Zafar: The Last and the Lost Emperor of Hindustan

A reflective article by Khalid Siddiqui

Prologue

The last Mughal emperor of India, Bahadur Shah Zafar was a gentle soul and a great poet, he was a nominal emperor and his rule was limited only to the city of Delhi (Shahjahanabad). He was a noted Urdu poet and his ghazals were compiled into “Kulliyat-e-Zafar“. He failed to champion the cause of revolt of 1857, but this cannot deny the fact that he had an undying spirit of patriotism within him. He adored India as a nation and his motherland which is quite evident from his poetry. This write-up of mine is an attempt to look at Zafar from a different vantage point especially through the eyes of a common Indian and not from the Victor’s frame of reference.

History is almost always written by the victors and conquerors and gives their view.

Nehru

Zafar and his contemporaries were quite different from East India Company (EIC) with respect to their values, ideals, institutions and methods. While they lived for honor, were generous, believed in poetic mannerisms and patrons of beauty; the EIC on the other hand had not come to India to adore these art forms and ideals but believed in imperialism.

The imperialist war was the striving of the capitalists for profits and the exploitation of others and to partition the world and enslave weaker nations

Lenin

They had the sole aim of exploiting India and find a market for their finished goods and raw materials for their industries back in Britain.

Why is there war today, if it is not for the satisfaction of the desire to share the spoils? These large holdings cannot be sustained except by violence, veiled if not open. Western democracy as it functions today is diluted Nazism or Fascism. At best, it is merely a cloak to hide the Nazi and Fascist tendencies of imperialism.

Gandhi

In the nutshell there was a complete contrast in approach of the two forces.
The aged Zafar was not good at arms, but that doesn’t take away a bit of his patriotism, infact he was one of the first champions of idea of nationhood.  

Reflections

The logical question which readily comes to my mind is, How these Mughals were different from the EIC? The answer lies in the question itself i.e. Why the Company did not clinch the Emperorship of India from Mughals after their victory in Battle of Plassey in 1757? The reason was that despite the heterogeneity of the Indian society, dissimilarity in culture, different religious faiths, languages and all the anomalies of a divided nation, the general masses had faith in Mughals; even the Maratha’s who rose to the power in those times never attempted to dethrone Mughals. So the paramount powers of those times found it pertinent to maintain the status quo and continue with the Symbolic figure of Mughal Emperor with real powers in their hands, to avoid antagonizing the masses.
Second question, Why the masses had such faith in the Mughals? The masses in general believed that and rightly so, that Mughals never raped India like the Company and always considered India as their own country, that is they earned in India and spent in India which was quite unlike the Company which took away the Indian riches and fed their industrial engines in Manchester and Lancashire. The Industrial Revolution never came to India; in fact it destroyed the Cottage industries and the businesses of Indians. The Indians were economically battered.

It was the British intruder who broke up the Indian hand-loom and destroyed the spinning-wheel. England began with driving the Indian cottons from the European market; it then introduced twist into Hindostan, and in the end inundated the very mother country of cotton with cottons

Karl Marx in “The British Rule in India” (1853)

On the onset of the revolt in 1857, the rebellious soldiers of the 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry stationed at Meerut proclaimed the aged and powerless Bahadur Shah the Emperor of India. This spontaneous raising of Mughal king to the leadership of the country was recognition of the fact that the long reign of Mughal dynasty had made it the traditional symbol of India’s political unity. Much of the strength of the revolt lay in Hindu-Muslim unity. For e.g. wherever the revolt was successful, orders were immediately issued banning cow-slaughter out of respect for Hindu sentiments.

Battle of Plassey was the start of Economic Drain of India and Drain Theory became the focal point of economic critique.

Dadabhai Naoroji popularized the Drain Theory in his book “Poverty and Unbritish Rule in India“, to quote Dadabhai “Materially British rule caused only impoverishment, it was like the knife of sugar“. He argued that large part of Indian capital goes into salaries and pensions of British officers, for maintaining army, funding war etc. Later British Government was forced to appoint the Welby Commission to enquire into the matter.

R C Dutt retired ICS officer, in “The Economic History of India” meticulously examined the entire economic impact of colonial rule from 1757.

