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December 3, 2018

The people’s anger

Opinion

December 3, 2018

In the democratic age, the space for people’s protest and resistance is very wide. Therefore, people adopt different means to have their demands fulfilled by the responsible authorities. These include strikes, boycotts, hunger strikes, processions and ghairao (surrounding public buildings) and dharnas (sit-ins).

Protests often become violent and clashes with the police result in bloodshed. Sometimes, it becomes difficult to control a mob. In an attempt to display their power, people start to damage public buildings and properties and engage in loot and plunder.

In Medieval India, where such democratic and modern methods were not available to express popular sentiments, the discontented elements resorted to rebellions. Generally, peasants were the first to rebel against the authorities because the burden of taxes was unbearable and led them to violence. However, rebellions in India were confined either to the royal family or the aristocracy. Their main objective was to gain political power. Their rebellions were not concerned with the people and their problems.

The space for people’s protest was rather limited during Mughal rule in India because loyalty to the ruling family was regarded as an act of submission and obedience. Despite these traditions, people displayed their anger against the ruling classes from time to time.

There are two examples of people’s anger during the Mughal era. In one instance, when Dara Shikoh was defeated by Aurangzeb and wandered in search of help, he had two choices: either to go to Iran or seek refuge with an influential figure within the country.

Since he had patronised Malik Jivan, Dara Shikoh decided to seek his support. But Malik Jivan betrayed him and handed him over to Aurangzeb in the hope of earning royal favour. Soon after Dara Shikoh and his family were imprisoned by Aurangzeb, there were discussions among the courtiers on how the prisoners should be treated.

A group of the courtiers argued that Dara and his son should be paraded through the bazaars of Delhi as they were no longer in a position to assert their power. The other group was of the view that if the royal prisoners were paraded through Delhi’s bazaars in a humiliating manner, it would damage the reputation of the royal family. However, it was finally decided, with Aurangzeb’s consent, that the prisoners should be paraded through the city’s bazaars.

Francois Bernier, the French traveller who was well-acquainted with Dara Shikoh, was present when both father and son were mounted on an elephant. He witnessed the people’s anger against the humiliation of the royal prisoners.

According to Bernier’s account, people were gathered on both sides of the road. When they saw Dara and his son dressed in rags and tied to an ordinary elephant, they started to weep. On every side of the road, people raised cries and shrieks. Some of them even hurled abuses at Malik Jivan, who was riding on a horse beside the elephant. They pelted Malik Jivan and his horse with stones and shouted slogans against him for betraying Dara Shikoh.

Bernier’s account reveals that while people expressed their displeasure, no attempt was made to rescue the royal prisoners. This shows that the people were able to convey their anger to the authorities, but had no consciousness of their power to resist royal authority. This account has been corroborated by Khafi Khan in his book titled ‘Muntakhib Al Lubab’ in which he describes the strong reaction shown by the people of Delhi when the royal prisoners were paraded through the city’s bazaars.

The second incident which inspired the people of Delhi to voice their anger involved the murder and subsequent funeral procession of Mughal emperor Farrukhsiyar. He fell victim to the intrigues of his former supporter Sadaat-e-Bara, and was initially imprisoned and then strangled.

Thousands of people from Delhi joined his funeral procession. They wept profusely and expressed their sorrow over Farrukhsiyar’s fate. The royal guard who accompanied the coffin tried to give some money to the beggars who had gathered around the funeral procession. But they refused to accept the money and instead voiced their displeasure over Sadaat-e-Bara’s actions.

In his book ‘Sultanat-e-Mughliya Ka Zawal’, Maulvi Zakaullah has offered a detailed account of Farrukhsiyar’s funeral procession and his burial in the tomb of Humayun. Though Zakaullah has contemptuously described those who accompanied the coffin of the dead emperor to the tomb, he has managed to convey the sentiments of the people of Delhi, who had witnessed this political injustice.

There are some lessons that we can draw from these historical accounts. First, people were on the side of the aggrieved party and sympathised with them. Second, there were many opportunists and aristocrats who often betrayed their patrons to secure personal benefits and privileges.

In the case of Pakistan, these two trends are also evident in our political history. On the one hand there are the people’s voices and on the other there are opportunists who are ready to trample over them.

The writer is a veteran historian and scholar.

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