XX. The Beginning of a New Era: 1803-1857

*Cultural and Religious Vitality* == *The Islamic Revival in Bengal* == *The Indian Revolt, 1857–1858* == *Seeds of Separatism*

        [[277]] WE CONCLUDE our account of Muslim civilization in India with the exile of the last Mughal emperor from Delhi in 1858, and not with the British assumption of overlordship of Delhi in 1803, partly because even in 1803 large areas of the subcontinent were outside the control of the East India Company, and partly because the Company retained the legal fiction of Mughal sovereignty until 1857. At Delhi the Mughal ruler received all the courtesies of a king, and the Company paid him large sums of money, which were claimed on his behalf as the tribute paid by the Company by virtue of past arrangements and treaties. It was argued that "the Company was administering territories for him, as the Marathas had in constitutional theory done before the Company; that the Company's authority was derived from his farmans in so far as it was covered by the farmans, and was mere illegal usurpation in so far as it was not so covered."/1/ Against the background of actual military and political power these claims were mere pretensions, but legally and constitutionally the Delhi house had not been set aside from the position they had occupied when they granted the diwani to the Company in 1765. The Mughal ruler was designated shahinshah, and later padshah, in official correspondence. He continued to bestow titles of honor until 1828; coins continued to be issued in his name until 1835. It seemed in 1803 that the British representative was stepping into the shoes of Sindhia. Special arrangements were made for the administration of Delhi, where Muslim law was used in criminal cases. "Within the walls of the Red Fort the king retained his ruling powers. The inhabitants of the Fort bazar were his direct subjects, and the members of the imperial family who lived within enjoyed diplomatic immunity. The etiquette of the court was maintained, the sonorous titles and the language of the great Mughals [[278]] continued, and the Resident attended the durbar in the Diwan-i-Khas regularly as a suitor. He dismounted like any other courtier … and was conducted on foot … to the imperial presence where he stood respectfully like the rest."/2/

        Shah Alam died in 1806. His successor was Akbar II. With the consolidation of British power, a tendency grew to treat the Mughal emperor more and more as a pensioner of the East India Company, while he insisted on the privileges accorded at the time of the conquest of Delhi. The differences between Akbar Shah and the Company came to a head when a meeting between Lord Hastings the governor-general, and the emperor, could not be held because Akbar insisted that Hastings should appear as a subject and present the usual nazr or gift. He also refused to allow the governor-general a chair on the same level as his own at the time of the interview. Hastings refused a meeting on these terms; and soon after, the emperor's privileges were curtailed. The ruler of Oudh (hitherto called wazir) and the nizam of Hyderabad were encouraged to adopt royal titles. While the nizam declined to do so out of regard for the Mughal emperor, the ruler of Oudh accepted the suggestion. To present his case in London, Akbar Shah appointed the celebrated Bengali reformer Ram Mohan Roy, who was planning a visit to England, as the Mughal envoy to the Court of St. James, conferring on him the title of raja. Ram Mohan Roy submitted an ably drafted memorial on behalf of the Mughal ruler, but nothing came of his mission.

        When Akbar II died in 1837, his successor, Bahadur Shah (r.1837–1858) refused to give up the claims put forward by his father. The East India Company gradually limited his powers and privileges, however, and when his heir-apparent died in 1856, the claims of the next surviving son were recognized on the condition that his title would only be prince or shahzada and not shah or king.

        Whatever may have been the disputes between the emperor and the Company, there is no doubt that in some ways the position of the Mughal ruler improved with the British occupation of Delhi. There was peace and order, and the royal family was not exposed to those vicissitudes and uncertainties which it had suffered prior to the [[279]] reoccupation of Delhi by Sindhia in 1788. Their financial position also improved, for income from the emperor's lands increased because of the greater general security. Even so, the emperor's income did not exceed 600,000 rupees a year, out of which he had to feed a horde of dependents. But the respect and the position which he enjoyed was out of all proportion to his material resources.

Cultural and Religious Vitality

        The Mughals had learned the art of maintaining dignity in the most unpropitious circumstances, and the tawdry Mughal court became the cultural center of Muslim India. The court once again began to attract the most distinguished Muslim noblemen, ulama, and men of letters.

