Cover Story: Bulldozing the idea of India

Fallacy of the Hindutva project

Print edition : May 20, 2022
The linking of Aurangzeb or other ‘Muslim’ rulers’ crimes to his/her religion will have serious consequences even for the ‘Hindu’ version of history as narrated by the RSS. With Sangh Parivar rulers pitting one section of Indians against the other, there is no need of any foreign enemy to undo a democratic-secular India.

One has lost count of religious conclaves of Hindu ‘saints’ friendly to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) calling for violent cleansing of lawful Indian Muslims. It was not long ago that Tathagata Roy, an RSS luminary who also graced the high constitutional office of Governor of Tripura, tweeted that “the Hindu-Muslim problem won’t be solved without a Civil War”. Roy claimed that he was only reminding Hindus of an unfulfilled wish of Syama Prasad Mookerji, the RSS icon. In fact, it has been the most favourite theme of the RSS since its inception in 1925. India is for ‘Ramzade’ (children of Ram) and out of bounds for ‘Babarzade’ (children of Babar) who are also described as ‘Haramazade’ (illegitimate children).

The RSS and its Hindutva appendages have been demanding revenge for crimes against Hindus in history but have singled out the medieval period in order to focus on the persecution by ‘Muslim’ rulers. It is surprising that in a country like India whose civilisation is more than 5,000 years old, it is a period of 400-500 years of ‘Muslim’ rule that is put under the scanner. In order to arrive at the truth, we need to study the nature of ‘Muslim’ rule. The most crucial issue is, why do the common Muslims of today’s India have to pay for the sins of ‘Muslim’ rulers of the past who had friendly and cordial relations (including matrimonial) with higher caste Hindus? We also need to investigate whether ‘Hindu’ history was devoid of religious, social and political persecution. Hindutva zealots demanding a Muslim-free India must know that ‘Muslim’ rules survived because higher caste Hindus assisted ‘Muslim’ rulers in running their empires. This unity between Muslims and caste Hindus can be gauged from the fact that no Mughal emperor after Akbar was born of a Muslim mother. Several higher caste Hindus served the ‘Muslim’ rulers faithfully. The Mughal rule established by Babar, who was invited by a section of Hindu kings to seize India (as we know it today), was the rule of higher caste Hindus too.

Hindu officials in Mughal courts

Aurobindo Ghose, who played a prominent role in providing Hindu foundation to Indian nationalism, confessed that Mughal rule continued for over a century because Mughal rulers gave Hindus “positions of power and responsibility, used their brain and arm to preserve” their kingdom. The renowned historian Tara Chand, relying on the primary source material of the medieval period, concluded that from the end of the 16th century to the middle of the 19th century, “it may reasonably be concluded that in the whole of India, excepting the western Punjab, superior rights in land had come to vest in the hands of Hindus” most of whom happened to be Rajputs.

Maasir-ul Umra, a biographical dictionary of officers in the Mughal Empire from 1556 to 1780 (Akbar to Shah Alam), is regarded as the most authentic record of high-ranking officials employed by Mughal kings. This work was compiled by Shahnawaz Khan and his son Abdul Hai between 1741 and 1747. According to it, Mughal rulers during this period employed around 100 (out of 365) high-ranking officials most of whom were “Rajputs from Rajputana, the midlands, Bundelkhand and Maharashtra”. After Rajputs, Brahmins were the second largest group of Hindu officials in the Mughal administration. Interestingly, the Kashi Nagri Pracharini Sabha established in 1893, “committed to the cause of Hindi as official language”, published the Hindi translation of the book in 1931.

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It is nobody’s argument that Aurangzeb did not commit heinous crimes against his Indian subjects. It must be remembered that his cruelty was not restricted to non-Muslims; his own father, brothers, Shias, Muslims who did not follow his brand of Islam and Muslim ruling families in the eastern, central and western parts of India faced brutal repression and were annihilated. Aurangzeb executed the renowned Sufi saint Sarmad in the precincts of the Jama Masjid in Delhi. It is true that during his despotic rule there were countless cases of violent targeting of Hindus and their religious places. However, contemporary records reveal that he patronised Hindu and Jain religious places of worship. A standing example of this is the grand Gauri Shankar temple, a stone’s throw from Lahori Gate of Red Fort, which was built during Shahjahan’s reign and continued functioning during Aurangzeb’s rule. Reducing all his crimes to repression of Hindus is tantamount to reducing the gravity of his crimes against humanity.

