Caste, Class and Identities among Surtee Muslims in KwaZulu Natal (South Africa), c. 1880-2009
This essay explores the variety of subject positions of Gujarati-speaking Muslim migrants from Surat, India, from the time of their arrival in South Africa in the late 1870s to the contemporary period. Known as "Surtee's" in the local context, they have a range of regional, sub-regional, and micro-regional identity choices. They were variously "passenger'' as opposed to indentured migrant, Kathorians or Dhabelians depending on their village of origin, "Surtee" in relation to "Memon" or "Miabhai" Muslims, "Indian" against Whites and Africans, and store owner or retail assistant, depending on the political, social, religious, and economic contexts. This paper argues that what constituted Surtee social "community" has changed over time. In the post apartheid period, boundaries in religious beliefs and practices are blurring, virtually all Indian Muslims speak English as their first (and mostly only) language, and marriage patterns have transformed quite fundamentally. It may be said that class, more than ethnicity, now inflects Surtee identity. Like other Indian Muslims, Surtees too are seeking to redefine Indian Muslim identity in "pure" Pan-Islamic terms that supersedes inherited "Indian" culture.