What the Deadly Riot of Delhi Shoe-Sellers in 1729 Reveals about the True Character of Mughal Decline

The forgotten Delhi Shoe-Sellers' Riot of 1729 throws a stark and informative light on the real extent of the decay of the Mughal Empire under Muhammad Shah. It also reveals substantial details of the nature of the Muslim society of that period.
What the Deadly Riot of Delhi Shoe-Sellers in 1729 Reveals about the True Character of Mughal Decline

Preface

THE REIGN OF MUHAMMAD SHAH, THE 13TH “EMPEROR” of the Mughal dynasty was chiefly notable for two major events. The first was the manner in which the remnants of the Aurangzeb-ravaged Mughal empire were devoured by the ascendant Marathas. Muhammad Shah lost the whole of Malwa and Deccan. The second was the brutal invasion of Nadir Shah which finished off the stubs of pretensions to suzerainty that remained in Muhammad Shah. The “great” Mughal had to literally beg for mercy at Nadir Shah’s feet.

If that is the politico-military side to Muhammad Shah’s pathetic rule, his administrative or civilian side was worse. In true Islamic tradition, he had taken the help of the infamous Sayyid brothers to ascend the throne and then backstabbed them without remorse. But the throne he had acquired and the “empire” he ruled over had fallen apart in the final years of Aurangzeb himself. At the close of the first decade of his reign, Muhammad Shah had lost effective control and outsourced the administration of the fragmentary empire to a cabal of court favourites and flatterers who wasted little time in out-manipulating the Sultan, and began running the imperial show from backstage. A good example is the disgust of his former grand vizier, Asaf Jah I who quit his post, went to the Deccan and carved out an independent Nizamship of Hyderabad for himself. The optionless Muhammad Shah watched this with impotent self-conciliation.

In the eleventh year, he had totally lost control over the capital Delhi itself, and he learned this lesson painfully. It was taught by a bunch of bigoted Muslim shoe-sellers living in the Jahuri Bazar (now, Johri Bazar) area.

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THE SHOE-SELLERS’ RIOT OF 1729 easily ranks as one of the bloodiest riots in the last five hundred years of the Muslim history of India. Interestingly, while its chief target was just one man, the accursed infidel named Shubkaran, in its essential details, Muslims spilled the blood of fellow-Muslims in an orgy of extraordinary barbarism. But in reality, the climax of this intra-Islamic mayhem advertised Muhammad Shah’s timorousness and his own admission of it. The havoc was so brutal, far-reaching and memorable that for decades, it became fodder for poets and litterateurs.

But it must be mentioned that in their perfected art form of subterfuge masquerading as history, the JNU school of distorians have passed off this riot as an incident of sectarianism, and not communalism. Therefore, in the true tradition of presenting the true history at The Dharma Dispatch, we have unearthed details of this gory episode from primary sources and eyewitness accounts. The following are some excerpts from these sources that describe the Shoe-Sellers’ Riot of 1729.

The Backdrop

THE SHOE-SELLERS’ RIOT IN THE ELEVENTH YEAR of Muhammad Shah’s reign occupies a considerable space in all the histories of that period. Apart from its value as a picture of the turbulence of the capital, it is important as conducing to the downfall of the group of palace-favourites whose influence was all powerful on the Emperor’s mind throughout.

By the common usage of the lower classes of Muhammadans, the first half of the month Shaban is devoted to festivities. Among these, the chief are the illumination of lamps and the discharge of fireworks in the streets.

In the evening of 8th March 1729, Shubhkaran, a jeweler belonging to the imperial establishments, was on his way home from the house of the eunuch, Hafiz Khidmatgar Khan, curator of the Jewel House. This man had been protected by the all-powerful Roshan-ud-daulah Panipati, by whose aid he had obtained an imperial rank, mansab.

Because he lived behind the Jauhari-bazar, Shubhkaran’s route took him past the shoe-sellers’ shops in the Chowk of Sadullah Khan, situated to the south of the palace. These shoe-sellers were all Punjabi Muslims and their shops, which were large and numerous, lined both sides of the road. All were bigoted Muhammadans, strict in their prayers. Their elders were well-dressed men and long-bearded knowing their Quran by heart and able to expound on it.

The Trigger

As Shubhkaran’s paki approached, both Hindus and Muhammadans were busy letting off squibs in the street. One of these squibs fell into the palki and burnt a hole in Shubhkaran’s darbar clothes. The servants running at his side remonstrated and after heated words, the two parties came to blows. The retinue were armed while the shoe-makers had only their rasps. But the latter were more numerous and seized one of the sepoys and took from him his sword and shield. Shubhkaran in an angry mood made his way home and at once ordered the man who had been disarmed to return and punish his assailants.

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After nightfall the man, accompanied by a crowd of his friends, went back to the shoe-sellers’ quarters and caught a stripling who was beaten till he almost died. Hearing the cries, one of the elders known as Haji Hafiz, rose from his cot and ran barefooted to the boy’s assistance. In rescuing the boy, the Haji himself received a sword cut and fell down dead.

Leaving the body where it fell, the assailants returned home. At dawn, the shoe-sellers, and after them the whole city, gathered round the body and swore that until the murderer and his employer were killed, the body should lie there unburied.

All the lower-class Muhammadans joined forces with the shoe-sellers. The body was placed on a cot. Then, with great angry fervor, they began shouting Deen! Deen!, and carried the body and laid it before the door of Shubhkaran.

During the previous night, Shubhkaran had sought refuge in the mansion of Sher Afkan Khan Panipati, the Lord Chamberlain (Khan-saman) and therefore his official superior. He already had the blessings and protection of Zafar Khan Roshan-ud-daulah, who also hailed from Panipat. Roshan-ud-daulah was connected by marriage with Sher Afkan Khan and the two were the closest of friends. Sher Afkan Khan was the younger brother of another very influential noble, Lutf-ullah Khan Sadiq.

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Thus, for these two reasons, that Shubhkaran was the official subordinate of Roshan-ud-daulah, who in turn was the closest friend of Sher Afkan Khan, they shielded Shubhkaran from the mob. In fact, they brazenly denied that he had taken refuge in their house.

The frenzied mob refused to believe him. It left the dead body at the door and charged towards the palace to make an official complaint.

What happened next will be narrated in the next episode.

To be continued

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