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Muslim Rule, Hindu Diaspora and India?

Vinod Kumar

Kashmir Herald March- April, 2004

Arguing her case for rewriting of history and discussing the role of the Indian Diaspora in her article "One Nation's Many Pasts" (Hindustan Times, March 1, 2004), Romila Thapar states that the first exposition of the notion of Muslims being foreign to India is found in James Mill's History of British India, published in the early 19th century.

"He periodised Indian history into Hindu civilisation, Muslim civilisation and the British period and argued for the antagonism between the first two and maintained that the Muslims were aliens. His history became a hegemonic history. Colonial policy was directed towards emphasising the oppression of the Hindu by the Muslim in the past in order to prove that the Hindu was rescued by the coming of the British. Such history can hardly be regarded as indigenous when it was in effect derived from colonial readings of Indian history" -- Thapar went on to write.

Romila Thapar has gone to extremes when she says Muslims were not foreign to India and there was no antagonism between the Hindus and the Muslims till the British wrote Indian history books calling the Muslims aliens.

Muslims today form a large percentage of India's population -- even a larger percentage if one was talking of British India -- but no one, including the Muslims, will claim that Islam is indigenous to India. A large presence of Islam in India does not make it of Indian origin. The same is true of the Muslims. Before the Muslims came to India from foreign countries, there were hardly any local converts to Islam.

The first presence of Muslims was due to traders from Arabia on the West Coast. This was rather minuscule. First large presence of Muslims occurred in Sind after it was invaded by Muhammad bin Kasim from Iraq. This occupation did not last long. Then after Ghaznavid invasions parts of the Punjab came under Muslim rule permanently. But this did not result in any massive Muslim immigration or Muslim population. Large percentage of those converted forcefully returned to their native faiths.

The main spurt in Muslim population of India was primarily due to mass migration after Muslim rule had been established in parts of India following the Ghurid invasions.

Read any book written by any contemporary Muslim chronicler, and you will find wave after wave of Muslims -- not counting the hordes that came to invade and plunder -- migrating to India specially after Muslim rule was established.

A Muslim scholar S A A Rizvi records it thus: "Soon after the Ghurid empire was established in Delhi, the exodus of scholars and holy men from Central Asia and Iran after the fall of Muslim powers to the Mongol barbarians made Delhi the strongest eastern Islamic capital, the city medieval scholars loved to call the Qubbatu'i Islam (Cupola of Islam) (A History of Sufism in India, Rizvi, vol. 1 pp. 134)

The migration of all kind of Muslims continued for centuries. Even as late as eighteenth century most of the top posts in Muslim administration were held either by fresh Muslims from Arabia, Iran and Central Asia or the progeny of recent arrivals. For most part immigrant Muslim soldiers formed the Muslim army. Reading contemporary history, one rarely comes across a Hindu name. It was only relatively later that local Hindus were part of it. Even the local converts to Islam did not have much to share in top administration jobs.

Ibn Batuta mentions how new arrivals from abroad were met by the representatives of Tughlaq at the border near Multan and news sent to the Sultan as to who has entered the borders. Muslims from abroad were given choice posts depending upon their credentials and genealogy.

Thapar goes on to question: Should the medieval period be called Islamic period?

It is not the British but the Muslims themselves who described their administration as Islamic.

How does Babur record his victory?

"By the help of our victorious soldiers the standard of Islam have been raised to the highest pinnacle." Then he goes on to describe the fight with Rana Sanga. He repeatedly calls his army as "army of Islam" and after he had renounced drinking wine, he issued a decree "abolishing throughout all the territories the tax on Mussulmans, noting though its yield was more than the dreams of avarice, and though it had been established and maintained by former rulers".

Babur was not unique. Almost every Muslim ruler called his rule Islamic and ruled according to Islamic Sharia.

Thapar would like her readers to believe that there was no oppression of the Hindus by the Muslim rulers or any animosity between the two.

It is common wisdom that the sufis represent the kinder, gentler and tolerant face of Islam.

