Representational image| A Hindu temple is seen over a city wall in Uttar Pradesh| Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg
Representational image | A temple is seen over a city wall in Uttar Pradesh | Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan | Bloomberg
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Medieval India, despite all the evidence of its methodical disfigurement, was depicted in schoolbooks as an idyll where Muslims and Hindus coexisted in harmony and forged an inclusive idea of India which the British came and shattered. This fable was so wholly internalised by the secular establishment which dispensed it that, as late as 1998, K.R. Narayanan, India’s first Dalit president, was able to tell an audience in Turkey that the most ‘amazing fact’ about his homeland before it was defiled by ‘European intrusion’ was ‘that the interaction between the old civilisation of India—the Hindu civilisation—and the Islamic civilisation was a friendly experience’.

Such a thesis was always going to struggle against the overwhelmingly contradictive evidence—from the ruins of Hindu liturgical buildings to the ballads of dispossession passed from generation to generation—arrayed against it. The chronicles of the subcontinent’s medieval rulers are full of pornographic descriptions of the horrors with which the place teemed. Here is the Persian historian Vassaf relating with elation the reduction of Cambay in Gujarat by the forces of Alauddin Khilji:

The Muhammadan forces began to kill and slaughter on the right and on the left unmercifully, through the impure land, for the sake of Islam, and blood flowed in torrents. They plundered gold and silver to an extent greater than can be conceived … They took captive a great number of handsome and elegant maidens, amounting to 20,000, and children of both sexes, more than the pen can enumerate … In short, the Muhammadan army brought the country to utter ruin, and destroyed the lives of the inhabitants, and plundered the cities, and captured their offspring, so that many temples were deserted and the idols were broken and trodden under foot, the largest of which was one called Somnat, fixed upon stone, polished like a mirror, of charming shape and admirable workmanship. The Muhammadan soldiers plundered all those jewels and rapidly set themselves to demolish the idol. The surviving infidels were deeply affected with grief, and they engaged to pay a thousand pieces of gold as ransom for the idol, but they were indignantly rejected, and the idol was destroyed, and its limbs, which were anointed with ambergris and perfumed, were cut off. The fragments were conveyed to Delhi, and the entrance of the Jama Masjid was paved with them, that people might remember and talk of this brilliant victory. ‘Praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds, Amen!’


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The general retort of the ‘secular’ historian confronted with writings of this vein tended to be that they were an exaggeration meant to impress the rulers—without any meditation on the nature of the rulers who might be flattered by such graphic descriptions of gore staged in their name—or to read into them motives the text did not support, or to discredit them as British propaganda. Unfortunately for them—and for the national project they were serving—the grand mosques of northern India are decorated with stone tablets in which you can still see traces of the pre-existing liturgical monuments that were razed to furnish the building materials for them. But pick up a history textbook taught at state institutions and you will find no explanation of what happened.

It was the mission of ‘secular’ historians and public intellectuals of India to locate mundane causes for carnage by religious zealots. And when those reasons could not be found, they papered over the gruesome deeds of the invaders with nice-nellyisms and emphasised their good traits. A standard history textbook written for Indian schoolchildren by Romila Thapar follows up the admission that the Ghaznavid ruler Mahmud was ‘destructive in India’—a phrase that omits so much—with the mitigation that ‘in his own country he was responsible for building a beautiful mosque and a large library’.

All imperialism is vicious, but that is not the standard adopted by India’s secular historians. The Portuguese, the same textbook tells us, ‘were intolerant of the existing religions of India and did not hesitate to force people to become Christian’. Indeed, they ‘did all that they could to make more converts’. On the other hand, Islamic invaders, in a sentence that catches the breath if only because of its contrast with the candid assessment of the Portuguese, ‘did not produce any fundamental change in Indian society but they did help to enrich Indian culture’.


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Babur, the founder of the Mughal empire whose campaigns made Portuguese pacification look like a picnic, ‘enjoyed playing polo’. Imperialism, in other words, was destructive only when Europeans did it. When Asians did it, it was a cultural exchange programme.

Such well-intentioned sanitisation of the past was never, in the long run, going to be able to withstand the awakening of people to their history or sustain an inclusive nationalism.

The encounter between ‘the strictest and most extreme form of monotheism’ and ‘the richest and most varied polytheism’, Octavio Paz wrote in his luminous study of India, left a ‘deep wound’ on the psyche of its people.


