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Tipu: Sultan or Shayṭān?

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A controversy flared up when the Chief Minister of Karnataka announced last year that there would be celebrations to commemorate the birth anniversary of Tipu Sultan a.k.a Fateh Ali every year. So the obvious questions were asked with the lightening speed. Why now?! Does he deserve this given his horrendous records of Human rights violation?

Suddenly, there was a heated debate among the people who saw him as a national hero and anti-colonialist and those who pointed out destruction of Temples, Churches and forced conversions to Islam.

Why is an Eighteenth-century ruler is at the limelight now?

Tipu Sultan was a son of Haider Ali and Fatima Fakhr Un Nisa. At 17, he was exposed to war and military strategies as is the case with most of the young rulers at that time. At such an young age, he learned shooting, war strategies, swordsmanship among other skills which helped him conquer most of the southern India where there was a sudden dramatic change in the culture and intellectual thinking et al. The not-so-pleasant thing is we are still living with consequences of his misadventures.

How were the people under his rule?

Here comes the crux of the issue, as it was proven beyond doubt that he was a bloodthirsty tyrant as against what some fringe groups paint him as. During his reign between 1767-1799, he conquered most of Karnataka (Coorg is notable here) and southern states of India where there were widespread wrecking of Temples, Churches and other abominable atrocities against Hindus and Christians.

Islam was a Sine qua non for the people under his tyrannical rule. In Seringapatam, the young men were all forcibly circumcised and incorporated into the Ahmedy Corps, and were formed into eight Risalas or regiments. The actual number of Kodavas that were captured in the operation is unclear. The British administrator Mark Wilks gives it as 70,000, Historian Lewis Rice arrives at the figure of 85,000, while Mir Kirmani’s score for the Coorg campaign is 80,000 men, women and child prisoners.

You may observe the lines of Tipu himself in a letter to Runmust Khan, Nawab of Kurnool:

“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.”

Tipu sent a letter on 19 January 1790 to the Governor of Bekal (near Kasargod), Budruz Zuman Khan. It 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 (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.

Attitude of Tipu towards Christians:

During Tipu’s reign, the captivity of Mangalore Catholics of Seringapatnam was the most disconsolate memory in history. Immediately after the Treaty of Mangalore in 1784, Tipu got hold of Canara where he issued orders to seize the Christians, confiscate their estates and deport them to Seringapatnam. Tipu personally ordered the destruction of 27 Roman Catholic churches among which one was notable – Church of Nossa Senhora de Rosario Milagres at Mangalore.

A Scottish soldier called Thomas Munro has apparently acknowledged that nearly 60,000 Catholics were captured and among them only 7000 escaped.

The Archbishop of Goa wrote in 1800, “It is notoriously known in all Asia and all other parts of the globe of the oppression and sufferings experienced by the Christians in the Dominion of the King of Kanara, during the usurpation of that country by Tipu Sultan from an implacable hatred he had against them who professed Christianity.

And the most of devastating part is this is just a tip of an iceberg!

Even though opinions and views on Tipu Sultan diverge sharply among the Historians, truth must be acknowledged. While we agree that he was a modernizer of sorts, we cannot accept the celebrations glorifying him as a hero. Congress’ vile intentions has been exposed yet again after this announcement which was obviously to galvanize a particular community keeping an eye on elections due in 2018. In our country, where History shall be seen through the lens of Religion, ethnicity, and caste, this controversy may rake up again.

In order to avoid myself being controversial, I must also admit that Tipu has also helped Sringeri Mutt when a letter was written by Shankaracharya to Tipu stating that the Marathas be sent back. Some historians also state that the Tipu was a defender of Hinduism, among them is B.A Saletare. Whether these acts of Tipu were ostentatious in order to galvanize Hindus for his cause against British remains unknown.

Let Truth Prevail!

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