Organized Panel Session
The consolidation of the British Raj after 1857 disrupted models of employment and patronage on which Persian-educated North Indians had historically relied. As a result, large numbers of Persian-literate Indians sought patronage and employment in the remaining quasi-autonomous “princely” or “native” states scattered across the subcontinent. This paper analyzes the professional cultures and sites of employment accessed by Persian-educated individuals displaced by the post-1857 reorganization political economy.
Through the memoirs of ‘Abdul ‘Alīm Naṣrullah Khān, a migrant from Awadh who secured work as a financial officer in the quasi-autonomous state of Hyderabad in 1865, the paper examines the relevance of Persian to individual mobility between colonial and princely South Asia. Nasrullah Khan and many of his contemporaries secured work in states like Hyderabad by leveraging not only their rootedness in Persianate administrative practices, but also their ability to navigate between those practices and forms of colonial and vernacular prestige. Drawing on Nasrullah Khan’s autobiographical account, as well as his descriptive writing about urban Hyderabad, the paper interrogates the positionality of Persian in the linguistically plural administrative and educational spaces of quasi-autonomous Indian states. It likewise demonstrates that states like Hyderabad constructed claims to Persianate and Indo-Islamic heritage through the employment and patronage of migrants.
Focusing on historical moments and spaces more frequently associated with the rising prestige of Urdu and English, the paper probes the continued relevance of Persian education and Persianate administrative culture in the wake of colonial domination.