        In particular the great Ghalib, who epitomised in his personality and works the splendor and humanity of Mughal culture, adorned his court, sang verses on the age-old themes of love and life, and recited eulogies which easily surpassed anything written by the court poets of Akbar and Jahangir. The influence of the court in the early years of the nineteenth century was felt throughout India, for Mughal manners and etiquette became the standard almost everywhere. As Percival Spear has pointed out, such an influence was of great importance in giving cohesion to Indian life. "The fall of the dynasty was a serious cultural loss, and inaugurated that period of nondescript manners and indefinite conduct from which India suffers today."/3/

       Second only to Delhi as a center of Islamic culture, and in many ways more cosmopolitan, was Lucknow, the capital of the rulers of Oudh. To some extent it was the heir of the older centers of Islamic culture in the Gangetic plain, Budaun and Jaunpur, but it also drew upon the great Hindu tradition that lived on in Benares and the surrounding region. It was also an asylum in the eighteenth century for refugees fleeing Delhi before the invasion of Nadir Shah, Ahmad Shah, and the Marathas. Furthermore, it was open to Western influences, and one of the interesting developments was the introduction of opera, a form of music quite unknown in India.

        [[280]] One important difference between Delhi and Lucknow was that the former was a religious as well as cultural center. This was not the case with Lucknow, for while it had learned ulama, their influence was scholastic and intellectual, not spiritual, with more attention paid to form than to content. This tendency reflected itself in all the arts of Lucknow. Lucknow poetry, for example, was rich in ornament and followed elaborate rules of prosody, but had little depth of thought or feeling. "Delhi was less careful about words and gave more attention to thought and subject."/4/ The emphasis at Lucknow on the formalities of court etiquette, purity of language, and appropriate enunciation added a distinct strand to Indo-Muslim civilization.

        An interesting development of the period was the foundation of Delhi College in 1825. It was housed in the magnificent building of the madrassa founded in the eighteenth century by Nazim-ul-Mulk's son Ghazi-ud-din Khan I, and its development was greatly facilitated by the donation of 170,000 rupees in 1829 by a native of Delhi. It had European principals from the beginning, and marked a new experiment in education, with English as well as Oriental sections. The first head of the Arabic Department was a favorite pupil of Shah Abdul Aziz. An even more remarkable person was the second head, Maulana Mamluk Ali, who also had studied under members of Shah Waliullah's family. He headed the Arabic Department from about 1833 until his death in 1851. He found very little time for literary work, and devoted himself exclusively to teaching both at Delhi College and at his own residence. Among his private pupils were Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the founder of Aligarh College. His nephew, Maulana Muhammad Qasim, who is generally regarded as the founder of the seminary at Deoband, studied with him for several years at Delhi, and for a brief period was enrolled as a student at Delhi College. This link between Delhi College and the two most important institutions of modern Muslim India led to the observation that, "After the Mutiny, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan took the English section of the Delhi College to Aligarh, and Maulana Muhammad Qasim took the Arabic section to Deoband." Of course this statement is correct only in a figurative and limited sense, but it may well explain many modern features of the seminary [[281]] at Deoband, of which the founder was a nephew of Maulana Mamluk Ali, and his son was the first principal.

        Of even more significance than the artistic and cultural life of the great Islamic cities were the vigorous spiritual movements of the time. The spiritual leader of Delhi, and indeed of all Islamic India, during the first half of the nineteenth century was Shah Abdul Aziz (1746–1823), the son and successor of Shah Waliullah. Shah Abdul Aziz was the most learned Islamic theologian in India, and his views on Muslim law were accepted by all parties among the Sunnis. Unlike most Muslims during this period, he recognized the value of learning English, and displayed no bitterness toward the conquerors. But he was a teacher and thinker rather than a leader, and the most vital Islamic movement of the period was headed by his disciple, Sayyid Ahmed Brelvi. While the spiritual basis of the new movement was found in Shah Waliullah's works, it was Sayyid Ahmed's organizing ability and knowledge of military affairs that gave it the impetus to overcome the apathy of many Muslims.

