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Muslims in Bangalore: A historical and demographic overview

Aminah Mohammed-Arif

Following are the excerpts from the book ‘Muslims in Indian Cities; Trajectories of Marginalization’ authored by Laurent Gayer and Christophe Jaffrelot

Most historians consider 1537 as the founding date of Bangalore and Gowda I as its founding father. As a chieftain warrior, he owed allegiance to the Vijayanagar Empire (1336-1646) but later developed a quasi-autonomous state. Initially shaped as a fortified settlement, Bangalore was one of the fortresses that served as a defence for the entire area. The fall of the Vijayanagar Empire in 1565, subsequent to a Muslim sultanate alliance from the middle Deccan Plateau, reinforced the power of local rulers. The old settlement, or the City as it is called today, was then conquered by successive military powers, the army of Bijapur and the armies of Aurangzeb (with a brief Mughal interregnum in 1687-90), until it was sold to the local ally of the Mughals, Chikka Deva Raja Wodeyar of Mysore in 1690. Political changes and instability compelled trading routes to move further south, gradually transforming Bangalore from a crossroad into an urban centre. Traders and artisans from neighboring states (Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra) and from other states, like Rajasthan and Gujarat, were also attracted to the city. These migrants included Muslim communities. Although the Sufi presence in the region dates back to at least the fourteenth century, itinerant Sufis were also part of these waves of migration.

Masjid-e-Khadria, Millers Road Bangalore

It is in this context that two of the most prominent Muslim figures of Mysore state emerged: Haider Ali (1722-82) and his son Tipu Sultan (l753-99).The weakening of the Wodeyar dynasty propelled Haider Ali, chief general of the Rajah of Mysore, to power, and he became the de facto ruler of the kingdom. He received Bangalore as his personal endowment from the king in 1759. This coincided with the growing expansion of the British East India Company in the region. In 1799, Tipu Sultan, the last ruler of the region to resist the British, was finally defeated at Srirangapattanam and the Wodeyar dynasty was restored to power. The leadership of Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan was marked by a large development of trade, and contributed to attracting a large number of Muslims to the city.

Bangalore became a British enclave after the colonial power decided in 1809 to move an important regiment from Srirangapattanam to a location a few miles from the city. Henceforth known as the Cantonment this location symbolized both the subsequent role of the city as the main military pole of South India as well as its expansion as a twin township.

While Bangalore originally referred to the fort settlement built by Kempe Gowda, it developed in the nineteenth century as two separate cities with a dual political and legal nature recognized by separate municipal boards: Bangalore Town, administered by the kingdom of Mysore, and Bangalore Cantonment, placed under British rule.

The dual political nature of Bangalore was reflected in the composition of the population. The city had a fairly homogeneous population comprising mainly Kannada-speakers (including some local Muslims), while the Cantonment attracted a large diversity of people from neighbouring regions. After independence, the city and the Cantonment were unified and formed the Bangalore City Corporation (1949)

Since 1947, the population of Bangalore has witnessed a tremendous boom, increasing from 786,343 inhabitants in 1951 to 5686.844. This demographic growth, which has propelled Bangalore to the rank of the fifth-largest city in India , is mainly the result of an important and continuous migration process of different linguistic and religious groups that has largely contributed to the cosmopolitism of the city (at least 40% of the population include migrants arriving from other states).

Bangalore’s cosmopolitism is reflected in language: according to the 1991 Census, only 33% of the people stated Kannada as their mother tongue. Others were speakers of Tamil (25%), Telugu (17%) and Urdu (12.7%).

However, if the language is symptomatic of Bangalore’s cosmopolitism, it can become a serious hurdle m terms of job opportunities in the public sector since the Karnataka government made the passing of a Kannada language test a prerequisite for entry into government services in the 1980s. It also generates a strong linguistic nationalism from Kannadigas.

The percentage of Muslims in Bangalore is approximately the same as the national average: 13.3% in 2001. As elsewhere in India, Muslims form a   diverse population, comprising different linguistic and sectarian groups: local Dakkini Muslims and other Urdu-speaking communities coming from various parts of North and South India.Gujarati-speaking Kutchi Memons, as well as Tamil-speaking Labbais and Malayalam-speaking Mappilas. The vast majority of Muslims is Sunni, but they also include a small Shia community, whose numbers are unknown. Caste divisions do not seem to be particularly salient in a cosmopolitan context (and Iess so in South India than in the north), but they can be pervasive in some instances (lodging and especially marriage). The diversity of Muslims is also reflected in their ‘ideological’ affiliations: although, as in most other parts of India, a majority of Muslims profess a shrine-base” kind of Islam, all major Islamic organisations have established branches in Bangalore: the Barelwis, the Deobandis, the Tablighi Jamaat, the Jamaat-Islami, the Ahl-i Hadith and so on.


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2 Responses

  1. Happy to read. thank you

  2. Very informative and interesting. Thanks for educating.

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