The comment of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Tejaswi Surya on “Mughal Raj” landed him in a controversy, and the young parliamentarian received a lot of flak.
In an article titled ‘Tejaswi Surya and the BJP Have Got Their History Completely Wrong’ published in The Wire, Vikas Pathak argues that Surya’s comment is based on “completely skewed historical narrative to divide society on Hindu-Muslim lines”.
In this article, we will examine the criticism against Surya — and whether his comment is based on a skewed historical narrative, or challenges a skewed historical narrative.
Pathak writes, “..more nuanced narratives that capture medieval India in its complexities need to be popularised at all levels, including textbooks, art, cinema and civil society debates”.
We couldn’t agree more. Later on in the article, we shall find out if Pathak has himself treated the subject with nuance.
A ‘nuance’ we often miss — Socialist pseudoscience
We also agree with Pathak that the intellectual domain should be guarded against pseudoscience, however, with an added “nuance” that pseudoscience isn’t a rot of only the right-wing.
One example would be Soviet Russia's Lysenkoism which rejected the “Western genetics” based on genes and natural selection.
Lysenco, a fan of Leninism, laid the foundation of a communist “new biology”.
He argued that, much like the man in the Marxist theory, whose consciousness is defined by his material existence, agricultural crops can be modified by changes in their surroundings.
What followed was things like soaking seeds in the freezing water to train them for winter.
Stalin supported Lysenko, and over 3,000 mainstream biologists were fired or sent to prison, and numerous scientists were executed for rejecting the communist “new biology”. They were criticised as “bourgeoise, capitalist, imperialist, and promoter of fascism”.
This communist new biology, adopted officially by many states, led to disastrous consequences.
Not only the biological research in these countries was set back by nearly half a century, but also, the failure of crops raised by Lysenko’s methods caused great famines, and millions perished — over seven million in Soviet Union, and close to 30 million in China.
Now, the disagreements. Let’s take the arguments made by Pathak one by one.
‘History constructed by the British to drive a wedge between Hindus and Muslims has been adopted by Hindutva’
Pathak argues that this history has been "borrowed almost entirely by Hindutva” and that the “latter’s only innovation to it is a discourse of pseudoscience when it comes to India’s ancient past”.
Pathak should have provided examples from right-wing scholars while making the above claim. And if he is quoting politicians, or online “trolls” like many other intellectuals, he should provide a link of that too.
This will not only substantiate Pathak’s claims, but also clarify whom he, described as a scholar and a professor, sees as his objects of engagement.
If all a scholar can find is what politicians say to engage with, then the scholar is most likely a politician in disguise — a person fascinated by power more than the truth. At least a politician has to face elections to wield power. And if all one can find is what “trolls” say to engage with, there is a probability that he is one of them.
To paint the whole right-wing as the pseudo-scientists who look for air-planes in ancient India is the same as reducing the whole Left-wing to comrades who chop-off the legs of those who disagree with their views.
Until substantiated, Pathak’s claim is a paper-tiger set up to be just torn down.
Second is the question of guilt by association. Can any commonality with what British said be a ground for disqualification?
One doesn’t need to dig very deep to find, based on this, that the first perspective on Indian history to go into the dustbin would be Marxist — which has quite a lot in common with the Imperialists in justifying the British rule as a necessary step towards the ultimate communist utopia.
Interestingly, while Marx had given an economic critique of the imperial rule, he himself held the same notions about the natives as the imperialists (some even blatantly racist), reflected in several of his comments.
“England has to fulfill a double mission in India: one destructive, the other regenerating the annihilation of old Asiatic society, and the laying the material foundations of Western society in Asia”.
Interestingly enough, Marx’s views aren’t far away from the British when it comes to the Hindu-Muslim relations. He says:
In the same piece, he calls Arabs, Turks, Tartars, Moguls, who had successively overrun India, “barbarian conquerors” who were “conquered themselves by the superior civilisation of their subjects (Hindus)“
The intellectual domain is guided by the morality of inquiry — the goal of finding the truth.
The first question in assessment of a historical claim is whether it is based on facts or not. The speculations about motivations behind the claim, its concurrence with others are secondary, and cannot change the underlying facts. The starting point of any critique should be an acknowledgement of these facts.
In this article’s context, these facts pertain to persecution of Hindus based on ideological hatred against them.
'Medieval times cannot be seen as an arena of Hindu-Muslim conflict'
To justify this claim, Pathak gives the example of the Rajputs, quoting S Chandra that they “began to emerge as the sword-arm of the Mughal empire” and cites the “rich tradition of Hindu-Muslim imperial alliances” as an evidence.
The resistance to Mughals has at least as rich a history as the tradition of Hindu-Muslim imperial alliances. The same Rajputs were also accused by the Mughal emperors of destroying mosques and building “idol-temples” on some occasions.
