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The four Talpur brothers comprising the First Chauyari: Mir Fateh Ali, Mir Ghulam Ali, Mir Karam Ali and Mir Murad Ali | Photo from the book
The four Talpur brothers comprising the First Chauyari: Mir Fateh Ali, Mir Ghulam Ali, Mir Karam Ali and Mir Murad Ali | Photo from the book

In Talpurs in Sindh (1783-1843), Dr Mumtaz Hussain Pathan details how the plotting of Mir Fateh Ali Khan brought down the Kalhora rulers of the region and established the Talpur dynasty. He explains the importance of the Talpur regime and describes how they were destroyed by British intrigues after only 60 years. Dr Pathan’s book is a powerful exposé of British imperialism in Sindh and the Machiavellian tactics of invaders such as General Charles Napier, who admitted, “We have no right to seize Scinde [sic], yet we shall do so; and a very advantageous, useful humane piece of rascality it will be.”  

The book begins with the origins of the Talpurs and the subsequent foundation of their rule. It also discusses Nadir Shah’s arrival in Sindh on his way to Delhi, and his keen interest in the region’s deteriorating political conditions and declining Kalhora authority, which paved the way for the rise of the Talpurs.

Dr Pathan then discusses the early rule known as the First Chauyari, ie ‘the rule of four friends’: the founder Mir Fateh and his brothers Mir Ghulam, Mir Karam and Mir Murad. After designating Hyderabad as their capital in 1789, the brothers extended their control over vast territories of present-day Sindh, Cutch, Balochistan, Sabzalkot and Bhang Bhara, comprising a total area of more than 100,000 square kilometres with an estimated population of about four million. The Talpurs administered this realm by assigning jagirs [land grants]. Later, they conquered the area now known as Karachi.

A comprehensive history of the Talpur dynasty in Sindh sheds light on its internal intrigues and the colonial British machinations that led to Charles Napier seizing the state

The Talpur brothers were just and generous to kinsmen, chiefs and the people, but the Sindh-coveting East India Company sought to destroy their rule. The Company dispatched agents — the Iranian Agha Abu al-Hasan and Englishman Nathan Crowe — ostensibly to establish factories at Thatta and Karachi, whereby they gathered intelligence, recruited other conspirators and undermined the Talpur regime.

Meanwhile, the Afghan Shah Shuja invaded Sindh in 1832 and Syed Ahmed Barailvi arrived to garner support for his jihad against Ranjeet Singh, the ruler of Punjab, but Mir Murad — incorrectly perceiving Barailvi to be a British agent — had a cool response. However, the presence of Barailvi and his mujahideen inspired the future Hur movement in Sindh. Then, British political agent Henry Pottinger arrived on a survey mission of the mouth of Indus to plan its future conquest, at which time British officials compelled Mir Murad to sign a bilateral agreement in 1832.

Chapter 3 details the ascendency of Mir Noor Muhammad Khan, who formed the second Chauyari with his brothers Mir Naseer, Mir Muhammad and Mir Yaar. Here Dr Pathan provides a critical analysis of the expanding power of the East India Company and its voracious land-grabbing through making fictitious or false accusations against local potentates. The British also mounted pressure on Talpur rulers to allow them passage through Sindh to Afghanistan: “The East India Company’s long cherished desire to conquer Afghanistan apparently seemed fulfilled, in 1828 CE, when an alliance was formed between the British, the Sikhs and the deposed Sadozai ruler Shah Shuja for an attack on Kabul.”

British plotting and sabotage — assisted greatly by mutual jealousies and divisions among the Talpur chiefs — paved the way for the British conquest of Sindh: “The spirit of jealousy among the Talpur chiefs could be gathered from the repeated request, emphatically made by Sohrabani chief of Khairpur (Mir Rustam) to the British envoy, beseeching him to capture Karachi from Shahdadani Sarkar of Hyderabad. In case that was not done, he would not be able to show his face to his relations and other Mirs of Sindh. He would therefore, according to his own version, be compelled to commit suicide ... The Khairpur chief was, however, given an assurance that his wish would be fulfilled sooner or later, when the British find it feasible and suitable to their best interest.”

