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Home Food for Thought The Konkan Coast Forced March to Srirangapatnam

Forced March to Srirangapatnam

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Christians in Captivity  1784

By 1765, according to hearsay, Christians in Kanara numbered about 58,000 or probably have been higher. The Catholics were farmers and economically did well.

Hyder Ali came to the throne of Mysore around this time.   In the eighteenth century when Bednore rulers became weak, Hyder Ali captured Bednore and then the factory of the Portuguese at Mangalore and renamed it as Couriel (Fort of the King). Hyder Ali had respect for the Christians and Fr. Joachim Manuel Miranda was a friend of Hyder. However, Christians in general hated him for they had to pay heavy tax for king's treasury. Later the British captured Couriel and the Christians helped the British by giving them rice, vegetables and money. When Tippu came to power, he decided to come heavily upon the Christians. Christians during the time of Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan.    Tippu  battled the British for the control of coastal west India. He 'believed' that the Kanara Christians were 'helping' the British. He decided to take revenge on them. In 1784 he succeeded in driving the English out of Kanara.  As a exemplary punishment to the 'collaborators',  he ordered the destruction of churches to wipe out every trace of Christianity in Kanara. His troops then rounded up the Christians and had them sent to Seringapatnam (Shrirangapatnam, hiss capital). Obviously, many might have avoided this tragedy by bribing  or simply by hiding in jungles.  The number of people rounded up and sent to the Seringapatnam ranges from a low of 20,000 to a high of 80,000. Sir Thomas Munro who actually served in Kanara puts the figure at 60,000. Many of the Christians died en route to Tippu's capital out of hunger, sickness or sheer fatigue. Those who finally managed to reach Seringapatnam had no easy time either. A large number died of dysentery, cholera, small pox and other diseases. A few surrendered to Tippu. The majority suffered untold deprivations. Many were "forcibly circumcised". Others might have embraced Islam and lived in the same place. Estimates put the loss of the Christian population to death, conversion and dispersal at more than 75 per cent of the pre-1784 figures, the property lost at over 90 per cent with 26 out of 27 churches demolished at Tippu's orders.

The came the Battle of Seringapatnam on the morning of 4 May 1799 when Tippu fell fighting. Tippu's reign was finally over. Fifteen years after the Christians were forcibly driven out of their Kanara homes and held prisoners, they became free.  Some Catholic writers, compare the Catholic communities kept confined in Seringapatnam, to  the Nairs, the Coorgs, the prisoners, who also suffered the same fate.  When Tippu was gone, it must have been as the first thunder clap of the monsoon bursting upon a land dried in a long hot summer stretching 15 years, bringing the fresh breath of life and hope, renewing, stirring dull roots into a painful restoration  life of freedom.   Of the 60,000 Catholics held prisoners, only some 14,000 finally returned to their 'homes', then occupied by outsiders. They had to appeal to Sir Thomas Munro for the recovery of their lands. Many decided to move to the Malabar coast, and made their homes in places like Trichur, Calicut, Cannanore etc.

The Mangalore Catholics had known and experienced what religious tyranny meant. Their release from captivity in 1800 was a moment of great rejoicing and renewal of their Faith which they handed down to posterity. A hundred years later, in 1899, the Catholic historian Jerome Saldanha  was to write: "The deliverance of the people of Kanara from the tyranny and misrule of Tippu Sultan is the most important and happiest event in the history of their land… ushering in a golden era for these people". The returnees had prospered in the intervening hundred years.

History, like beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.   Tippu's admirers will find no fault with him, and consider him a national hero.  His actions will be compared to the 'just' detention of the US enemies in Guantanamo Bay.   On the other hand his 'innocent' victims will have another view. In modern analogy one can see how US views Al Qaeda and the detainees in Guantanamo Bay  and how the admirers, the victims of oppression in Palestine look at the same fact.   History is always written with an eye on the "Victor" - so it changes with the current.   That is why, one has to view it from every one's side, the Victor and the Vanquished.   In the course of history, the innocent are "collateral damage".    The 'culprits' get off scotfree.

It is just two hundred years since the Catholics in captivity returned to their homes. If, in the first hundred years they prospered, in the second one hundred years they have gone from strength to strength. They are now spread all over and are to be found in the far corners of the world in considerable numbers, whether in the United States and Canada, Australia and Africa, having distinguished themselves in many walks of life.

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