By Florine Roche
Mangaluru, Nov 10: For Karnataka it is time to celebrate another Jayanti – Tipu Jayanti on November 10, 2015 but with a difference. This will be the first ever government celebration of the birth centenary of Tipu, a controversial historical figure who ruled erstwhile Mysore state between 1782 and 1799. The Karnataka government bowing to the wishes of a section of the society across the state, decided to celebrate the birth anniversary of Tipu Sultan, the 18th century ruler of Mysore, who is also known as the “Tiger of Mysore”. Suddenly the government has realised the great virtues of this ruler and wants to celebrate his birthday in an impressive way. This move comes at a time when the ‘tolerance’ has become a much discussed and debated topic in the country. Tipu being a contentious figure, as is known to us through history, this decision of the government has come in for severe criticism from several individuals and organisations, especially Christians and Hindus, who have been spearheading a vociferous campaign against this action of the government.
The Congress government in Karnataka has been making abortive attempts to commemorate Tipu for quite some time now in some way or the other. This included an earlier attempt to name a proposed minority university in Srirangapatnam, after Tipu Sultan. That move also met with opposition from the BJP saying Congress decision was aimed at consolidating Muslim vote bank of the party. Now, after a lull of almost two years the controversy has taken a new turn with the government deciding to celebrate his birth anniversary as a state function.
Christians Decry Decision
Chief Minister Siddaaramaiah, as expected, has termed this campaign against the government’s decision as a conspiracy by communal forces. This blame game, no doubt is an accepted phenomenon by politicians in the charged political atmosphere of Indian politics to score political mileage. What is surprising is the certificate given by the Chief Minister and Home Minister Parameshwar who term Tipu is secular and freedom fighter which is quite contrary to what history and historians say. If the criticism to this celebration by the government was only from Hindus and Hindu outfits, it could have been be brushed aside as another attempt to ‘communalise’ the issue and many would have believed Siddaramaiah. However, in this case the opposition to celebrating Tipu Jayanti is quite vocal from some Catholics, especially Mangaluru Catholics, as they are believed to be one of the worst victims of Tipu’s viciousness and intolerance. Many Catholic families still have poignant memories of the sufferings undergone by their great grandparents and relatives under the tyrannical hands of Tipu.
United Christian Association, Mangaluru, is quite stunned by the government’s move and is spearheading opposition in the form of holding demonstrations, rallies, meetings, giving memorandum to the government and distributing pamphlets that highlight Tipu’s crimes against humanity in the twin districts and also in Shivamogga and Chikkamagaluru. The Association even submitted a memorandum to the District Commissioner urging the government to cancel the celebration. Though their demonstration and opposition has received considerable media coverage in the process bringing to the fore the painful memories of the cruelty of Tipu to several, the government seems to be least perturbed by these developments.
As per the information shared by those Catholics who survived the worst mayhem and other historical accounts available Tipu had taken about 80,000 Mangaluru Catholics into captivity and converted/killed many of them with only 20,000 returning from captivity to give a tell-tale account of the cruelty. For Christians the very mention of Tipu brings back memories of the infamous captivity to Srirangaptanam and the untold miseries he had inflicted on Catholics. There are others who say that Tipu punished Catholics for conspiring against him by joining hands with the British. But that does not justify, condone or reduce the severity of the cruelty he inflicted on people, whatever might be the provocation.
Though many Catholics are perplexed by the government’s decision to honour a tyrant and are unable to reconcile to this very thought they are certainly handicapped by political compulsions. They are hesitant to raise voice against the ruling Congress government, of which the community has been a traditional supporter. Also two catholic political leaders of the district J R Lobo and Ivan D Souza are part of the present ruling government in the state. Naturally that puts the community in a dicey position to oppose or not to oppose the government even if it meant celebrating the birthday of a tormenter and religious bigot responsible for killing and torturing thousands of Catholics. For Catholics, Kodavas or Malbaris, this celebration would be like opening old wounds much to their discomfiture.
Tyrant or Tolerant?
That brings us to the fundamental argument - whether Tipu was secular, patriot, or an intolerant fanatic who killed nom-Muslims and destroyed churches and temples. Robert Rozario, member of United Christian Association points out “to honour him as a freedom fighter is sacrilegious because the very concept of freedom movement did not come into effect in India or Europe until the beginning of the 19th century. There has been a calibrated move by some elements to project him as patriot for obvious reasons and even history books are replete with such distorted facts and half truths. It is unfortunate that even the government has become a party to such machinations of certain individuals and institutions”.
Apart from captivity of Mangalorean Catholics and cruelty inflicted on Kodavas and Malbaris about which there are enough evidences even now, what adds credence to the claim that Tipu was a religious bigot is that he had destroyed about 32 to 40 churches. There is historical reference that from the remnants of the stones of Milagres Church he had destroyed, he laid the foundation for the Idga at the Light House Hill road.
Prof B Surendra Rao, Retired professor of History, Mangalore University, reacting to the government’s decision to observe the birth centenary pointed out “I am not sure if the government should have sponsored his birth centenary. Such acts take political connotations and provoke responses which are equally political. We have enough of politics, as it is”. Professor Rao who has made extensive study about relationship of Tipu and Mangaluru Christians opines “whether Tipu was an intolerant, religious bigot, cruel or was a patriot, tolerant and benevolent ruler, still remains a mystery in Indian history. There are instances that say he donated generously to temples and mutts. But that act in itself does not justify he was secular and benevolent”.
Prof Rao also points out that there is conflicting information about the number of Christians, Kodavas and Malbaris taken on Captivity to Srirangapattnam. “There is no authentic data about the number of people taken as prisoners by Tipu. Even the number 60,000 claimed by Tipu looks inflated because the population of Catholics in Mangaluru at the time was believed to be around 35,000. If we go by the statistics availabe, then Srirangapatnam would have completely become a fortress of prisoners. Nonetheless, one cannot dispel the cruelties committed by Tipu on Catholics as merely as a figment of our imagination.
Today Catholics, Kodavas and Malabaris have only bitter memories of Tipu’s brutality and intolerance and not his generosity. If these people harbour such feelings, as is evident from the personal accounts of the survivors of captivity and records available from local sources, we cannot ignore it saying they are influenced by reading the books written by British historians”.
With such conflicting views on a historical personality like Tipu, this move of the government has not gone down well especially because it comes at a time when the political atmosphere in the country is quite surcharged. The very mention of Tipu stirs up passions and strong emotions prompting people to take extreme positions. Muslims hold Tipu in high pedestal terming him as a patriot and freedom fighter for fighting against the British whereas Christians and Hindus term him as a fanatic who destroyed their places of worship, converted them to Islam and even subjugated them. There are many who believe that this dichotomy is mainly because of inheriting history from westerners. However, copious amount of literature is available from primary sources - written by various officials in Tipu’s administration, by Tipu himself and also by the 20,000 odd survivors of the infamous captivity, some of have written about their experiences and many others have narrated their tale of woes to their kith and kin.
To celebrate his birthday of this controversial ruler at taxpayer’s cost is an insult to humanity because he was just a ruler like so many others who tried to defend his territory and nothing more than that. If we follow this yardstick all those Nawabs of Oudh including Siraj-ud-Daula, Mir Khasim or even Mughal rulers including last ruler Bahadur Shah Zafer can be termed as patriots and freedom fighters.