Why The 1857 War For Indian Independence Was Lost?

British Soldiers Looting Qaisar BaghHistory 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. 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.”

Photo: Wikipedia

About Kaleem Kawaja

He lives in Washington DC where he is an engineering manager at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Space Flight Center. He is an activist in the Indian-American community and the American-Muslim community; he writes and speaks frequently on the issues of these communities. He is associated with several Indian-American community organizations including the Association of Indian Muslims of America (AIM), a Washington DC based NGO, and National Federation of Indian Associations (NFIA), where he has held leadership positions for many years. He was also the President of the Muslim Community Center, Washington DC for a couple of years and is associated with their management committee for many years.
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20 Responses to Why The 1857 War For Indian Independence Was Lost?

  1. Salim Halalkhor says:

    Personally , I feel very happy that the 1857 ” War of Independence ” was lost by us. Here are my reasons –

    1. Firstly , British rule in India has brought many damn advantages for Indians , okay ?? These bridges , railway lines , postal system , electricity system , roads , etc. were all built by the British AFTER 1850s. All the Engineering Universities you see are made by the British.

    If the British were to leave India in 1850 , just imagine what India would have been. The Caste System would have never been eradicated. Western , modern education would not have been instituted. Enlightened , moderate leaders like Gandhi , Jinnah , Nehru , Ambedkar etc. would have been small-time villagers. You have no idea what the benefits of British civilization has been. No idea. Remember , even Nationalist leaders were all British-educated , and admired the British. Even Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was British-educated and for a time worked for the British Government.

    Truth is that the British “invasion” was the best thing to happen to India.

    And remember , it is a staunch paanch-waqt-ka Namazi Muslim with roots in the old Muslim aristocracy-clergy saying this. I , for one , like Lord Canning and Curzon better than Bahadur Shah Zafar or his ilk , who idle away their time writing poetry , cooking etc. and uselessly praying Namaz without understanding the meaning of it. Understand , that the Mughal Aristocracy was on the decline after Akbar’s death – that’s the truth. Even though I regard Akbar as a deviant and misguided Muslim , still I like his and his ancestor’s administrative ability better.

    2. Secondly , the so-called “War of Independence” was entirely the idea and brain-child of rigid , upper-caste and conservative Hindus and Muslims. These Hindus and Muslims were only concerned about their loss of power and prestige by sitting beside a Dalit Soldier or drinking water from his hands , like that Mangal Pandey. Those “revolutionaries” basically fought on religious and caste issues without caring a hoot about the downtrodden poor , who were after all , “Indians”. That’s why the so-called “War of Independence” could not succeed – becoz they did not have the support of the LOWER-CLASS. How could they support it when its protagonists fought on Caste and Religion-based issues and talked of installing a decadent and corrupt Mughal “Emperor” ?/

    3. The Hindu-Muslim brotherhood during the “War of Independence” is admirable , but the fact is it is all an eyewash. Basically , it was an alliance between Upper-Caste Hindus and Upper-Caste Muslims without any common support. I salute the British Soldiers who justifiably fought against the hypocrites. At the same time I also salute the Indian Revolutionaries many of whom showed exemplary courage I could not show in 1000 years.

    Friends , I beg you to consider my comment carefully and then reply.

  2. appreciative says:

    brilliant article and well considered.

  3. I tend to agree with Salim on some points. Like I said in my review of the book “The Last Moghul”, lack of unity was a major factor in our defeat. I’m taking into account only the soldiers who made up the rebel army.

    Things could have been different if Bakht Khan (an Afghan war veteran) remained in the command of the rebel army as noted by Richard Barter in his ‘The Siege of Delhi’-

    “…And so, when we (British forces) were scarcely able to stand, the attacks ceased, as if by a dispensation of Providence, and gave our force the repose they so much needed.”

    As destined it was a result of Bakht Khan’s differences with Mirza Mughal (Zafar’s son). Also Khan’s extremist religious views had other rebel leaders distancing themselves from him. How he left the Nimach troop to be defeated without coming to their rescue is another sad chapter.

