anti-Chinese, anti-capitalist, to some extent, movement and so that's another sort of ambivalence I think that those Tamil Muslims who associate themselves with nationalist movements feel.
As far for the Aceh war I think their sympathies were on the other side partly for very commercial reason is that it devastated the trade that is Tamil Muslim traders were the heart of the perpetrator between Aceh and in fact they tried to get the British government to intervene on their behalf against the Dutch in the 1870's to at least recoup their losses if not make any more noise other than that.
And finally I think the comparison with Buddhism is rich and is very much under done. I think one of the interesting moments in the early 1950's is when Periyar [E.V. Ramasamy] and Ambedkar [B.R. Ambedkar] visit Burma together, and they do this in the name of a sort of a emancipatory universalism which they associate with Buddhism particularly also perhaps more broadly, the movements of social and political reform that had swept that whole part of South Asia.
I think there is a difference in terms of numbers, but Buddhism features in the story in another way as well ,in that actually it was on the terrain of Buddhist reformism that you had a lot of rich interactions between Indian and Chinese communities in 1920's and 30's. It actually gave a shared language to, for example, the Self Respect Movement and their followers in Singapore to talk to the Chinese social reformers trying to do similar things within the community in the Dutch East Indies as well as in Malay.
Ayesha Jalal: Let me pursue this a bit further. Since you have talked about the Khilafat movement twice but in your response to me you seem to suggest that the Khilafat movement was important was reported but primarily with the view from underscoring the necessity of Hindu Muslim unity.
I am rather more interested to understand what the Khilafat movement seemed to mean to the Tamil Muslim Diaspora in Malaya, is it a question I mean in the case of India of course it's anti-colonial nationalism but there is a direct concern with what's happening in the Hejaz. Is that an issue for them at all? or is it primarily seen as, is it really sort of bouncing of India? Or is there a direct relationship or affinity even with the Ottoman Caliphate, and who the next Caliph will be? I wonder whether those debates take place amongst the Tamil.
Sunil Amrith: The debates do take place, and they are not as extensive in South East Asia as of course they were in India and I think both of this is going on and to some extent there are bouncing off sort of specific Indian anti colonial Khilafat movement but going back to the first Tamil newspapers in South east Asia in 1870's there is a deep and personal connection with the Hejaz with what's going on there and of course Tamil Muslims as much as Muslims from across the archipelago do perform much in larger and larger numbers through the 1920's. And so personal experience of pilgrimage, of the Ottoman lands stretching back to the late 19th century, I think do figure in some of these debates going on.
I think what happens as far as that side of the story - the 'non', if you like, the side of the story that's engaging directly with the future of the Caliphate - is that a lot of that are spilt into the Malay press that's not necessarily taking place specifically in Tamil, in a way Malay is as the lingua franca for a lot of the specifically Muslim debates, perhaps provides the central ground for a lot of those discussions that are certainly going on I think in the 1920's
Ayesha Jalal: Thank you very much for the lecture and a very good question and answer period. Thank you Sunil Amrith.
Sunil Amrith: Thank you.