History on film

The Indian Muslim who greatly influenced Queen Victoria and her India policies

No, it’s not the one featured in the Judi Dench film.

A funny but untrue piece of history lies at the heart of Victoria and Abdul, the British-made box office hit of last year. Queen Victoria could not tell a Muslim from a Hindu, no more than she knew the difference between a mango and a peach.

Apparently, she did not realise until it was pointed out to her, that Abdul Karim, her munshi, “an Indian language teacher or secretary usually appointed in the Colonial times”, was a Muslim. And at one point in the film, the elderly queen tries a mango for the first time. Karim pokes the overripe fruit and advises her to send it back. It is an amusing scene. But completely inaccurate. Queen Victoria sucked on a mango over 50 years earlier, when Framji Cowasji, an enterprising Parsi from Bombay, began the export of the fruit to Britain, including one destined as a gift for the young queen.

Likewise, Queen Victoria knew all about Indian Muslims. On the eve of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, she met the mother of the King of Awadh. In 1876, it was the turn of Salar Jung, Dewan to the Nizam of Hyderabad, who came to London seeking favours from the Queen-Empress. Throughout the 1870s she corresponded with Shah Jahan, the Begum of Bhopal, exchanging gifts and books.

Such details complicate the familiar stereotypes of the colonial encounter perpetuated by narratives such as Victoria and Abdul. An ignorant empress occasionally distracted by the exoticism and romance of the East is much easier on the eye, than a female head of state intervening in the concerns of her Muslim subjects. Yet that is precisely what Queen Victoria did, as the following story of her relationship with another Muslim, Rafiuddin Ahmad, demonstrates.

Queen Victoria was deeply interested in the affairs of her Muslim subjects, unlike what is portrayed in the movie 'Victoria and Abdul'. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under Public Domain]
Queen Victoria was deeply interested in the affairs of her Muslim subjects, unlike what is portrayed in the movie 'Victoria and Abdul'. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under Public Domain]

Rise of the maulvi

Rafiuddin Ahmad was a young Muslim from Pune who came to London in 1889 to study to be a lawyer. Soon he became one of the principal spokesmen for moderate Indian Muslim loyalism in England, helping to establish the Moslem Patriotic League. At the end of 1892, Ahmad created a sensation after he published copies of pages from the queen’s private journal that were written in Hindustani, in the Strand magazine. Ahmad had been shown the diaries during a visit to Balmoral Castle in Scotland. His article praised the queen for her Oriental studies, how they set an example to the princes of India, how they confirmed her bond with the Indian people, and how they exerted a positive influence over the Caliphate (the Sultan of Turkey).

The scoop brought instant notoriety. Profiles of Ahmad, the Orientalist scholar and maulvi, a teacher of Islamic law, followed in newspapers. Doors began to open. He became a regular visitor at court. The Prince of Wales granted him an audience, and he was on the guest list for the wedding of George, the Duke of York (and future King-Emperor), to Princess Mary of Teck in July 1893. The Queen gave her seal of approval by commissioning his portrait. No other Indian during her reign sped so fast from obscurity to acceptance at court. However, unlike the munshi, the maulvi has eluded detection by historians entirely.

Rafiuddin Ahmad's views and ideas exerted a tremendous influence on the Queen. Photo courtesy: Author.
Rafiuddin Ahmad's views and ideas exerted a tremendous influence on the Queen. Photo courtesy: Author.

Wielding influence

Queen Victoria was not only flattered by the attention of Ahmad, she was also influenced by his ideas. “He is remarkably clever and most loyal and anxious to bring about the best of feeling between England and India,” the queen told the Secretary of State for India, calling him “a staunch but liberal-minded Mahomedan”.

In an article in 1892, Ahmad spelt out the demographic arithmetic that made Muslims in India wary of a widening of representative institutions that would leave them overwhelmed by a Hindu majority electorate. In June 1892, the queen passed on her concern about this issue to Lord Lansdowne, the Viceroy, in relation to the Indian Councils Act passed that year, which authorised an increase in the size of the various legislative councils in British India.

Two years later Ahmad took up the cause of Indian Muslims caught up in the plague scares affecting the pilgrim traffic to the Haj at Mecca. Armed with introductions from the queen he met officials at the Foreign Office and at the India Office and brought about improvements in the inspection of the Haj passenger ships, something he later claimed had brought “unfeigned satisfaction” to Indian Muslims.

