This blog is authored by Study Abroad India student Lilai Teckie who is a graduate student at Lehman
College in the Bronx. She is receiving a master’s in Liberal Studies in international development. She received a BA in political science
from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
January 2, 2016
The second day of our Winter Study Abroad
course in New Delhi, India was spent exploring historical monuments.
After a tasty breakfast and a quick briefing by Professor Gupta about the day’s
itinerary, we hustled onto our 16 seat minivan and headed out into the bustling
streets of New Delhi. It was only about 10 am when we left our hotel, which is
located in the quaint Green Park colony, but the traffic was already thick.
Cars, buses, rikshahs, bicycles, motorcycles, humans and animals were all fighting
for a place on the road and the constant melody of car horns were unavoidable
no matter where we turned.
Twenty-five minutes later when we arrived at
Qutab Minar, we were surprised to see ticket prices plastered that varied based
on whether you were a local or a foreigner. The difference in ticket prices was
anything but subtle-- 30 rupees for Indian locals and 500 rupees for
foreigners. After we purchased our tickets,
we followed signs into the Qutab Complex which had separate lines for females
and males. This was just one of many reminders of the importance placed on
gender and the separation of gender in many spaces within Indian society. Once
we passed the gated entrance of the monument, we were immediately blown away by
the manicured landscape of the complex and the towering beauty of the Qutab
Minar. The Qutab Minar, at 73 metres, is the tallest brick minaret in
the world and second highest minar in India, after Fateh Burj in Punjab, India.
The Qutab Complex is located in what was once
known as Lalkot, the first city among the seven legendary cities of Delhi. It was
constructed in the 11th century and was the center of power during
the 11th to 13th century A.D. Many rulers had come and
gone, constructing other cities that had been abandoned or destroyed, such as
Siri, Jahanpanah and Firozabad, but Qutb Complex never lost its importance
throughout the 664 years of Muslim Rule in India. It was in Qutab Complex that
Qutbu’D-din-aibak, Iltutmish and Balban, who were mere slaves were able to rise
to the highest position of the sultans of the country and were Razia Sultana,
the daughter of Iltutmish reigned.
I was surprised to learn that the slave trade
had occurred between East Africa and India around the same time as the
Pan-American slave trade (Indian Express, pg 5) but even more surprised to learn
about the difference in their purpose and treatment. The slaves in India were
originally from Ethiopia, but were known as Habshis or Siddis (a term derived
from the North African term used to show respect). They were used as “elite
military slaves, who served purely political tasks for their owners” (pg 5). The
Siddi or Habshis even rose to hold prominent positions of power in Indian
society and politics and even developed their own kingdom in Janjira with their
own cavalry, coat of arms and currency (pgs 7-8). I had never imagined slaves
holding prominent positions of power in any society and I realize the fluidity
in society, even among African slaves. This knowledge made me reevaluate my
personal definition of a slave which I had always subconsciously associated to
African slaves in the United States.
I was even more amazed to learn that a woman
once ruled Delhi, as early as 1236 A.D. Razia Sultana, the daughter of
Iltutmish, was the only female to ever rule Lalkot, defying the political,
social and religious customs of the time. At a time when women were veiled and
secluded to harems, Razia defied the status quo and existing gender norms once
again, by putting down her iier veil (purdah) and appearing in public audience in
male dress. To me, Razia’s home city of Lalkot, represents the defiance of
social norms and the emancipation of women and their empowerment. As we left
the Qutab Minar, I could not help but leave feeling a sense of pride and
inspiration, knowing that hundreds of years previously a woman, who was the daughter of a former slave, once
ruled the earth I was walking on at this moment...