        Sayyid Ahmed Brelvi had begun life as a soldier in the army of Nawab Amir Khan, the founder of Tonk state, but when the nawab came to terms with the British in 1806 he gave up military service and went to Delhi to study under Shah Abdul Aziz. His spiritual powers and organizing ability greatly impressed his teachers, and his reputation increased when Shah Abdul's nephew, Shah Ismail, and his son-in-law, Maulvi Abdul Hai, became Sayyid's disciples. Both of them were distinguished scholars and their example was followed by many others. In 1818, with the help of his two disciples, Sayyid Ahmed wrote Sirat-i-Mustaqim, which, apart from a mystical portion, is largely a summary of the reforms which Shah Waliullah had urged. About this time Sayyid Ahmed started to preach in public, and although he used simple words and images, soon made a great reputation for himself.

        His activities were not confined to Delhi, and during a visit to Rampur some Afghan travelers complained to him about the Sikh persecution of Muslims in the Punjab. He expressed a desire to conduct a holy war against them, but he knew that war required elaborate preparations and, in any case, he wished to perform the Hajj before [[282]] undertaking jihad. His journey to Calcutta on the way to Mecca was marked by enthusiastic demonstrations. At Patna so many people became his disciples that he appointed four caliphs, or spiritual viceregents, to look after them. At Calcutta the crowds flocked to him in such numbers that he could not follow the usual custom in making disciples by the laying on of hands, but had to stretch out his turban for people to touch.

        At Mecca, Sayyid Ahmed must have gained fuller knowledge of the Wahhabis, the puritan sect that had been in control of the Holy Places some years earlier, and their teaching undoubtedly strengthened his resolve to carry on jihad against the Sikhs. He arrived in the Pathan area in December, 1826, just when the tribesmen had suffered grievously from raids by Sikh armies. Gathering the tribesmen, Sayyid Ahmed attacked the Sikh stronghold of Akora with such success that the Sikhs withdrew. He carried the war into the plains, occupying Peshawar for two months, and won support from many of the tribal chieftains. But difficulties arose between his companions and the tribal chiefs. After the conquest of Peshawar Sayyid Ahmed wanted to introduce an Islamic system of government, but the tribal chiefs realized that this would work against their authority. His hold was further weakened by opposition to social reforms that he had introduced, and the hostility of the Sikhs and their allies, the Barakzais. In November, 1830, he was forced to relinquish Peshawar in favor of Sultan Muhammad, the old governor, on the promised payment of a fixed tribute. The biggest blow came when his deputies in Yusufzai villages were killed by the tribesmen themselves. Accompanied by a few faithful companions he left for Hazara, where after a few months of desultory warfare he was killed at Balakot by a Sikh contingent in May, 1831.

The Islamic Revival in Bengal

        Although Sayyid Ahmed's military efforts ended in a disaster and many of his companions died on the battlefield, his meteoric career left a lasting impression in distant corners of the subcontinent. The scene of his activities on the Afghan frontier continued to attract [[283]] mujahids (militant spiritual leaders), who gave considerable trouble to the Sikhs and later to the British. The effect of Sayyid Ahmed's activities in the eastern part of the country was even more far-reaching. During his leisurely trip to Calcutta and his long sojourn in that city, he had enrolled a number of disciples—many of them from distant areas in what is now East Pakistan—who continued his work. Some of them joined him in the jihad on the frontier, and many continued to send men and money to the mujahids, who kept up the struggle until the second half of the nineteenth century. But perhaps even more important was the extension of Shah Waliullah's reform movement in areas which had been cut off from Delhi for generations, and which, through these disciples, were now brought closer with the spiritual centers of Muslim India.

        Islam had been spread in Bengal by the Sufi missionaries in the thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries, but a vigorous Hindu revival under the Vaishanavite leaders had infused new religious life into the Hindus. Assam and the neighboring hill areas were converted to Hinduism. Through its literary expression it also influenced Muslim society. The stream of Muslim missionaries to the area had dried up, and there was a general ignorance of Islam amongst the masses. A local popular religion grew up, thinly veiling Hindu beliefs and practices. Bengal Muslims who were schooled in their religion were steadfast in their observance of Islamic injunctions, but in distant villages, isolated by rivers and streams, there were serious obstacles to the spread of Islamic knowledge.