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The secular establishment squandered a rare opening in the early decades of the republic to heal that wound by supplying Indians a forthright accounting of their history. Had India been honest about its past—about the atrocities that were perpetrated and the heritage that was ravaged—it might have desiccated the appeal of Hindu supremacism. It might have reconciled Indians to their harrowing past, provoked a mature detachment from it and denied Hindu nationalists the opportunity to weaponise history. To come to terms with the past, to move on from it, we must first acknowledge and accept it.

A thousand years of Indian history were obfuscated. The reasons were lofty; the consequences of the well-meaning distortions, alas, baleful. Secularists endangered the extraordinary religio-cultural synthesis India arrived at by airbrushing its unbeautiful genesis. No Indian individual or community bears any responsibility for what happened in the pre-colonial era. By downplaying and denying what happened, secularists unwittingly implied otherwise.

This excerpt from Malevolent Republic: A Short History Of The New India has been published with permission from Context an imprint of Westland Publications.

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11 Comments Share Your Views

11 COMMENTS

  1. what a pile of horse shit article. the writer has no factual details to substantiate his argument. the only quote he states to seek support is
    “The encounter between ‘the strictest and most extreme form of monotheism’ and ‘the richest and most varied polytheism’, Octavio Paz wrote in his luminous study of India, left a ‘deep wound’ on the psyche of its people.”
    Octavia Paz seems to have little understanding of Islam itself. without further ref let me rip his statement apart. Paz is stating Islam as ‘strictest and most extreme form of monotheism,’ but what he fails to grasp is the plurality in Islam. he seems to be stating there is ONE ISLAM. the islam he so dreads is a current concept of Wahabi Islam [arab Isalmdom Islam] which he is taking into the past for application into an Islamicate region.the rulers we had were never Arabs and their concept of peaceful coexistence is cited factually by historians like Richard Eaton and his award winning book ‘Islam and Bengal frontier,’ which clearly states that Indian Muslims are not a product of conversion [instant process] but of islamicisation [slow process]. its conversion which the writer seems to imply with his plebeian English ‘Muhammadan forces began to kill and slaughter on the right and on the left unmercifully, through the impure land.’
    you become what you read and if your read a witter who writes ‘mohammadan’ then ur still a colonial in your mindset. thus justifying his inability to truly grasp the plurality of SUL E KUL!!!!
    pls dont read immature takes at a complex historical and cultural process. read Azfar Moin, Rajeev Kinra [his book is free online], audrey truschke, Richard Eaton.

  2. Hindus are fools who believe what others tell them. Otherwise how can they tolerate the barbaric rule of Muslim and still think that muslims are their brothers. This is because Hindus think that all the muslims in the Indian subcontinent are originally Hindus. But the problem with muslims is that they still think they are the original Muslims.
    But Arabs (original muslims) think these muslims as slaves. But muslims of subcontinent think arabs are their brothers.
    These converted Muslims never understand. They are more faithful than the king himself

  3. Whatever is the past, minority majoritarianism dominated the political narrative, and I know what we learn is historiography, therefore, how do we now construct a project ‘India’?

  4. Continual Genocide in Bharat covering at least two to three generations. So much so that the current generations of those used by the British for this work, have now become the perpetrators. Specially the Muslims, Christians and the polity belonging to the
    scheduled caste.

  5. Rather, it has been the persecution of the Savarna (the pre 1921 “Hindoo”)who were merged into a legal fiction of a religion with others by the British and their Pangolin stooges who are responsible for the rise of this “Hindutva” which is nothing to do with Hindutva (i.e. religious plyuralism or genuine secularism)

    This was a systematic, vicious and brilliant plan that the British (Indian Political Service) devised in the Viceregal period following the supercession of the East India Company by the Crown (1858). Delayed by the opposition of Lord Roberts and Curzon, the resumption of “reprisals” under Hardinge, led to wide spread unrest under Chelmsford leading to the implementation of the diabolical Indian Political Service scheme unleashed by Lord Reading.

