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The great betrayal

by Farida Asrar

Do the victors respect the fundamental rights of the vanquished? Not always.

WHEN Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal king, fell from grace, the British did not care for any of his rights. His properties, worth no less than £280,000, along with his jewels, were confiscated. After a sham trial, he was sent to Rangoon as a prisoner along with his family and was allowed for their support 16 Shillings a day. Historian Edward Thompson, in his book The Making of the Indian Princess, mentions that Bahadur Shah Zafar’s “trial was a piece of politics, not of justice”; and unpublished letters of Viceroy John Lawrence which Thompson has read and has access to, clearly gave instructions regarding the trial that “The king should be found guilty (and the) show, was a waste of time”.

Two of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s sons were summarily executed outside Humayun’s tomb by Major Hudson. Another son who escaped, Firozeshah, was last heard of about in 1864, living as a beggar by the wayside near Makkah. Fakhruddin, the heir apparent, was shot through the knees and left for dead by a British officer. He eventually recovered and lived as a crippled faqir in Delhi. Bahadur Shah himself died in exile in 1862 and was buried in Rangoon and not at the shrine of Khwaja Bakhtiar Khaki near Delhi, which he initially reserved for his burial.

Bahadur Shah Zafar’s crown, which was in the shape of a cap and studded with finest jewels, is currently in Windsor Castle. It was on display at the Indian Heritage Exhibition (April 21 to August 22, 1982) lent by Queen Elizabeth. The crown (which is gold set with the finest diamonds, pearls, rubies and small emeralds) was purchased by Queen Victoria for £500 from Capt Tytler, who had purchased it in an auction of confiscated property. Capt Tytler was the officer in charge of Bahadur Shah’s palace complex. The general practice adopted by the British at that time was to hand the ‘Prizes of War’ to a ‘Prize-Agent’, who would subsequently auction them with the proceeds being divided among the army according to their ranks. It is said that the amount recovered from this auction was ‘half to three quarters of a million pounds sterling’. Harriet Tytler, wife of Capt Tytler, wrote in her memoirs that they were told to sell the crown to Queen Victoria for an absurd amount of 500 pounds sterling, with Capt Tytler being promised a good appointment in India if he accepted the offer. The day after the crown was sold, they received an offer from Oxford Museum of £1000 for just the shell of the crown, without a single jewel. Capt Tytler had also sent two of Bahadur Shah’s throne chairs for the Queen’s approval along with the crown. When he did not hear anything about the chairs for awhile, he contacted Sir Charles Wood, the secretary of state to India, and was told that her Majesty was under the impression that the chairs were also included in the 500 pounds sterling.

The famous crystal block and marble platform, which adorned ‘Diwane Khas’ in his palace, were also forwarded to Calcutta to be sent to England. A beautiful Quran manuscript of the early 19th century that belonged to Bahadur Shah, measuring 5.1cm by 3.8cm and placed in an ivory box with silver mounts is now at the Victoria and Albert Museum. This Quran is said to have been taken away by Sir Theophilus Metcalfe from under the pillow of Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar from his ‘Khas Mahal’ in Delhi Fort following the siege of 1857.

When Muslims ruled India, its wealth never left the subcontinent. These rulers built grand Islamic architectures like the Taj Mahal, Red Fort and Kutub Minar. Such sites are still luring in millions of dollars every year from tourists who come especially to India, to catch a glimpse of such grand Islamic architecture. During the British period, the ‘Drain of Wealth’ was diverted to England. M.J. Akbar writes, “In 1757 Robert Clive noting with wonder that Murshidabad was as rich as London, pointed out that India could pay off the British debt many times over.” Lord Birkenhead said in a speech at Oxford, “India is our prize possession, we in England have to live on it, the Indians may live in it”.

The Indian subcontinent was known as a treasure trove of bullion, gold, jewelry, artifacts, manuscripts, arms and armour, paintings, ivory and precious stones. Many artifacts are now found in museums and private collections in England. Muslim emperors of the Indian subcontinent had a perpetual fondness for precious gems, stones and jewelry. It is recorded that Shah Jahan had such a vast collection, that it would take an expert 14 years to examine and value it.

