Islam and Empire in Princely India: Of Sepoys, Madmen and Cosmopolitans
Lecture-cum-visual presentation by Nile Green, University of Manchester, Great Britain
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
4:00 PM - 6:00 PM
6275 Bunche Hall
Among the more curious connections forged by the British Empire in India was that between Islam, the army and the colonial asylum. Britain’s attempts to modify India’s martial traditions saw the holy men who had long protected the Indian soldier re-invented on the model of the regimental chaplain. While such Muslim ‘padres’ worked in the service of empire by overseeing the careers of their sepoy clientele, empire in turn helped disseminate the patronal Islam of the Indian soldier. Yet this informal contract came with its own small print. Some forms of Islam were more acceptable to Protestant ideas of religion than others, and with the introduction of the asylum to India a number of holy fools connected to the sepoys were duly detained. This attempt to police the meanings of madness was of limited success and in the British space of the cantonments ‘insane’ fakirs used their clown’s freedom to express resistance to empire. Drawing on small town Urdu chapbooks and colonial records, the lecture follows the spread of what was quite literally an ‘Islam of the subalterns’ around the cantonments of princely Hyderabad to the early 1900s when a Hindu intellectual used one such mad Muslim sepoy to formulate a popular politics of the cosmopolitan.
Nile Green is Lecturer in South Asian Studies at the University of Manchester, Great Britain. He studied at the universities of London and Cambridge, and was Milburn Research Fellow at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University, between 2002 and 2006. His research focuses on the history of Islam in South Asia, particularly on the social and political history of Indian Sufism. However, he has also written on Indo-Islamic reform, the history of objects, Indo-Muslim travellers, oral and subaltern histories, the ethnogenesis of the Afghans, the history of dreaming, and the politics of meditation in colonial South Asia. In addition to over twenty-five articles and book chapters, his publications also include Indian Sufism since the Seventeenth Century: Saints, Books and Empires in the Muslim Deccan (London & New York: Routledge, 2006). He is presently completing a historical monograph on customary Islam and religious reform in colonial India and editing a collection of essays entitled Religion, Language and Power. He has travelled widely in Pakistan, India and Iran and throughout the Arab Middle East.