The times after 1857 revolt were dreadful, Company did the reprisal killings, systematically massacred the masses; the Royals, Kings, Nawabs etc. in order to safeguard their selfish gains turned pro British.

Scindias of Gwalior; Holkars of Indore; Nizams of Hyderabad; Raja of Jodhpur; Nawab of Bhopal, Rulers of Patiala; Maharaja of Kashmir gave active help to British in suppressing the revolt. Governor General Canning remarked that these rulers and chiefs “Acted as the break-waters to the storm which would have otherwise swept us in one great wave“.

Bahadur Shah was taken prisoner; the royal princess were captured and butchered on the spot. He was tried and exiled to Rangoon where he died in 1862, lamenting bitterly the fate which had buried him far away from the city of his birth:
Kitnā hai bad-nasīb ‘zafar’ dafn ke liye
Do gaz zamīn bhī na milī kū-e-yār meiñ

During the course Zafar was mocked about the frailty of Indian might:
Dumdamein Mein Dum Nahin, Khair Maango Jaan Ki,
(Your fort is crumbling down, pray for your life)
Aey Zafar Thandi Hui Shamsheer Hindustan Ki
(The Indian sword, O Zafar, has lost its sheen and might)

But Zafar had an undaunted faith in Indian nationalism and its spirit of perseverance:
Ghaziyon mein Boo Rahegi Jab Tak Imaan Ki,
(So long as the soldiers retain their faith and pride),
Takht London Tak Chalegi Tegh Hindustan Ki
(The Indian sword will not relent till it humbles London’s might.)

On British atrocities against Indians he once said:
Ye riyaya-e-Hind tabah hui, Kahun kya jo in par jafa hui,
(The Indian people were brought to ruin by the ruling lords)
Jise Dekha Hakiye Waqt Ne, Kaha Ye To Kabile Dar Hui
(They thought him fit for the gallows, anyone they came across.)

Epilogue

Patriotism is not only the expression of valor displayed in the battlefield but it can be expressed with other means and methods also. While writing this post in my soliloquy, I was questioning; Am I sounding like a practical idealist and an irrepressible optimist?; but my subconscious quickly took me out of my dilemma that it doesn’t matter even if I sound like that because these two are the main elements of Gandhi’s concept of Satyagraha which I try adhere to .

The unity displayed by Hindus and Muslims during the revolt of 1857 had disturbed the foreign rulers. They adopted the policy of Divide & Rule to break this unity so as to weaken the rising nationalist movement. Immediately after the revolt they repressed Muslims, confiscated their lands & property on a large scale, and declared Hindus to be their favorites. After 1870 this policy was reversed and an attempt was made to turn upper class and middle class Muslims against the nationalist movement.

We are all deeply moved and affected by the acrimony, feeling of hatred and buzz of extreme Chauvinism and Jingoism in the present Indian context. The seed of hatred between Hindus and Muslims were actually sown by British and I must acknowledge that they have been quite successful so far in their endeavors. Sometimes in my pensive mournfulness of the prevalent political and social milieu, I feel that although we have won our freedom from the foreign captors but there is still a larger freedom we need to attain from the clutches of our stereotypes, diffidence, prejudices and proclivities.
I am quoting the great visionaries who have witnessed this expression from different viewpoints:

Save democracy from becoming mobocracy and make it people friendly and finally transform it into swaraj. A mobocracy sometimes becomes more dangerous than dictatorship. They who are in a mob have no mind and no premeditation. They act in frenzy.

Gandhi

To imbue the minds of people with an abnormal vanity of its own superiority, to teach it to take pride in its moral callousness and ill-begotten wealth, to perpetuate humiliation of defeated nations by exhibiting trophies won from war, and using these schools in order to breed in children’s minds contempt for others, is imitating the West.

Tagore

Let us not allow our insecurities to hijack our minds & spirits and exile into the darkness of ignorance and hatred. Let us muster courage to pursue fraternity and be perceptive enough to show the light of truth, faith, fraternity to our next generation.
We need to start enlightening our self & be pragmatically prudent and stop rationalizing our misdeeds, misconceptions, prejudices and stereotypes. Our strength lies in the composite culture of our country; and I firmly believe that we are all Hindus by culture, a term coined by Achaemenids for the people living across the river Sindhu; they called them Hindus as they pronounced ‘s’ as ‘h’. Hinduism to me is a way of life and not specifically a religion but a faith which we Indians believe in i.e of tolerance, openness and compassion. Let us celebrate our diversity! This is just not a moral plea but one of our Fundamental Duties also, as mentioned in Article 51 A of the Indian Constitution.

Promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic, and regional or sectional diversities and to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women.

Article 51 A, Fundamental Duty ‘e’, Indian Constitution

Value and preserve the rich hertage of the country’s composite culture.

Article 51 A, Fundamental Duty ‘f’, Indian Constitution

To sum up, we the Indians irrespective of caste, creed or religion have more to rejoice and enjoy are diversity than to fight over our dissimilarities. Indian culture which is an amalgamation of Vedic, Dravidian, Buddhist, Jain, Persian, Turkish and English cultures, is nothing but the Hindu culture in totality. This Hindu identity of ours which emanates from so many different colors make us more colorful, bright, vibrant, scintillating and vivacious. And the vital cog in the wheel of this Indian philosophy is the tolerance, acceptance and accommodation; we never force ourselves on others instead we believe in the credo of Agree to Disagree. Let me quote Nehru on his vivid account on India which resonates with mine as well!

India is a geographical and economic entity, a cultural unity amidst diversity, a bundle of contradictions held together by strong but invisible threads. Overwhelmed again and again her spirit was never conquered, and today when she appears to be a plaything of a proud conqueror, she remains unsubdued and unconquered. About her there is the elusive quality of a legend of long ago; some enchantment seems to have held her mind. She is a myth and an idea, a dream and a vision, and yet very real and present and pervasive.

Nehru

Authors information: Khalid Siddiqui is currently working as a Senior Director Software Applications Development at Imaging Endpoints a company based out of Arizona. A history buff, he has a penchant for writing, reading, food etc.

A reflective account on my seventh Ramzan (23 May) Iftar at Al Majmaah

Picture of communal harmony and brotherhood of our small South Asian expatriates cohort from Saudi Arabia

Text by Rehan Asad

Source: The picture was taken by one of the friends

The Oxford dictionary defined the term “Islamophobia” as an irrational fear, hatred or prejudice against Islam or Muslims in general as a Political force. As the second largest population of the world, the followers of the Islam came from the different diverse ethnic and national background. It’s only a small number of extremists that were responsible to further flare-up this irrational fear among the mindset of the masses. The efforts have been done both within the community and by others to build the bridge by elaborating on the human values of the society particularly in relation with Islam. In the global scenario, the identity of the Indian Muslims has been unique as they imbibed larger cultural values from their context of which they were part and parcel down the centuries. In days when everything has been projected through the prism of religion, especially in the context of mainstream Indian media, I found many wonderful friends on social media especially on twitter and facebook outside of my faith. For these guys, the religion seems to be a matter of personal practice and they have a cognitive ability to rationalize the issue beyond this narrow prism. The efforts have been done by Indian Muslims against growing phenomenon of “Islamophobia” by raising the awareness of our syncretic values especially in relation to the history of Islam in the Indian subcontinent. The syncretic culture was evolved down the centuries in the timeline of Indian history by the fusion of diverse cultures and civilizations. For me, the Twitter handles @DilliKiRanaiyan@urdualfaz, & @shairoftheday managed by noted author and historian Rana Safvi is an example to spread a message of harmony by erasing the boundaries of caste, creed & religion of our stratified society. She used language, Urdu Poetry, and monuments as a tool for the likeminded people to come closer by sharing the bonds of love. One of my friends has created a Facebook page titled “India against Islamophobia” and “Indo Islamic Culture” to share the secular views of many Non-Muslims and Muslims to counter the extremist ideologue within the community & fear among the others. The blog “Purani Dilli Walon Ki Batein” @PDWKB formed by a young engineer Abu Sufiyan is also an attempt to elaborate on the unique culture of the walled city that carries many layers of time hidden behind its narrow lanes and crumbling havelis.

