The animals that can live forever

Tipu Sultan descendants to have royal status restored

Tipu Sultan, the 18th Century "Tiger of Mysore", ruled a kingdom which challenged British rule in India, sent ambassadors to Napoleon in Paris and was hailed as a legendary warrior by Sir Walter Scott.


Tipu's Tiger, c.1790 (wood) by Indian School, (18th century). Made for the amusement of Sultan Tipu (1749-99); the tiger has a miniature organ with keyboard and bellows to simulate the groans of a dying British officer. Photo: BRIDGEMAN

Today his descendants are rickshaw pullers and domestic servants in Calcutta, shunned by India's remaining royal families and humiliated by officials of a trust established to provide for their welfare.

But more than 200 years after Tipu Sultan was finally overpowered and killed by East India Company forces, mainly led by Scots officers, in the Fourth Mysore War at Seringapatam, his impoverished descendants are to have their royal status restored.

They are being rehabilitated as a mark of respect to the ruler many Indians regard as the first hero of their freedom movement.

His reputation as a great general and fearless warrior was sealed in the Second Mysore War when he defeated British forces under Sir Hector Munro at the Battle of Pollilur in 1780. With the aid of French officers, he broke through British lines and unleashed 13 offensives until the British officers finally surrendered. One of them, Captain David Baird, was held prisoner for four years before returning to his regiment and eventually leading the force which defeated Tipu Sultan in his capital, Seringapatam in 1799.

The defeat marked the start of a long and painful descent for his family. His sons and their families were rounded up, jailed and later exiled to Calcutta, where Tipu Sultan had bought large estates for them. The family's defiance of British rule led to them being progressively shunned by other Indian royal families and their fortunes steadily declined.

Their family estates, which include the Royal Calcutta Golf Club and the Tollygunge Club, one of the foremost gentlemen's clubs of the British Raj, are worth hundreds of millions of pounds. But they were taken over by a trust, which has refused to pay for their children's education or save them from penury. The estates were leased out on long-term peppercorn rents.

The trust's secretary, Shahid Alam, recently complained that the descendants wasted any money they had given and that the trust's role was to maintain two mosques named after the 'Tiger of Mysore' rather than provide handouts. "Most of them still have delusions of being princes and blow up all the money we give them," he said.

Now, the state government of Karnataka has agreed to rehabilitate Asif Ali Shah, a descendant of Tipu Sultan's fourth son, by providing him with a house, pay for the education of his children and accord him symbolic privileges of Indian royalty. It is understood he will attend some ceremonial events.

After more than two centuries of being punished for their ancestor's defeat of British forces, Tipu Sultan's heirs are finally set to receive the respect most Indians believe they deserve.

By Dean Nelson, South Asia Editor
Source : www.telegraph.co.uk

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