Let us see what even sufis had to say about how the Hindus should be treated?

Saiyid Nurud-Din Mubarak Ghaznavi was a khalifa of Shaikh Sihabuddin Suhrawardi -- the pioneer of Suhrawardi silsila of Sufis. Sultan Iltumish appointed him Shaikhu'l Islam and he was called by the people of the city, Mir-i-Dihli (Lord of Delhi).

His principles for the protection of Islam were:

* Promote Sharia

* Uproot kufr, shirk and idolatry

* If they cannot do it, the they should make every effort to disgrace and humiliate the Hindus, mushriks and idolaters

* They should not tolerate the sight of Hindus, and in particular they should exterminate the Brahmins, who are the leaders of the heretics and disseminators of heresy.

* They should not allow the kafirs to lead an honorable life or assign them high office.

(A History of Sufism in India by SAA Rizvi, vol. 1, pp. 194)

Treatment of Hindus by most Muslim rulers was along the lines recommended above and Caliph Omar's well-known covenant with the dhimmies, if not worse.

Given the condition of the Hindus under the Muslim hegemony, actually, there may be some truth to rescue of the Hindu by the coming of the British.

Much has been made of the composite culture of India. This so called composite culture actually never existed. Whatever little hope for this "composite culture" was, lie cremated in the communal fires of partition. Jinnah, the Father of Pakistan had the right angle on this issue when he said "the history of the past 1200 years has failed to achieve Hindu Muslim unity and has witnessed, during the ages, India always divided into Hindu India and Muslim India."

He called the Muslims a nation by any definition.

Jinnah's view of the British role in India was also opposite to one held by Thapar. He believed that whatever Hindu Muslim unity existed was artificial and dates back only to the British conquest and was maintained by the British bayonet. He saw the British as a unifying force -- not a dividing force.

When did the Muslims become part of India is difficult to understand?

Hindus and Muslims did not form one nation in 1947. Have they become one nation since then? Looking at Kashmir and the imbroglio over the Ramjanmabhumi temple and Babri structure, a logical person would have hard time in believing this.

Romila Thapar seems to be somewhat disturbed by the role being played by the Hindu Diaspora in the debate now going on about Indian history. Truly speaking, the Hindu Diaspora is not alone in this debate. They have a healthy cooperation from their counterpart in India. In fact, they are playing only a secondary role. The main players are in India.

The Hindu Diaspora, she asserts is seeking "a bonding and an identity. This is sought to be derived from religious nationalism, and therefore the Hindu past has to be viewed - consistently and uniformly - as a golden age, and no critique is allowed."

But she seems to miss the point. For some decades -- almost a century now --- the true nature of History has been distorted in India. The Hindu Diaspora is looking for truth in history -- not only of the Hindu past but also of the Muslim rule. To accuse them of "no critique is allowed" is denying reality. If anything, the Hindu Diaspora -- being legacy of Hinduism -- loves, it is critique. Without their faculty of critique they would not be where they are today. They are not driven by religious nationalism, if this is the term one prefers to use -- it is their search for truth that leads them there.

Thapar accuses the Hindu Diaspora of "virulent attacks on scholars who do not support religious nationalism. They are described as 'Communists'". The Hindu Diaspora is not interested in the narrow religious or nationalist constraints. The Hindu Diaspora is very happy with its global identity. And it is the "scholars" who subscribe to Marxist interpretation of history who call themselves 'Communists'. Not only that it, is these "scholars" who call those who do not subscribe to their "Marxist interpretation of history" as "Hindu nationalists".

I fully agree when Thapar writes: "There now has to be an awareness of the need to monitor curriculum procedures and the quality of textbooks, with a constant effort to keep the discussion on these open and active. At the same time, the universe of discourse on Indian history and the human sciences, among academics both in India and outside, will have to be maintained through protecting the right to free _expression."

Let us cut through the chase of name calling and present history without bias -- Marxist or otherwise. Let history be what it is supposed to be.

Let history not become political football.