        The nineteenth century saw a new movement of Islamic revival in Bengal./5/ This was largely the work of local reformers and scholars, who took advantage of new conditions and the facilities of steamship travel to Arabia. The first of these was Haji Shariat Ullah, who was born of poor parents in the village of Daulatpur and received his early education at a religious seminary at Dacca or Faridpur. He went on pilgrimage to Mecca sometime around 1802, when he was about eighteen years old, and did not return until about 1820. While he was in Arabia he was influenced by Wahhabi doctrines, which he [[284]] preached to the people of his native district on his return. He denounced the superstitions and corrupt beliefs which had been developed by long contact with the Hindus. He also opposed the prevalent procedure of the Sufi initiation, and replaced the expression piri-muridi, which suggested a complete submission, by the relationship between ustad (teacher) and shagird (pupil). Because of his insistence on tauba, or repentance for past sins, his followers called themselves tawbar Muslims. They were also known as "Faraizis" because of their insistence on the performance of faraiz, the obligations imposed by God and the Prophet. Haji Shariat Ullah was persecuted by zamindars who feared his emphasis on a common Islamic brotherhood, but he managed to continue his ministry until his death.

        Even more influential was his son, Haji Muhammad Mohsin (more properly known as Dudhu Miyan), whose name became a household word in the districts of Faridpur, Pabna, Baqarganj, Dacca, and Noakhali. He was born about 1820, and visited Arabia at an early age. On his return he took up the leadership of the movement started by his father. He divided East Bengal into circles, and appointed a caliph, as spiritual leader, to look after his followers in each circle. Under him the movement became the spearhead of the resistance of the Muslim peasantry of East Bengal against Hindu landlords and European indigo planters. He especially denounced the custom of forcing Muslim peasants to contribute to the maintenance of Hindu shrines. He was harassed by lawsuits all his life and was repeatedly jailed. He died in 1860.

        The doctrines preached by Haji Shariat Ullah and Dudhu Miyan for some forty years brought permanent changes in the spiritual life of Bengal, but the influence of their group gradually declined. Apart from the conflict with landlords, Dudhu Miyan's policy brought his group in conflict with other Muslims, especially as he used violence to get people to join his sect. The main religious dispute, however, centered around the observance of Friday prayers. To the ordinary believer, the ceremonial performance of the customary prayers was of great importance, but the Faraizis taught that the continuance of Friday prayers in India was unlawful. This was because the country was no longer dar-ul-Islam, or land of the faithful, but, because of conquest [[285]] by the Christians, had become dar-ul-harb, land of infidels. The quarrel became particularly acrimonious because the Faraizis treated all Muslims who did not share their interpretation of the religious situation as kafirs, or infidels.

        Aside from the Faraizis, the religious revivalists who had the greatest influence in East Bengal were four disciples of Sayyid Ahmed Brelvi. One of these was Maulvi Imam-ud-din, who was born in Hajipur in Bengal, but who was educated in Delhi under Shah Abdul Aziz, the son of Shah Waliullah. He became a disciple of Sayyid Ahmed Brelvi at Lucknow in 1824, and was with him at Calcutta during his triumphal journey to Arabia. At that time he had brought large numbers of people from his village to be initiated into the new movement by Sayyid Ahmed. He went to Arabia with Sayyid Ahmed, and later took part in the jihad on the frontier. After the disaster at Balakot, he returned to his home district, Noakhali, and converted many of its inhabitants to the doctrines of his master. Another of Sayyid Ahmed's disciples had a similar success in the Chittagong district. A third member of the group, Maulvi Inayat Ali of Patna, spent nearly ten years in central Bengal, building mosques and appointing qualified teachers. His great interest, however, was in the jihad which Sayyid Ahmed had started on the frontier. He died there in 1858.

        The fourth of the great reformers was Maulvi Karamat Ali (d.1873), who devoted his life to the preaching of Islam in East Bengal. A superb organizer, for forty years he moved up and down the rivers with a flotilla of small boats, carrying the message of Islamic regeneration and reform from the Nagas of Assam to the inhabitants of the islands in the Bay of Bengal. His flotilla was often compared to a traveling college: one boat was for the residence of his family, another was reserved for the students and disciples accompanying him, while the third was for lectures and prayers. Maulvi Karamat Ali revitalized Islamic life in East Bengal, and it has been said that at the time of his death there was scarcely a village in Bengal that did not contain some of his disciples.