    The great number of Muslim jihadis who gather in the Mughal capital during 1857 didn’t help the cause of uniting the rebel forces either neither did a weak ruler at the top.

  4. arif beg says:

    @Salim:

    No doubt British rule gave India many benefits, however benefits should always be seen along with costs.

    Alex Von in her inimitable style puts this in context:

    “There were two countries in 1577. One was a vast, mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organized and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swathe of the earth; and the other was an underdeveloped semi-feudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its masses.” Guess what! The first is India and the second is England. In 1857 it was the other way about! Now you know what alien rule does to the ruler and the ruled!

    You are making an assumption that had the british left in 1857, Indians would have remain unaffected by the winds of modernism. But remember that after 1857, the British rather became a force to support status quo than bring any change toward the positive.

    Your conclusion that Indians would have made a mess of the country without the British is also unwarranted. The Prince of Wales, visiting India in 1921, found the princely states far better governed than British India! Quite a royal endorsement against the inept colonial rule that kept the GDP stagnating for over 70 years at the time of this observation.

    The point here is not whether British rule brought any benefits or not. It certainly did. The point is what cost it extracted from an impoverished nation to bring those benefits.

  5. Rohit says:

    Kaleem,

    Instead of blaming the liberalism of poets like Ghalib and Suada (India would be better off if we had more of their kind NOW) you should consider other causes including if the concept of India as a country was acceptable to the masses. And much as I disagree with rest of Salim’s comment, he is quite right that the rebellion was mainly an alliance between upper caste Hindus and Muslims which coalesced around Zafar as he was a non-threatening ruler who reminded them of the old glories of Hindustan.

  6. Sudie says:

    Salim
    You seem to taking a very harsh view but in essence I agree with you. In 1857, India was just not prepared to lay the foundation of a modern state. It was a tragedy due to the large scale killings of Indian freedom fighters, but please remember that as Indians we never showed gentlemanly conduct in treating the prisoners of war. Women and children were killed without any sense of shame and a lot of the British atrocities (though completely out of proportion) were provoked due to bestial acts by Indian soldiers. In contrast the American revolution was fought on far more credible grounds. Leadership like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln was not there in India and it took 50 more years for likes of Nehru, Gandhi, Azad and Bose to come on to the national scene.
    There was no strong intellectual undercurrent to the revolt and there was no clear objective. But naturally people changed sides as they saw the tide turning. There was no genuine leadership to speak of and we as Indians really were not thinking in terms of liberty and equality that later on became the foundation of modern India. British rule turned out to be a necessary evil for India to emerge as a nation. Albeit as a nationalist reaction to racism, but India came together over the next 60 years like never before.
    Personally I feel even the partition of India was a good thing. For once the people left behind in India could come out of the entrapments of religion and build a modern state. Observing the state of our neighbors, I think we are far better of today.
    Unfortunately when I see the congress men flocking to the gates of the Gandhi family, in a way I’m reminded of the 1857 incidents.
    Kaleem, if Ghalib had not displayed the apparent loyalty to the British, perhaps we would have lost him. He was a romantic poet and not a nationalist one. Personally, leadership need not come from only the most puritanical people. One can enjoy life, not behave like a monk and still be a competent leader. Aurangzeb, inspite of his apparent devoutness is a hated figure while Akbar while considered a “deviant” muslim is remembered as a great ruler.

  7. Salim Halalkhor says:

    To simply put it , the so-called “War of Independence” had no mass base. In fact , Dalit Soldiers working in the British Army were so enraged at their upper-caste “Colleagues
    ” that they helped the British in crushing the rebellion. Remember , Lucknow and Kanpur were crushed with the help of mainly Dalit Soldiers of the British Army , who felt rather happy to shoot at their Upper-Caste Oppressors. Look at my comment above to understand the significance. And Bahadur Shah was an incompetent commander , and Sepoy Bakht Khan was a religious extremist , really. He was a Wahhabi , and a close friend of Maukana Gangohi , one of the founders of Deoband.

