The Trial of Bahadur Shah Zafar

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Item Code: NAI356
Author: Pramod K. Nayar
Publisher: Orient Longman Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2007
ISBN: 9788125032700
Pages: 391
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 9.5 inch X 6 inch
Weight 550 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

Bahadur Shah Zafar, the poet-king, was catapulted into the limelight when the ‘mutineers’ from Meerut arrived in Delhi on 11 May 1857. After the ‘mutiny’, the last of the great Mughals went on trial on 27 January 1858 for aiding and abetting the ‘mutineers’ of 1857. The 21 day trial in the Diwan-i-Khas, the Hall of Special Audience, in Zafar’s own palace, saw the British produce dozens of witnesses and documents to demonstrate Zafar’s complicity in the ‘Mutiny’. He was eventually found guilty and exiled to Burma, where he died year later.

The proceedings of this historic trial was first publishedin 1858, but has remained largely absent from studies and histories of colonial India. The current edition reproduces the text, documents and withness accounts of the day-by-day account of the trial.

The Introduction, beginning with a short but comprehensive history of the East India Company and the ‘Mutiny’, places the trial in the context of the colonial state and its ideological structures. It then moves on to a reading of the trial’s Key narrative and rhetorical features.

The text of the trial constitutes a great historical drama. The vast archive of ‘evidence’ captures the theatre, the violence, the betrayals and the British anger. The legal arguments and eye-witness accounts reveal the human, political snd bureaucratic dimensions of the trial of the nineteenth century.

The Trial of Bahadur Shah Zafar makes for fascinating reading-for the history buff and anyone interested in India 1857.

About the Author

Pramod K. Nayar teaches at the Department of English, University of Hyderabad. His publications include The Penguin 1857 Reader (2007), The Great Uprising: India, India, 1857 (2007), peading Culture: Theary, praxis, politics (2006), Virtual Worlds: Culture and politics in the Age of Cybertechnology (2004) and Literary Theory Today (2002). Among his forthcoming books are Postcolonial Literature: An Introduction and English Writing and India, 1600-1920: Colonizing Aesthtics.


The transcript of the proceedings of the trial of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor, was first published by John Gray, Calcutta, in 1858. Several decades later, H.L.O. Garrett, the Keeper of the Records of the Government of the Punjab, produced an edition in 1932 (reprinted in 2003 by the Research and Publication Centre of the National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan). The present work reprints the original, 1858 edition with some organisational changes.

I have placed the Supplement and Appendices after the main text of the Trial’s proceedings-the Garrett edition locates them in the order of appearance during the trial-to facilitate a smoother reading of the main narrative.

The introduction provides a context for the reading of the Trial. Starting with a brief survey of John Company and the Raj up to 1857, it also looks at responses and historiography of 1857 and the nature of the colonial state. Finally, it undertakes a reading of the narrative and rhetorical features of the Trial. It demonstrates how, through particular rhetorical strategies and modes of representation, the colonial state under the guise of a legal proceeding relegates and transforms an emperor into a criminal, and the descendant of a great line of rulers into a man who compounded the felony of the ‘mutineers’.

A final word about the Introduction. The very nature of the analysis therefore determines the final section of the Introduction, and sets it apart from the chronological and topical structure of the early ones. This unevenness in the Introduction is unavoidable since it sets out to do very different things in the various sections.


As we looked at him we thought how strange it was that this frail old man, tottering on the brink of the grave, could harbour such a plot and such deep revengeful feelings against us. His face was pale and wan, and his eyes weak and uncertain, seeming to shun our scrutiny; but an aristocratic expression of face reminded us of his noble descent. He had a venerable-looking white beard, and he swayed about in a frail decrepit way, exciting feelings that were a mixture of contempt, abhorrence, and pity: contempt, for the degraded position to which he had brought himself by his wild scheme of reinstating himself on a throne which he could only hope to enjoy for a passing year of two; abhorrence, that he could give up our countrymen to be brutally murdered, and even, it is said, feast his eyes and ears on their dying anguish; and pity, that he should have so short a time for repentence, and that the descendant of a line of kings, whose splendour and power were boundless, should be thus degraded.’

