January 13, 2008
The Wisdom Fund

The Indian Mutiny, 1857

by William Dalrymple

Major Harriott, the prosecutor, chose to build a highly speculative case of such obvious flimsiness and lack of understanding of what the Uprising had been about that none of the British observers who kept accounts of the trial could be persuaded even to begin to believe his argument.

Harriott maintained that Zafar was the evil genius and linchpin behind an international Muslim conspiracy stretching from Constantinople, Mecca and Iran to the walls of the Red Fort. His intent, declared Harriott, was to subvert the British Empire and put the Mughals in its place. Contrary to all the evidence that the Uprising broke out first among the overwhelmingly Hindu sepoys, and that it was high-caste Hindu sepoys who all along formed the bulk of the fighting force; and ignoring all the evident distinctions between the sepoys, the jihadis, the Shia Muslims of Persia and the Sunni court of Delhi, Major Harriott argued that the Mutiny was the product of the convergence of all these conspiring forces around the fanatical Islamic dynastic ambitions of Zafar: "To Musalman intrigues and Mahommedan conspiracy we may mainly attribute the dreadful calamities of the year 1857," argued Major Harriott. "The Mutineers [were] in immediate connexion with the prisoner at your bar."

The conspiracy, from the very commencement, was not confined to the sepoys, and did not even originate with them, but had its ramifications throughout the palace and city ... [Zafar was the] leading chief of the rebels in Delhi ... Dead to every feeling that falls honourably on the heart of man, this shrivelled impersonation of malignity must have formed no inapt centrepiece to the group of ruffians that surrounded him ... We see how early and how deeply the [Muslim] priesthood interested and engaged themselves in this matter, and how completely and exclusively Mahommedan in character was this conspiracy ...

[Was Zafar] the original mover, the head and front of the undertaking, or but the consenting tool ... the forward, unscrupulous, but still pliant puppet, tutored by priestly craft for the advancement of religious bigotry? Many persons, I believe, will incline to the latter. The known restless spirit of Mahommedan fanaticism has been the first aggressor, the vindictive intolerance of that peculiar faith has been struggling for mastery, seditious conspiracy has been its means, the prisoner its active accomplice, and every possible crime the frightful result ... The bitter zeal of Mahommedanism meets us everywhere ... perfectly demonic in its actions ...

The Uprising in fact showed every sign of being initiated by upper-caste Hindu sepoys reacting against specifically military grievances perceived as a threat to their faith and dharma; it then spread rapidly through the country, attracting a fractured and diffuse collection of other groups alienated by aggressively insensitive and brutal British policies. Among these were the Mughal court and the many Muslim individuals who made their way to Delhi and fought as civilian jihadis united against the kafir enemy. Yet Harriott's bigoted and Islamophobic argument oversimplified this complex picture down to an easily comprehensible, if quite fictional, global Muslim conspiracy with an appealingly visible and captive hate figure at its centre, towards whom righteous vengeance could now be directed. . . . [pages 406, 407]

When Delhi fell in September 1857 it was not just the city and Zafar's court which were uprooted and destroyed, but the selfconfidence and authority of the wider Mughal political and cultural world throughout India. The scale of the devastation and defeat, and the depths of the humiliation heaped on the vanquished Mughals, profoundly diminished not just the prestige of the old aristocratic order, but also - to at least some extent - the composite Hindu-Muslim, Indo-Islamic civilisation of which Zafar's court had been the flagship, and of whose sophisticated, tolerant and open-minded attititudes Ghalib's poems still form such a striking testament.

For the British after 1857, the Indian Muslim became an almost subhuman creature, to be classified in unembarrassedly racist imperial literature alongside such other despised and subject specimens, such as Irish Catholics or "the Wandering Jew." The depth to which India Muslims had sunk in British eyes is visible in an 1868 production called The People of India, which contains photographs of the different castes and tribes of South Asia ranging from Tibetans and Aboriginals (illustrated with a picture of a naked tribal) to the Doms of Bihar. The image of "the Mahomedan" is illustrated by a pieture of an Aligarh labourer who is given the following caption: "His features are pecuIiarly Malromedan ... [and] exemplify in a strong manner the obstinacy, sensuality, ignorance and bigotry of his class. It is hardly possible, perhaps, to conceive features more essentially repulsive."

The profound contempt that the British so openly expressed for Indian Muslim and Mughal culture proved contagious, particularly to the ascendant Hindus, who quickly hardened their attitudes to all things Islamic, . . . [page 440]

[William Dalrymple's "The Last Mughal" won the prestigous Duff Cooper Prize for History and Biography in 2007.]

Paul R. Dunn, "Islamic Fascism: The Propaganda of Our Times," The Wisdom Fund, September, 2006

Enver Masud, "Iraq: Divide and Rule, 'Ethnic Cleansing Works'," The Wisdom Fund, October 10, 2006

["I am so very fond of him. He is so good and gentle and understanding... and is a real comfort to me."

These were the words of Queen Victoria speaking to her daughter-in-law, Louise, Duchess of Connaught, on November 3, 1888, at Balmoral. Perhaps surprising, though, is who she was talking about - not her beloved husband, Albert, who had died in 1861. Nor John Brown, her loyal Scottish ghillie, who in many ways filled the void left by Albert, since Brown had died in 1883.

Instead, Queen Victoria was referring to Abdul Karim, her 24-year-old Indian servant.--Ben Leach, "The lost diary of Queen Victoria's final companion," Telegraph, February 26, 2011]

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