  8. Salim Halalkhor says:

    Also , if you read about the atrocities comitted by the Indian Sldiers on British women and children , the British atrocities , such as hanging 27,000 Muslims in Delhi on a single day – seem moderate. Anyway , read my comments above.

  9. Kaleem Kawaja says:

    I am a little flabbergasted by some statements from some people, who are using their current emotions and the current social movements to make statements about the Indian society in the 1800-57 period. No matter what may be our upper caste-lowers caste emotions today that does not allow us to say things that have NO basis in either history or fact. I never read in either Dalrymple’d books or any other books these kinds of statements. So what is the basis of such statements? Some examples:

    1. British victory in 1857 helped India: What a denial of facts! For at least hundred years ending in 1947 British completely suppressed the growth of industry in India or its modernization. All materials from India were carted away to UK at low prices set by the British, where factories were churning out goods that were than marketed in India, China etc at high prices set by the Brirtish; it was a total monopoly of the British. The few big business houses, banks etc in India were owned by the British not by Indians. In 1947 the total number of universities in the Indian subcontinent was about 20; no university level teaching of engineering, medicine, law was given in these few Indian universities. Any Indian who wanted to study these subjects or join higher civil service had to go to UK and study there (cost borne by parents). Thus Indians were kept greatly backward in all arenas. Just look at the growth in these areas that happened in the first 30 years (1947-1977) after independence. I hope everyone remembers how during the long lasting years of famine in north India, the British Govt insisted on collecting the high level of taxes even though it caused the deaths of thousands of poor people.

    For sure the British did absolutely nothing to uplift the Dalits/lower castes. All of it happened after 1947. I can see that some low caste people are so angry at upper casts that they are praising the British and condemn upper caste Hindus/Muslims and say that they joined hands to safeguard their common interest and to perpetuate the suppression of low castes. But this is total imagination with not an iota of support from any books of history. Some angry people want to rewrite the history of 1857??

    2. Someone said: Mughals started declining after the death of Akbar? At the time of the demise of Shahjahan the Mughal empire was perhaps the wealthist and best managed country in the whole world. In fact it remained so until after the passing away of Aurangzeb.

    3. Dalrynple’s books and books by others on Ghadar show very clearly that the sepoys and jawans who formed the revolutionary army were from the poor strata of Hindus and Muslims. No books say that the Dalit soldiers joined hands with the British to fight upper caste Indians. This is pure fabrication/imagination, perhaps dished out by some pro-Dalit writers of today. In fact very few upper class Muslims (other than Zafar’s family) joined the Indian sepoy army; they kept on spying for British, condemning the sepoys as low class/uncivilized. British made absolutely NO effort to remove the caste system from India.

    4. Even though both Muslim and Hindu sepoys were quite religious (as was the Indian culture of those days) there was very little friction between them on religious grounds. The ulema and Qazis behaved with much restraint and compromise in dealing witrh Hindu sepoys. They declared fatwas saying that: going into war against the Brirtish userpers – to liberate India – who had taken over several Indian princely states was Jihad – holy war. Similarly Hindu priests declared this was a Dharanyuddh. None of the historical books mention that Hindu-Muslim conflagration in 1857 was a significant factor. Again this may be the imagination of some super-secular folks who basically prefer irreligiosity as a virtue over religion.

    5. Bakhtiar Khan: To say that Bakhtiar Khan was a fanatic Muslim or an incompetent military leader is to imagine something that was not so. No books including Dalrymple’s ever say such things about him. All books praise Bakhtiar Khan as an able and experienced commander from the Britsh Indian army who performed well in the siege of Delhi. Mirza Mughal (Zafar’s son) in contrast had never handled anything of responsaibility let alone a military duty in his entire life and knew absolutely nothing about warfare. Like his father Zafar he had spent his whole life in pleasure seeking activities. Yet the Indian army gave responsible army positions to Mirza Mughal and other equally inexperienced Mughal princes. That was a terrible mistake. In the famous “Badli ki Sarai” battle with British these princes ran away from the battlefield as soon as heavy battle began. That caused a route and defeat of the Indian army.

