There was a time in India’s history when being African was no taboo and they mingled in the society and in fact, played a crucial role in India’s history. Some Africans at one point of time were part of India’s ruling elite. The story of Yakut in Razia’s court is not a lone one.
Here are some notable examples.
The journey of Africans to India was itself incredible: bought and brought by Arab slave traders, they were packed into hell ships that came to India via the Indian Ocean and its surrounding seas. They were bought by kings, princes, rich merchants and aristocrats and were referred to as habshis. But not all remained slaves. Some like Yakut did make their own destiny. But while Yakut’s was perhaps a story that didn’t end too well, others set examples worth emulating.
Malik Kafur’s is an interesting case. The transgender slave was bought by Sultan Alauddin Khilji’s general Nusrat Khan for a thousand dinars. Kafur caught the fancy of the sultan and rose through the ranks, becoming his deputy and entering the history books as Nawab Hazar Dinari. In his last days, an enfeebled Khilji was at the mercy of Kafur who effectively ruled Delhi and also played kingmaker after the sultan’s death.
In the Deccan, Africans were making an impact on the political landscape. The small states of the Bahmani kingdom resisted the expansion of the Mughal Empire to the south. One of the pillars of this resistance was Malik Ambar, the prime minister and general of Ahmadnagar who was an African by origin. Ambar is believed to be the father of guerrilla warfare in India since he used his Maratha cavalry against the Mughals with great effect.
The Bijapur state had a powerful group of habshi nobles led by Ikhlas Khan, a powerful general.
Some Africans also get to set up independent kingdoms, like the Siddis of Janjira. The Janjira state and its successor state of Sachin survived until Independence.
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