THE AFGHAN BARBARIANS EMPLOYED by the Wazir not only outnumbered the shoe-sellers but were professionally armed. Seeing how the shoe-sellers would be wiped out easily, the low-class Mughals from Mughalpura came to their rescue. Old sectarian hatred against these Afghans who they considered impure, unclean, and pretentious, resurfaced. They brandished their weapons and charged against the Afghans.
Fortuitously for the Afghans, the royal contingent comprising regular Mughal soldiers was waiting outside the masjid to escort the Wazir on his return. And now, they saw what was happening and their blood boiled. They rode up the flight of steps leading to the gates, dispersed the Afghans guarding them and smashed the gates and ran full speed into the mosque. The Wazir’s elephant and camels followed them right in.
What followed was an extraordinarily brutal slaughter of the Afghans at the hands of the Mughals. After resisting for as long as they could, and upon seeing many of their leaders and comrades fall, the Afghans began to yield ground.
Sher Afkan Khan received a huge slash on his right wrist and his sword fell from his grip. Some of his followers were killed and others wounded. The rest sought safety in flight and scampered towards the southern doorway. All this time, other Afghans had stood round Roshan-ud-daulah like a shield. When Sher Afkan Khan retreated, they forced Roshan-ud-daulah to follow. His bulk and corpulence rendered him incapable of nimble movement and so they had to carry him on their shoulders, fighting and slashing as they went. Exhausted and breathless, they reached the gate.
After this, they fled to the mansion of Dil-dilar Khan, the elder brother of Sher Afkan Khan. When the Afghans inside learnt that the two nobles had reached a place of safety they, too, left the mosque and sought the same refuge.
The rioters, disregarding the Wazir’s orders, decided to pursue these fugitives and continue the battle. Their idea was to surround Dil-dilar Khan’s house, burn and destroy it, seize their prey and wreak vengeance. However, they were finally persuaded to desist. In a notable revelation, the intensity and the naked bloodlust of the rioters spooked a number of officials and nobles reporting to Roshan-ud-daulah to such an extent that they hid themselves in the corners and arches and turrets of the mosque. However, even that proved an ineffective refuge against the bullets and missives that were incessantly about. The nobles clambered over the arches adjoining the bazar and let themselves down into the street below.
There was a rather bizarre adventure involving a noble named Azam Khan. Below the place where he climbed over was a thatched shop full of earthenware pots. In spite of the strength of the thatch, his legs slipped through and he was caught in the beams and bamboo supports. The shopkeeper, incensed at the damage done to his store and the danger to his wares, seized a bamboo stick and pounded Azam Khan’s feet so thoroughly that they became swollen and broken, and for many days he was unable to stand.
However, the most bizarre event was the ultimate outcome of the Shoe-sellers’ riot, which had lasted a full day. Qamar-ud-din Khan, the Wazir had emerged as the unlikely and outlandish hero of the riot. He was now anointed as the champion defender of the pure faith of Islam against the infidel – this when he had not moved even a muscle in favour of the shoe-sellers.
Muhammad Shah, the “sultan,” was also delighted for a wholly different reason. The trouble of decision-making had been taken off his shoulders and he could now appropriate the laurels of the resolution of this accursed riot. In his practiced gesture of vacuous grandeur, the royal hypocrite removed the turban from his head, gave it to a eunuch to deliver it to the Wazir as a present with orders for his immediate attendance.
Meanwhile, at the Jama Masjid, the Wazir finished the last rites of this hideous farce. He ordered his men to clear the mosque of the rioters and posted strong guards at its gates and doors, and then performed the Asar Namaz and returned with the eunuch to the audience-hall and bowed before the sultan. After exchanging pleasantries and giving gifts back and forth, Muhammad Shah retired to his chambers and the Wazir went home.
The epilogue to the Delhi Shoe-sellers’ Riot of 1729 is perhaps the most noteworthy consequence.
Shubhkaran, the infidel, no matter how close he was to the aristocratic coterie of Muhammad Shah, was shown his place. The Muslim shoe-sellers were allowed to demolish his mansion. The old man, the murdered shoe-seller was buried that night on its wrecked site. After a few weeks, a mosque was built on that location.
The infidel had lost.
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