    6. Nimach Brigade: This was a brigade of Hindu sepoys. It is true that this company got bogged down and Bakhtiar’[s company not coming to their help caused much problem. All books describe this as misunderstanding between the two companies and their commanders. No historical books say that Bakhtiar did not help the Nimach company because it was a Hindu comnpany. Again this is someone’s imagination who wants to show that in general the Muslim soldiers were religious fanatics. Yes, some Muslim soldiers were religious fanatics but to take the views of say 1% of soldiers and paint it on the entire army or brigade is wrong. No one should indulge in such imaginary statements.

    7. We must remember that in 1857 many princely Indian states (Jaipur, Baroda, Hyderabad, Cooch Bihar, Jhansi, Mysore, Patiala, Bhopal etc etc) were affluent; were very well managed; had good economy, good army, progressiove educational institutions etc. But they were under the thumb of the British who dictated terms to them and prevented them from following enlightened and growth oriented policies. In fact Hyderabad’s economy was of the size of Belgium and it was the richest Muslim kingdom in the world. If India became free in 1857 these kingdoms would have modernized and industrialised the country just as the kingdoms in Europe did in Europe.

    8. British Plunder: There is no question that if the British plunder had stopped in 1857 rather than in 1947, India would have progressed much in the hundred years and would today be one of the top advanced countries on world stage. British plundered every well to do Indian, whether rajah or nawab or wealthy businessman. And they made even the top class Indians feel as if they were inferior to the most lowly class Britisher firangi. Check out the facts of history and from some good history books.

    9. Ghalib’s character: A person’s character is of two types; one example of bad character is habits like drinking liquor, womanizing, gambling etc; the other is lack of loyaltry to your community, your country etc. This second trait has nothing to do with religion. When Ghalib said to the British soldier “I was in my house praying for your success in the fight against the Indian sepoys”, he clearly betrayed his countryt and his community; how can anyone defend this trait in a man no matter how illustrious he may be? By the way, at that time Ghalib was already more than 60 years old – not a young man.

    10. It is totally erroneous and non-factual to say that upper caste Hindus and Muslims coalesced around Zafar to save their well to do positions. The high class people (Delhi elite and royal family members) kept advising Zafar to disassociate himself from the rebels. It were the sepoys and sawars from the lowest rung of society whpo came into Delhi from adjoing villages and appealed with him to agree to be their commander in chief; it were they who coalesced around Zafar and made him their king. Check out Dalrymple’s book or others’ books on Ghadar.

    11. Atrocities by Indian sepoys: Again it is very erroneous to say that the British atrocities were mostly in response to atrocities of Indian army. It was the other way round. The British army had adopted a scorched earth policy; burning and looting villages and setting them on fire and killing larege numbers of people. It was mostly in reaction to this that some Indian army folks (eg in Kanpur, Delhi) killed British women and children. I deplore that. But no one should invent facts and make Indiand responsible for atrocities. I object strongly agasinst such statements that have no basis in facts.

    In his book Dalrymple clearly describes at length that the British army had lots of Christian missionaries who were implementing a strong drive to convert Indian Hindus and Muslims into Christians; this was happening since about 1847 and it created a lot of revulsion among the lower middle class and lower class Hindus and Muslims. Those missionaried used to often describe Islam and Hinduism as pagan religions and used to say that by converting them they were trying to save these peoples’ souls from burning in hell in the afterlife.

    12. Let us all base our comments on historical facts recorded in books. Let us not make our imaginations and complaints against the Indian society run wild. Let us be fair to our own people and to others.

    13. The documentation of the decadence in the Indian elites in the 50 years preceding 1857 is very well documented. Just as the beautiful lotus flower grows in ponds of dirty water, in the 1800-57 the great Urdu literature/ poetry and the exalted traditions of communal harmony grew out of the decadent elite society of those years. This may sound harsh to some people but this is a fact of Indian and Muslim history.