No sane person would deny that the Somnath temple in Gujarat was desecrated, looted and razed by Mahmud Ghazi (Mahmud Ghaznavi). But a fact that remains buried is that it was done with the active help and participation of local Hindu chieftains. M.S. Golwalkar, the most prominent ideologue of the RSS, while referring to the desecration and destruction of the Somnath temple said: “He crossed the Khyber Pass and set foot in Bharat to plunder the wealth of Somnath. He had to cross the great desert of Rajasthan. There was a time when he had no food, and no water for his army, and even for himself left to his fate, he would have perished…. But no, Mahmud Ghazi made the local chieftains to believe that Saurashtra had expansionist designs against them. In their folly and pettiness they believed him. And they joined him. When Mahmud Ghazi launched his assault on the great temple, it was the Hindu, blood of our blood, flesh of our flesh, soul of our soul-who stood in the vanguard of his army. Somnath was desecrated with the active help of the Hindus. These are facts of history” (RSS English organ, Organiser, January 4, 1950).

Hindu kings as persecutors

Muslim rulers were not the only ones who defiled Hindu temples. Swami Vivekananda shared the fact that “the temple of Jagannath is an old Buddhistic temple. We took this and others over and re-Hinduised them. We shall have to do many things like that yet” (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, vol. 3, p.264). It was not an isolated incident of desecration.

Swami Dayanand Saraswati, who is regarded as a Prophet of Hindutva, while dealing with the contribution of Shankaracharya in his tome Satyarth Prakash wrote: “For ten years he toured all over the country, refuted Jainism and advocated the Vedic religion. All the broken images that are now-a-days dug out of the earth were broken in the time of Shankar, whilst those that are found whole here and there under the ground had been buried by the Jainis for fear of their being broken.”

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According to the ‘Hindu’ narrative of ancient Indian history, Brihadratha, the last Buddhist king of the Maurya dynasty (Asoka being one), was assassinated by Pushyamitra Shunga, a Brahmin in 184 B.C., thus ending the rule of a renowned Buddhist dynasty and establishing the reign of the Shunga dynasty.

D.N. Jha, an authority on ancient Indian history, referred to Divyavadana, a Buddhist Sanskrit work from the early centuries that described Pushyamitra Shunga as a persecutor of Buddhists who destroyed Buddhist and Jain religious places. In his 2018 collection of essays titled Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History, Jha writes: “He is said to have marched out with a large army, destroying stupas, burning monasteries and killing monks as far as Sakala, now known as Sialkot, where he announced a prize of one hundred dinars for every head of a Shramana [opposed to Vedas].”

Jha also presented evidence from the grammarian Patanjali, a contemporary of the Shungas, who famously stated in his Mahabhashya that Brahmins and Shramanas were eternal enemies, like the snake and the mongoose (“Monumental Absence: The destruction of ancient Buddhist sites”, Caravan, June 2018). In the Hindutva narrative, the persecution of Sikh Gurus and their followers by Mughal rulers is used to spread hatred against present-day Indian Muslims. Mughal rulers, especially Aurangzeb’s armies, committed heinous and unspeakable crimes against Sikhs. Was it Muslims versus Sikhs? Contemporary Sikh records reject such an interpretation. According to a Sikh website (https://www.sikhdharma.org/4-sons-of-guru-gobind-singh/), during the last and the most brutal siege of Anandpur Sahib in 1704, Muslim and Hindu hill rajas completely surrounded and cut off the city. While the Sikhs were trying to escape the Mughal invaders “the younger sons of Guru Gobind Singh, Baba Zorawar Singh, aged 9, and Baba Fateh Singh, aged 7, were separated from the group in the confusion. They walked through the rugged jungle with their holy grandmother, Mata Gujri ji (mother of Guru Gobind Singh), until they came to small village where they took shelter.” An old servant of the Guru’s household, Gangu, on coming to know that they were there in the village visited Mataji and persuaded her to go with him to his village. According to the narrative, “he expressed care and concern, but his heart was dark with betrayal. Cold, wet and alone, Mata Gujri gratefully went with Gangu to his house” taking her grandsons along. For a few gold coins, Gangu betrayed their whereabouts to the Mughal army. At dawn, there was a loud banging on the door and soldiers of the evil governor Wazir Khan took away the holy family to Sarhind. “As they travelled through the city, people thronged to see them pass offering words of encouragement. They shouted curses at the Brahmin and were shocked at the depravity of the Moghul governor.”

Sir Jadunath Sarkar (1870-1958), a renowned historian, held no brief for Islam or Muslim rulers in India. In fact, he is regarded as a narrator of the Hindu history during the Mughal rule. However, his description of the Maratha invasion of Bengal in 1742 makes it clear that this army of “Hindu nation” cared little about honour and property of Hindus of Bengal. According to Sarkar, “the roving Maratha bands committed wanton destruction and unspeakable outrage”.

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In The History of Bengal-Muslim Period 1200 A.D.-1757 A.D. (volume II) edited by him, Sarkar reproduced eyewitness accounts of the sufferings of Bengali Hindus at the hands of Marathas. According to one such eyewitness, Gangaram, “the Marathas snatched away gold and silver, rejecting everything else. Of some people they cut off the hands, of some the nose and ear; some they killed outright. They dragged away the beautiful women and freed them only after raping them.”

