The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
– George Orwell
Too much of the thinking about Muslim rulers is now being shaped along predictable, clichéd lines. This is true of all shades of opinion, perception and scholarship. There is evidence from a number of established scholarly discourses that the public perception about Muslim rulers is being increasingly manipulated to fit into a profile built by right wing historians.
It is really tragic that Maharashtra government has almost defaced the names of Muslim rulers form its history books particularly when they form an indelible part of its social, political economic and educational culture. The Mughal and Maratha legacy are valuable to both the history of modern India as also that of modern Maharashtra. In the third battle of Panipat, where the Marathas were defeated by the Durrani Empire of Afghanistan, the Marathas sided with Shah Alam II (Shah Alam II was only a puppet under the Marathas) and then led an army to punish the Afghans for their atrocities in 1772. They sacked fort of Pathargarh and forced the Rohilla Afghans to pay a huge war indemnity.
This part of history would not make sense to anyone who doesn’t know why the Afghans were invading India, why the Mughal empire was in decline and what the British were up to. There are numerous instances where Shivaji tried to throw the British out of Bombay for refusing to sell him munitions to aid his war against the Mughals and there is also a case where Shivaji tried to ask the British for help in Madras when he was on the way to fight his brother in the south. This provides valuable context for the Anglo-Martha wars that would follow and the eventual British control of the sub-continent.
The revisions of the Maharashtra text books omit the Delhi sultanate and the Suri Empire in India, without which most of modern Indian history would be unintelligible. It is important to place the history in its relevant context in order to truly appreciate it. Without a discussion on the Bijapur Sultanate, Aurangzeb’s rise to power over other contenders to the throne and the invasion by Ahmed Shah Durrani, one can never truly appreciate the history of this empire.
Several new studies, coming from western scholarship show that, unlike the perception of the rightist historians, the Mughals were pluralists and catholic in their outlook and in their policies. The Indian society under most of its Muslim rulers was a monochrome and there has not been a faintest trace of binary cultures. It was a rich mosaic, fused by the efflorescence of influences of both. According to Audrey Truschke, a Mellon post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University, much of the current religious conflict in India has been fueled by ideological assumptions about that period rather than an accurate rendering of the subcontinent’s history. Truschke argues that this more divisive interpretation actually developed during the colonial period from 1757 to 1947.
“The British benefited from pitting Hindus and Muslims against one another and portrayed themselves as neutral saviors who could keep ancient religious conflicts at bay,” she says. “While colonialism ended in the 1940s, the modern Hindu right has found tremendous political value in continuing to proclaim and create endemic Hindu-Muslim conflict.”
The greatest damage to Muslim history has been done by the infamous book, The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians, authored by Elliot and Dawson. There was a time when this book was widely prescribed in schools and colleges. A casual glance at a few pages would reveal the determined effort of the authors to poison the minds of readers against Muslim rulers. The authors, keen to contrast what they understood as the justice and efficiency of British rule with the so-called cruelty and despotism of the Muslim rulers who had preceded that rule, were anything but sympathetic to the “Muhammadan” period of Indian history. The politics of the history textbooks in India today promote communal strife by creating a historical consciousness that gives pride of place to religion and proposes a narrative that traces back community identities and antagonisms, and hence legitimises their existence.
There have been two differing descriptions of Indian history. One sees India as a victim of recurring invasions of Muslims. The other, a more liberal and catholic, sees it as an arena of civilizational encounters which have produced unique cultural symphonies..
The first sees India’s history over the last millennium as a serious of intrusions in its culture and pledges to restore to its adherents the original purity. The Nehru-era school textbooks were the work of the greatest historians of their day, among them Professor Romila Thapar and R.S. Sharma, who came from the left-leaning elite. Their work emphasized that Islam was preached in India not by the sword—there is no evidence of forced mass conversions—but by the virtuous lives and teachings of the mystical Muslim Sufis some of whose teachings fused with those of the Hindu devotional Bhakti movement. They also emphasized the religious tolerance of many of the Mughal emperors, especially Akbar (1542–1605), who patronized Hindu temples and visited Hindu holy men. The same was also true of his great-grandson, Dara Shukoh, who had the Gita translated into Persian and who wrote The Mingling of Two Oceans, a comparative study of Hinduism and Islam which emphasized the compatibility of the two faiths and the common source of their divine revelations
Yet they were only one aspect of a more complex picture. Large-scale desecration of Hindu monuments had undoubtedly taken place when Turkish warlords first swept into India in the twelfth century. Indeed several of the first Muslim sultans were energetic iconoclasts and made a point of building their mosques from the rubble of destroyed temples, in some of which you can still see the defaced sculptures of their Hindu predecessors.This iconoclasm continued intermittently as regional sultanates sprang up across India during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
The well-known writer Amitav Ghosh has written profusely of the Mughal contribution to the efflorescence of Hinduism. Learning of a miracle performed by a famous Guru, Babur visited him in prison. Such was the presence of the Guru that Babur is said to have fallen at his feet, with the cry: “On the face of this faqir one sees God himself.” He emphasizes that it is beyond dispute that Babur’s descendants presided over a virtually unprecedented efflorescence in Hindu religious activity. Hinduism as we know it today — especially the Hinduism of north India — was essentially shaped under Mughal rule, often with the active participation and support of the rulers and their officials and feudatories.
The developments that occasioned the Indian Partition catalysed a process of sectarian politics that found its logical end in the creation of separate nations altogether. Seven decades after the partition of India, a debate on what caused it is merely academic. But the question of how to contain and tame its lingering sparks and bushfires is of immense practical importance. Hindu nationalist ideologues still periodically subject Indian Muslims to loyalty tests. The saffron discourse normalizes a certain cultural-nationalist worldview which recasts the historic, 300-year rule of the Mughals as a form of Muslim settler-colonialism that oppressed Hindus. But history has shown that its annals are indelible. As the great British statesman James Baldwin writes in Notes of a Native Son:
“People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them.”
The paradox underlying this conundrum is best captured in the dedication template of Bhagwan S. Gidwani, author of The Sword of Tipu Sultan, who devoted 13 years to part-time research on his book in the archives of half a dozen countries for writing his novel. It reads:
“To the country which lacks a historian; to men whom history owes rehabilitation.”
[Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker .He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades .He can be reached at email@example.com.]