  10. Kaleem Kawaja says:

    I realize that some people today think of the last Moghul royal family and their circle of elites, a circle wherein great and very refined and sophisticated Indo-Islamic culture was created, as very sublime. They also think of those people as great heroes of the 1857 war of independence. And they think of the then unwashed, almost illiterate masses from where the sepoys and jawans sprung up to create Ghadar (revolution), as being “Jihadis” – the current Western epithet to malign the Muslim masses, who practiced their religion seriously; but who also took their nationalism and their country very seriously.

    In the 1850s many (not all) of the sophistcated elite Indians were very concerned about retaining their elite class status, in a society that was changing very rapidly, in which they were rapidly loosing power and prestige. To hold on to their elite status they were willing to make compromises and were not willing to go beyond a limit in confronting the Firangis, in a time when the Firangis were all powerful in India. At the same time the lower rungs of society who were inherently more God fearing and religious were also far more patriotic and were willing to go beyond a limit to confront the Firangis, even though they knew that they were powerless and the Firangi were all powerful.

    The well deocumented fact is that the powerless masses actually crerated the very noble revolution of 1857 to liberate India from the clutches of the exploitative Firangis. Those very noble and dedicated Muslims and Hindus formed real good bonds despite their religious differences and formed real good teams to create the revolutionary armies.

    Today we must respect these facts of history and not just blame the masses of sepoys for the failure of the revolution. Wheras the well documented facts are that it were the elite who let down the valiant sepoys.

  11. arif beg says:

    “In his book Dalrymple clearly describes at length that the British army had lots of Christian missionaries who were implementing a strong drive to convert Indian Hindus and Muslims into Christians; this was happening since about 1847 and it created a lot of revulsion among the lower middle class and lower class Hindus and Muslims.”

    In 1857, Indian Christians got the rough treatment from both the sides.

    When the tide of 1857 was turned decidedly in favour of the British, they started taking revenge from “niggers”. Dalrymple has quoted an incident where an Indian Christian pastor was caught by britishers along with many Hindus and Muslims. He tried to convince british soldiers that being a Christian he was on their side. However, the british soldiers refused to believe him. His claim of being a Christian was ridiculed and he was executed just like other “niggers”.

  12. Salim Halalkhor says:

    Kaleem , have you had access to any of the Urdu accounts of the Great Revolt ?? Have you observed , that the British are refferred to as , not as Goras or Firangis , but as Kafirs and Nasranis. Maulana Abdul Aiz and General Bakht Khan take particular pride in using these terms.

  13. Chirag says:

    Kaleem,

    “No books say that the Dalit soldiers joined hands with the British to fight upper caste Indians. This is pure fabrication/imagination, perhaps dished out by some pro-Dalit writers of today.”

    As is another fabrication – that during the Arab and Turk invasions of India, low-castes abandoned their own people and joined with the invaders and foreigners instead of supporting their own peoples, as they welcomed the great, liberating ideology. This fabrication is also nonsense; as an example, at the time of the orginial invasion of Sindh, the king of Sindh himself was, in fact, of the Shudra caste.

    It’s an invented history, specifically made for the leftist palate. Muslims accept part of the leftist revisions of Indian history (the parts that can be seen to be pro-Islam), and reject the rest; the fact is the entire thing is nonsense, and it is far past the time we de-colonised our minds and interpreted our own history, as our people did, while their civilizations were being over-run by foreigners. What our people thought at the time all this happened, back then, was, “this is a calamity,” and that’s exactly how we should view it now.

    That being said, I think your posts do show some bias against the British. They behaved badly, but there is no reason to portray them this way, while at the same time claiming that Aurangzeb is misunderstood and misrepresented. If the British were evil in putting down the rebellion, so many other rulers – including Islamic ones -have behaved that way in the face of a rebellion, that it’s not fair to single out a single empire’s behavior. Look at the Arab suppression of the Berbers, Persians, Copts, or Nubians; look at Nadir Shah’s suppression of the rising Bahaii faith in the 1800s; look at the Mughal suppression of the rising Sikh power, and the tactics they used against that rising power; or, for that matter, look at what imperialism – both Islamic and Western – have done to the once-fabled Afghanistan.