The famed Kohinoor diamond made its first appearance in the Indian subcontinent when it was presented to the first Mughal ruler, Babar, by his son Humayun. It was as big as a hen’s egg. Babar had mentioned that the “value of the Kohinoor at that time was so much, that it could provide food to the whole world for two and half days”. It was confiscated by the British at the conclusion of the Sikh war. John Lord, in his book The Maharajas, writes that the exiled maharaja of Punjab, Dhuleep Singh called “Queen Victoria a thief, but not to her face”. Lord Dalhousie had promised that the diamond would find its “final and fitting resting place in the crown of Britain”. The Kohinoor was then cut into three pieces, one each for the crown of the Queen and King of England, while the third was kept on display at the Tower of London.

Tipoo Sultan, the King of Mysore, offered a formidable challenge to the British against all odds. In July 2006, Mr Sivdhanu Pillai, Managing Director of BrahMos Aerospace, India while speaking to reporters at ‘Darya Daulat’ (the summer palace of Tipoo Sultan) said, “Tipoo Sultan was the first person to invent rocket technology. 250mm long rockets filled with 2kg gun powder with a range of 1.5-2kn, was the first rocket used in a war and this was made by Tipoo Sultan and his men. I visited the Woolwich Artillery Museum in London where a spent rocket and pieces of other weapons used by the King are on display. We must tell the world that the birth of the rocket took place in Seringapatam. This is depicted in a painting in the London museum in which horses are seen tumbling when hit by the rockets.”

Tipoo’s national motif was the tiger. What was considered by most as the ‘world’s best known mechanical toy’ was created for Tipoo Sultan. This toy depicts a tiger and a British general. When the handle is turned, the man screams and the tiger roars. It is based on an actual event, as Company General Sir Hector Manroe’s son was killed by a tiger. Tipoo’s ivory furniture currently resides in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

A few years ago at in an Islamic Arts and Antiques auction in London, I came across a 4cm diametre agate archer’s thumb ring. It had a provence that stated, A note written by Hannah Baillie (nee Greenwill) wife of the Hon. William Douglas Hall Baillie, member of the Legislative Council of New Zealand reads as follows “This thumb ring was your Gt. grandfather’s share of the loot taken after the 3rd (and last) siege of Seringapatam [sic] in 1799 when the great fortress was taken and Tipoo Sahib [sic] himself slain whilst fighting desperately together with 8,000 men”.

Tipoo Sultan’s golden throne was separated into several pieces. The Tiger’s head from the throne (which was made of gold with eyes and teeth of crystal) along with the ‘huma’ bird from the chattri (canopy) are now at Windsor castle. One of the finials, gold set with diamonds and emeralds made in Mysore belonged to the 2nd Lady Clive. Countess of Powis, who was an inveterate hunter of Tipoo relics.

Robert Clive started his career as a clerk in the East India Company. It was reported that Clive extorted, a fortune of £230,000 and an additional annual income of 30,000 pounds from the Jaghirs of Mir Jaffer. When he returned to London, he had in his possession several hundred thousand in pounds, Dutch bills and Company bills, and nearly £30,000 in diamonds. The resident of Patna, Sir Thomas Rumbold, returned with £200,000. When the British played the game of replacing Nawabs in Bengal to the highest bidder, an estimated total of Rs.2,000,000 was paid out in the form of gifts by various aspirants. The Victoria and Albert Museum has a ‘turban jewel’ set with diamonds, rubies, sapphires and pearls that was presented by Mir Jaffer to Admiral Charles Watson who, along with Robert Clive, had appointed him ‘Nawab of Bengal’. Gifts and bribes for undue favours and war booty played a large part in the ‘drain of wealth’.

In 1856, the British annexed Oudh, exiling Wajid Ali Shah to Calcutta. An absolutely captivating ornament, which the Nawab of Oudh wore in his turban, is also at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Satyajit Ray’s 1977 film ‘Shatranj ke khiladi’ (Chess players) is based on this theme of clever British maneuvers. Similar policies of ‘self-interest’ was also visible in another part of the world, when in 1918, British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour commented that he did not care under what system Iraq was ruled as long as the British got the oil.









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