The more things change in India, the more they remain the same. These words came to my mind when I met an official heading a top social sciences institute in New Delhi. When I asked him how things have changed in the last eight years in the field of social sciences and research, he, visibly satisfied, started looking for a file on his table. “Two of our recent research works have been acknowledged and appreciated by an institution affiliated with the United Nations,” he said, with his face brimming with pride. He continued to list out other ‘achievements’, which among other things included a couple of research fellows getting selected for the Fulbright Scholar Program!
United Nations… Fulbright… These are all wonderful, but are we doing anything to counter the narrative that mars India and its traditions? Is there any research being done on challenging the colonial-missionary, Marxist-Nehruvian binaries that divide India and Indians through region, religion, caste, gender, race, history, politics, culture? He smiled and asked if I would like to have tea or coffee. I preferred green tea and soon bade him goodbye.
Distraught, I called up a former Delhi University professor. He listened to my complaints, and said, “Oh, you are unnecessarily worried.” He ended his monologue with the oft-repeated Iqbal couplet: “Kucch baat hai ki hasti mitati nahin hamari/ Sadion se raha dushman, daur-e-zaman hamara!”
Hasti mitati nahin hamari? Really! For a civilisation that lost almost a third of its landmass in the last 100 years, more than it could lose in over a millennium is talking so self-assuredly. Hindus fought hard for every inch till the British became the masters of the subcontinent. No doubt, they lost… they retreated. But they invariably came back to reclaim the lost ground. The brave ancestors of today’s Hindus refused to give up. Unlike what some of our eminent historians would like us to believe, Hindus and Hinduism didn’t survive because the Sultanate rulers and Mughals were liberals. They survived because it was logistically impossible to fight and force into submission a sea of humanity that appeared wave-like, one after another, simply refusing to give in and give up.
The nation is yet to realise the magnitude of the loss in 1947. The Nehruvian dispensation, gung ho on Western secularism, failed to see, from the civilisational perspective, the sudden squeezing of India’s boundaries from the Durand Line to the Redcliffe Line, and a “Chicken’s Neck” being created in the east waiting for a halal-like execution on the choosing of the jihadis. And the Right-wing kept itself mesmerised in the ‘Akhand Bharat’ fantas
Not just the alien and alienating secularism but also the outlandish idea of militant non-violence threatened to genetically deform Hindus forever. A historically flippant idea of Hindus being obsessively non-violent people was injected into their veins. The fact is Hindus under British colonial rule were forced to shed their martial nature. It was a win-win proposition for the British, who could convince everyone about their armed invincibility. And it ensured the Congress is given the credit for India’s Independence when even a slight scratching of the events of the 1940s would suggest its role in all this was, to use then British prime minister Clement Attlee’s expression, “M-I-N-I-M-A-L”. By the early 1930s, the British had mastered the art of handling the Gandhian satyagraha: At the first sign of protest, arrest the top Congress leadership, and let the movement die its natural death!
Just like Nehruvian secularism, making a cult out of non-violence was one of the biggest frauds committed against Hinduism. The British first unarmed the Hindu civilians. And then the colonial-Nehruvian-Marxist intellectuals made a virtue out of it, little realising that it was against the basic civilisational tenet of the Sanatana Dharma, which categorically called for the balance: Obsessive and excessive non-violence was the worst form of violence. Meekly avoiding dharmayuddha was adharma in the Indic scheme of things.
This fraud continues unabated in mainstream history textbooks. So, when we read India’s history, we seem to be jumping through time and spaces — from Gupta to Harsha to Palas, Pratiharas and Rashtrakuta, with the Cholas getting a cursory mention in history’s footnotes. The same pattern is repeated while recording the lootings and massacres of Muslim invaders. It begins with Mohammed bin Qasim attacking India in 712 AD. This is followed by the macabre raids of Mahmud of Ghazni in the early 11th century, climaxing in the plunder of the Somnath temple in 1025 AD. And, finally, the invasion of Mohammed Ghori in 1191 and again 1192. This bits-and-pieces information is what makes for India’s history after the ‘golden’ Gupta period. The idea is to suggest, without saying in as many words, that Indians meekly capitulated to the Islamic attacks.
Even colonial historian Vincent Smith could see through the fallacy of this kind of historiography. He writes in The Oxford History of India: “…But no voice has come from the grave, and the history of the Muhammadan conquest as seen from the Hindu point of view was never written, except to some extent in Rajputana”. And this becomes all the more obvious when one realises that Mohammed bin Qasim’s wasn’t the first Muslim attack on India. Almost half-a-dozen attacks, including through waters, had taken place in the seventh century, and they were singularly unsuccessful.