On Feb 7, 1839, a British warship entered Karachi’s harbour and captured the Manora fort after only two hours of bombardment. Meanwhile, the British army had already entered the town of Jhirk, around 50km from Hyderabad. The Khojas of the town, with the collaboration of Hindu merchants, facilitated smooth passage of the advancing British army, which was given logistical assistance and even financing. The Talpurs were subsequently compelled to pay the huge sum of 2.1 million rupees to the British conveyance and 300,000 rupees annually to the British garrison in Sindh.

Chapters 4-7 investigate the Talpur Mirs known as the “Manikani chiefs of the desert.” Sindh’s administration was divided into three independent units: the headquarters at Hyderabad, the second unit of Khairpur comprising much of upper Sindh and part of Cutch, and the Manikani-ruled major portion of Thar and Parker regions and the eastern part of Lar (lower Sindh), the area east of the Indus.

Napier planned to conquer Sindh by a larger armed force on the pretext of conquering Afghanistan. The Talpur Mirs did not trust the British schemers, but some local chiefs secretly contacted the British with assurances of remaining neutral in the event of a British invasion. At the Battle of Dubbo in March 1843, the Baloch sardar [chiefs] fled the battlefield along with 5,000 men. The Baloch artillery was also sabotaged, but the greed and treachery of local Muslim chieftains was the real reason for British victory: “The guns of the local army were either misfired or fired in the air ... the gunners were bribed and won over by the British through lavish rewards. ... it is said [that the gunners] directed the gunfire against their own men. They even set fire to the arsenal and destroyed the gunpowder and other arms during the continuance of battle. Most of the Talpur guns on the other hand were defective and out of use, and were dragged into the action aimlessly.”

The humiliation of the local elite was sealed by the attack on the royal harem. The princesses and ladies of the court were dragged from their apartments, stripped and robbed of their jewels before being thrown in prison without food or water: “... Napier entered the fort with two regiments, and after having attended the installation ceremony of the Union Jack, he alluded to the looting of Talpur treasures. Apart from the cash and other valuables of the Talpur families ... ornaments, and even utensils made of gold and silver [were looted]. The womenfolk who observed strict purdah (seclusion) were dragged out from their harems and robbed of their personal ornaments and the clothes worn by them.”

Dr Pathan ends the book by shedding light on the general administration, education, economic and socio-cultural conditions, customs and mores prevailing in the Sindhi society. He paints a vivid picture of the economic domination of the Hindu merchants who controlled all business transactions and collected revenue and became advisers and ambassadors of the state — analogous to the court Jews of Europe.

They manipulated and interfered in state affairs and facilitated an agreement between the Talpurs and the East India Company in 1809 that paved the way for colonial domination. Hindu amils [revenue collectors] and usurers undermined the Talpur currency and promoted the British: “Seth Na’umal, a Hindu merchant of great influence, was chiefly responsible for the seed of defection among the non-Baloch tribes of Qalmatis, Numerians, Jokhias and others in lower Sindh. These tribes controlled trade routes to Karachi, Makran, Cutch and other regions and commanded extensive influence in the region. Such was the influence of the non-Muslim sarafs and sahukars in Sindh that they could even claim and demand huge sums as damage, for the loss caused to their godowns and other property. The British charges against the Talpur rulers for entering into conspiracy for a joint military action were nothing but concoctions and interpolations, mostly made by the Hindu musheers of the Talpurs. Seth Na’umal was granted the title of Sitara-i-Hind for his treacherous role against the Talpurs, who were not only kind and good to the Hindu elite, but they had granted extensive concessions and bounties to Na’umal and his family.”

The author has thoroughly explored numerous sources and literature and produced a valuable history on this neglected subject. This book is of immense value for the study of the Talpurs and of British colonialism in the Indian subcontinent in general. It gives the reader a clear understanding of the patterns of British incursion and local collaboration or resistance, and it is an important work for general readers and researchers, students and all those concerned with the subject.

The reviewer is assistant professor and chairman in-charge of the Department of General History at the University of Sindh

Talpurs in Sindh (1783-1843)
By Dr Mumtaz H. Pathan
Karachi Endowment
Fund Trust
ISBN: 978-9699860119
462pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, February 25th, 2018