Friday, July 03, 2015

The Trial of Bahadur Shah Zafar

The Trial of Bahadur Shah Zafar is a detailed and authentic account of the trial of the last Mughal that opened on January 27, 1858, and ended with the defendant’s testimony on March 9, 1858. A day-to-day account of the proceedings, an examination of the various witnesses and a reproduction of the relevant correspondence to examine the ‘treason’ of Bahadur Shah Zafar bring the trial to pulsating life. At another level, the accounts of eyewitnesses bring to life the essence of a bloody mutiny that became one with brutal chaos. The perspective of the mutiny is of course one-sided, being pro-British, largely on account of the fact that the evidences collated are focused on indicting the king for crimes of ‘mutiny and rebellion’.

At yet another level, the account of the trial also highlights the irony of a king charged with inciting ‘the subjects of the British government to rebel’ and proclaim himself as ‘sovereign of India’. But more than that, the trial shows the last Timurid in an unflattering light. It shows him first as a puppet in the hands of the mutineers and then as a shrinking coward who shrugs off blame for the mutiny to save his 82-year-old skin. Zafar unashamedly submitted that he was made a prisoner by the mutineers and his sons Mirza Moghal and Mirza Khair Sultan had ‘leagued with the revolted soldiery’. This indignity of the ‘scion of the House of Babur’ was rewarded by Major General Wilson who barred the Military Commission, set up to bring Bahadur Shah to trial, from passing a sentence even in case of a conviction.

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