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Tipu Sultan- The Tyrant of Mysore by Sandeep Balakrishna

In A Survey of Kerala History, Sreedhara Menon summarizes the impact of Tipu Sultan’s brutal raids on Kerala and concludes that it introduced modern and progressive ideas to Kerala. These progressive ideas include collecting taxes directly from the peasants and building roads which connected various remote parts of Kerala. Menon also credits Tipu Sultan for creating a social revolution in Kerala by attacking Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Nairs. By declaring Nairs as the lowest caste and by forcefully converting them into Islam gave the lower castes a sense of prestige and position. As to the drawbacks to Tipu’s wars in Kerala, Menon writes that the wars halted black pepper cultivation and thus destroyed the economy. The ports became empty and unused and the foreign currency that came from trade relations which spanned a millennia came to a halt pushing people into poverty.

Fortunately Menon does not call him a freedom fighter, but many many historians and politicians and literary types like Girish Karnad and Bhagwan Gidwani consider him so. They also consider him to be a great warrior, a humanist, the son of Kannada and a tolerant ruler. Sandeep, by going through copious amounts of primary sources on Tipu finds that a fictional narrative has been constructed regarding every aspect of Tipu’s life and the tale which was spread by bards who relied on bakshish, now is spread by modern bards for various nefarious reasons.

The part that Sreedhara Menon whitewashed s expanded by Sandeep and that is not for the faint of heart. Tipu hunted down the Nairs who rebelled against him and forced them to surrender. Here is the what happened next:

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Another account of Tipu’s march through Calicut records that both men, women and children were hanged; churches and temples were desecrated; women were forced to marry Muslim men. Proud of his accomplishments in Calicut, he wrote a letter gloating about this massive conversion. He also congratulated his commanding officer for circumcising the captives and converting the others. As he marched to Travancore, burning towns and villages, he was halted by the Nairs and extreme cruelty by Tipu caused an exodus of people from Malabar. This is the level of progressiveness that is attributed to Tipu by a writer who had a good idea of what really happened as he was the former editor of the Gazetteer of Kerala. The trend seems to be to not let facts get in the way of a progressive interpretation.

Another myth that prevails is that Tipu was a freedom fighter because he fought against the British. Less mentioned is the fact that he working on replacing one colonial power for the other for his own personal gain. In various letters written to the French,he conveyed the notion that he was friends with the local Muslim rulers and with the combined French army, they could rout the British. To entice the French, he promised half the territory that would be taken away from the British and he had correspondence with Napoleon himself. Napoleon was not the only foreigner with whom he bargained. He wrote letters to the Caliph, to Zaman Shah of Afghanistan, and to other foreign Muslim rulers, inviting them to wage the battle against the infidels.

Besides revealing such less mentioned facts, the book begins with the crux of the problem which is the problem with historiography in India. These narratives are not written with a focus on revealing the truth, but for subverting certain truths. There is a revealing conversation between S L Bhyrappa and G. Parthasarathy, a Nehru-Gandhi family acolyte, who lead a committee to foster national integration through education. Parthasarathy tells Bhyrappa, who at that time was a philosophy lecturer, that teaching about the iconoclasm of Aurangzeb and Mahmud of Ghazni would poison the minds of the students, offend the minorities and “cleave the society”. Hence it was important to use “maturity and discrimination” in selecting the narrative.

In 2009, I wrote a piece for Pragati about these biases and one of the solutions was for us not to leave the history to historians.

Lawsuits, protests, activism—these can be an effective tools, but there is also a need to popularise the discourse. Stephen Ambrose, David McCullough are masters of the popular history genre in the West. Barring a few honourable exceptions, in the Indian context this genre consists of writing more biographies of Nehru and Gandhi. There is a need to add more voices to this discourse—to explain how the invasion theory evolved to migration theory to Aryan trickle down theory—because this Aryan-Dravidian race theory still has serious social and political implications in India.[Op-Ed in Pragati: Getting Objective about it]

Sandeep’s book is a good step in that direction.

Tipu Sultan – Tyrant of Mysore, Rare Publications; 1st Edition 2013 edition (November 30, 2013), 186 pages [Kindle Edition | Flipkart| Amazon India]

4 Responses to Tipu Sultan- The Tyrant of Mysore by Sandeep Balakrishna

  1. shylendra December 30, 2013 at 3:54 am #

    Original book is already in Kannada and written by Kannada journo pratap simha .

  2. Kit Walker January 1, 2014 at 3:29 am #

    The attack on Hindus and Indian culture has been going on from the day the barbaric marauders entered Indian soil with the intention to pillage, destroy our amazing culture and temples, kill our people and forcibly convert the survivors that somehow escaped death. Unfortunately the inheritors of that legacy haven’t yet been able to come out of that destructive mind set. For centuries the adapting and adjusting and non aggressive approach to life that Hindus have has been taken for cowardice and exploited. It is about time we send these non-humans and their overt and cover supporters into the dustbin of history.

  3. Ira Kun March 16, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

    Simply put, just as Churchill once said, “All it takes evil to triumph is good men do nothing to stop it”. That has a much deeper meaning that just the superficial note. One thing is for sure, Indian history has to be re-written but not for the sake of just re-writing, but to bring out the truth. It doesn’t change the fact that if I had a Muslim friend, he will still be my friend. It wouldn’t matter an ounce what the tyrant Muslim rulers did. Yes, Indian history has to be re-written to bring out the truth but in a critically analytic way. People should go to the primary sources from which the early Western historians and also Indian historians have written or say interpreted history for reasons ranging from suppression or devaluation to personal gain. People should analyze the primary sources and verify them against the customs, folklore, archaeological data and then assign data. But if you see now, every historian writing Indian history has a preconceived notion of certain dates. Example, it is taken for granted that the Mauryan mystery has been solved and the Chandragupta of the 326BC is a Mauryan or that Alexander had won the battle against Purugupta. It has to be criticized by Indians and say what you have written is wrong. As long as Indians, let every person calling himself a historian write their interpretation of Indian history with pre-conceived notions without referring to Indian primary sources, it will always be the case that Indian history or for that matter any nations history will be a false one.

  4. Nithin April 7, 2014 at 8:06 am #

    Ira Kun.. Most aspects you say is true .., Yet true facts are not thought in a schools.., You must also read Book” Breaking India” As far as i can recollect it took almost 5 years to write this book .., its purely based on facts and with references..

    If i am correct the QUOTE you mentioned “All it takes evil to triumph is good men do nothing to stop it” was told by EDMUND BURKE

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