    To consistently have a slanted view is not warranted. Your posts just seem to reflect your bias in nearly every case — which is Muslim imperialism = good in every corner of the earth, and a few bad apples can’t change that overall assesment; in contrast, white Western Christian imperialism = completely bad, with no redeeming or worthwhile features whatsover.

  14. Kaleem Kawaja says:

    My response to some recent comments:
    1. In the 1850s the communal harmony, tolerance and common ethos between Muslims and Hindus had reached such a depth that Muslims did not refer to Hindus as “Kafir”. Yet at that time Christians were clearly alien people to Indians. In 1790s led by Lord Clive the British began a distinct policy to stop being friendly to Indians on the social plane and to treat them as inferior beings. This was a total reversal of nearly a hundred years in which many a senior British commanders and officials married Indian women (Muslim and Hindu); had Indian concubines, wrore Indian clothes, enjoyed Indian music/dances and participated in many Indian (Muslim and Hindu) festivals etc. The new policy was distinctly racist and was so even towards Indian noblemen. This policy created much revulsion among Indians at large against the British and against Indians who had become Christian under the influence of the British. In fact the British treated the converted Indian Christians and even the children of the British from Indian wives with disdain.

    The British destroyed almost all records of Ghadar written by Indian authors. Very very few of the Urdu commentaries on Ghadar written by those who experienced it survived. One rare example is the book on Ghadar by Maulana Mohammad Hussain Azad whose father Maulvi Baqar (publisher of the renowned Urdu newspaper of 1850s – Delhi Akhbar) was hanged by the British after they occupied Delhi. Other spurious Urdu accounts were commissioned by the British. They tried to show that there was much religious hostility among the Hindu and Muslim sepoys of the Indian army. Thus writeups painting Bakht Khan as a Muslim religious fanatic. The British did that to also demonstrate that with so much hostility between Hindus and Muslims it was necessary for them to rule to prevent civil war.

    There is NO question that the 1850s Delhi was a truly golden period for genuine Hindu-Muslim coexistence and harmony. Yet in every “jannat” there is a “shaitan”; so too in that Delhi and north India there were some extremist Hindus and some extremist Muslims.

    2. I completly agree with the observation that those who say that when Muslims invaded India from the West the Dalit Hindus joined hands with them to get even with the upper caste Hindus who had mistreated them for years, is a totally invented history. Nothing of the sort happened. Yet after these invading Muslims settled down in India, mixed with the Indians, became Indians, started preaching the caste-less Islam and Islam became another Indian religion, a large number of Dalits did convert to Islam to escape the oppression of untouchability. The Sufis had a major role in Indianizing the West Asian ruling class and integrating them with the indigenous Indian people and ethos. In contrast the British NEVER settled down in India, never mixed socially with Indians, never became Indian. Instead they continued to treat India as a colony where officers came from England on assignments to rule and went back to England. The British missionaries spread Christianity and served the poor but did not make the British officers merge in the Indian soil.

    3. The British period is just yesterday (only 100 years away) whereas the time of Aurangzeb was 300 years ago (He died in 1700). Other Moghul rulers were 400 years ago. The British era was the modern era with a vastly changed ethos, not the medieval/feudal era of Aurangzeb. Practices/customs of rulers,society, victorious armies etc all over the world in the 16th/17th century were vastly different from that in 1850s. We can not justify the British oppression by referencing it to the Muslim kings or to Changaiz Khan 1000 years ago.

    4. Muslim imperialism reflected the culture of the time in which it lived, not today’s democratic norms. In those days the kings of Britain, France, Spain, Portugal behaved with much more bestiality, inhumanity and ferociousness towards their adversaries than Muslim imperialists of that time. We must acknowledge that Muslim imperialists were NOT racists even though they were proud of their prowess. They did not trample on their subjects. The European imperialists in contrast were racists for whom the colored Asians were dirt to be exploited and trampled on.

  15. Chirag says:

    Kaleem,

    at the least, you have used the term Muslim imperialists. The fact that you acknowledge that this even exists, or has existed, is progress.

    As far as point #4, I think you’re mostly right with regards to comparison of Spanish or Portruguese imperialism, compared to Muslim ipmerialism. Though you have a tendancy to sell the Brits a bit short.

