When Britain accused Hyderabad’s Nizam of overlooking slavery

Hyderabad: The British Indian government had charged the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Mahbub Ali Khan, with promoting slavery and discrimination in his state against African people. The government then had vehemently denied the charge and said except for a few stray incidents, there were no cases of slavery in the whole region of Hyderabad.

According to city historians, slavery system was widely prevailing in many parts of the world in the late nineteenth century. But in the princely state of Hyderabad, they said every citizen – irrespective of his religion, caste, creed, or colour – had equal rights.

Letters exchanged between the then British Resident at Hyderabad, Charles B Sanders, and Secretary (Foreign Affairs) of the British Indian government in 1870, and those exchanged between Sanders and the Prime Minister of Hyderabad State, Turab Ali Khan (Salar Jung 1, who was the regent as Mahbub Ali Khan was just four years then) disclosed some interesting facts about the princely state of Hyderabad.

Salar Jung’s letter

On 13 November 1870, Salar Jung wrote in a letter to British Resident that whenever an Arab arrives in the State, some Africans accompany him. “I do not know whether they (Africans) come as ‘slaves’ or as free men,” Jung wrote.

“Immediately after their arrival, however, they are seen in the service of other masters. From this, I conclude that the law of slavery does not apply to them. Since the day I took charge of law and order and the administrative affairs, except few stray cases, no major incident of slavery or injustice to the African people came to my knowledge,” observed Jung in his letter.

As per the historical record found at the National Archive of India (NAI), a letter exchanged between Charles Sanders and the then Secretary (Foreign Affairs) on 30 November 1870, shows that Deputy Inspector General of Hospitals A G Bilfour complained to the British government about the alleged slavery incidents in Hyderabad.

When Bilfour spoke about slavery in Hyderabad, his statement, some historians deem, may not be fully untrue as Arabs were frequently bringing Africans along with them.

Black History Month

It is also known as African-American History Month. It is celebrated to acknowledge the achievements by African diaspora. In the United States of America and Canada, it is celebrated from 1 February to 1 March whereas, in Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, it is observed in October.

Africans have an age-old connection to Hyderabad, as much before the Asaf Jahi or Nizam era (1724-1948), Africans, known as Habshis and Siddis, had been living in the city during the Qutb Shahi or Golconda dynasty (1518-1687), which founded our city. Habsiguda and Siddiamber Bazar are two areas believed to be in existence from that period.

However, while the issue of slavery¬†among Africans can be debated, it might be pertinent to note that there was however feudalism in the Hyderabad state, which was then the norm. State appointed Jagirdars (revenue collectors) did indulge slavery, especially in the districts of Telangana in the Hyderabad state, called “vetti chakiri” (bonded labour).