The siege of Chittorgarh by Akbar is still remembered as “Chittor Marya Ra Paap” and annual Jauhar festival is celebrated to remember the martyrdom of Mewar Rajputs.
The fact that many Hindus cooperated with the Mughals doesn’t give a clean-chit to the latter.
If not, then the fact that the Nazi military had as many as 150,000 Jews, including decorated veterans and high-ranking officers, even generals and admirals, should give a clean-chit to Hitler.
The British had plenty of natives as collaborators in the colonies. Does it justify colonialism?
The White Europeans couldn’t have enslaved millions of Black Africans if the latter weren’t sold to them by their own brethren. Does this justify racism and slavery?
If not, then how can the alliances with Hindu Rajas discount the demolition of temples, breaking idols, killing cows in the temple premises, forced conversions to Islam by the Mughals — things they have themselves proudly described as their service to the cause of Islam.
In Tujuk-i-Jahangiri, Jahangir writes about demolishing a Hindu temple in Benaras:
In 1567, Akbar carried out the siege of Chittorgarh. After winning the fort, he ordered a general massacre. Around 25,000 ordinary persons, apart from 8,000 Rajputs, were killed.
Akbar’s victory is described in Fatehnama-i-Chittor, it reads:
Badshah Nama talks about a ruthless war by Shah Jahan beyond Indus:
In Baburnama, Babur says that he fought with pagans and Hindus for Islam’s sake, and “Thanks be to God! a ghāzī I became”.
The historical record clearly demonstrates that the major Hindu temples in urban centres were deliberately targeted by the Muslim rulers, in a bid to humiliate the Hindus.
The approach of trying to find a ‘perfect victim’, a ‘perfect crime’ or a ‘perfect perpetrator’ in history would leave us with very little to learn from, probably similar to how the search for a perfect victim in rape cases leads to travesty of justice.
Still, if a professor believes in the standard of the ‘perfect victim’, then the first thing he should demand is shutting down the departments of women studies, post-colonial studies, Dalit studies etc in the university, because none of these groups have been the ‘perfect victims’, historically speaking.
Of course, Indian medieval history cannot be seen just as an arena of Hindu-Muslim conflict. No history that spans over hundreds of years can be seen purely as working out of a single idea (a reason why Marx’s historical materialism failed).
However, this doesn’t give legitimacy to the post-truth technique of, in the words of H Frankfurt, "bu*******ng” — no claim is perfect, therefore, there is no such thing as the truth.
Irrespective of the character of the ruler, a continuous thread of Hindu hatred has existed in the subcontinent since the arrival of Muhammad bin Qasim.
From Delhi Sultanate and Mughals to the politics of the Muslim League and the Partition, the goals of Islamic supremacy — converting the whole India to ‘Dar-ul-Islam’, and hatred against polytheists and idol-worshippers have essentially remained the same.
This legacy is also visible in the 19th century Muslim movements — Fairazi, Deobandi, Barelvi etc.
A comparison with the reformist movements among the Hindus at the time brings out the role this legacy played in deciding the course of Hindu-Muslim relations in India.
Even Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s Aligarh movement, which argued for modern education among Muslims and opposed the views of orthodox ulema, upheld this legacy, explicitly or tacitly.
Altaf Hussain Hali, one of the staunchest supporters of Khan, wrote Musaddas e-Madd o-Jazr e-Islam which glorified the Muslims of India as the brave descendants of the foreigners who conquered India and flew the flag of Islam in the subcontinent.
While Khan called for Hindu-Muslim unity, he asked Muslims to maintain strict difference between the Hindus and the “people of the book”, propounded two-nation theory, and certainly failed to criticise the atrocities committed on Hindus in the name of Islam.
Quite the contrary, Muslim leadership of the time ridiculed Mughal rulers for inclusive policies towards Hindus, and not doing enough to prompt wide-scale conversions. Their deviation from the path of Islam was cited as the reason behind the downfall of the Muslim community.
‘But Mughals also gave donations to temples, gave us Taj Mahal and Red Fort’
Let’s assume that the donations to temples (like Tipu Sultan’s to Sringeri Math) were more because of a good-will towards Hindus and Hinduism, than the political necessities of ruling a majority Hindu population.
Even so, it doesn’t justify temple demolitions and other such activities, simply because it is not a fair and acceptable deal.
Certain things are wrong in principle.
We consider colonialism wrong in principle, doesn’t matter if the British were a benevolent power or harbingers of modernity. There is nothing that the foreign rulers can offer in exchange of freedom that could make colonialism a fair deal.
We consider men beating women wrong in principle — no amount of money, gifts or other gestures can make it acceptable.
Similarly, the persecution of Hindus is wrong in principle, and should be condemned as such. There can be debates on the extent and degree, but only on the premise that all parties stand opposed to the ideas and aspirations that fuelled the persecution.
