Nov 11, 2015

Freedom fighters

I am quite bewildered at some of the comments that I read in the papers about Tipu Sultan and the recent rounds of controversy. It is almost impossible to comment on any historical figures without exposing oneself to interpretations of allegiance to some current political position. Even that aside, the level of discourse is quite disappointing.

I read a lot about this period for my research and the only thing that I can say with surety is any comment that does not include the context of the historical times, is suspect. Case in point is Karnad's comment about Tipu Sultan being a freedom fighter, that he was the one who fought wars against foreigners. I find this quite perplexing. (Only HD Kumaraswamy has called this out.)

In the late eighteenth century, India was not a colony yet, in fact Queen Victoria who formally incorporated the territory ruled by the East India Company much later, was not even born yet. British occupation was not yet a sure thing. What Tipu Sultan fought was wars, wars against invaders as well as wars of offense, like any other head of state. The only possible reason one can think of for calling these wars as 'fight for freedom' is that he fought against the East India Company that had white masters as opposed to other powers that had brown.

But then in the eighteenth century, before the colonial amassing of India as a nation, how does one define foreign? Was it really just racial? Were the Pallavas not foreigners to the Chalukyas? Or the Cholas to the Sinhalese? The Mughals to the Marathas? Or for that matter Tipu Sultan to Malabar?

Our post colonial twenty first century definition of foreigners as people other than that of the majority race is in itself being questioned across the world.

Who is a hero and who is not, who we want to revere and who we don't is more to do with our ambitions than to do with their achievements. In the meanwhile, it might be useful not to continue fighting centuries old wars.

November 11, 2015