This article discusses the movement of large numbers of enslaved peoples from India to Central Asia in the period stretching from the eleventh to the eighteenth century. The article argues that Hindus were transported to Central Asia as a result of several processes, but that the majority of them were taken into captivity as a product of the military conquests and state-building efforts of the Delhi Sultans and Mughal emperors. Indian sources from throughout this period document large numbers of enslaved peoples transported to markets to the north and west. Estimates are perhaps unbelievably large, occasionally exceeding even 100,000.
The author also draws references from Central Asian sources to document the presence of many thousands of slaves in that region. These individuals originated in numerous places, including Iran, Afghanistan, the pastoral-nomadic steppe, Russia, and, of course, India. In Central Asia, slaves were put to work in diverse activities. They served as agricultural labourers on the plantation-style farms of Central Asian dynastic families, physical labourers for all variety of construction projects, household workers across the region, and more. In an effort to discern the proportion of Indian slaves in Central Asia to slaves of other extractions, the author conducts a quantitative analysis of seventy-seven entries in a late sixteenth-century judicial record from Samarqand (1588–92) having to do with the sale or manumission of slaves. According to this source, of those slaves whose region of origin is mentioned, 58 per cent were from India. While recognising that this conclusion cannot be applied to the region as a whole, the author extrapolates from this that Indian slaves were clearly abundant in Central Asia. He suggests that Indians appear to have represented a dominant part of the Central Asian slave population until the decentralisation of the Mughal Empire in the early eighteenth century, after which their numbers diminished and, in Central Asia, they were replaced by Shiite Iranians.