    After the 1857 mutiny, having had every Brahmin man, woman and child that they could lay hands in the erstwhile Bengal Presidency, Central Provinces, and United Provinces massacred by way of reprisal by their Madrassi, Pathan and Sikh soldiers, the British put together their plan to subjugate India and began the implementation from 1921; Confiscation of Savarna Commonwealth (Temples, treasure etc) in 1923 and expulsion of the Brahmanas from the courts and de recognizing their judicial authority. Distribution of agricultural lands on which guru kulas and temples were dependent to the ryots, Commencement of Daalit Movement (Phule, Ambedkar etc) in the West. Commencement of Draavid movement (EVR Naiker etc) in the South. Subversion of the Sikhs through Kartar and Karag (Sialkot) to commence the Akali movement in the North. Self emasculating pacifism and worship of alien religions and ideologies such as communism (Alan Octavian Hume, Indian National Congress, Gandhi, Nehru) etc etc. This and the pampering of the Deen e Kitabi (Christians and Moslems) as well as Daalits was enshrined in the Indian Constitution condemning India to a perpetual low intensity civil war. They solidified this by confiscating the commonwealth, including temples, educational institutions, gymnasiums, lands, water bodies, religious freedoms and dispossessing their hereditary law and education giving priesthood so that they would become rootless.

    The PANGOLIN*s extended the same policies to residual India including the unfortunate, formerly well governed, Princely States (Vijayanagar Viceregalities or Palegars and Maratha Governorates) such as Mysore, Travancore, Puri, Kohlapur, etc.

    The Government of India Act (1935) which was modified by Sir Maurice Gwyer for Nehru and Ambedkar to plagiarize into the Indian Constitution, and into which they embroidered ideas that they borrowed from George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, such as “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” and “Four legs good, two legs bad”

    A nation locked in the iron maiden of the British Judiciary, Bureaucracy, Police, garnished with self serving politicians, and raised on the gibbet of the Reservations-Extortion Constitution and laws to fall to 135 out of 172 countries (and below Sub-Saharan Africa) in the Global Human and Social Development Index (UNDP – 2016) and 143 rd out of 172 countries in internal Peace and Stability (UNDP – 2016) , home to 30% of the World’s poor (World Bank 2016) and with the highest number of Bomb Blast in the World 2016) pushing Iraq to a lowly second place with just half as many; in just 67 years. India ranks 107 out of 124 countries in corruption free law enforcement and personal security. And in 2018 achieved the distinction of ranking 81 on the list of corrupt countries, ranked from Least Corrupt downwards, and 182 in terms of Freedom of Speech !

    *Note: PANGOLIN: An enemy of India who believes in inequality under law, exceptions to the rule of law and persecution of some for the benefit of others. At present, the sole purpose of the Indian Republic, Constitutional or otherwise, is to pamper and provide for certain constitutionally preferred sections of society who the British found useful to hold and exploit India at the cost of those who the British hated and persecuted. The Pangolin is a creature that is unique to India and feeds on ants that are known in nature to be industrious and hard working if not quite as fruitful as bees who flee to better climes. (PANGOLIN is an acronym for the Periyar-Ambedkar-Nehru-Gandhi-Other (alien) Religions-Communist Consensus that usurped the British Mantle and has worn it with elan to loot, plunder, and rape India since 1921 and re write History and laws to their exclusive benefit since 1947)

  6. I believe it is deeply ingrained in the Hindu psyche to be suspicious of Muslims because of the history of the country. While the historians are not explicit in the horrors that must have followed because of Islamic invasions, the Hindus do guess and have always known. The partition situation is more well known and that was marked by both Muslim and Hindu violence. Violence by Hindus against Muslims is also to be condemned as the religion inherently is accepting and liberal. I would say with every passing generation the communities would learn to live more harmoniously together. However, somewhere still the Hindus believe they are in need of a show of strength which is a defensive strategy, and so the rise of hindutva and bjp.

  7. Present day Muslims can not be held responsible for acts of Muslims of bygone era.

    However Hindus expect Muslims to acknowledge that fact and make token amendment like giving up Babri & Gyanwapi Mosque.

    • if the present day Muslims are not responsible for the actions of their ancestors, why would they oppose the re-construction of the Hindu Mandir’s at Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi ? But for the actions of the Baburs and Ghaznavis and Timurs, there would be no Islam today in South Asia !!!

    • Present day muslim are text book bigots…voted for their Islamic republic never went there, hindoon nay theka lay Rakha hai bhai chare ka hai?

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