“Come September” was an old successful blockbuster romantic comedy of Hollywood. The story line suggests a caretaker of an Italian villa who is very surprised to see its owner, a rich Yankee businessman, arrive two months early. This is a major problem because when the American isn’t visiting, the caretaker uses the villa as a hotel and pockets the profits. While he is there, the Yankee gets interested in a voluptuous guest. Meanwhile newlyweds continue their honeymoon.
Some kind of similar joke was played by history at the expanse of our past in India.
Very few of our modern Muslim youth who sing and dance with the music of ‘Come September’ know the other side of story of Sep 1857 that had changed their destiny, brutally and drastically for the foreseeable future. We are still paying the price of mistakes made in the past.
It was the eventful mournful day of Sep 14, 1857 when the sun of Islamic Mughal Emipre finally set behind the minarets of Jama Masjid, Bhojla Pahadi, Delhi.
The First War of India’s Independence began on 10 May 1857 in the form of a Mutiny of Sepys of the Company’s army in the garrison town of Meerut, 40 miles northeast of Delhi. It then erupted into other mutinies and civilian rebellions chiefly in the Central India. The rebellion posed a considerable threat to British power. However, after a four-month long bloody siege of Delhi, the British forces were victorious and on September 14, 1857 and Delhi fell into their hands. Residents of the Shahr Panah or city of refuge, Shahjahanabad, could not quite believe that what had happened though there had been growing evidence in front of their eyes. The rebellion was contained only with the rebels’ defeat in Gwalior on 20 June 1858. On 1 November 1858, the British granted amnesty to all rebels not involved in murder, though they did not declare the hostilities formally to have ended until 8 July 1859. The rebellion is known by many names, including the Sepoy Mutiny, the Indian Mutiny, the Great Rebellion, the Revolt of 1857 and the Indian Insurrection. Every Indian knows about the first spark – the bullets coated with objectionable animal fat.
On September 17, the Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar left the Qilla-e-moalla (Red Fort) to avoid further bloodshed. There was panic in the city. On September 20 he surrendered and ‘captured’ by Major Hodson. He brought him back as as prisoner to Shahjahanabad. By then, the walled city of Shahjahanabad was vacated by old residents with the exception of those who had sided with the British forces. They were only allowed to stay on. Mirza Ghalib was allowed to stay on because the street in which he lived was inhabited by employees of the Raja of Patiala. This Raja was a loyal stooge of British rulers and he had sided with the British in quelling the ‘rebellion’.
Not everyone was so fortunate. Maulvi Mohammad Baqar who had run the newspaper, ‘Dehli Urdu Akhbar’, exhorting Hindus and Muslims to fight together against the invader traders, the common enemy, was shot on December 16.
Zahir Dehlvi writes in Dastan-e-Ghadar: “I have heard that 1400 men from this mohalla were arrested and taken to the river from the Rajghat Darwaza. There, guns bombarded them and the corpses were thrown in the river. The women ran out of their houses with their children, and jumped into wells. The wells of Kucha Chela’n were full of dead bodies.”
It would be significant to recall that both Hindus and Muslims upper and lower castes had fought together in the First War of Independence. However, as this war was fought under the leadership of Mughal Emperor Bhahdur Shah Zafar – a Muslim, the wrath of the British Empire fell heavily on the Muslims.
After a predetermined and predecided trial – a travesty of justice, Shah Zafar was exiled to Rangoon for sedition against his own empire. Most of the royal princes and princesses were killed. The rest royals met the unknown fate or death during escape or spent their lives in jungles and bastis without identity.
The Red Fort was turned into a British army camp. Most of its palatial magnificent buildings were destroyed. Ugly barrack were built. The remaining marvels of Mughal architect were stripped of their precious stone decorations and pearls.
The Jama Masjid was turned into a soldier’s camp and its side galleries were used as stables. The Akbarabadi and Kashmiri Katra mosques were demolished. Fatehpuri Masjid was sold to Lal Chunamal. He had converted this mosque it into a godown. Zeenat-ul Masajid was turned into a bakery. In ‘According to the history of rebellion, the Hindus were given a proclamation of freedom and allowed to re-enter Shahjahanabad in January 1858. Ironically the Muslims were not permitted to enter till a decade or more later. Their traditional crafts, avocations and arts were destroyed. Most of the intellectuals were compelled by circumstances to desert Delhi.
The Delhi Jama Masjid was returned to the Muslims in 1862 with many conditions and most humiliating one was the right of British officers to continue wearing shoes inside. Fatehpuri Masjid was re-bought from Lala Chuna Mal. A new class of rich traders, led by Lala Chuna Mal emerged who bought the properties of the ousted nobles and prospered. The character of Shajahanabad changed. The Delhi that has a definite Muslim Character became an alien township for them and the old order gave way to the new. After 14 years, in 1876, Queen Victoria of England became the Empress of India.
There were reasons for Muslims to lag behind. Now, who fought for the freedom and who got the reward? Let the future dispassionate historians decide!