Hyderabad, May 08: Amjed Ullah Khan, the Azampura division corporator is unusually net-savvy, his emails on all things big and small dropping into the inboxes of many denizens, or Hyderabadis who he thinks matter. So the latest email from the corporator shows an immaculately dressed Akbaruddin Owaisi at a wedding function in 2006, sharing the stage with Mohammad Pahelwan, the alleged mastermind behind the attack on Owaisi last week.
In the picture, Pahelwan, dressed in the trademark lungi and a full-sleeve shirt has a half smile and so does Owaisi. What is significant in the picture is not the changed equation of the two parties but the social and political importance that Pahelwan enjoyed then. He still enjoys a similar support from Majlis Bachao Tehreek corporator and few others.
Political rivalries aside, this kind of support is hardly surprising for those keenly observing the growth of `Pahelwans' in the Old City. For those who came in late, Mohammad Pahelwan is just one among many other `pahelwans' (named so because of their wrestling backgrounds), whose names have over the years retained the identity of the sport they once played but do not indicate the occupation that is earning the `pahelwan' community a great deal of notoriety in the Old City.
Ask residents here and they share the details of the `pahelwan' just round the corner, the man who rules the street or two and dictates who can buy or sell land in the area. "You need a pahelwan's permission, usually a local goon, to buy and sell property,'' shares a former corporator. The underprivileged background of many residents of the Old City has only added to the clout, as they have turned into money lenders, giving loans at huge interest rate to the vegetable vendor or the push-cart puller living in their area. "They run chit funds and extend loans for a 100-day period, wherein a loanee coughs up a certain amount everyday. So, for a loan of Rs 35,000 the daily repayment would be Rs 500 for a period of 100 days," says an Old City resident, adding how its not the arbitrary interest rates they charge which is criminal, but the means they employ to recover the loan amount. "There have been cases of kidnapping family members and exploiting women against a loan amount,'' says a resident. While many `pahelwans' are known to be thriving on the money-lending business, Mohammad Pahelwan was not among them, say those familiar with the pahelwan community.
Those who have worked or lived in the Old City say that if earlier `pahelwans' had small eateries or dairy farms or a small fruit business, they are now property owners and dealers. "When Muslims started going to Dubai for jobs in the 70s, they would come back on vacations and buy plots. They were many empty sites in the Old City and at that time neither the revenue department nor the Wakf board had any control on the land here,'' says a politician active in the area.
Initially, the `pehelwans' also known as 'Chaoosh' locally then, started getting money from their children who had left for Dubai. By late 70s and early 80s they started getting into the business of land dealings. "They started settling land disputes and seeking a good margin out of these deals. Areas such as Talab Katta, Shaheen Nagar, Babanagar, up to Pahadi Shareef among others witnessed many land transactions. As land transactions here grew, and the money pouring into these deals multiplied, so did `pahelwans','' recalls the politician.
But who exactly are these `pahelwans', who are now known to be too big to be touched by the police (the police, it is said, take no interest in the `pahelwan' cases) and too important to be patronised by many political parties? Like many things in Hyderabad, even the history of `pahelwans' can be traced to the Nizam's era. And like many events/happenings in the city, even the growth of `pahelwans' is linked to the rising realty prices in Hyderabad over the last couple of decades.
City historians and old-timers note that it was in the beginning of the 19th century when the sixth Nizam, Mahboob Ali Pasha, gave asylum to the Sultan of Mukalla, Yemen. "At that time foot soldiers were also brought in large numbers and settled in Hyderabad outskirts in barracks, the area which later came to be known as Barkas,'' says a city old timer, adding: "They became part of the Nizam's irregular army and the Nizam also used them as royal guards.''
Their decline started soon after India gained independence and the Nizam's reign was over. In 1948, many descendants of families from Yemen were asked to leave by the Indian government, even as others stayed back arguing they were now Indian citizens. They said they were Hyderabadis and they spoke a distinct Hyderabadi lingo. "Many of them were wrestlers and also promoted wrestling in Hyderabad. They had their own `akhadas' and `ustads','' people recollect.
Today, many Yemen families continue to live in Barkas, retaining their culture and even their dress code__ the lungi and full-sleeved vest and a scarf tied around their neck.
Old-timers recall that it was in the 70s when local pahelwans were first promoted politically, when Arab `pahelwans' Syeed Bin Ali (known as Syeed Pahelwan) and Syeed Baam were used to provide protection to partymen by a senior Congress leader. In the days to come, other `pahelwans' such as Chand Pahelwan also came into picture for settling land disputes. And by the 80s, they had moved from their `kachcha' houses to a `pucca' residence.
Their importance grew with almost all parties patronising them or using their services. If earlier they collected `mamools' from locals, now they allegedly give the same to the police so that they turn a blind eye to their deeds.
Locals say, politicians in the Old City owe their growth, both financially and politically, to the pahelwans. Clearly, political leaders have played a crucial role in making `pahelwans' bigger, stronger. And their spirited political backing continues even now.
----------------------Times of India ------------------