This is a translation of Pratap Simha’s Kannada Prabha column titled Tippuvannu dweshisabekendalla, satya tiliyali endu, published on 9 March 2013. Comments and criticism welcome as always.
Image courtesy: Kannada Prabha
“I’ll give you a fresh sample of a lie uttered by a writer. In light of the opposition to the proposal to establish a University in Srirangapatana named after Tipu, this writer has falsely claimed that Tipu was a hater of Hindus, and that he had forcibly converted 71,000 Hindus to Islam. When I heard this, I immediately suspected whether the total population of Coorg was indeed 71,000. I checked the Coorg Gazetteer published by the Government. There were only 1,68,312 people in Coorg in 1871. The 1981 Census records the total population of Coorg as 3,22,829. Thus, when we compute the population of Coorg for the 1782-99 period, it’s clear that it couldn’t have been more than a lakh. In that hundred thousand number, if 71,000 people had been converted to Islam, Coorg should have had a Muslim population of at least 2,00,000 in the intervening 210 years. Today, the total Muslim population in Coorg stands at just 14,730. Can this writer-researcher utter such barefaced lies?”
This is the substance of the attack by K. Chennabasappa, President of the 79th Kannada Sahitya Sammelana (Kannada Literary Meet), against the renowned historian-researcher, Dr. Chidananda Murthy.
The kind of number jugglery displayed by the veteran K. Chennabasappa is enough to sway even the illiterate. But on calm reflection, it’s evident that Chennabasappa has taken some lessons from Darrell Huff’s How to Lie with Statistics. It’s said that when wisdom abandons us, so does our brains. However, those with impure intent will consciously use their brains in the service of folly. We need to say this in the case of K. Chennabasappa because according to the 2011 Census, the total population of Coorg was 5.48 lakhs comprising 1.25 lakh Muslims. And so, Mr. Chennabasappa, there are three times the number of Muslims in Virajpet alone—three times your figure of 14730 Muslims that you claim live in the entire Coorg district! I guess only God will be pleased with your “logic” of “if 71,000 people had been converted to Islam, Coorg should have had a Muslim population of at least 2,00,000 in the intervening 210 years.” Is Mr. Chennabasappa even aware of the population growth rate of Muslims? Even Wikipedia says that "Kodagu is home to a sizeable population of Muslims.”
Further, here’s how I.M. Muthanna, author of Tipu Sultan X-Rayed describes Tipu’s raid on Coorg: “Tipu fell upon Coorg in the manner of a stealthy cat. His raid wasn’t that of an emperor intent on expanding his empire. It was a cultural and religious invasion. This tactic of Tipu won there. Tipu fell upon the villages and towns of Coorg just like he fell upon the cities. He followed the policy of Islam or death. This barbarism weakened the strength of the Coorg people and their army. Having realized that he could not win them in direct confrontation, Tipu targeted and assaulted temples. Thus, having secured political victories using religious fanaticism, Tipu easily entered the Malabar region. Remnants of the cruelties he inflicted upon the Coorg people are surviving even today. Some historians claim that he killed about 40000 Coorgis and converted an equal number. We cannot dispute the fact that there might be exaggeration in these numbers. However, there is no dispute to the fact that he converted the original Kodavas who were since known as Kodava Mapilas. Equally, there were hundreds of converted Kodavas in Tipu’s Ahamadiya army. These are indisputable witnesses to historical truth.”
Today, we have Mapilas (Muslims) whose family names are Kodava names. We have Alira, Cheeranda, Chimma Cheera (this surname is shared by non-Muslim Kodavas), Duddiyanda, Kaddadiyanda, and Kolumanda in Virajpet. In the Devanageri village, we have Muslim family names like Puliyanda and in the regions surrounding Virajpet, we have Muslim family names like Kuvalera, Italtanda, Mitaltanda, Kuppodanda, Kappanjeera. Similarly, in the Madikeri taluk, we have Kalera, Chekkera, Charmakaranda, Maniyanda, Balasojikaranda, and Mandeyanda. Intriguingly, in the Hoddur village in Madikeri taluk, there is a Muslim family with the surname of Harishchandra!
The then king of Coorg replaced the shrine (or pinnacle) of the Omkareshwara temple with a Gumbaz fearing Tipu. This was to give an impression that it was a mosque when seen from afar. Even today, the Omkareshwara temple looks like a Gumbaz.
What does all this indicate?
Do you know what’s funny? Dr. Chidananda Murthy has nowhere said that Tipu Sultan forcibly converted 71000 Hindus to Islam. Here’s what he actually said: “Tipu forcibly converted 70000 Christians and a lakh Hindus in the Malabar, Coorg, and the Coastal regions of Karnataka.” Despite this, what motivated K. Chennabasappa to intentionally twist Dr. Murthy’s words? And then, M.M. Kalburgi who delivered the valedictory speech of the Kannada Sahitya Sammelana launched yet another attack on Dr. Chidananda Murthy. What does it augur for us when the dais of something as well-intentioned as the Kannada Sahitya Sammelana is misused by such people to display their pettiness against an honest scholar like Dr. Chidananda Murthy? This selfsame Kalburgi wrote a book titled Kannada Arasara Akannada Prajne (The anti-Kannada Feeling of Kannada Kings). Does he have the guts to write about the openly anti-Kannada attitude of the same Tipu Sultan who erased Kannada, the administrative language of the Mysore kingdom, and replaced it with Farsi?
