Saturday, May 22, 2010

Making a secular hero out of Tipu Sultan

Nithin Sridhar

(This an old article published on 22 Jan 2010 in

The Three day International Conference on the Life and Achievements of Tipu Sultan concluded in Mysore on Monday, January 18. It was organized by Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Mysore.

Dr.B.Sheikh Ali, former Vice Chancellor of Mangalore and Goa Universities, speaking at the valedictory function said “Tipu Sultan practiced religious tolerance and was a revolutionary of his time.” Several people had the wrong notion that Tipu was not tolerant to other religions.
K.B.Ganapathy, Editor-in-Chief of the ‘Star of Mysore’, a local newspaper, while delivering his presidential address stated “There are misconceptions about Tipu Sultan among the masses that are under the impression that Sultan had initiated forcible religious conversion.” He added “If Tipu had initiated forcible conversions; he could have had the entire Kodagu populace converted to Islam during his rule over the region.” Earlier, on January 16th, while inaugurating the conference B R Jayaramaraje Urs, Secretary, Department of Kannada and Culture had also described Tipu as a secular-minded ruler.

However, these remarks are far from the truth. The new generation of scholars points to the correspondence between Sringeri Shankaracharya Paramahamsa Parivrajakacharya and Tipu Sultan during 1791-92 and 1798, and argues that Tipu was an upholder of secularism and respected Hindu religious heads and places of worship.

However if one goes through the letters and edicts issued by Tipu Sultan to his principal military commanders, the governors of forts and provinces, their argument falls apart. The letter of January 19, 1790, sent to Budruz Zuman Khan by Tipu himself says: "Don't you know I have achieved a great victory recently in Malabar and over four lakh Hindus were converted to Islam? I am determined to march against that cursed 'Raman Nair' very soon (reference is to Rama Varma Raja of Travancore). Since I am overjoyed at the prospect of converting him and his subjects to Islam, I have happily abandoned the idea of going back to Srirangapatanam now."

Previously, a letter dated March 22, 1788, to Abdul Kadir reads: "Over 12,000 Hindus were 'honoured' with Islam. There were many Namboodiris (Brahmins) among them. This achievement should be widely publicised among the Hindus. There the local Hindus should be brought before you and then converted to Islam. No Namboodiri (Brahmin) should be spared.” A letter dated January 18, 1790, to Syed Abdul Dulai says: "With the grace of Prophet Muhammed and Allah, almost all Hindus in Calicut are converted to Islam. Only a few are still not converted on the borders of Cochin State. I am determined to convert them also very soon. I consider this as Jehad to achieve that object."

The above clearly, shows the ‘secularism’ of Tipu Sultan. Further, these historians try to portray Tipu as a nationalist as he fought against the British. But the renowned historian, Dr. I.M. Muthanna, says in his ‘Tipu Sultan X-Rayed’ that Tipu was a traitor as he invited the French to invade India. The letter, dated April 21, 1797, written by Tipu and classified as No. 4 in the Persian File of Records reads: "Since I manifested my friendship in writing to you, my messengers have arrived with the following intelligence which will not be displeasing to you..I inform these events in order to prove to you that it is now the moment for you to invade India. With little trouble we shall drive the British out of India. Rely on my friendship.”

This shows the expansionist agenda of Tipu Sultan. According to the official report of Col. Fullarton of the British forces stationed in Mangalore (During the siege 1783), Tipu's soldiers daily displayed the cut off heads of many innocent Brahmins within sight from the fort for Zamorin and his Hindu followers to see. It is asserted that the Zamorin rather than witness such atrocities and to avoid further killing of innocent Brahmins, chose to abandon the Palghat Fort." Further he states, "It was not only against the Brahmins who were thus put in a state of terror of forcible circumcision and conversion; but against all sections of Hindus".

In August, 1788, a Raja of the Kshatriya family of Parappanad and also Trichera Thiruppad, a chieftain of Nilamboor, and many other Hindu nobles who had been carried away earlier to Coimbatore by Tipu Sultan, were forcibly circumcised and forced to eat beef.” The world-famous Portuguese traveler, Fr. Barthoelomeo, writes in his book ‘Voyage to East Indies’: “Tipu was riding on an elephant behind which another army of 30,000 soldiers followed. Most of the men and women were hanged in Calicut; first mothers were hanged with their children tied to the necks of mothers. That barbarian Tipu Sultan tied the naked Christians and Hindus to the legs of elephants and made the elephants to move around till the bodies of the helpless victims were torn to pieces. Temples and churches were ordered to be burned down, desecrated and destroyed. Christian and Hindu women were forced to marry Mohammedans and similarly their men (after converting Hindu men into Islam) were forced to marry Mohammedan women. Those Christians, who refused to be honoured with Islam, were ordered to be killed by hanging immediately.”

The propaganda that
Tipu Sultan was tolerant and fair-minded towards the Hindus in Mysore is also without any foundation, as explained in ‘History of Mysore’ written by Lewis Rice. According to Lewis Rice, during the rule of Tipu Sultan, only two Hindu temples inside the Sreerangapatanam Fort had daily pujas conducted while the assets of all other temples were confiscated.
Historian Gopal Rao says - "Muslims were exempted from all taxes. Even those who were converted to Islamic faith were also allowed the same concessions," The ‘Mysore Gazetteer’ says that the ravaging army of Tipu Sultan destroyed more than 8000 temples in South India.

Despite this overwhelming evidence to the contrary the myth of Tipu Sultan’s tolerance is being propagated in academic circles. It is high time to voice objection against the whitewashing of history by vested interests. We, the people of India should gather the courage to call a spade a spade.

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