September 24, 1997
Akhilesh Mithal

British Perfidy is Without Parallel


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The person assaulted was not the 'King' of Delh', but the "Emperor" of all of India.




The British Resident, and any other representative of the Company, on his official seal, calls himself 'Fidvee' or slave.



The picture shows an incident which occurred one hundred and forty years ago, on September 21, 1857, at Humayun’s Tomb, Dillee. As the effects of this outrage against India have yet to wear off, perhaps it would be sensible to dwell on it in some detail. First the picture and its context.

As the readers can see the brave Captain Hodson is grasping a white bearded figure by the throat. The person so brutalised is looking at him in helpless anger. A lady in Indian dress is holding on to the person assaulted and looking beseechingly at the assailant.

The title reads “Captain Hodson arresting the King of Delhi.’’ The source or book from which this picture has been taken is a most popular 19th century work called Cassel’s Illustrated History of India. This was a work in which the chroniclers and the illustrators combined to provide the reader with an ego massage apparatus in which facts were not allowed to create confusion.

The British were seen as a master race and it was their destiny to rule the whole wide world and those who dared to differ or oppose were taught a lesson which would not easily be forgotten. The distortions visited upon Indian history by the Brits can be illustrated from this picture and its title.

The person assaulted was not the “King” of Delhi but the “Emperor” of all of India. All Indian coinage including that minted by the East India Company was under his licence and inscribed with his names and titles.

The British Resident and any other representative of the Company, including the highest official addressed the emperor as an inferior would address a superior. Warren Hastings, on his official seal, calls himself “fidvee” or slave.

The result of this picture and other such diminishing works is that the great Padishanama exhibition of an imperial chronicle of his reign, Shahjahen, is called “King of the World” instead of the correct “Emperor of the World’’ rendering. The arrest is shown as a one-sided affair in which the emperor is overpowered by Hodson.

In fact, the emperor surrendered after the fall of Dillee (September 20, 1857). This against the advice of his general, Bakht Khan. The general felt that all was not lost with Dillee and that the fight should be taken to the countryside where there was great support for the Mughals, and none for the Brits.

The emperor was old and feeble. He was concerned about the large family dependent upon him and also the citizenry who were like his own children. The deal struck in negotiations was that there would be peace and that arson, pillage and bloodshed would come to a halt.

Why did he place his faith in the British although he, and everyone else knew their record of perfidy and chicanery?

In the event, the slaughter started immediately after the person of the emperor had been secured by Hodson. Whole streets (mohallas) were emptied of men and the victims herded to the Jamuna sands where they were made to dig their own graves and shot.

Twenty one of the Mughal princes including sons and grandsons of the old emperor were shot or hanged and their bodies left to rot at prominent places liked Kabul Darwaza of Humayun and Sher Shah’s Dillee and Koatwaalee in Chandni Chowk. The Kabul Gate is called the Khoonee Darwaza or like bloodstains. The saying is that the bloodstains are evidence of the perfidy of the Brits and of Hodson who went back on his plighted troth to slaughter the princes and will be exhibited on the day of judgement and cause his perdition and eternal damnation.

The years 1857 and 1947 stand out in sharp contrast because the British had all this time (90 years) to sell sectarianism and communalism. The country was partitioned along communal lines. India kept its secular status.

Its Muslim population is now larger than that of Pakistan. Despite this fact, people in the West think simplistically “Pakistan = Muslim; India = Hindu.” Mahatma Gandhi is made out to be a Hindu leader. He is depicted as the representative of Hindus as the Buddha is of the Buddhists and Guru Nanak of Sikhs. Pictures of his prayer meetings are captioned “Gandhi addressing a Hindu prayer meeting!”

The most pathetic outcome of this mindset is witnessed in the realm of art. In 1979 the Metropolitan Museum of New York (USA) had no “Indian” art on display. Much searching revealed two Akbar period court paintings of the Vishnu Purana in the Islamic gallery! Even today all museums in the United States and United Kingdom have Islamic sections. Art takes place in time and space and unless a religion lays down specific rules for buildings, it is questionable whether sectarian labels have validity. No one takes into account that such labelling has an effect of promoting narrow-minded bigotry. Thus everyone believes that unless there are Islamic elements like a dome and a meenar (minaret) the building is not a mosque. This idea has ruined many an ancient building in Kerala and Kashmir.

The West fears Islamic “fundamentalism” even as it boxes Muslim buildings into being Islamic and thus marking them off into ghettos. Readers should consider the fact that the shrine of San Sofia in Istanbul, the cathedral in Cordoba, the Butkhaana in Mehrauli and Arhai Din Kaa Jhoanpdaa in Ajmer all retain much of the character they had when they were places of worship in their pre-architectural militates in favour of sectarianism and fundamentalism and needs to be abandoned. Perhaps, in this 51st year of freedom, India should host a conference on culture. It could be entitled “The Geography of Culture.”


Akhilesh Mithal, 1991-1999. All rights reserved.
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