Education that is Multicultural - Social Fluidity in Delhi: A City of Seven Cities

Blog #2

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...

12 responses
The level of power women receive is constantly changing with time and within cultures. I begin to wonder the alter of female empowerment in India from the ruling of Razia Sultana to today where there seems to be a large sense of patriarchy and separation between the genders (even though there are not only two types of gender identifications and gender is a social construction). How, when, and why did this shifting of female empowerment occur? Not only in India but also in other cultures where there has been a large shift from matriarchy to patriarchy?
I can be able to sympathize with what you said Ms. Lila I. As soon as I read the part That slaves instead of being used to be a servant and grind hard. In India they were used for other purposes. As it says, "elite military slaves, who served purely political tasks for their owners” (page 5). The moment I read that slaves instead were owned by Indians, who gave them technically positions was shocking. I had the same thought and feelings. It was there that my definition of what is a slow change. I even went back to look for it is defined to reflect on it.
I agree with the slave trade, I didn't know it occurred during the pan American slave trade either. The way they were treated makes my thoughts alter my perception on African American slaves in the United States.
The first highlight of the day for me when we got to Qutab Minar made me really think about the role women played in changing (or should I say imposing themselves) in order to fight for the separation between the genders. As we were reading about Razia Sultana, I kept feeling a sense of pride and wonder how hard it must have been to be the first to lead such activism in those days. The second highlight for me was the amazing architecture of the place. I was even more impressed about the iron that never rusted after more than two thousand years. I keep thinking our architects and homebuilders should look back at the past and learn something.
I agree Lillia! Its been quite a shock to me to see how women are treated, viewed and characterized in India. Besides that, it was also a surprise to me that in India, slaves werent treated the way I have read when I was younger, instead they were nobles, rulers or merchants. According to the article, African slaves were brought in to serve as military power. This was a huge difference between African slavery in America and Europe! How beautiful was the Qutub Minar! The overall scenary was breath taking! So much history was captivated in such a shirt day. We surely could of spent a good whole day there, really embracing the true amount of all that history!!!!
Throughout this course, I want to focus on women's perspectives within Indian education & culture. To my surprise, I didn't need to look very far for an exemplary woman who was both empowering and revolutionary. It was incredibly refreshing to see women's histories being privileged and honored. Though the structures and the architecture were stunning at Qutab Minar, it was Razia Sultana's story that took center stage---and that's exactly where it belongs.
Something that caught my eye at the Qutub Minar, was the inscriptions on the stones. From the unique architecture to the Iron Pillar, the beauty of this place cannot be described in words. As I walked around the Qutub Minar, I was curious to know how it was built and what the engravings meant. Something that struck me was the difference in prices for admission, for a foreigner versus a local. This made me think about New York and the amount of tourists we get there. I wondered, what if things were priced higher just for tourists in New York?
Lilai, I too was shocked to see a women hold such a powerful position at that time! Even today, I have seen the separation of men and women as we walk through the streets of New Delhi! I have even seen these differences and separation in other parts of the world. I wonder what the memorial for Razia Sultana is as great as that of Ghandi and Safdarjang. Another thing that struck me was the beautiful designs found in the structures. There were so detailed and reminded me of the henna tattoos. Although I've been told that henna is just a sign of femmenin beauty, I wonder if there is any connection between the designs found on the architecture and henna designs!
The Qutub Minar was such a beautiful location with a lot of history. I was shocked to see the difference in ticket price ranges, but if it goes to preserving this amazing monument all is well.
I found your blog to be very helpful; it helped me clarify a few things I did not understand. I also could not help comparing how slavery happened here and how people experienced it in the US. I remember when I learned about slavery in high school, I had one definition of slavery because that is what I was taught. However, I have realize that how slavery is being taught in the US is only one perspective, different countries give slavery a different meaning
The historical sites visited today were absolutely phenomenal! The architecture and the innate detail found at each site was astounding. I was also shocked at the separation of genders at the security check point, but contradictory to this, I was even more amazed at the knowledge of a woman ruler in India.
Like Wendy, Razia also left a strong impression, and reminded me how lacking the history we get in school can be. If it wasn't for Chinese school, I would have never learned about Mulan, outside of the Disney version. Here are two movies re: Razia Sultan is a 1983 biopic. In 2015,a TV series on the life of Razia Sultan, starring Pankhuri Awasthy which highlighted both her tough journey towards becoming a Sultana and her much spoken about passionate love life with Altuni