Leftist historians like Irfan Habib may try to whitewash the excesses of Tipu Sultan by viewing the persecutions of Hindus and Christians by the king of Seringapatam as a norm of rulers of that era, but every incident of atrocity executed by Hyder Ali's son in the stretch between Kodagu and Malabar bears clear imprints of Islamic bigotry
While a wishy-washy Karnataka government decides to observe Tipu Jayanti that the chief minister of the state, HD Kumaraswamy, is too embarrassed to attend, the annual debate on whether the son of Hyder Ali was a pluralist, a bigot or a pragmatist has erupted again. The debate does not concern the region most affected by Tipu Sultan's atrocities alone. It's now a national discourse, as it has been for the past few years since the Congress government decided to make a hero out of a controversial character from history.
No doubt, there were instances of Sultan's generous donations to temples, but if torturing Hindus and Christians was a norm of imperialism of the era, as leftist historians like Irfan Habib would argue, these gestures towards the Hindu community should be considered equally an act of statecraft. Ergo, the two practicalities of Sultan render each other null and void. What we are left with are clear examples of inhuman treatment meted out to Hindus and Christians by an Islamic ruler.
Melkote massacre of Brahmins: Why Iyengars do not celebrate Diwali
Hyder Ali had seized control of Srirangapatnam (Seringapatam) from the Wodiyar royal family that had appointed him as the general of the army. The coup of sorts happened during the rule of Immadi Krishnaraja Wodiyar II. However, the dethroned queen of the Wodiyars, Lakshmammani Devi, kept trying to regain their kingdom. When Tipu inherited the kingdom from his father, the negotiations between Tirumala Iyengar, the Wodiyar queen's pradhan, and Lord Richard Colley Wellesley, infuriated the Sultan who decided to exact revenge on the 'rebels' he identified as the Mandyam Iyengars, related to Tirumala Iyengar.
In 1760, in the night of Naraka Chaturdashi, the occasion observed to the south of the Vindhyas corresponding to Diwali of northern India when the slaying of demon Narakasura in the hands of Krishna, Satyabhama and Kali is celebrated, troops of Sultan's army entered Melkote. The Iyengars were too busy in the festivities at the Narasimhaswamy temple to take note of the incursion.
Sultan's soldiers massacred 800 Iyengar Brahmins, targeting first the family and relations of Shamaiah Iyengar who was negotiating with the British. Those killed in cold blood included many women and children.
Ever since, the Iyengars observe Diwali or Naraka Chaturdashi as a black day.
Source: History and Vamshaparampara of Mandayam Sree Vaishnava Samudayam edited by Ashi Sreeinivasa Iynegar, Shamarayat SN Gopal and RNB Tiru Narayana Iyengar
Persecution of Lingayats
Lingayat women used to be topless in the pre-Tipu Sultan era. Sultan found this offensive. He ordered the mutilation of breasts of a Lingayat woman in his kingdom. Hindu women in the kingdom of the Wadiyar dynasty, which had come under Sultan's control from his father Hyder Ali, began covering themselves up ever since.
"Seeing a Lingayat woman selling curds (archaism) in the street without a body-cloth, he ordered the cutting off of her breasts. As a result of which act the wearing of long garments came into use among the whole female population of Mysore," wrote Thurston.
Source: Justine M Cordwell and Ronald A Schwarz's The fabrics of culture: the anthropology of clothing and adornment
Persecution of Kodava Hindus
Eyeing the rich Mangalore port, Sultan launched repeated attacks on Kodagu where the Kodava resistance peaked in 1780. Despite outnumbering Kodavas 3:1, Sultan's army could not defeat the local Hindus who were adept at guerrilla warfare techniques. A frustrated Sultan once remarked, addressing the Kodavas,
If you ever dare to ambush my men again, I will honour every one of you with Islam.
But Sultan could not defeat the Kodavas or hold on to Madikeri, the capital of the latter, for long. Finally, he offered a truce and backstabbed the Kodavas.
Men of Runmust Khan, the navvab of Kurnool and Sultan's protégé, captured the Kodava soldiers who had arrived for peace talks, killed 500 Hindus and made 40,000 abandon their houses and flee to the nearby jungles. According to British civil servant Mark Wilks, the number of Kodava prisoners of war was 70,000. Historian Lewis Rice puts the number at 85,000.
In a letter to Khan, Sultan wrote,
We proceeded with the utmost speed, and, at once, made prisoners of 40,000 occasion-seeking and sedition-exciting Coorgis, who alarmed at the approach of our victorious army, had slunk into woods, and concealed themselves in lofty mountains, inaccessible even to birds. Then carrying them away from their native country (the native place of sedition) we raised them to the honour of Islam, and incorporated them into our Ahmedy corps.
The Kodava Hindus held captive at Seringapatam were forced to convert to Islam. The young were forcibly circumcised. Those who refused to convert were tortured to death.
1. Mohibbul Hassan's History of Tipu Sultan
Persecution of Nairs of Malabar and Calicut
Image courtesy: Robert Sears (1810-92): 'On orders of Tipu Sultan, Calicut merchants were seized and chained to a barren rock'
Sultan attacked and held Achutha Heggade, king of Vittala, captive in 1784. He beheaded him and set the ancient royal palace of the Domba-Heggade kings of Vittala on fire.
In 1788, Sultan raided Malabar and announced that the Nairs would be circumcised. Whoever would resist would be killed. The Malabar ruler Chirakkal Nair Raja surrendered and yet was hanged to death.
Sultan, in July 1788, ordered Calicut governor Sher Khan to convert Hindus to Islam. About 200 Brahmins were forcibly converted following Sultan's order.
Malabar exploits cited to threaten Nairs
Sultan's letter to the Governor of Bekal (near Kasaragod), Budruz Zuman Khan dated January 19, 1790:
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 (Rajah of Travancore) very soon. 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.
Persecution of Mangalorean Christians
Sultan was upset with the British for constant attacks on his kingdom. However, since he did not have enough military strength to harm them beyond his territory, he vented his frustration on the Catholic Christians of Mangalore.
One of the most gruesome chapters of cleansing in Indian history is the captivity of Mangalorean Catholics at Seringapatam. Sultan began this campaign on February 24, 1784, and ended on May 4, 1799.
Sultan expelled all Christian priests. He ordered the destruction of 27 churches. About 92% of the entire Mangalorean Catholic community was captured; about 7,000 escaped, reported Thomas Munro, a Scottish soldier.
"All Musalmans should unite together, and considering the annihilation of infidels as a sacred duty, labour to the utmost of their power, to accomplish that subject," Sultan said.
Different historians and their respective accounts
Scottish physician Francis Buchanan-Hamilton said 70,000 were captured out of a population of 80,000 Mangalorean Christians; 10,000 of them escaped. Buchanan-Hamilton wrote that Sultan's army forced the captives to climb nearly 4,000 feet of the forested hills of Western Ghats. This was a 340 km long trek from Mangalore to Seringapatam that took the hostages six weeks to cover.
British government records say 20,000 of the Catholic hostages died in the course of the march.
In the account of James Scurry, a British officer and captive, 30,000 hostages were forcibly converted to Islam. Sultan's troops forcibly married the young women and even minor girls or got them married off to local Muslims. Men who resisted were disfigured. Their noses, upper lips, and ears were severed so that they could carry the scars lifelong as a message to the subjects who would in future offer resistance to Sultan's rule.
1. The Barcoor Manuscript
2. Paul Thomas's Christians and Christianity in India and Pakistan: a general survey of the progress of Christianity in India from apostolic times to the present day
Last Updated 9:40 PM IST