        Maulvi Karamat Ali shared with the Faraizi leaders of East Bengal an abhorrence of all un-Islamic practices, but he violently disagreed [[286]] with their position that because of the British conquest, the Friday prayers could no longer be observed. He argued that India had not become dar-ul-harb, but that even if it had, Muslims should still carry on all those observances which characterized dar-ul-Islam. This question of whether or not India had ceased to be dar-ul-Islam continued to be debated among Muslims, but the great majority of Bengal Muslims continued to celebrate Friday prayers. Only a very small group remained steadfast to the teaching of Haji Shariat Ullah that India was dar-ul-harb; they did not offer Friday prayers in the traditional manner until after the establishment of Pakistan in 1947.

        The significance of this religious revival in Bengal in the nineteenth century has generally been overlooked, but there is no doubt that it gave new life to Islam. The emphasis on strict religious observances, the denunciation of participation in Hindu practices, and the call to an austere life, safeguarded the community in a time of political weakness. These particular "puritan" aspects of the reform movement have led it to be confused with the Wahhabi movement of Arabia, but there were important differences in spirit. The four great reformers derived their inspiration from Shah Waliullah, and they avoided the fanatic extremism usually associated with the true Wahhabis. They were more forward-looking, more concerned with spiritual improvement, than were the Arabian group. Above all, they were influenced by the mysticism of Indian Islam, and Shah Waliullah himself had adopted a conciliatory attitude towards the teachings of the Sufis. For the Wahhabis, on the other hand, the Sufis posed a threat to Islamic truth that could not be tolerated. What the Wahhabis and the disciples of Shah Waliullah shared in common was an emphasis on the ancient purity of the Islamic way of living, untainted by alien accretions./6/

The Indian Revolt, 1857–1858

        The course of these religious movements, in common with almost every aspect of Indian life, was affected by the most spectacular event [[287]] in the history of nineteenth-century India, the uprising of 1857. The causes of this outbreak have been a matter of endless dispute ever since. The range of opinion varied then, as it still does, from those who see it as a simple mutiny by disgruntled soldiers to those who see it as a nationalist war for an independent India. That the general cause was the distrust awakened by the rush of social change initiated by the British, and that this took the particular form of a fear that the changes presaged an attempt by the British to convert the people to Christianity, there can be little doubt. This fear was used by those who had been displaced from power by the British to rally support for one last desperate effort to regain what they had lost.

        As far as Islamic civilization was concerned, the immediate result of the uprising was to cast suspicion on the Muslim community. As the rulers who had been overthrown, it was assumed that they would be the ringleaders in the war. Tangible proof of this was the assumption by Emperor Bahadur Shah of leadership of the revolt at Delhi. That his control was only nominal was plain enough, but his name still awakened echoes of past glory throughout India. Furthermore, in the great center of revolt, the Muslim kingdom of Oudh, the leaders were mainly Muslim, drawn from the ranks of the zamindars embittered by the recent British seizure of the state.

        Evidence of the British feeling that the Muslims had a special responsibility for the uprising was shown when Delhi was recaptured. Accounts, some true and some false, of cruel massacres of British women and children by the mutineers had so enraged British officers that they forgot all considerations of justice and equity and indulged in an orgy of vengeance. The city was subjected to a punishment such as it had not undergone even in its dismal history during the eighteenth century. The massacre of Nadir Shah and the lootings by Marathas, Jats, and Afghans had continued for only a few days, but in 1857 the ordeal lasted for months. The entire population was driven out of the city, and in the absence of owners, the houses were broken into, their floors dug up, and contents removed or destroyed.