The premise of the movie 'Victoria and Abdul' was predicated on an untrue piece of history. Photo credit: Focus Features
The premise of the movie 'Victoria and Abdul' was predicated on an untrue piece of history. Photo credit: Focus Features

Finally, towards the end of 1894, Ahmad wrote a stinging criticism of the Indian National Congress, arguing that the communal riots that had broken out recently in Bombay in were the result of INC’s political provocation. Again, the queen was prompted into action, sending a telegram to the Viceroy, asking him to provide further information and to take action to defend Muslims.

Game of spies

The queen’s courtiers and the India Office were alarmed by Ahmad, particularly when he joined the munshi and the rest of the royal party on vacation on the French Riviera in 1893. Expelled from the holiday, police spies tracked his movements and collected information about his contacts in India, suspecting he was an agent of the Emir of Afghanistan. But the queen remained loyal. In 1898 she recommended that the Viceroy, Lord Curzon, consult Ahmad’s article The Proposed Muslim University in India in the monthly periodical the Nineteenth Century, calling for a new university in India to be dedicated to the higher education of Muslims (eventually established in Aligarh).

The story of the Empress and the maulvi reveals a different side to Queen Victoria, and places the Raj in an unfamiliar perspective. The British are often rightly accused, most recently by Shashi Tharoor in his book Inglorious Empire, of fanning the flames of communalism in India, creating the Hindu-Muslim divide. Here lies some counter-evidence. We see the queen taking seriously her own words in the 1858 proclamation, when she promised to be a queen of all religions in India. At the close of her reign she stood up for the minority rights of Muslims, just as she had refused to back Christian missionaries wanting to convert Hindus after the 1857 revolt. The queen could not only distinguish a Muslim from a Hindu, she knew of their plight and wanted to do something about it.

Queen Victoria's funeral procession. At the time of her death, she had the respect of many Muslims in India. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under Public Domain]
Queen Victoria's funeral procession. At the time of her death, she had the respect of many Muslims in India. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under Public Domain]

Little wonder that when she died, she was venerated by many Muslims in India. As her final illness took over in 1901, Ahmad led prayers for her recovery at a mosque in Liverpool (one of the first mosques in the UK). And when she died, amidst the all-India mourning, Muslim historians, such as Muhammad Zakaullah of Delhi, compiled lengthy tributes to the Queen in Urdu. In Hyderabad, the Nizam stepped in to pardon a condemned man just as the noose was tightening around his neck. It sounds like a scene from a film – more Bollywood than Pinewood perhaps. But sometimes history tells different stories from art, and offers alternative parables. Surely it is important that they are recovered too.

Miles Taylor teaches history at the University of York, UK. His new book, The English Maharani: Queen Victoria and India, will be published by Penguin/Random House in September.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The next Industrial Revolution is here – driven by the digitalization of manufacturing processes

Technologies such as Industry 4.0, IoT, robotics and Big Data analytics are transforming the manufacturing industry in a big way.

The manufacturing industry across the world is seeing major changes, driven by globalization and increasing consumer demand. As per a report by the World Economic Forum and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd on the future of manufacturing, the ability to innovate at a quicker pace will be the major differentiating factor in the success of companies and countries.

This is substantiated by a PWC research which shows that across industries, the most innovative companies in the manufacturing sector grew 38% (2013 - 2016), about 11% year on year, while the least innovative manufacturers posted only a 10% growth over the same period.

Along with innovation in products, the transformation of manufacturing processes will also be essential for companies to remain competitive and maintain their profitability. This is where digital technologies can act as a potential game changer.

The digitalization of the manufacturing industry involves the integration of digital technologies in manufacturing processes across the value chain. Also referred to as Industry 4.0, digitalization is poised to reshape all aspects of the manufacturing industry and is being hailed as the next Industrial Revolution. Integral to Industry 4.0 is the ‘smart factory’, where devices are inter-connected, and processes are streamlined, thus ensuring greater productivity across the value chain, from design and development, to engineering and manufacturing and finally to service and logistics.

Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics are some of the key technologies powering Industry 4.0. According to a report, Industry 4.0 will prompt manufacturers globally to invest $267 billion in technologies like IoT by 2020. Investments in digitalization can lead to excellent returns. Companies that have implemented digitalization solutions have almost halved their manufacturing cycle time through more efficient use of their production lines. With a single line now able to produce more than double the number of product variants as three lines in the conventional model, end to end digitalization has led to an almost 20% jump in productivity.

