1 The Sword of Tipu Sultan
Making darkness by closing one’s eyes
Former Editor of Mathrubhoomi
Historical novels are usually an admixture of historical facts and imagination. As such they are not expected to truthfully portray all the historical events. However, authors of historical novels have the moral responsibility to present historical facts without blatant distortions.
Mr. Bhagwan Gidwani, the author of the controversial novel, The Sword of Tipu Sultan, does not seem to be bound by any such ethical obligations; he does not have any qualms even to deliberately falsify historical facts. Therefore, a tele-serial based on such a novel also cannot be otherwise.
Mounting opposition to this controversial serial also stems from this basic reason.
Mr. Gidwani claims that his novel is the result of thirteen years of historical research. He asserts that he has studied and scrutinized all the historical documents available from various sources in India and abroad. Then, why did not this researcher make any effort to visit Kerala, particularly Malabar region, the main area of Tipu Sultan’s cruel military operations for a decade, or to scrutinize the historical evidence available from Malabar regarding the atrocities committed by Tipu Sultan, or to study the ruins of temples destroyed in Malabar during that period?
When a serious author is collecting historical data for writing a historical novel on Tipu Sultan, does he not have ail obligation or responsibility to at least visit the Malabar region, the main area of the operations of Tipu Sultan, and try to understand the significance of his activities there? The mere fact that Mr. Gidwani did not bother to do so, is itself sufficient reason for suspecting the credibility and credentials of the author.
In the Footsteps of His Father
The major part of Tipu Sultan’s rule was spent in conducting military operations for subjugating Malabar. Wars of territorial conquest waged in Malabar by Hyder Ali Khan, with the assistance of Ali Raja of Arackal and his Mappila followers of Cannanore, were intended more for spreading the Islamic faith by killing and forcible conversion of Hindus coupled with widespread destruction of Hindu temples, than for expanding his kingdom.
Hyder Ali Khan had expressed his satisfaction for these cruel achievements. A broad picture of atrocities committed against the Hindu population of Malabar by the army of Hyder Ali Khan along with the local Mappilas can be had from the diary notings of a Muslim officer of the Mysore army as edited and published by the then surviving son of Tipu Sultan, Prince Ghulam Muhammed (Cited in Malabar Manual, William Logan).
Before his efforts to conquer the entire Malabar region could succeed, Hyder Ali Khan died in December, 1782. Tipu Sultan who succeeded his father, considered it his primary duty to continue this unfinished jihad started by Hyder Ali Khan. However, the Islamic fanaticism of Tipu Sultan was much worse than that of his father. His war-cry of jihad was “Sword” (death) or “Cap” (forcible conversion). This makes very clear the character of Tipu Sultan’s military operations started in 1783. The intensity and nature of sufferings which the Hindu population had to bear during the nightmarish days of Padayottakkalam (military regime) were vividly described in many historical records preserved in the royal houses of Zamorin and Kottayam (Pazhassi), Palghat Fort and East India Company’s office. There is no apparent reason to disbelieve them. It is absurd and against reason to describe all this evidence as being forged for the purpose of creating enmity between Hindus and Muslims (as presumed by Dr. C.K. Kareem and others).
During the cruel days of Islamic operations from 1783 to 1791, thousands of Nairs besides about 30,000 Brahmins had fled Malabar, leaving behind their entire wealth, and sought refuge in Travancore State (according to the commission of enquiry appointed by the British soon after Tipu Sultan’s death).
This report was prepared exclusively for the information of the British authorities and not for writing a book, or for discrediting or defaming Tipu Sultan. Therefore, according to the learned historian, Dr. M. Gangadharan, there is no point in disbelieving the validity of this report (Mathrubhoomi Weekly, January, 14-20, 1990): “Besides, there is enough evidence that a few members of Zamorin family and many Nairs were forcibly circumcised and converted into Muhammadan faith as well as compelled to eat beef.”
So far as the history of Malabar region is concerned, the most dependable book for basic historical facts is definitely the Malabar Manual written by William Logan. Serving in various administrative positions including that of a Collector for 20 years upto 1886, he had gone through and extensively researched a variety of documents for preparing his well-acclaimed book. The present edition has been scrutinized, edited and published by the reputed Muslim historian, Dr. C.K. Kareem, with the support of Cochin and Kerala universities. Therefore, the authenticity of its contents cannot be doubted.
There are plenty of references in the Malabar Manual about the cruel military operations and Islamic atrocities of Tipu Sultan in Malabar-forcible mass circumcision and conversion, large-scale killings, looting and destruction of hundreds of Hindu temples, and other barbarities.
If one accepts even a small portion of the Islamic atrocities described in this monumental work of history, then Tipu Sultan can be depicted only as a fanatic Muslim bigot. The historical works of Col. Wilks (Historical Sketches), K.P. Padmanabha Menon and Sardar K.M. Panicker (Kerala History), Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai (research articles) and others, also do not project Tipu Sultan in any better light. One of the leading Congressman of pre-independence days, K. Madhava Nair, observes on page 14 of his famous book, Malabar Kalapam (Mappila outrage):
“The communal Mappila outrage of 1921 in Malabar could be easily traced to the forcible mass conversion and related Islamic atrocities of Tipu Sultan during his cruel military regime from 1783 to 1792. It is doubtful whether the Hindus of Kerala had ever suffered so much devastation and atrocities since the reclamation of Kerala by the mythological Lord Parasurama in a previous Era. Many thousands of Hindus were forcibly converted into Muhammadan faith.”
Since the same Congressman admitted that Tipu had not discriminated between Hindus and Muslims in Mysore and administered his country well, his observations about Kerala could be accepted as impartial comments.
