February 20, 2020
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Mughlai Paranthas

The secularist lens may project a selective view of medieval history, but facts speak otherwise

Mughlai Paranthas
Mughlai Paranthas
Beyond Turk And Hindu: Rethinking Religious Identities In Islamicate South Asia
By David Gilmartin By Bruce B. Lawrence
India Research Press Rs 595; Pages: 354
How did relations between Hindus and Muslims evolve over the centuries following Mohammad bin Qasim’s invasion of Sind in 711 AD? Did the invaders have just imperial motives? Were they interested only in India’s phenomenal wealth, and not in bringing the vanquished under the flag of Islam by sword? These are questions that are important for understanding what led to the creation of Pakistan, and the complex relationship between Hindus and Muslims in the subcontinent.

The Hindu-Muslim relationship is a complicated one, with interwoven layers of cooperation and confrontation. The secularists, which include communists of various hues, have repeatedly tried to simplify the phenomenon. In the process, the communists supported Jinnah’s demand for a theocratic Pakistan and have twisted history by selectively picking incidents and details to paint a rosy picture of Hindu-Muslim relations before the advent of the British.

Beyond Turk and Hindu—a set of 13 essays in three sections—is one more such attempt. The essays exhume copious references of amicable Hindu-Muslim ties. But the opening sentence concedes: "Muslims have been an integral part of South Asia for over a thousand years. Why then is it so hard to define them as ‘indigenous’? Why are they not as seamlessly Indian as Sikhs, who have been there for less time, as Jains, who have been there for longer but in fewer numbers?"

Caste, community, clan notwithstanding, all natives of India were referred to as Hindus. Constitutionally (definitely not drafted by the RSS), Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains fall under the appellation ‘Hindu’. The Turk and Hindu interaction became an invader-vanquished and ruler-subject relation. If Hindus perceived Muslims (the bulk of whom today are not genealogically foreigners) as ‘aliens’, much of it could be attributed to the historic scar on the Hindu psyche. After 1947, ‘Pakistani’ became the contemporary equivalent of medieval ‘Turk’ for Muslims in the Indian perception.

In his essay Temple Desecration and Indo-Muslim States, Richard Eaton rationalises the destruction of temples by Muslims by quoting sporadic examples of rival Hindu kings destroying each others’ temples. He accuses the British of denigrating Muslims, former rulers of India, by their exaggerated account of temple desecration. He overlooks the basic iconoclasm in Islam and equates it with common acts of banditry. He’d have done better by reading Hindu Masjids by Prafull Goradia, which gives photographic evidence of Hindu temples converted into mosques with minor alterations. He has only to see the pictures of Vishwanath Mandir and Krishna Janmabhoomi saddled with domes to understand that these were villainous acts to humiliate the Hindus.

This is like rationalising the Arab steamrollering of Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Assyrian and Persian civilisations in the 7th century by saying that Assyrians and Persians also fought amongst themselves. The sporadic destruction of Taxila university by the Huns and of Nalanda by Muhammed Bakhtiyar Khilji are definitely not the same. Islam came with a purpose: physical conquest was part of the larger aim to Islamise its people. Were it totally successful like in Persia, there would have been no need for Eaton to rationalise these acts. The Islamicised Indians themselves would have hailed them as the best service to Allah.

Phillip Wagoner is more forthcoming. In his essay Harihara, Bukka and the Sultan, he shows how a Turk army was the striking force against Hindus, that the Hindu empire of Vijayanagara felt the need for hiring Turk mercenaries. Bernier, while speaking of "our own Shahjahan", says "the Great Mogol is a foreigner in Hindoustan, a descendant of Tamerlan.... To maintain himself in such a country...he is under the necessity of keeping up numerous armies, even in peace times".

Catherine Asher labours hard to explain the absence of any ancient and magnificent temples in north India. "Visible mosques and less visible temples, Hindu or Jain, need not be seen as a matter of Islam subsuming Hindu or other non-Muslim identities," she writes. It’s a denial of known facts of history. Hindus, Jains and Buddhists raised elaborate temples but they were razed to the ground by the invaders as part of their religious duty. The Ranakpur temple near Udaipur in Rajasthan and the ruins of Martand in Kashir Valley are standing testimony to the creative potential of the Hindus and the destructive streak of Islam. And why has it not been possible for Hindus to build a grand temple in Pakistan or Bangladesh?

An honest answer to this question can help us judge the validity of the claims made in this book.

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