This description, written by an Englishwoman, and cast in a rhetoric of blame, sorrow and revulsion, is of the last Mughal emperor, popularly known as Bahadur Shah “Zafar”. A king who would rather have been a poet, scion of a once-wealthy dynasty who would rather have been a mystic. Zafar was the last and the most tolerant of the great Mughals, a dynasty whose wealth, patronage of the arts and extent of empire had been legendary. The scene described above is of Zafar in an Indian prison before he was tried by a European Military Commission. After a trial he was convicted and sent into exile to Rangoon, where he would die, far away from Delhi, the city that emblematised the glory of his ancestors, in 1862. It was the climax of a series of events that changed the history of the subcontinent and millions of people. Events that began innocuously enough-as one country’s trade with another-and went on to become one of the world’s largest empires. The trial of the Mughal emperor-by those who were in fact his vassals-the last of a dynasty that began its genealogical, geographical and imperial expansion outward from Samarkhand, Asia, needs to be understood in its contexts: the political, economic and social structures that constituted the East India Company’s Raj and the colonial state in British India. What is ironic is that this same Zafar is conspicuous by his absence in postcolonial analyses of the colonial state and colonial discourses.

In this, the first section of the Introduction, I sketch a very brief history of the Company and Company Raj up to 1857.

Queen Elizabeth I signed into existence the English East India Company (EIC) on 31 December 1599. This Company set up trading posts in Surat and other places, having secured, through pleadings, petitions and persuasion, trading privileges from the Mughal empire. Incidentally, they were one of the last Europeans to arrive: the Portuguese had arrived in the wake of Vasco da Gama (who alighted on Indian shores in 1498) and the Dutch came in 1595. Records of the early days of the Company survive in the form of letters, court Minutes, and details of the factories.” In 1640 the Company moved to the East Coast of India. It acquired some land in Madras and set up its establishment here, what was to eventually become Fort St. George. In 1660 the Company sought to strengthen its relations with the Crown of England by offering £3000 worth of silver plates to the monarch. In 1662 it loaned him £10,000 (over the years the loan amount totalled upwards of £150,000). Bombay was included as an item of dowry when Catherine of Braganza married Charles II in 1661. By 1690, the Company had a colony in Bengal-on the Hoogly, near Calcutta. This settlement became the foundation for Fort William. By the end of the seventeenth century there were three presidencies in India: Madras, Bengal and Bombay. A President or Governor, assisted by a council of ten senior merchants (the Members in Council) governed each presidency.

With the Act of Union between England and Scotland sealed in 1707, the East India Company becomes a British rather than an English company. By 1726 the Company, now popularly called ‘John Company”, had its own headquarters in Leadenhall Street in London and was a significant player in Indian trade and local politics. Trade in spices, indigo, saltpetre, textiles (especially calico, muslin, chintz) and sugar prospered, and more and more Englishmen came out to India to make their fortune. By 1750, Bengal alone accounted for 75 per cent of the company’s procurement of Indian goods. The Company agreed to pay the English government £400,000 annually, and by the 1790s India was contributing £500,000 annually to the English exchequer.

A Court of Directors was set up in London. While the Company itself was dependent on the renewal of its Charter by the British Parliament, its servants were more or less independent masters in India, a condition often termed “sub- imperialism”. The Company continued to recognise the authority of the Mughal emperor-the Company struck coins in his name, used Persian as the official language and administered justice in courts based on Hindu and Muslim laws. By the mid-eighteenth century, contrary to its early policies, -the Company was engaged in continuous wars with its European rivals and native rulers: Plassey (1757), Buxar/Baksar (1764), Mysore (1767-69, 1780-84, 1790-92, 1799). Company intervention in local politics, especially in the matter of succession, created the context for wars in Arcot and Bengal, leading to the triumphs of Robert Clive, perhaps the man most responsible for the first real expansion of British presence in India.” Robert Clive, the Arcot hero, was sent to Bengal to resolve the problem. Clive began by promoting Mir Jafar as the successor to Siraj-ud-Daula. In the battle of Plassey Clive defeated the Nawab, and placed Mir Jafar in his stead. This event of 1756 marked the transformation of the Company from a mere trading house into a political power.