The fact that, to use the words of Karl Marx, “barbarian conquerors” were “Hindooized” later on doesn’t discount the atrocities against Hindus. It is irrelevant as far as Hindu persecution is concerned.
Hindu hatred - ideological or practical?
Certain sections of scholars argue that the Mughal actions like temple destruction weren’t motivated by irrational Hindu hatred, but rational political considerations — they were meant to punish Hindus who rebelled against the Mughal rule.
First, this is a ruler-centric view. Translantic slave trade was, arguably, fuelled more by rational considerations of profit than an irrational hatred of the Black race. This doesn’t make it any less traumatic for the victim of the slavery.
Second, political considerations are not political necessities. In fact, the attempts of temple demolition etc were more a victory of ideology over pragmatism, rather than the other way around.
Third, if it was all about politics, what would explain the Mughal rulers’ proud declarations about decimating temples of “false gods”, killing and converting Kafirs in their biographies in the name of Islam. Sincere or not, the declarations shows that Hindu-hatred was glorified, at least in principle.
Not just the Mughal rulers, religious leaders like Sufis, even those who are today hailed as the great symbols of syncretism like Moinuddin Chishti — promoted the acts of horrors against Hindus — including killing Hindu men, abducting their women and forcibly converting them to Islam.
The official website of the Ajmer Sharif Dargah itself stated that Chishti had taken as second wife, daughter of a Hindu Raja offered by his devotee Malik-a-Khitab whom he had abducted after killing her family. She was converted to Islam, and given the name of Bibi Ummutulla.
Today, many “saints” like Pir of Dargah Bharchundi Sharif Abdul Haq or Mian Mithoo in Pakistan facilitate abduction and forced conversion of minor Hindu-Sikh girls, who are either married off to much older men, or sold into sex-slavery for as low a price as Rs 500.
A Mughal ruler could be personally more or less of a bigot, but anti-Hindu bigotry was always present in principle as a powerful force in the Mughal rule.
Fight is not against Mughals, but ideological hatred of Hindus
In fact, certain actions of the Mughal rulers, who are projected as the heroes of secularism, themselves lend credibility to the demands of acknowledgement and condemnation of the historical Hindu hatred.
For instance, why would Akbar ban cow-slaughter?
Akbar, after all, wasn’t a Sanghi or a Hindutva-vadi. He was a pragmatic ruler who could see that cow slaughter had become a weapon of denigration and subjugation of Hindus. The discussion on ‘cow politics’ today, often misses out this historical context.
It is fascinating that the much derided ghar wapsi campaign can be traced to the policies of a pre-Mughal Kashmiri ruler Zain-ul-Abidin who allowed the Hindus who were forcibly converted to Islam to return to their original faith. He also banned cow-slaughter.
It is also notable that at the time, these Mughal rulers faced stiff criticism for patronising ‘idolatry’ and 'crowds of infidels and tribes of polytheists'.
A prominent religious scholar of the Mughal Empire, Ahmed Sirhindi, deplored the tolerant policies of Akbar and wrote regarding Hindus and Sikhs: “With whatever intention and purpose they are killed, the humiliation of infidels is for the Muslims life itself.”
In a 2015 article in The Wire, Harbans Mukhia talks about rebuilding of broken temples as well as ghar wapsi in the medieval times. The article claims to bring out the “flip side of the Indian history that is remembered by some only for the demolition of Hindu temples and the conversion of Hindus to Islam”.
The article quotes Muslim rulers as well as theologians lamenting the Hindu converts turning away from Islam. He provides other sources to show the considerable existence of ghar wapsi, and some degree of tolerance towards it by certain rulers.
Interestingly, everything that Mukhia has mentioned makes sense only in the backdrop of existence of Hindu persecution and resistance against it. Rather than an evidence that destroys the rule, he gives the exceptions that substantiate the rule.
An essential step towards popularising the nuanced history of medieval India is to acknowledge and openly condemn the ideas and aspirations that guided the acts of Hindu persecution.
By simply erasing this history from the curriculum, we won’t be able to delete it from the memory of the people. Hindu persecution continues to be alive and relevant, be it in the ruins of temples, defaced idols, works of fiction like Premchand’s Jihad, or radical Islamist rhetoric.
The tallest leaders of Indian national movement like Gandhi, Nehru, Tagore, Patel, Ambedkar etc were also forced to raise difficult questions regarding the history of Hindu persecution.
Gandhi had said that
Rabindranath Tagore had said:
In his book, The Discovery of India, Nehru had also characterised Islam and Christianity as “aggressive religions”.
Ambedkar addressed the Hindu-hatred embedded in Islam in sharp words:
It is not clear why a person asking today the same questions as these leaders can be labelled Islamophobic, bigot or a hate-monger.
Till the time the historians keep Mughals and Hindu-hatred together as a complete package, the “Mughal Raj” will be rejected by a Hindu aware of his history.
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