There’s a reason for mentioning all this. The aforementioned people are in responsible and influential positions in public life. As such, they get platforms on a platter. And once they ascend the platform, they begin to spew venom and lies. What kind of impact does it have when people who’re supposed to guide the society misguide it? There’s a proverb which says that those who don’t learn from history cannot create history. And here we have these worthies who openly dissuade us from reading, writing, and speaking historical truths, and who ask us to parrot their bunch of lies. Should we tolerate this?
Besides, why should we name the proposed university at Srirangapatana after Tipu instead of genuine Muslim leaders like Abdul Kalam and Abdul Nazir Saab? From what angle does Tipu Sultan appear like a freedom fighter to these lying worthies? Who is a freedom fighter? Indeed, what are the qualifications to call someone a freedom fighter?
Whether a person can be called a freedom fighter or no will be clear when we examine the historical timeline. Thus, when we look at this timeline, we cannot call anybody who fought in the 1857 war as a freedom fighter. After Ashoka’s death, the whole of India was never united under a single empire/emperor. Indeed, until the 1857 war, there was no concept of India as a single, unified nation. Various kings used to fight one another to either defend or extend their own territories. The Nawab of Arcot and the Nairs of Malabar fought against Tipu in the same way as Tipu fought against the Marathas and the Kodavas. The Marathas hated Hyder-Tipu as much as the latter hated the British. The Wodeyar dynasty of Mysore whose empire Hyder had usurped through deceit, too didn’t particularly like the father-son duo.
The Marathas who had invited Hyder Ali to fight against the British as early as 1771 hated the British with greater intensity than Hyder-Tipu hated the British. But then, the same Marathas allied with the British in the Third and Fourth Anglo-Mysore wars. And it’s not just that. The Mughals fought against the Rajputs, the Marathas fought against the Mughals and the Bahamani sultans. And thus, until all of these Indian kings lost their kingdoms one after the other, and until the British took over most of India, there was no common enemy, and thus, there was no period of organized resistance.
By 1857, all emperors, kings, feudatories, sultans, nizams, nawabs, and dynasties had been completely subjugated by the British, who then emerged as the common enemy. Apart from Ashoka, the only other king who had—barring a few regions—the whole of India under his control was Akbar. The British were the only empire who managed to surpass both Ashoka and Akbar in this respect. Thus, only after this common enemy emerged that the people of India started a movement to reclaim their country from this alien ruler. Only this phenomenon can reasonably be called as the freedom struggle in the sense we understand it.
The British tried to give a name and form to the war of 1857 by calling it the Sepoy Mutiny. It was variously called the Sepoy Mutiny and the Indian Mutiny. However, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar who wrote the “The History of the War of Indian Independence” termed the Sepoy Mutiny as the First War of Independence, a terminology that came into widespread usage. But the Sikhs were unhappy with this terminology. They insisted that the First Anglo-Sikh war of 1845-56 be called the First War of Independence.
What does all this indicate?
The wars and conflicts prior to the 1857 war weren’t freedom struggles. Therefore, none of the people who fought in them can be called freedom fighters. They were just conflicts and battles fought to defend and preserve specific territories. Aren’t our literary and academic eminences aware of this simple truth? How does Tipu Sultan, who fought against the British, Marathas, Kodavas, Nairs, et al to either defend his territory or to conquer that of other kings, become a freedom fighter? How can one fight for the freedom of a country at a time when there was no concept of a single nation and a single, united Government?
IN WHICH CASE…
Why can’t we call Siraj-ud-Daula, who fought in 1757 in Plassey against the British, a freedom fighter? If the act of Tipu Sultan—who came to power in 1782—taking the help of the French to root out the British from India, is termed as freedom struggle, how is it different from that of Siraj-ud-Daula who took French help 25 years prior to Tipu? By this token, doesn’t Tipu’s own father, Hyder Ali who fought the British also become a freedom fighter?
Oh! and can we call the Raja of Travancore, the Marathas, and the Nizam of Hyderabad as traitors because they took the help of the British to fight Tipu’s atrocities? The Nizam of Hyderabad sent a contingent of 10 Battalions, which included 16,000 horsemen in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore in which Tipu was killed. It is true that Tipu had sought the assistance of the French to fight against the British. But the Nizam’s aforementioned force—sent to aid the British against Tipu—also comprised 3600 French soldiers. What do we say to this?
The day I heard how the likes of K. Chennabasappa and M.M. Kalburgi twisted the words of Dr. Chidanandamurthy to suit their dirty little agendas at the Kannada Sahitya Sammelana in order to spew venom against the scholar was the day I decided to show and tell the public, the true story of Tipu Sultan backed by complete, firsthand evidence and facts. That was also when I sat down to expose the true colours of these intellectual eunuchs who indulge in lickspittle writing about historical figures. The result is a new book entitled Tipu Sultan: Swatantra Veeranaa? (Tipu Sultan: Was he a Freedom Fighter?). Nobody needs to hate Tipu Sultan but everybody needs to know the truth. And the lies.
The book is now in stores. Read. Decide for yourself. Debate!