Karnataka Scraps Lessons on Tipu Sultan. Why the “Lion of Mysore” is Such a Controversial Figure in the State


Karnataka Scraps Lessons on Tipu Sultan. Why the “Lion of Mysore” is Such a Controversial Figure in the State

Illustration: Mitesh Parmar

Education, like almost every other aspect of life, has had to adapt to conditions in the face of the global pandemic. With the academic year being forcibly curtailed in length by the national lockdown, India’s education boards have had to cut down their syllabi by up to 30 per cent to adjust. In Karnataka, the state education board is following the example set by the Central boards like CBSE and ICSE and removing lessons from its curriculum – and generating controversy over the topics that are cut as well.

Like the CBSE, the cuts proposed by Karnataka Department of Public Instruction also include lessons pertaining to the Constitution, as well as omissions of lessons on Tipu Sultan, a historical figure with a polarising legacy in modern India. As the monarch of Mysore, Tipu is valorised for his freedom struggle against the British, as much as he is demonised for his persecution of Hindu subjects and neighbouring kingdoms. In addition to removing chapters on Tipu Sultan, the education department has also removed lessons on his father Haider Ali, as well as lessons covering the lives of Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammed.

Out of all the topics removed by the Karnataka education department, Tipu Sultan is the one which comes with the most baggage. For years, the state Bharatiya Janata Party has campaigned to have the Muslim ruler scrubbed from textbooks. What public demonstrations and social media movements could not do, the pandemic has accomplished in fell swoop.

In Karnataka, Tipu Sultan has left behind a controversial legacy. Evidence of the lingering resentment toward his rule still simmers among the Kodava community of Coorg. “Kodava local history suggests that Tipu killed several of them in Devati Parambu and then took close to 111,000 of them as prisoners to his fort at Srirangapatnam, where he forcibly converted them,” according to a report in The Indian Express. It quotes a diary of French officer Francois Fidele Ripaud de Montaudevert. “During the siege of Mangalore, Tipu’s soldiers daily exposed the heads of many innocent Brahmins within sight from the fort for the Zamorin and his Hindu followers to see,” he writes.

The Kodavas bore the brunt of Tipu Sultan’s rule and the community considers the state’s celebration of his birth anniversary, Tipu Jayanti, an affront to their heritage. In 2015, when the Congress government in the state announced the celebration of Mysore king’s birthday, the hilly district erupted in protests.

Tipu Sultan is a divisive figure in the state but an important part of history. In 2019, a state government-appointed panel recommended that sections on the ruler be retained. “It is impossible to teach the history of Mysore without the introduction to Tipu,” the panel said.

Tipu Sultan may have won many military victories in his lifetime, but lost the battle to academic expediency in 2020.