As I got off the bus from Hyderabad to Pune and got into an autorickshaw, I saw a march where participants were holding torches and saffron flags. After ensuring that the rickshaw driver was not a Hindu, I asked, “What is this about?”
“It is some Hindutva march. It is very common in the city,” the driver responded, seemingly after doing his own safety check.
“I’m not from here. In fact, I’m from Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh. I’m a graduate and have been driving around a friend’s autorickshaw from the time I came here here,” he continued as the auto crossed hoardings of ‘Hindustan for Hindus’.
“I’m also from a political Muslim family and I do not like the politics unfolding in Uttar Pradesh and that’s why I got out. It is pretty crazy these days,” he said.
“You must have heard of this film, The Kashmir Files,” he continued. “Kaun padha likha film ko itihaas samajhta hai? Sab itihiaas badalne me lage hue hai (Which educated person thinks of a film as history? Everyone is busy changing history.)”
He asked me where I am from.
“I’m from Hyderabad,” I replied.
“Achha shehar hai (It is a nice city). Hyderabad is not like this. My brother has gone there. I heard that it is not crazy like here,” he said.
In January 2020, as I waited for Bhim Army leader Chandra Shekhar Aazad to come and address a crowd at Crystal Gardens in Hyderabad’s Mehdipatnam, a lady in her mid-50s, wearing a hijab, was explaining to other women around her that the promise of Telangana was that of power to Dalits and Bahujans.
In the same month, I met a 19-year-old Muslim medical student who had turned up alone for the Million March against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Hyderabad.
“My friends did not turn up but I thought I should be here,” she said. “We will stick together during the march.”
Together, we walked the NTR Ground at RTC crossroads. It was an exercise in political education and becoming a citizen, which we undertook together.
In an address at the Deccan Historical Congress, held in April 1945 under the patronage of the last Nizam of Hyderabad, Mirn Osman Ali Khan, then vice-chancellor of the Osmania University, Nawab Ali Yawar Jung, spoke about the distinction of the Deccan in standing defiantly against the singular imposition from the North. He said that the resistance of the South to pressures from the North had baffled efforts to establish singular rule in India.
In 2018, when Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would throw out All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi if the party came to power in Telangana, just like the Nizam of Hyderabad was thrown out, Owaisi took recourse to historical consciousness. He said Adityanath did not know history; that the Nizam had never been thrown out, but was made the Raj Pramukh.
In another speech in the Telangana Assembly, AIMIM MLA Akbaruddin Owaisi said, “Jawaharlal Nehru had said if there is a real concept of India which exists and which can be called a ‘miniature India’, that is the Hyderabad state of the Nizam. Is it not history? Nizam was the only person who had given money for the translation of the Bhagavad Gita. Nizam gave money for several temples.”
In November 2017, Urdu was declared the second official language of Telangana. The BJP interpreted this as a minority appeasement programme. However, what this framing, associating religion with language, ignores is the long history of Urdu in the state and in Hyderabad city.
The region has fostered multiple languages and many luminous Telugu writers spoke of Urdu as their own language. Dasharadhi Rangacharya wrote in his autobiography, Jeevanayaanam, that religion cannot be ascribed to Urdu. He claimed Urdu as much his own as Telugu.
Telugu poet and writer Kaloji Narayana Rao pointed to the complexity and intermingling of various languages and linguistic cultures in the region in his autobiography, Naa Godava, writing:
“My mother spoke Kannada and Marathi. She learnt Telugu only after coming to our house. My father didn’t know Marathi. His ancestors were Maharashtrians, so he perhaps understood, but couldn’t speak. He spoke Hindi. So there was no common language between my mother and father. Their marriage happened in Tirupati. People from one side didn’t know Telugu; people from the other did not know Kannada and Marathi. I wonder how they married? My mother spoke in Marathi, my father in Urdu. They used to understand each other. We spoke in Urdu to father, Marathi to mother and in Telugu to our peers. Teen batti, chaar rasta…”
It must also be noted that Kaloji was a prominent leftist and was against feudalism.
In July 2022, in response to a tweet by the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in Gujarati, taking a dig at the BJP, the latter tweeted in Urdu, assuming they were returning the favour. What they forget was that Urdu is the language of the land.
In an Iftar event in L.B. Stadium in 2019, Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao quoted Mahatma Gandhi to say, “These are not my words. They are Mahatma Gandhi’s. That Telangana is an important example for the world of Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb. Gandhiji said others should learn from this. This is our status…”
In December 2021, Telangana minister K.T. Rama Rao invited comedians Kunal Kamra and Munawar Faruqui to the state when their shows were cancelled in other cities. Hyderabad is “welcoming of all cultures and criticisms,” he had said.