In January 2018, Juggernauts publication released a book authored by a communication consultant Nazia Erum with a title “Mothering a Muslim”. The book is based on her explorative research where she came up with stories of Islamophobia creeping the minds of the young school going children. The little minds outpoured their reactions that were received on the other end in the form of peer abuse & peer bullying. The work of Nazia also rings the alarm bell in corridors of an educational environment where abuse and prejudice based on certain selective identities of gender, faith & caste are highly underreported. It’s also an attempt by the author to educate and raise the awareness among its stakeholders regarding the selective peer bullying and abuse reported by her from schools. Thankfully book received the wonderful reviews and responses from its diverse readers.

The second section of her book elaborates the challenges and reported on the extremist views of insiders coming from the community. While interviewing the cases, the author identified the certain self-proclaimed puritan ideologies that are responsible for creating an extreme environment. From different stories and context articulating the extremist ideologies, one is of the Sallan bhai, a Gulf returned nephew of Dr. Waris at Aligarh. The guy refused the invitation of his maternal Uncle on the ground of having Vasudevan, a South Indian help at his Uncle home. Here I am quoting verbatim talk cited by the author in her book. ‘Mamujaan, hamein pata laga hai ki aapke paas ek Hindu naukar hai, toh hamare khane ka kya hogahum khana kaise khayenge?  [Mamujaan/Uncle, we have just come to know that you have a Hindu cook, so what about our food? How will we eat?]’ Dr. Waris replied for whom the  Vasudevan was more than a help and cook ‘Toh miyan main yahi kahoonga ki aap mere paas mat aaiyega. Kyunki main Vasu miyan ke ahsasaat ko majrooh karoonga nahin lekin main aapke khayalat se wakayi majrooh ho chuka hoon. Toh aapse ilteja karoonga ki aap directly Allahabad chale jayiyega, Aligarh mat rukiyega. Agar zindagi rahi toh main aapse kabhi Allahabad mein mil loonga. [I will only say this: don’t come to me. Because I will not hurt the sentiments of Vasudevan but I am very offended by your views. So I will request you to go to Allahabad directly and not stop in Aligarh. If all goes well, I will meet you in Allahabad.]’

Reflection from my own context

I left India in 2011 for a job in a newly established medical School in Saudi Arabia as a medical educator specialized in Human Anatomy & Embryology. Every expatriate population has to face challenges in adjusting to different cultural and linguistic context of another country. Somehow it was same for me here in Saudi Arabia. My workplace was located in a newly emerging city where multiple ethnicities were recently recruited as an academic workforce for the upcoming University. In these circumstances, the people from the common nationality and cultural background usually came up as a facilitator for acclimatizing you in the new environment. In this diverse environment, I found some of my best relations among Indian expatriates. They all came from different faiths, regions, and cultures. Whether its an occasion of birthday/ anniversary or challenging time such as illness or death of any loved one in our home countries,  this small cohort made up of Indians and few Pakistanis always stood with us like a family member. There was no differentiation between region, religion and culture. In last seven years, it was the first time we are going to stay during the month Ramzan in Saudi Arabia. In all previous years, the month of Ramzan overlapped with the summer vacations fixed on Gregorian calendar. As usual with the trend of back home, the Iftar parties started in our little South Asian family.

On 07th of the Ramzan (23rd May), we were invited for the Iftar by one of our Indian friend and colleague from University. He is Hindu by religion and comes from the traditional family of Bihar. Back home, a decade before, these type of Iftars were organized by the politicians and most of them were saving faces for vote greedy politics of developing democracies. In the 21st century India, the interfaith Iftar emerged as a tool of Urban middle class to build bridges of peace and collateral existence. Coincidentally, the day when I received the invitation, there was a reminder call on Facebook by Nazia Erum, the author “Mothering a Muslim” for interfaith Iftar, an event pioneered by her last year. The same day, a Muslim couple from Nirala Estate housing society, Noida extension where I have my own residential apartment notified on social media for the  Iftar. It was a collective effort of the housing society members for volunteered residents coming from the different religious background having an iftar on this auspicious month. On the same day, I received home cooked Iftar parcel distributed by one of our beloved Hindu friends at Al Majmaah. On 26, May, @TheMuslimsofIN organized a public Iftar where they distribute more than four hundred meal box to the needy people at AIIMS. The organizer, Mr. Anas Siddiqui (@Vakeel_Sb ‏) said its main objective was to revitalize the real spirit of Ramazan i.e., sharing the feed among the needy masses. 

