Thursday, Aug 18, 2022
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How BJP Is Distorting Indian History For The Upcoming Generations

History is useful to plan tomorrow but abusing history for advancing nefarious agenda is going to harm communal harmony and peace in our society.

First Battle of Panipat (1526), Miniature from 'Baburnama' (left), 'Baber Cheering On His Troops'
First Battle of Panipat (1526), Miniature from 'Baburnama' (left), 'Baber Cheering On His Troops' Getty Images

The present ruling dispensation in India has made history quite interesting for ordinary people. The RSS and other Hindu right-wing organizations have bizarre claims about Indian history, especially the medieval period which has been increasingly being (mis)used to increase the gulf between two communities in India. An unbiased study of history tells us that several rulers in the past invaded and conquered what we today called the Indian subcontinent. Due to its wealth, the subcontinent had always fascinated occupying armies from central Asia. Mahmud of Ghazni attacked and plundered India several times for the same. Muhammad Ghori defeated Prithvi Raj Chauhan in the second battle of Tarain. After the death of Ghori, Qutb ud-Din Aibak became the ruler of the newly founded kingdom which later became the Delhi sultanate. Zahir-ud-Din Muhammad Babur established the Mughal Empire after vanquishing Ibrahim Lodhi in the first battle of Panipat.

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The Sangh Parivar has vague claims about the bygone Muslim history of India. According to their illusory allegations, thousands of Hindu temples were destroyed, converted into mosques, and Hindus were forced to convert to Islam. Hindu communities were pillaged and the civilization on the subcontinent became impure because of Islamic barbarism. Muslim rulers brought violence into a peaceful society. Most of these claims are falsely exaggerated. Although several temples were demolished during the sultanate and Mughal period, we have to analyse these certain historical facts with care. 

We should ask if the reason behind temple desecration was a deliberate effort to foul the ancient civilization which can be termed ‘Islamization’ in Hindu right wing’s terminology, or was it something else? Here comes a question: were temples crashed by the Sultans of Mughals only? In ancient and medieval periods, it was an entrenched tradition to destroy the religious places established by the defeated ruler. Pious places like temples were smashed due to their political, not religious significance and it was a common practice in that society. Rulers always have a definition of defeating their opponents, irrespective of their ‘religious colour’. It is the sheer tactic of the Indian right-wing, however, to paint only the Muslim rulers as hostile, a narrative that plays up to their religiopolitical advantages.

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It seems that after the Supreme Court judgment on Babri masjid, Hindu right-wing groups are planning to "take back" Gyanvapi Masjid in Varanasi and Shahi Eidgah masjid in Mathura but when we look back at the pre-demolition phase, we find the slogan “Abhi to sirf jhanki hai, Kaashi Mathura baaqi hai” (This is only a trial, kaashi and Mathura are in pipeline). From this and all similar slogans associated with the Rath Yatra campaign, it is clear that the agenda is well planned and deeply rooted and has nothing to do with religious sentiments but a political gimmick. Incidentally, after the partition, several masjids were converted into temples and Gurudwaras in Haryana and Punjab.

Noted historian professor Sunil Kumar has edited a wonderful book about the practice of temple desecration in medieval India. Kumar’s book "Demolishing Myths Or Mosques And Temples? Readings On the History and Temple Desecration in Medieval India” contains articles by several well-known historians. Although there are several books written on this theme, these works are not translated into vernacular languages. That’s why it is very tough to challenge public opinion about issues of temple desecration in medieval India. In the introduction to the book, Sunil Kumar asked several important questions "in search of facts to ascertain whether the Babri masjid was constructed on the site of a Hindu temple the Supreme Court seems to have completely ignored central questions. Can an event that supposedly transpired in the sixteenth century be treated as grievances and redressed in the twenty-first century?"

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There are various Buddhist temples either destroyed or converted into Hindu temples in the past, what about them? Before modern India, empires did exist. Various nationalities are a part of empires. Mughals, Safavids, and Ottomans empires are inhabited by multi-diversify ethnicities. Conquest and invasions are a part of human history. We cannot apply today’s yardstick of territorial sovereignty to ancient and Medieval periods.

Richard Davis studies the question of looting temples and discusses its meaning within the Medieval context of State formation and conquest. In his article Indian Art Objects As Loot, Davis tried to specifically understand the loot and plunder of deities by Hindu kings. Temple desecration is normally associated with Muslim rulers, and because of that we repeatedly see the use of terms like "Islamic iconoclasm". It is a little-known fact that victorious Hindu Rajas pillaged the temples of their rivals, looted their effigies, even broke some of them, and installed them as war trophies in their temples. According to Davis "The systematic practice of this iconoclasm and plunder of each other's temples by Hindu rulers was integral to their claims of universal lordship bestowed by God". 