        Next to suffer were the city buildings. The principal mosques were occupied by the British troops. One proposal was to sell the Grand Mosque of Shah Jahan. Another was to convert it into a barracks for the main guard of European troops. Muslims were not allowed to [[288]] use it until five years later. Some parts of the Fatehpuri Masjid, the second largest in the city, remained in non-Muslim hands till 1875. The beautiful Zinat-ul-Masajid, built by Aurangzeb's daughter, was only restored to the Muslims by Lord Curzon at the beginning of the twentieth century. The royal palace and the fort suffered even more. The palace proper, the residence of the royal family, was razed and all the gardens and courts were completely destroyed. "Not one vestige of them now remains … The whole of the haram courts of the palace were swept off the face of the earth to make way for a hideous British barrack, without those who carried out this fearful piece of vandalism, thinking it even worthwhile to make a plan of what they were destroying or preserving any record of the most splendid palace in the world."/7/ There was considerable damage to the public buildings also. The more important ones were retained, but the contents of the palace were looted, and even structural decorations were removed.

        Perhaps an even greater loss was the destruction and dispersal of the royal library, where rare works had been accumulated since the days of Babur and Akbar. While it must have already been damaged during the depredations of the eighteenth century, it was still a great library at the time of the mutiny. The contents were looted and scattered to all corners of the earth, so that we find some leaves of one royal album at Patna, a few in Berlin, some more in the National Library of Paris, though the major portion found its way to the public and private libraries of England.

        The Hindu population was allowed to return to the city in January, 1858, and Muslims were allowed a few months later, but the destruction of buildings continued for a long time. The large areas between the Jama Masjid and the fort, which are now covered by an extensive park, were originally the principal residential quarters of the Mughal nobility, and contained the large Akbarabadi Mosque, where Shah Waliullah's successors used to teach. All these buildings were razed and the entire area cleared, so that there should be a suitable field of fire beyond the walls of the fort to house the British garrison.

        [[289]] In course of time peace and order returned. The civil authorities, many of whom were unhappy at what was going on, were at last able to assert themselves. Canning, the governor-general, was of a kindly disposition, and although the press cried for vengeance, gradually good sense prevailed, and by slow stages a return to civil administration was effected. Delhi recovered but it was now a small appendage of the Punjab. The grand edifices built by a succession of the Mughal monarchs remained as a reminder of what once had been, but they were an empty shell. The Delhi of the Mughals had perished for ever.

        Out of the tragedy came at least one good result. The enforced dispersal of scholars meant that Lahore now replaced Delhi as the cultural center of Muslim India. Urdu was firmly rooted as the language of culture in the land of the five rivers. Similarly, although Delhi ceased to be a place of learning, those who had drunk at this fountainhead and had imbibed the spirit of Shah Waliullah and Shah Abdul Aziz established great centers of learning at Deoband and Aligarh, not far from the old capital.

        Ghalib (1796–1869), the greatest of Urdu poets, saw the whole tragedy enacted before his eyes, but he was convinced that there were possibilities for new life in the destruction of the world he had loved. He had long forseen the breakup of the old system, before the mutiny he had written:

They gave me the glad tidings of the dawn in the dark night.
They extinguished the candle and showed me the rising sun.
The fire-temple got burnt; they gave me the breath of fire.
The idol-temple crumbled down and they gave me the lamentation of the temple-gong.
They plucked away the jewels from the banners of the kings of Ajam.
In its place they gave me the jewel-scattering pen.
They removed the pearl from the crown, and fastened it to wisdom.
Whatever they took away openly, they returned to me in secret.
        The mutiny led to a careful reassessment of the administration and a reorientation of many policies. Developments in the political field paved the way for the later political struggle and the final independence. The control of the subcontinent by the East India Company was transferred to the British government, which for the first time took [[290]] direct responsibility for the administration of the area. This meant the replacement of an indirect rule by direct government administration. The old expansionist policy at the expense of the native administered territory was totally abandoned. No Indian state was later annexed, and Hyderabad, which was marked for an early annexation in the days of Dalhousie, escaped that fate. In religious matters the British had learned a bitter lesson, and henceforth they treated local religious sentiments with a respect that was not always visible in the first half of the nineteenth century.

        In the political field a beginning was made which was to have farreaching consequences. Even before the embers of the great revolt had died out, and while martial law was yet in force, Sayyid Ahmed Khan, a sincere friend and fervent admirer of the British, whose loyalty had been tested in the great struggle itself, sat down to analyze the causes of the revolt. With his sturdy common sense and characteristic fearlessness he pointed out in a remarkable book that the basic cause of the revolt was the government's ignorance of the views of the vast population directly affected by its legislative and administrative measures./8/ This criticism, coming from a friend, and reinforced by the observations of many Englishmen, led to remedial action. The Indian Councils Act of 1861 provided for the appointment of Indians to the governor-general's council for the first time. It marked the beginning of the association of the native population with the upper administrative councils of the subcontinent, an association which gradually expanded under the pressure of public opinion, and ultimately led to the complete transfer of political control in 1947.