    I think that mostly, Muslims resent the Europeans because Muslims were the dominant force of the earth; then the Europeans surpassed them; so there is a vested interest in demonizing the West or Europe, in order to show that it wasn’t virtue or progress that propelled Europe, but, instead, the practice of vast, unspeakable evils.

    Europe, at is apogee, did the same in its interpretation of history, with regards to Islam, so it basically looks like a tit-for-tat battle to me, without real basis in fact.

    This is why you won’t find educated Hindus ever again agreeing with efforts to demonize the West, either in current terms, or historically. Yes, they will also have their complaints, but it will never reach the zeal or deep-seated anger you find amongst Muslims. Our qualms with the West are not about the endless struggle to dominate and convert the earth; they’re just specific to time and place, specific to certain events and actions. That’s not the whole story, but it is part of it, and

    What we are seeing done in the name of Islam, today, within the subcontinent, also influences our view of the past. When I see news of the blasts in Jaipur, I think of Ghazni and Aurangzeb, and I’ll be that a fair number of other Hindus to, as well.

    For point # 2, yes, many of the converts were escaping casteism. But so what? If Christian missionaries begin converting non-Arab Muslims in Sudan, is it OK with you? After all, they will providing them with a measure of liberation? Or, closer to home – if poor or deprived Muslims in India get converted to Buddhism – they will no longer be under the thumb of mullahs who help keep them backwards – so does that mean it’s something that should be promoted?

  16. Kaleem Kawaja says:

    Errata in my above writeup:
    There is a typo in amy above wtriteup. It says: ” In 1790s led by Lord Clive the British began a distinct policy to stop being friendly to Indians on the social plane…”. It should be corrected to: ” In 1740s led by Lord Clive…” . Lord Clive was in India for about 15 years starting in 1744.

  17. Usman says:

    “As is another fabrication – that during the Arab and Turk invasions of India, low-castes abandoned their own people and joined with the invaders and foreigners instead of supporting their own peoples, as they welcomed the great, liberating ideology.”

    Fabrication?!

    This is an excerpt from Swami Vivekananda’s lecture titled “Future of India”

    “The Mohammedan conquest of India came as a salvation to the downtrodden, to the poor. That is why one-fifth of our people have become Mohammedans. It was not the sword that did it all. It would be the height of madness to think it was all the work of sword and fire. ”

    http://www.vkendra.org/articles5.htm

  18. Chirag says:

    Usman,

    As noted by Kaleem above, that came later, not during the initial conquests. During the initial conquests, common Indians did NOT turn on their own people and aid in the destruction of their own society. Whatever treachery or traitorous behavior was there, was from elites and certain kings; not ever from the Indian masses, and that includes those who were low-caste.

    Secondly, this selective quoting of Swami V has got to stop. He had great respect for Islam; he loved the higher ideals of the Islamic religion and society.

    At the same time, while respecting Islam itself, he had qualms with its historical role in India. He believed that the Islamic conquest of India was one of the bloodiest chapter in human history; a chapter of history that devastated the Indian countryside and was a major contributor to the derelict, poverty-stricken state of India at the turn of the last century. He fully acknowledged – and grieved for – the great universities, temples, wealth, and influence that were lost to India as a result of this time period. Read his writings in full, and you will see that. Don’t quote him selectively and specifically to try and prove a minor point.

    And as to another point – the reasons some people, who know their own family history, don’t convert back now, are twofold 1) many Hindu priests are exclusive, xenophobic idiots, who won’t let them back in interest of a non-existent “purity” and 2) those who do convert become targets of Islamic extremists. Point #2 is definately part of the reason why; anywhere in the world, a convert away from Islam can face significant, personal dangers – and so those who no longer believe either gradually fade away from the religion, rather than convert, or they keep their internal conversion very quiet. There are few Islamic societies tolerant enough to allow an individual or a family their freedom on conscience – Indonesia is one of them – but subcontinental Islam generally frowns on this very heavily.