On July 1 this year, just before the national executive meeting of the BJP was to be held in Hyderabad, interesting hoardings began to appear in the city. One referenced the popular Netflix series Money Heist, calling prime minister Modi a ‘robber of the nation’.
The symbolism here was quite apt. Money Heist is about a group of robbers who rob the national bank to expose the problems of the monetary system and critique the government’s control over it. The show presents the robbers as conscience-keepers; as Robin Hoods of sorts. In this hoarding, they are shown exposing the problems of the Union government.
Other hoarding came up too, which read, ‘Enough Modi’ and ‘Don’t kill people, Modi’ with the hashtag #ByeByeModi listing out several problems of the BJP government.
“Amidst the growing saffronisation of spaces, I somehow find Hyderabad a bit breathable. Perhaps it is my bias, for I am from here,” I said to my academic friends
“We are not from here but we chose this city. It really is like the New York of India,” one of them said in jest.
“No really! The city lets you be,” another added.
Chand Bibi, the warrior queen of the Deccan, fought against Mughal annexation. Emperor Akbar could not expand his kingdom because of this valiant woman. This queen regent, in many ways, represents the defiance of the Deccan against the domination of the north, said researcher Sarah Waheed, while talking about her recent work on Chand Bibi.
Two historians discussing contemporary politics spoke thus:
“They are taking away our spaces…saffronising them…”
“We cannot give up… in such an onslaught, we must dare to imagine alternatively.. They will attempt to steal our imagination but we must resist and imagine of collectiveness and solidarity.”
These disparate events, spread across time and geographical locations, point to the symbolic significance of Hyderabad-Deccan as a territory in defiance of the majoritarian Hindutva politics of today. The spirit of the Deccan is now spearheaded by Hyderabad city.
It must be acknowledged that many of the above incidents are definitely politically motivated, and some might even be two-faced. In fact, some of the political forces which make claims for tolerance are themselves perpetrators of violence against citizens and activists. There are also many Hindu supremacist claims by the same political figures.
In spite of all this, it is significant to note that Hyderabad lends itself to this alternative imagination. That in spite of their own fault lines, political forces are forced to lay claim to alternative, pluralistic politics, says something about the place more than these individuals and political parties. Hyderabad stands distinct when in most other parts of India, majoritarianism is being peddled proudly, without any qualms.
The ‘alternativeness’ of imagination lies in the claim for plurality amidst the forceful Hinduisation of the society; the claim for historical consciousness amidst the widespread discrediting of history; of acceptance amidst widespread separation; of Muslim belongingness amidst othering.
It is not that Hyderabad is perfect; far from it. It has its own problems of ghettoisation and communal politics. But as someone who belongs to the city, the city allows me to think that an alternative imagination is possible. Perhaps it is a figment of my imagination, but my contention is that places lend themselves to certain kinds of imagination; not all places can be everything. It is because of the symbolic significance of the city that it is attracting Muslim migration from other parts of the country where they are persecuted.
It is perhaps because of this characteristic that the RSS-BJP is trying hard to redefine Hyderabad by reinterpreting and weaponising history and literally occupying space through structures, such as the Bhagyalakshmi temple, which encroaches on the historical Charminar; the RSS karyakarta rallies; public meeting; and, recently, the huge BJP executive meet.
Hyderabad has been considered a challenge for the Hindutva imagination, right from the early 20th century. Since the 1930s, the Hindu Mahasabha and Arya Samaj have been working to construct Mir Osman Ali Khan as an oppressive ruler ruling over the majority Hindu population. This framing of the history of Hyderabad as communal and oppressive towards Hindus continues to date. Evidence of this can be seen in Adityanath’s claims to rid Hyderabad of ‘Nizam culture’, or the constant framing of the annexation of Hyderabad state into India as ‘liberation’.
The Hyderabad of my imagination, traced from the anecdotes above, is putting up a valiant fight against the Hindutva onslaught. As Hyderabadis, we are standing against the colonisation of our imagination. It is these fertile, pluralistic, multifarious imaginations that India needs today.
In fact, most regions possess these imaginations but unfortunately, they are drowned out by the singular narrative of the nation and Hindutva. It is the distinction of Hyderabad that it is still able to project small voices of plurality, challenging the Hindutva hegemony. It is this spirit that needs to be nurtured and multiplied across India in order to fight against the Hindutva forces.
C. Yamini Krishna works on film history, urban history and Deccan history. She is a part of the Khidki collective. She currently teaches at FLAME University.
Featured image: Students hold placards as they raise slogans during a protest against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) at Maulana Azad National Urdu University in Hyderabad, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. Photo: PTI.
This article was first published on The Wire.