In 1765, after a treaty with the Mughal emperor, Shah Alam II, the Company secured the diwani (revenue collecting rights) for Bihar, Bengal and Orissa, though the actual collection was left to the nawab’s officials. Robert Clive realised the need for a strong army, and began recruiting Indian soldiers (though it was Stringer Lawrence who first began the drive to create a permanent Indian army for the Company in 1748). These “sepoys” (derived from the Persian, sipahi) were recruited from Rajput and Brahmin communities in the Awadh-Bihar region (there were, however, attempts made to recruit from the hill tribes, especially after the Company extended its territories into the mountainous Jungle Terai in the 1770s and the Ceded and Conquered Districts in the early 1800s). The Company’s army soon began to include diverse social groups. Robert Clive, Warren Hastings and others ensured that religious sentiments of the various communities were respected, and festivals such as the Ram Lila were granted official recognition. By 1790 the Indian Army had 100,000 men. It was 154,000 in 1824 and 214,000 in 1856. Warren Hastings was appointed Governor of Bengal in 1772. The Regulating Act of 1773, in order to rescue the Company from debt (it was ridden with corruption by this time), banned private trading. The 1773 Act marks the first intrusion by the British government into the Company’s affairs. The Board of Control, with six members, created by the 1784 Act, governed the Company Directors. With the 1784 Act the Company’s administration was brought under more direct government control. The 1813 Act ended Company monopoly and asserted the ultimate sovereignty of the Crown over the Company and its possessions. By 1815 Indian textiles could not compete with British machine- made goods, and weavers all over India, especially in Dacca and Murshidabad, were ruined. Opium was now a major trade product with China and provided up to 15 per cent of the Indian government’s total revenues by 1830. But revenues were also generated by other means-such as the “Home Charges” (these were funds claimed by the Company as the cost of maintaining its offices, pensions and debts).

Other changes were underway in India. Under Warren Hastings, who sought to codify laws and systematise the judicial processes in India, an English judge was placed alongside a Hindu pundit (for Hindu law) or a maulana (for Muslim law) to dispense justice.” With increasing crime in the 1770s, the faujdars-from the Mughal police system-were replaced by English magistrates. The Amending Act of 1781 defined the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Lord Cornwall is (1785- 1793) played a decisive role in consolidating the administrative structures of the Company, and kept Indians out of the administration. Cornwall is introduced the famous British ‘rule of law’ (a subject to which the Introduction returns later) and is known primarily for his “Permanent Settlement” of Bengal. Cornwall is divested the zamindars of their police duties in 1793 and introduced the “daroga” system (districts were divided into thanas, units of police administration, of about thirty square miles, each under a daroga), which was retained up to 1812. With Lord Wellesley (1798-1805), the Company began to be overtly imperialist. After winning battles against the French and then Tipu Sultan, he extended British rule into South India. British presence began to acquire the dimensions of an empire, even as Mughal power declined.” Wellesley also extended the borders of British India northwards into the Ganges valley. He neutralised the Poona Peshwa in 1802 and conquered Delhi in 1803. Through the Subsidiary Alliance system, more territory was acquired. In this system the Indian prince/ruler secured protection from enemies by maintaining the Company’s troops-at his own expense-in his territory. Arcot, Awadh, Hyderabad were all controlled through this scheme. Eventually, with the Company demand for payment being incessant, the native states were driven into bankruptcy. Local princes were often propped by the Company in a form of governance known as “indirect rule.” By 1820 a sense of permanence had also entered the British mindset.

Meanwhile debates about the correct method of governing India raged through the Company and the British government. With the lifting of the ban missionaries flooded in-with Thomas Middleton as the first bishop. A few years prior to this Wellesley had discovered the Baptist leader William Carey’s talent for Indian languages. Wellesley appointed Carey to the teaching staff at Fort William College. With the start of the Serampore presses there was a large production of tracts in Bengali, Marathi, Urdu and other languages. With the 1832 Reform Act .and the Act of 1833, the Company was left with only political functions. Indian possessions of the Company were deemed to be held in trust for the Crown by the Company (this notion was reiterated with the 1853 Act, which also renewed the charter). The Governor General of Bengal was now the Governor General of India, with control over civil, military and revenue matters. It also marks the beginnings of Britain’s evangelical approach to India.