Seeds of Separatism

        The twilight of the Mughals might seem, in view of the changes that followed, to have ended with a movement towards the progress and unity of the subcontinent. But in fact the seeds of separatism, which were to bear fruit in 1947, had already been sown. Some of the causes of this spirit of division between Muslim and Hindu can be traced to the changes taking place in the nineteenth century. The [[291]] mutiny of 1857 was one answer to these changes; a more complex one was the growth of communalism.

        In the first half of the nineteenth century many innovations and reforms were introduced by the British. Some of these, such as the printing press, the telegraph, the railways, were the results of scientific progress in the West, which in course of time became available to other parts of the world. Other steps—the introduction of English education, suppression of sati—were the work of administrators impelled by a desire to bring about social change. The establishment of institutions of a kind unfamiliar to Indian society, such as the Asiatic Society with its work of editing and publishing the great works of both the Hindu and Muslim traditions, led to a new knowledge of the past. The role of this enterprise on the intellectual revival in the subcontinent cannot be overemphasized.

        The general effect of these developments was healthy, forming a valued part of the heritage of India and Pakistan. All the new measures were not, however, so beneficial, and some of them have created stupendous problems. Even the literary and linguistic activity at Fort William College in Calcutta, which had an important share in the rise of the new Indian languages, did not prove an unmixed blessing. The bifurcation of the common spoken language of the Hindus and Muslims of northern India into two separate languages was partly the result of the attempts made at the college to create "literary" languages. Not only was the polite spoken language of northern India (Urdu-Hindustani) cultivated at that institution, but with the help of Lalluji Lal and other Sanskritists, practically a new language was created in the form of the modern Hindi. This was not the form of the language spoken by the Hindus or the evolution of any regional dialect, but a new, artificial language. As Keay says in his History of Hindi Literature, modern Hindi, "was produced by taking Urdu and expelling from it words of Persian or Arabic origin, and substituting for them words of Sanskrit or Hindi origin."/9/ A somewhat similar process can be seen in the creation of modern Bengali. That in the eighteenth century Bengali was characterized by the presence of a large number of nonindigenous words is suggested by the comment [[292]] made by Nathaniel Halhed in the preface to his Bengali grammar in 1778. "Those persons are thought to speak the compound idiom with most elegance," he wrote, "who mix the greatest number of Persian and Arabic nouns."/10/ This do-bhashi, or bilingual, form of Bengali fell into disrepute in the nineteenth century, and a highly Sanskritized vocabulary became the norm of excellence.

        Other aspects of the language policy adopted by the East India Company had even more important consequences. In 1829 it was announced that it was "the wish and the admitted policy of the British Government to render its own language gradually and eventually the language of public business throughout the country," and in 1834, English replaced Persian in government offices. The reasons for this step can be understood, but the British claim of having given cultural consolidation to India would have had a firmer basis, if along with English an indigenous language had been given at least a secondary place throughout the country. This might have been Hindustani which, in its various forms, was understood throughout much of the subcontinent. Instead of one common language, an entire plethora of vernaculars was encouraged. Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Sindhi—all seemed to get similar attention. Apart from ballads and simple verse, many of these had no literature, and the Mughals had refused to give them any official status. Now they were officially recognized. Prose works in them were systematically sponsored, and in course of time, a literature in each developed. Thus the cultural unity of the subcontinent of India became dependent on English, and the seeds of the present language problem of India and Pakistan were sown.

