Event — IIAS Lunch Lecture

Contesting Genealogies: Caste Hierarchy and Social Mobility among Muslim Occupational Classes in Colonial North India

Debates regarding the historiography of Muslims in South Asia, focusing on elite individuals or institutions, whether religious or political, often frame their lifeworlds using the binaries of nationalism and separatism. This lecture will historize caste hierarchy and social mobility among Muslims through the lens of non-elite occupational classes by foregrounding their economic interests to explicate their varied political affiliations.

This lunch lecture takes place in the IIAS conference room from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Amsterdam Time (CEST); it will not be streamed or recorded.

Everyone is welcome to attend, however, registration is required so we can reserve a seat and lunch for you.

The Lecture

The first quarter of the twentieth century saw the founding of several social and political organizations in colonial India led by Muslim peshewar (occupational) classes. The Peshawar Muslims challenged the genealogical claims of a broad class of sayyid and ashrāf (elite) Muslims, engaging them in a public polemical debate that captured the imagination of the Urdu public sphere in the early decades of the twentieth century. Drawing on a rich archival repository of previously unexamined Urdu sources such as qaumī tārīkhs (community histories), local newspaper reports and polemical pamphlets, as well as on the conceptual frameworks of sociologists and anthropologists of caste and stratification among Muslims in South Asia, this lecture makes the argument for a conception of Muslim society that is diverse, fractured and heterogenous. 

The lecture will focus on the multiple strategies deployed by Muslim occupational classes who experienced social or upward mobility. These comprised of claiming an Arabic descent, a Quraish lineage, the status of Shaikh Muslim, or privileging of masāwāt (equality) and peshā (occupation) over nasb (lineage) to critique and contest the stigmatisation of their occupational identity. The lecture will give an overview of the political histories of various organizations led by social actors representing the qassābs (butchers and hide merchants) from Amroha (United Provinces), the mīrāsīs (genealogists and musicians) from Sialkot (Lahore), and the julāhās (weavers) from Bihar. 

The Speaker

Soheb Niazi is a postdoctoral fellow at the International Institute of Asian Studies in Leiden.  He is particularly interested in studying the history of non-elite (non-ashrāf) Muslim actors in South Asia and to understand the formation of caste and class relations among them. He has been a Doctoral Fellow at the Berlin Graduate School of Muslim Cultures and Societies and defended his Ph.D. dissertation at the Department of History and Culture Studies at the Freie Universität, Berlin. Previously, he has been a research fellow with the Max Weber Forum for South Asian Studies and a visiting researcher at the Centre de Sciences Humaines in New Delhi. Most recently he has co-edited a collection of essays on "Caste politics, minority representation, and social mobility: the associational life of Muslim caste in India" for the journal, Contemporary South Asia.