The missionary move to improve India was closely aligned with the widespread popularity among British administrators such as William Bentinck of the utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham and James Mill (author of A History of British India, 1817), itself allied with the agenda of Reform. Mill’s History outlined what was essentially a liberal view of India. Mill disagreed with Jones and Edmund Burke that Indians ever had a civilisation, suggesting, instead, that nineteenth- century India was in the same state as ancient India. Mill suggested that Britain’s task was to free India from its present stagnant state. What was essential to this process of reform was a clear set of laws and system of rights. Mill’s son, John Stuart Mill, extended this argument when he suggested that Oriental societies such as India or China lacked the basic requisites for good government: mental liberty and individuality. However, he believed that Britain could prepare India for self-government. That is, India could be transformed only by British institutions. Part of the requirement for this transformation was English education for the Indian. Led by the Clapham Sect-Charles Grant (Jr.), William Wilberforce, Josiah Pratt, Zachary Macaulay, William Bentinck and others-the British began their campaign to improve India. Bentinck initiated measures against corruption in the Company, public works (including the start of the building of the Grand Trunk Road, steam ships on the Ganga), abolished flogging, and proceeded to enact legislations on various issues. Among the latter was the ban on purchase/ sale of slaves between one administrative district and another (1832), the ban on Sati (1829) and the campaign against Thugi (in five years, 1831-1837, more than 3000 men were convicted}.’? The control of the British government grew, and the empire expanded. By 1837 (when Victoria became Queen), almost the entire Indian subcontinent was under British governance. Fifty thousand British personnel, in an amazing feat, ruled over 90 million Indians. By the 1850s, Britain was in control of the land from the Khyber to Irrawady.

The year 1837 is also significant for another reason. Mirza Abu Zafar succeeded Akbar Shah to the throne of Delhi in 1837. He took the title of Abul Muzaffar Siraj-ud-Din Mohammad Bahadur Shah Badshah Ghazi. Born in 1775, Zafar was sixty-two years old when he came to the throne. By this time the power of the Mughal king and the empire had corroded considerably. In 1813 the nazrana-ceremonial presents by British officials to the king-had been abolished by Lord Minto. Lord Hastings in 1816 closed the imperial mint in Delhi. The movements of the king and his entourage had been curtailed. The British government paid the king a stipend, which had been fixed at Rs 12 lakhs in 1812, and raised to Rs 15 lakhs in 1833. Lord Ellenborough issued an order that no successor to the throne could be recognised without his specific authority. In 1835 the Company stopped using the face of the Mughal emperor on coins, thus symbolically effacing Mughal power. Zafar had no authority outside his own palace, a point C. B. Saunders makes clear in his evidentiary statements in the course of the trial (see Day Fourteen).

Zafar sought this recognition of “successor” for his son by Zeenat Mahal, Mirza Jawan Bakht. The British government rejected this proposal. The government further ordered that, after the death of Zafar, the royal family would move to a residence at the Kutab. The royal family was also defined as being only the immediate descendants of the king. Fakhr-ud-Din, the eldest son of Zafar, accepted these conditions in 1852, and was therefore recognised as the successor by the British government. However, Fakhr-ud-Din died of cholera in 1856, and Lord Canning decided that the nominal authority of the Mughal king could now be discontinued. Zeenat Mahal persuaded Zafar to send an emissary-T. C. Fenwick-to Calcutta to plead Jawan Bakht’s cause as heir. The British government refused to even discuss the matter. In January of 1857 the government rejected yet another appeal from Zafar. Thus, by the time of the “mutiny” the issue of succession remained unresolved.


Note on the textix
John companyxii
“Mutiny”, 1857-58xvii
1857 in Historyxxiv
Ideology, Law and the Colonial statexxviii
The Trial And Its Narrativesxxxiii
Evidence and consignationxxxiv
The question of the archivexxxvi
Designating identityxxxix
The theatre of the lawxliii
Social knowledge/Common knowledgexlviii
Time in the narrativexlix
Instinct vs reasonliii
Versions of the lawiv
Binaries and identityixi
Proceedings of the Trial of Bahadur Shah Zafar3
Supplement to the Proceedings of the Trial176
Appendix I
Papers Arranged under the Head of “Miscellaneous”205
Appendix II
Translations of Royal Orders
Appendix III
Petitions and Royal Orders242
Appendix IV
Papers Arranged under the Head of “Loan”257
Appendix V
Papers Arranged under the Head of “Pay”268
Appendix VI
Papers Arranged under the Head of “Military”274
Appendix VII
Papers Arranged under Head of “Murder”304
Appendix VIII
Petition of Mukund Lal309

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