        The British policy with regard to religious communities has also been a subject of criticism and controversy. The gradual evolution of a common legal system (outside the limited spheres of the personal law of the Hindus and the Muslims) and the impartial administration of justice on modern Western lines were perhaps the most substantial boon conferred on India by the British. In the administrative field, however, political considerations and historical factors intervened, and to many historians it has seemed that out of self-interest, the British sought to rule by dividing Hindus from Muslims. As already [[293]] pointed out, the battle of Plassey was won by a combination of the officers of the East India Company and the Hindu merchant princes of Murshidabad, and for many years it seemed to be a sensible precaution to seek the support of the majority community, the Hindus, against the Muslims. This policy found a spokesman on the highest level in Lord Ellenborough, governor-general from 1842 to 1844, who wrote: "I cannot close my eyes to the belief that the [Muslim] race is fundamentally hostile to us and therefore our true policy is to conciliate the Hindus."/11/ The same idea had occurred to another British observer a few years earlier. It was desirable, he thought, that "the Hindoos should always be reminded … that their previous rulers were as much strangers to their blood and to their religion as we are, and they were notoriously far more oppressive masters than we have ever shewn ourselves."/12/

        This same spirit was reflected in the preface to the great collection of Muslim histories made by Sir Henry Elliot, The History of India as Told by Its Own Historians. The intrinsic merit of the Muslim histories might be small, but, he argued, by showing Islamic rule in its true light, it would make "our native subjects more sensible of the immense advantages accruing to them under the mildness and equity of our rule." Those who "rant about patriotism and the degradation of their present position" would learn from reading the history of Islamic rule how in another time "their ridiculous fantasies would have been attended, not with silence and contempt, but with the severer discipline of molten lead and empalement."/13/ Elliot's work has been severely criticized by modern historians on the ground that the bias he displays in the preface prevented him making a selection that presents Islamic rulers in a true light. The work was more than a private scholarly enterprise: it received official support for publication, and became the source for most of the historical works produced on the Muslim period. While it would be difficult to document the effect [[294]] of Elliot's work on communal relations in India, it is reasonable to suppose that the picture it gave to Indian students of Islamic India helped to strengthen the growing Muslim-Hindu antagonism of the nineteenth century.

        Yet while some British policies led to a worsening of communal relations, it is only fair to note that they would not have had much effect if the soil had not been congenial. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the relations between the Hindus and Muslims were generally peaceful, but it was because of the dominance of a third power, and not because of the integration of the two social groups. The two communities had coexisted—generally in harmony, often in friendship, occasionally in conflict—but had never coalesced. Indeed, as R. C. Majumdar, the Indian historian, has said, between Hindus and Muslims, "the social and religious differences were so acute and fundamental that they raised a Chinese wall between the two communities, and even seven hundred years of close residence (including two of common servitude) have failed to make the least crack in that solid and massive structure, far less demolish it." It was this dividing wall which led, in 1947, to the partitioning of the subcontinent.


/1/ The best statement of this argument is found in F. W. Buckler, "The Political Theory of the Indian Mutiny," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 4th series, V (1922), 71–100.
/2/ Percival Spear, Twilight of the Mughals (Cambridge, 1951), p. 38.
/3/ Spear, p. 83.
/4/ T. G. Bailey, A History of Urdu Literature (Calcutta, 1932), p. 60.
/5/ A. R. Mallick, British Policy and the Muslims in Bengal, 1757–1858 (Dacca, 1961), pp. 66–91.
/6/ Wm. Theodore de Bary et al., Sources of Indian Tradition, pp. 461–62. For a discussion of the relation of Indian religious movements to Wahhabism, see W. W. Hunter, The Indian Musalmans (London, 1871), and I. H. Qureshi, The Muslim Community of the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent (Gravenage, 1962).
/7/ James Fergusson, A History of the Indian and Eastern Architecture (New York, 1899), II, 311–12.
/8/ Sayyid Ahmed Khan, The Causes of the Indian Revolt (Calcutta, 1860).
/9/ F. E. Keay, A History of Hindi Literature (Calcutta, 1920), p. 88.
/10/ Nathaniel Halhed, A Grammar of the Bengali Language (Hoogly, 1778).
/11/ Quoted in B. D. Basu, The Rise of the Christian Power in India (Calcutta, 1931), p. 830.
/12/ Reginald Heber, Narrative of a Journey through the Upper Provinces of India (London, 1828), I, 89.
/13/ H. M. Elliot and John Dowson, The History of India as Told by Its Own Historians (London, 1867–1877), I, preface.

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