Another eyewitness, Vaneshwar Vidyalankar, the court Pandit of the Maharaja of Bardwan, narrated the horrifying tales of atrocities committed by the Marathas. “Shahu Raja’s troops are niggard of pity, slayers of pregnant women and infants, of Brahmans and the poor, fierce of spirit, expert in robbing the property of everyone and committing every kind of sinful act.” Contemporary records prove that Aurangzeb’s rule was also the rule of Rajputs and Kshatriyas (members of two of the four castes in the Hindu social hierarchy) and other members of higher caste Hindus. Aurangzeb never faced the Maratha ruler Shivaji in the battlefield. It was his commander-in-chief Jay Singh II (1688-1743), a Rajput ruler of Amer (Rajasthan), who was sent to subjugate Shivaji. Aurangazeb conferred the title ‘Sawai’ (one and a quartertimes superior to his contemporaries) on him in 1699 and thus he came to be known as Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh. Aurangazeb also conferred the title ‘mirza raja’ (a Persian title for a royal prince) on him. The other titles bestowed on him by other Mughal rulers were Sarmad-i-Rajaha-i-Hind (eternal ruler of India), Raj Rajeshvar (lord of kings) and Shri Shantanu ji (wholesome king). These titles are displayed by his descendants even today. This Rajput chief also gave his daughter in marriage to Aurangzeb’s son. (https://www.indianrajputs.com/view/jaipur and https://www.indianrajputs.com/famous/Jai-Singh- II-Amber.php)

We have first-hand account of Raja Rughnath Bahadur, a Kayasth who functioned as Deewan Ala (prime minister) of both Shahjahan and Aurangzeb. According to a biographical work penned by one of his direct descendents, “Raja Rughnath Bahadur having attained to the most exalted rank of Diwan Ala (prime minister) was not unmindful of the interests of his caste-fellows [Kayasths]. Raja appointed every one of them to posts of honor and emoluments, according to their individual merits; while many of them were granted titles of honor and valuable jagirs for their services. Not a single Kayasth remained unemployed or in needy circumstances.” (Short Account of the Life and Family of Rai Jeewan Lal Bahadur, Late Honorary Magistrate Delhi, With Extracts from His Diary Relating to the Times of Mutiny 1857.) This account shows that a Kayasth prime minister of Aurangazeb, a bigoted Muslim ruler, was able to patronise people of his own caste.

Another crucial fact that is consciously kept under wraps is that despite more than 500 years of Muslim rule, which according to Hindutva historians was nothing but a project to annihilate Hindus or forcibly convert them to Islam, India has remained a nation with an absolute Hindu majority. The British conducted the first Census in 1871-72, by when the ceremonial Muslim rule was over. According to the Census report:

“The population of British India is in round numbers divided into 140½ millions [sic] of Hindoos (including Sikhs), or 73½ per cent., 40¾ millions of Mahomedans, or 21½ per cent. And 9¼ millions of others, or barely 5 per cent., including under this title Buddhists and Jains, Christians, Jews, Parsees, Brahmoes…”

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These figures make it clear that persecution and cleansing of Hindus was not even a secondary project of the ‘Muslim’ rule. If it had been so, Hindus would have disappeared from India. According to the 2011 Census, Hindus constitute 79.80% of the total population and Muslims constitute 14.23%. India seems to be the only country where despite five centuries of ‘Muslim’ rule the populace did not convert to the religion of the rulers.

The linking of Aurangzeb or other Muslim rulers’ crimes committed in pre-modern India to his/her religion will have serious consequences even for the ‘Hindu’ version of history as narrated by the RSS. Take for example, Ravana, the king of Lanka who according to the Hindu narrative committed unspeakable crimes against Sita, her husband Rama and his companions. This Ravana was a learned Brahman who also happened to be an ardent worshipper of Siva. The epic Mahabharata narrates the story of a great war between two families Pandavas and Kauravas (both Kashtriyas), not between Hindus and Muslims, in which 1.2 billion people were slaughtered. Draupadi was disrobed by Kashtriyas. If the crimes of Ravana, Kauravas, Pushyamitra Shunga, Jai Singh II, Marathas and Gangu Brahmin, among others, are linked to their religion, as in the case of Aurangzeb and other Muslim rulers, then the country will turn into a land of butchery. If revenge is to be taken on the present descendants of the past perpetrators, then a beginning must be made from the beginning of Indian civilisation; the turn of Indian Muslims will come later.

It is sad that the RSS-Bharatiya Janata Party rulers of India, who are never tired of talking about a powerful Hindu nation leading the world, are forcing the country into a state of civil war. With them around, pitting one section of Indians against the other, there is no need of any foreign enemy to undo a democratic-secular India.

Shamsul Islam, a researcher of religious nationalism, taught political science at the University of Delhi. He can be reached at notoinjustice@gmail.com