Digitalization and the Indian manufacturing industry

The Make in India program aims to increase the contribution of the manufacturing industry to the country’s GDP from 16% to 25% by 2022. India’s manufacturing sector could also potentially touch $1 trillion by 2025. However, to achieve these goals and for the industry to reach its potential, it must overcome the several internal and external obstacles that impede its growth. These include competition from other Asian countries, infrastructural deficiencies and lack of skilled manpower.

There is a common sentiment across big manufacturers that India lacks the eco-system for making sophisticated components. According to FICCI’s report on the readiness of Indian manufacturing to adopt advanced manufacturing trends, only 10% of companies have adopted new technologies for manufacturing, while 80% plan to adopt the same by 2020. This indicates a significant gap between the potential and the reality of India’s manufacturing industry.

The ‘Make in India’ vision of positioning India as a global manufacturing hub requires the industry to adopt innovative technologies. Digitalization can give the Indian industry an impetus to deliver products and services that match global standards, thereby getting access to global markets.

The policy, thus far, has received a favourable response as global tech giants have either set up or are in the process of setting up hi-tech manufacturing plants in India. Siemens, for instance, is helping companies in India gain a competitive advantage by integrating industry-specific software applications that optimise performance across the entire value chain.

The Digital Enterprise is Siemens’ solution portfolio for the digitalization of industries. It comprises of powerful software and future-proof automation solutions for industries and companies of all sizes. For the discrete industries, the Digital Enterprise Suite offers software and hardware solutions to seamlessly integrate and digitalize their entire value chain – including suppliers – from product design to service, all based on one data model. The result of this is a perfect digital copy of the value chain: the digital twin. This enables companies to perform simulation, testing, and optimization in a completely virtual environment.

The process industries benefit from Integrated Engineering to Integrated Operations by utilizing a continuous data model of the entire lifecycle of a plant that helps to increase flexibility and efficiency. Both offerings can be easily customized to meet the individual requirements of each sector and company, like specific simulation software for machines or entire plants.

Siemens has identified projects across industries and plans to upgrade these industries by connecting hardware, software and data. This seamless integration of state-of-the-art digital technologies to provide sustainable growth that benefits everyone is what Siemens calls ‘Ingenuity for Life’.

Case studies for technology-led changes

An example of the implementation of digitalization solutions from Siemens can be seen in the case of pharma major Cipla Ltd’s Kurkumbh factory.

Cipla needed a robust and flexible distributed control system to dispense and manage solvents for the manufacture of its APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients used in many medicines). As part of the project, Siemens partnered with Cipla to install the DCS-SIMATIC PCS 7 control system and migrate from batch manufacturing to continuous manufacturing. By establishing the first ever flow Chemistry based API production system in India, Siemens has helped Cipla in significantly lowering floor space, time, wastage, energy and utility costs. This has also improved safety and product quality.

In yet another example, technology provided by Siemens helped a cement plant maximise its production capacity. Wonder Cement, a greenfield project set up by RK Marbles in Rajasthan, needed an automated system to improve productivity. Siemens’ solution called CEMAT used actual plant data to make precise predictions for quality parameters which were previously manually entered by operators. As a result, production efficiency was increased and operators were also freed up to work on other critical tasks. Additionally, emissions and energy consumption were lowered – a significant achievement for a typically energy intensive cement plant.

In the case of automobile major, Mahindra & Mahindra, Siemens’ involvement involved digitalizing the whole product development system. Siemens has partnered with the manufacturer to provide a holistic solution across the entire value chain, from design and planning to engineering and execution. This includes design and software solutions for Product Lifecycle Management, Siemens Technology for Powertrain (STP) and Integrated Automation. For Powertrain, the solutions include SINUMERIK, SINAMICS, SIMOTICS and SIMATIC controls and drives, besides CNC and PLC-controlled machines linked via the Profinet interface.

The above solutions helped the company puts its entire product lifecycle on a digital platform. This has led to multi-fold benefits – better time optimization, higher productivity, improved vehicle performance and quicker response to market requirements.

Siemens is using its global expertise to guide Indian industries through their digital transformation. With the right technologies in place, India can see a significant improvement in design and engineering, cutting product development time by as much as 30%. Besides, digital technologies driven by ‘Ingenuity for Life’ can help Indian manufacturers achieve energy efficiency and ensure variety and flexibility in their product offerings while maintaining quality.

Play

The above examples of successful implementation of digitalization are just some of the examples of ‘Ingenuity for Life’ in action. To learn more about Siemens’ push to digitalize India’s manufacturing sector, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Siemens by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.