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He also confirms that warfare and looting were adjuncts to the constitution of Medieval political authority. We need to remember that the later constructed Lakshman temple in Khajuraho was specially commissioned by the Chandella Raja Yasovarman to house the solid gold Vishnu statue he had looted from the Pratihara rulers. The incident was an important public declaration of the arrival of a new political lord and master of the region.

Richard M Eaton, one of the finest historians of medieval India states that rather than reporting a random record of Muslim iconoclasm, there was a clear pattern of temple desecration across hostile frontiers as invading armies faced resistance. In those areas, temples were demolished and revolts took place. It was a medium to punish hostile rulers. Eaton asked a simple question: if Muslims were inherently iconoclastic, did they in other words desecrate all temples? Eaton’s research suggests otherwise. Only temples constructed by royal patrons or their political agents were desecrated. The defeat of a ruler provoked the public humiliation of his signs of authority by the victorious army. Temples that did not challenge the state authority were protected and given State patronage. It is a clear sign of showing State benevolence by Muslim rulers in the medieval period. The several farmans are the proofs of such patronages.

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Medieval Persian sources routinely condemned idolatry [but – parasti] on religious grounds, but attacking images patronized by enemy kings had been from about the sixth century AD thoroughly integrated into Indian political behavior. The mutual interdependence of kings and gods and the commingling of divine and human kingship made royal temples the pre-eminently political institutions.

Richard M Eaton in his magnum opus Temple Desecration and the Muslim States in Medieval India states that “In AD 642 according to local tradition, the Pallava king Narashimhavarman 1st looted the image of Ganesha from the Chalukyan capital of Vatapi." He further says that in the eighth century Bengali troops sought revenge on king Lalitaditya by desecrating what they thought was the image of Vishnu Vaikuntha, the state deity of Lalitaditya’s kingdom in Kashmir. We also have historical evidence of Hindu kings engaging in the destruction of Royal temples by their political adversaries. In the early tenth century, the Rashtrakuta’s monarch Indra III not only destroyed the temple of Kalapriya [at Kalpa near the Jamuna river] patronized by Rashtrakuta’s deadly enemies, the Pratiharas, but they took special delight in recording the fact.

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Persian chroniclers seek to glorify the religious zeal of early Muslim rulers, sometimes attributing acts of temple desecration to those rulers even when no contemporary evidence supports the claim. That’s why we don’t know the exact number of temples desecrated during the Sultanate and Mughal periods. Eaton again states that by relying on evidence found in contemporary or neo-contemporary epigraphic and literary evidence spanning a period of more than five centuries (1192 – 1729) one may identify eighty instances of temple desecration whose historicity appears reasonably certain. Hindu right-wing organisations claimed that almost 80,000 temples were desecrated in that period. These claims have no historical basis but so many people believed in them. It makes the task of historians more difficult. History is actually associated with memory and facts, and how can someone easily question the memory of a group of people? These stories transfer from generation to generation.

We are seeing a pattern of petitions being filed in courts to excavate mosques or buildings to know whether these mosques or buildings were constructed after demolishing Hindu or Jain temples. The Supreme Court judgment on Babri masjid has opened a new Gordian knot. Threatening other historical mosques, monuments, or buildings the Sangh Parivar has claims about the Taj Mahal, Qutub Minar, and several other historical heritage sites. These mosques or monuments are heritage sites. Taj Mahal alone attracts lakhs of tourists. Instead of debating their own versions of history in universities, the Hindu right-wing propagates fictitious claims through WhatsApp and electronic media which are now acting as a mouthpiece of the present government. There is no one to challenge these claims made in TV studios.

We should not disassociate these petitions on Gyanvapi and Shahi Eidgah from the continuous attacks on religious freedom and civil liberties in India. A highly exposed Hindu radicalized country in which 84 per cent of the population is Hindu fulfills every deep-rooted categorical and separative filth. The  party becomes successful on a daily basis by fuelling the othering of Muslims by random misinformation, unfolding the same wounds and preaching scornful, derogatory statements. In the last eight years, cow-related lynchings, laws against so-called love jihad, as well as the CAA Act, and the removal of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir are steps in the direction of the Hindu Rashtra, which is an out and out a majoritarian political idea. 

There is a famous saying that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. Twisting history for today’s political gains has repercussions on India’s political and social stability. History is useful to plan tomorrow but abusing history for advancing nefarious agenda is going to harm communal harmony and peace in our society. Persian chroniclers or any other literary sources are records and one must avoid treating these documents as today’s newspapers. Literary sources from Islamic or other periods should only be understood through the historical lens. Past, present, and future are strings of musical instruments, if we want to make a soothing sound we must know how to touch these strings, otherwise, the tune will be engulfed into the abyss of disturbing and annoying chaos. A sharp smack should always be ready for the proponents of fascism to preserve democracy. Otherwise, the Muslim population will be faded away from the fate of secular-democratic India and from the pages of Islamic hereditary history also.

(Views are personal.)

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