    If you say that’s not true, fine. Prove it. Work to abolish all laws and all violence, throughout the Islamic world, against adult apostates; only when you do that, would you have much ground to stand on in trying and prove the opposite point.

    And if you do manage to do ensure freedom of conscience and freedom of religion in the Muslim countries and societies of the world, and then I am proven wrong, I will actually be quite happy. To prove me wrong, you will have had to ensure human rights and freedom of conscience, both of which are far more important to humanity than either Islam or Hinduism.

    Thanks; your argument to the contrary really won’t carry much weight unless you actually change the current state of the Islamic world.

  19. Kaleem Kawaja says:

    Chirag:
    In the many Muslim empires over the years there have been many long periods in geographically diverse loocations when very enlightened, tolerant, secular civilizations were the order of the day:
    - Abbasids in Iraq ( 750s to 850s AD): One hundred years of Caliphs Harun al Rashid to Calip Al Mamun: Respect for scholars with very divergent thought was the highest; Shia-Sunni differences were minimum; Greek thought was greatly respected and integrated into Islamic thopught; Mutazilites who believed that Quran may not have been divine were respected etc etc. Caliphs entered the Giza pyramid in Egypt believing that ancient Egyptian thinking should be incorporated in the Islamic civilization. Religious extremism was severely curtailed.
    - The Omayyad caliphate in Spain (850s – 1450s AD): One of the human civilization’s most secular, tolerant, enlightened periods.
    - The Moghul empire in India (1500s – 1850s AD): with the exception of Aurangzeb’s years it was one of the most liberal and secular era in India’s long history.

    Unfortunately the last one hunmdred years are not the better part of Islamic history. As I said before communities go up then down then up again. Look at Hindus: how they went to the bottom of the trough from the 11th century to the19th century; then they started bouncing up and are now rising towards the crest.

  20. Satya Prakash Garg says:

    The main problem started when an incompetent and aged person was made the ruler of Hindustan. Bahadur Shah Zafar was 60 years old when he ascended the throne of Delhi in 1837. His father, Akbar Shah Alam, had surrendered his soverignty when the British warded off the Marathas in 1804 and forced him to sign an agreement giving them the Diwani (the right to collect taxes). Shah Alam was granted a pension of Rs one lakh and a British Resident was appointed in Delhi. After his death in 1837, Bahadsur Shah Zafar became the King. He applied to the British to increase his pension as they had promised such an increase to his father. This was rejected. The annual custom of giving Nazr (presents) to the King was stopped. In 1839 Dara Bakth, the Crown Prince died and the King appointed Jawan Bakth, his son from the queen Zeenat Mahal as the next Crown Prince. This was rejected and the British appointed his another son, Mirze Kivaish, instead.

    These things should have rung the alarm bells and the King should have spruced up his army and put it in charge of a competent commander rather than letting his sons, who did not know warfare and could not even get a drink of water without the assistance of their servants. If he was not inclined to do this, being basically pleasure loving, he should have abdicated his throne in favour of the most competent of his sons, like Mirza Mogul.

    It took the British army three weeks to travel from Calcutta to Delhi. The King could have sent his forces to intercept and destroy them but he did not do so. In fact, his army was in shambles, with no pay, no arms, no training, no commanders.

    When the mutiny started, thousands of soldiers and rebels requested the King to lead them but he refused. When the fighting was at its peak, the King was persuaded to ride out of the fort on an elephant to buck up the fighters But as soon as he came out of the fort, he heard cannon shots, and went back into the fort.

    When the British took control of Delhi on September 19, 1857, the King decided to leave the fort. At this time the rebels were under an exceptionally competent Commander, Muhammad Bakth Khan, who hailed from Bareilly. He advised the King to go with him to the mountains and he was sure that he would be able to garner forces and attack the British and regain the empire. The King refused and elected to go to the Humayun’s tomb where he was captured by Major Hudson.

    The account I have stated has been taken from a book by Khwaja Hasan Nizami entitled “The Eighth Section of the Series on the Mutiny in Delhi – the Agony of Delhi” and is based on an eye-witness account This book is available on the internet.

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