In 1789, Tipu Sultan marched to Kozhikode with an army of 60,000, destroyed the fort, and razed the town to the ground. Gunddart says in his Kerala Pazhama that it is just not possible to describe the cruel atrocities perpetrated by the barbarian Tipu Sultan in Kozhikode.
William Logan gives in his Malabar Manual a long list of temples destroyed by Tipu Sultan and his army.
Elankulam Kunjan Pillai has recorded the situation in Malabar as follows:
“Kozhikode was then a centre of Brahmins. There were around 7000 Namboodiri houses of which more than 2000 houses were destroyed by Tipu Sultan in Kozhikode alone. Sultan did not spare even children and women. Menfolk escaped to forests and neighbouring principalities. Mappilas increased many fold (due to forcible conversion).
“During the military regime of Tipu Sultan, Hindus were forcibly circumcised and converted to Muhammadan faith. As a result the number of Nairs and Brahmins declined substantially.”
Atrocities committed in Malabar during the days of Tipu Sultan’s cruel military regime have been described in great detail in the famous works of many reputed authors-Travancore State Manual of T.K. Velu Pillai and Kerala Sahitya Charitam of Ulloor Parameshwara Iyer.
Is it not absurd to condemn what all these respected authors have written about the atrocities of Tipu Sultan and label it as a deliberate attempt to defame him? All the historical documents of that period clearly indicate that Tipu Sultan’s attack on Malabar had some purpose other than simple territorial conquest. That purpose was to Islamicise the whole of Malabar by forcibly converting all the Hindus there.
This Was an Islamic War
Even if we concede, for the sake of argument, that all those who call Tipu Sultan a fanatic Muslim are pro-British and all the historical data is meant only to create hatred between Muslims and Hindus, the letters written by Tipu Sultan himself help us to understand his real character. Some of these letters, obtained from India Office Library, London, were published in Bhasha Poshini magazine of Chingam 1099 (corresponding to August, 1923) by Sardar K.M. Panicker.
The letter dated March 22, 1788, to Kantancheri Abdul Kadir, and the letter dated December 14, 1788 to his army commander in Kozhikode, do not require further explanation about Tipu’s real intentions in Malabar.
Still, if some people want to describe Tipu Sultan as an apostle of peace and religious tolerance, let us leave them alone - those large-hearted admirers of Tipu! However, there is quite a large number of people who are not that large-hearted, especially the descendants of those Hindus who were killed by the sword of the bloodthirsty Tipu while resisting forcible conversion and humiliation.
Tipu’s Religious Tolerance-A Political Gimmick
Tipu had committed a variety of atrocities on the Hindus in Malabar - barbarous mass-killing, wholesale forcible circumcision and conversion, and widespread destruction and plunder of Hindu temples. Being fully aware of this background, if Tipu is projected as a lover of Hindu religion and traditions and not as an intolerant Muslim fanatic, by citing some “new evidences’ obtained by certain motivated historians and apologists of Islam such as the alleged land-grants to a few Hindu temples and Sringeri Mutt and protection of Sree Ranganatha Swami temple near the palace, then at the most they could be treated only as scandalous exceptions. Even this was part of a political strategy. Writing in Mathrubhoomi Weekly (January 14-20, 1990), Dr. M. Gangadharan says. “In the socio-religious-political conditions prevailing in Mysore of Tipu’s days, such things could not be avoided. The financial assistance to Sringeri Mutt meant for conducting religious rites to ward off evil spirits, was clearly specified in the letter sent by Tipu Sultan. As such, these cannot be accepted as evidence of Tipu’s respect for Hindu religion.”
Same Situation in Mysore Also
The orchestrated propaganda that Tipu Sultan was tolerant and fair-minded towards the Hindus in Mysore is also without any foundation, as explained in history of Mysore written by Lewis Rice as well as M.M. Gopalrao. According to Lewis Rice, during the rule of Tipu Sultan, only two Hindu temples inside the Sreerangapatanam Fort were having daily pujas while the assets of all other temples were confiscated. Even in administrative matters,
Muslim bias was blatantly evident, especially in the matter of taxation policy. “Muslims were exempted from all taxes. Even those who were converted to Islamic faith were also allowed the same concessions,” says Gopal Rao. In the case of employment, Hindus were eliminated to the maximum extent possible. During the entire period of 16 years of Tipu Sultan’s rule, the only Hindu who had occupied any important official position was Purnaiyya.
Nightmarish Days of Padayottam (Military Regime)
However, Tipu and his Padayottam were a nightmare, especially for the Hindus of Malabar, whatever may be the arguments provided by Gidwani or the secularist historians who have specialized in proving a wolf to be a goat. There is no point in making it dark by closing one’s eyes.
Under these circumstances, a TV serial glorifying Tipu Sultan as a magnanimous person can only remind the Hindus of Malabar about the nightmare experienced by their forefathers during the cruel military regime of Tipu Sultan. That can, in turn, shatter the prevailing communal harmony and peace in Kerala.
Opposition to the proposed TV serial on Tipu Sultan is not inspired by religious sentiments alone. It is also not against anybody’s freedom to make a tele-serial based on a novel. It is the people’s objection and anger against the Government’s attempts to project a historical personality by suppressing, distorting and falsifying authentic historical evidence about his life and deeds. The official media like television and radio networks have certain basic obligations towards the public. Not to misguide the people, especially by falsification and distortion of recorded history, is the most important obligation. Therefore, projection of a tele-serial based on Gidwani’s scandalous novel is outside the broad framework of basic guidelines and objectives. That should not be allowed.
Kesari (Malayalam Weekly), February 25, 1990