The author & historian @iamrana tweeted on the objective of the who was also the part of this campaign. 

Coming back to our context, we reached his accommodation located at our University housing compound at 5.50 PM. By next half an hour, all the other invitees showed up. While waiting for the Iftar on the dining table, I could saw the diverse background of the guest present there. An early days friend from Banglore, a Brahmin by background who is always standing with us in the time of need. He and his wife were fasting from the last couple of days to understand the flavor and experience of his Muslim friends during Ramzan. Next in the line was a friend following Jafari school of Jurispendence who broke his fast approximately ten minutes after us. A Kashmiri Colleague who hold the doctorate degree from one of the prestigious Universities of the western country with his European wife of Arab origin. A principal of Indian Embassy school who is supervising the academic responsibilities of learning center catering school children from diverse ethnicities, nationalities, and religions. Along with few other Indian colleagues & friends, the two Pakistani colleagues were also present. One from Karachi whose ancestors hail from the homeland of our host i.e, Bihar and other one was Muslim Punjabis from Lahore. Our host did all his best efforts to serve his guest from Iftar to dinner by reflecting his love and compassion. After Maghrib prayers, the tea was served. Those who volunteered left for Isha Salah and Tarawih. The rest of them enjoyed the nice time at our host drawing area. The dinner was served for all the families at 10.30 pm. Each of the items was cooked at home with a blend of veg and non-veg dishes taking care of individual food priorities. During the light moments of chat, I intruded with my personal notion why this Iftar is quite special to me. Talking about the value of Interfaith Iftar in changing days, I introduced them to the book “Mothering a Muslim”. Then narrated them the story reflecting “Sallan bhai” perverted ideology.  I was looking forward to the consent from our beloved host and other invitees to write a reflective account on the event that contrasted with “Sallan bhai” version of the life in Gulf. What was surprising to me is the detachment of all the people from polarized ideologies that have been flare-up day & night by our mainstream media to raise their commercial ratings. The consent was immediate and after some light jokes, all of them came back to their local issues mainly moving around the nationalization of Gulf countries that compelled hundred of the thousands of South Asian expatriates to leave for their countries in last two years especially from Saudi Arabia.

One of the friends Dr. Rizvi organized an Iftar at his home for all Indian cleaners working with the maintenance company of our University housing society. #Iftar4all Source: Pic taken by Dr. Rizvi

I think Sallan bhai was unfortunate who was not able to avail the environment of the brotherhood that also prevails among the Indian expatriate communities living in Gulf countries. Sallan bhai also might be not aware of the fact that one in every sixth from four million Indian expatriates in Saudi Arabia came from Vasudevan region. A substantial number of them belonged to the same faith of Vasudevan who were responsible for running Indian cafes to the grocery stores. It seems to be unbelievable that Sallan bhai never has a chance to have the meal or grocery product from the cafe /shop run by a south Indian Hindu. The story of the “Sallan bhai” is an eye-opener for us. Our children will learn what we will reflect on our own practices. The majority of the educated Indian Muslims has created the same environment what I reflected above from my context in Gulf countries and especially from Saudi Arabia. Though in minority, the context of “Sallan bhai” is also the harsh and unfortunate reality of educated Muslims across the globe. We must educate ourselves on the true values of humanity embedded teachings of real Islam and its syncretic traditions. Here is the other reciprocal reason for reading “Mothering a Muslim” for insiders that will provide them an understanding to cope up with horrible ideologues emerging from the community itself. Hope we will overcome hate by spreading the message of love and removing the shackles of the bigotry as worn by the “Sallan bhai” in the name of Islam.

References:

  1. Kushal Rani Gulab, Review Mothering a Muslim by Nazia Erum, April 6, 2018, retrieved from https://www.hindustantimes.com/books/review-mothering-a-muslim-by-nazia-erum/story-2b2XNVzPJ5tN1d8sNkuTbO.html
  2. Nazia Erum, Mothering a Muslim, The dark secrets in our schools and playground, Juggernaut publications, 15 December 2017.
  3. My short reflections on the book as an educator perspective:
https://mohammadrehanasad.tumblr.com/post/173461399259/a-readers-reflections-on-mothering-a-muslim-a