History shows us that ordinary Muslim and Hindu masses of North India were the prime movers and basic engine of this revolution. It is they who surged into Mughal Delhi from adjoining towns and even as far as Telangana in South India, on May 10, 1857, to make the revolution possible. Indeed most of them were the jawans, sawars, sepoys of the British East India Company army.Ã‚Â A very large number of Hindu peasents and sepoys joined fellow Muslim sepoys to ignite the revolution and beseeched the reluctant Mughal king Bahadur Shah Zafar to accept their leadership . A large number of Muslim clerics used their organizations to fight the British army to liberate India from the firangis. After the revolution failed they and their families suffered horrendous death and destruction.
TREACHERY OF THE ELITE
While it is true that the Sikh, Maratha and some other Hindu princely states supported the British army in this revolution, it is also true that some princely states eg Rampur, Tonk, Jhajjar, Loharu, Hyderabad, Patiala etal also actively supported the British army.
More than anything it was the gross betrayal by a large number of Delhi’s elite who collaborated with and spied for the British and helped them in every possible way in the May-September 1857 occupation of Delhi by the mutinying sepoys, that resulted in the defeat of the sepoy army.
When the British-Sikh-Gurkha-Pathan army attacked Delhi in September 1857, the sepoy army had an upper hand in beating back the British attack in the first month. At that time General Arcdale Wilson, the leader of the British army was seriously planning to withdraw from Delhi.
At that instance when about 70,000 Delhi citizens assembled outside the Red Fort to join the sepoy army, on the urging of the sepoy army Zafar did mount an elephant and started to come out of the gate of Red Fort to address the Delhi citizens. But at that time his prime minister Hakim Ahsanullah Khan persuaded Zafar to return to his palace inside the Red Fort telling him that it was too risky to go outside. Zafar made the excuse that prayer time was approaching and refused to leave the Red Fort and address the mixed Muslim-Hindu Delhi citizenry. He also sent a letter to the British General Wilson telling him that he was protecting many British families in his palace and was telling the sepoys to go away.
Bahadur Shah Zafar’s own prime minister Hakim Ahsanullah Khan, Zafar’s youngest and chief queen Zeenat Mahal Begum and her son Prince Jawan Bakht collobotated actively with the British and constantly spied for them. Similarly Delhi’s top Hindu elite also collaborated with the British army. In September 1857 as the British army finally got the upper hand, several Mughal princes including Zafar’s sons eg Jawan Bakht and his queen Zeenat Mahal showed the British army where the treasure and jewelry of the other queens and princes were kept.
Zeenat Mahal Begum and Prince Jawan Bakht’s primary goal in this revolution was to collaborate with the British fully in order to get Jawan Bakht appointed as the successor to Zafar. Indeed this is how earlier Zafar himself had become the king of Delhi. Even though his kingdom did not stretch outside the Red Fort.
When the sepoy army became angry with Hakim Ahsanullah Khan for his treachery and collaboration and set fire to his opulent mansion, no less a person than Zafar’s Poet Laurate Ghalib lamented that fact in a letter to one of his friends. Indeed after the British occupation of Delhi when the British dragged Ghalib out of his house and presented him to a British army officer, he begged for his life saying: ” I am sorry I did not present myself to you earlier. I do pray for your success and have done so all along from my house.” Ghalib reminded the Firangi officer that in earlier years he had written Qasidas and Masnavis in praise of Queen Victoria praying for her long life and long rule in India.
DECADENCE OF THE ELITE
It is not out of place to point out that in the Delhi of that era personal immorality and lack of character among Delhi’s elite had sunk to an all time low. Many Mughal princes had multiple affairs with many women including concubines from Zafar’s own haram. Drinking liquor regularly, gambling heavily, indulgence in kite flying (patangbazi), pigeon fighting (kabootarbazi), cockfighting (murghabazi), spending evenings in the parlours of courtesans (tawaif parasti), and taking large loans from the Baniyas were the accepted way of life
Many a Urdu poets of the first half of the 19th century (1800 -1857) appreciated such practices in the garb of liberalism. For instance renowned poet Mirza Sauda wrote:
“Aya hoon taaza din ba haram shaikhona mujhay
Puja namaaz say bhi muqaddam bahut hay yaan.
Kaaba agarchay tuta to kya jaae- gham hay shaikh
kuch qasr-e-dil nahin kay banaya na jaa-e-gaa.”
Another renowned Urdu poet of the era, Qaaim Chandpuri wrote:
“Jis musallay pur chirakyay naa sharaab
Apne aain main woh pak nahin.”
Ofcourse such fringe-liberalism drew strength from the practices of a few deviant Sufis from the earlier eras of emperors Shahjahan and Jahangir. For instance in that era there was a well known Hindu mystic in Banaras by the name Jadrup to whom several deviant Sufis and Muslim courtiers used to do sajda. When enquired, they justified it by saying that doing sajda to someone who is a source of much knowledge is permissible in Islam.
Even as the revolution was fading and the British were gaining the upper hand many Mughal princes and noblemen, most notably Prince Jawan Bakht, pleaded with the British army officers for British liquor and cheroots (British cigarettes), and traded many secrets of the Mughal household and the Indian sepoy army for these indulgences.
The British Lieutenant Edward Omanney wrote the following telling words in his letters about Zafar’s chief queen Zeenat Mahal Begum and her son Prince Jawan Bakht, ” What an instance of the state of morals and domestic affairs of the Royalty ! Mother and son at enemity, the son trying to form a connection with his father’s concubine, and setting at nought the precepts of his religion, buying from and drinking the liquor of an infidel.”