In sharp contrast to this, by 650 AD, the armies of Islam had overrun the entire landmass comprising today’s West Asia, which included the great Sassanid Empire of Persia, and a large part of Central Asia, including Inner Mongolia, Bukhara and Samarkand. Worse, the victory wasn’t just political but also cultural and religious. Almost all traces of pre-Islamic cultural and civilisational footprints were wiped out forever. In fact, by the time Mohammed bin Qasim was gearing up to invade King Dahir of Sindh in 712 AD, the Islamic forces had succeeded in breaching the Spanish and Portuguese walls.
Within five years of Prophet Mohammed’s death, the armies of Islam had set their eyes on Al-Hind, as India was referred to in the Arab world. Yet, repeated attempts only got them humiliation and defeats. So much so that the first four Caliphs of Islam died without hearing a single victory in Sindh, let alone in Al-Hind. In all this, the Battle of Kikan, fought in 662 AD, holds a special place. In this battle, fought at the Bolan Pass, a small army of local Jats defeated quite comprehensively a much bigger and superior Arab army. On this massive victory, which unfortunately doesn’t find space even in the footnotes of most Indian history textbooks, RC Majumdar writes in The History and Culture of the Indian People, Vol 3, “The Bolan Pass was protected by the brave Jats of Kikan or Kikanan… If there had been a history of India written without prejudices and predilections, the heroic deeds of these brave people, who stemmed the tide of Islam for two centuries, would certainly have received the recognition they so richly deserve.”
Though we are often reminded of Mohammed bin Qasim’s successes in Sindh, what is quietly sidestepped is the fact that these successes were short-lived. By the 10th century, Arab travellers to India would mention only two small Arab principalities in India — Multan and Mansurah. Interestingly, these two tiny states could survive, especially the assault of the unrelenting Pratiharas who were hell-bent on getting back the sacred Hindu city and its famous idol of the Sun God, through indulging in ‘non-Islamic’ acts. The 10th century Arab traveller Abu Ishaq al-istakhri writes, “When the Indians make war upon (Multan) and endeavour to seize the idol, the (Mussalmans) bring it out, pretending that they will break it and burn it. Upon this the infidels will retire, otherwise they would destroy Multan.”
So, an idol saved one of the two Muslim principalities in India. Sandeep Balakrishna, in his book Invaders and Infidels, quotes historian Ram Gopal Mishra as writing: “Thus after three centuries of unremitting effort, we find the Arab dominion in India limited to two petty states of Multan and Mansurah. And here too, they could exist only after renouncing their iconoclastic zeal and utilising the idols for their own political ends. It is a very strange sight to see them seeking shelter behind the very 'budds' they came here to destroy.”
In fact, it took almost 500 years for a Muslim Sultanate to get a foothold in Delhi and, as Balakrishna writes eloquently, “for almost a full century after it was established, the Sultanate made no new additions to its territory in mainland India”. Balakrishna continues, “From 1206 to 1526, it comprised a total of five dynasties, with only one powerful sultan emerging from each dynasty… Each such dynasty inevitably became extinct within a few years of the death of its most powerful sultan.”
The same phenomenon, though to a varying degree, is perceptible during the Mughal era too when the ‘empire’ looked shaky till Akbar made the strategic alliance with the Rajputs — and the moment Aurangzeb went back to the old Islamic ways, the empire collapsed like a pack of cards. Aurangzeb died in 1707 AD and within 50 years the Mughal ‘empire’ found itself confined to the area from “Delhi to Palam”!
This, however, doesn’t mean all was good with the Indic civilisation then. It definitely showed a chink in its armour which allowed the invaders to sneak in and cause unprecedented havoc. But Indians didn’t lose war because they were not brave enough. They lost because they were just too brave enough. It was the Prithviraj phenomenon that pushed them to the precipice of defeat. First, Hindus didn’t really know their new enemy well. These invaders were unlike the invaders of the past: The Hindu ethics of war were vastly different from the Islamic if there were one among the latter. Traditionally, Hindus preferred what was referred to as Dharmavijayi (where the vanquished ruler is allowed to retain his kingdom by acknowledging the formal suzerainty of the victor). The other two modes of warfare were: Lobhavijayi (where the conqueror takes away the wealth of the defeated ruler but spares his life) and Asuravijayi (where the vanquished also loses his life). The Hindu system of warfare held Asuravijayi as the most contemptible form of warfare.
The war methods pursued by Muslim invaders were invariably worse off than even the Asuravijayi form of Hindu warfare. Could Hindus have fought them with this idealistic way of warfare? For a Muslim invader, the end mattered the most. Hindus, little realising the nature of their new adversary, kept obsessively focusing as much on the means as on the ends. Prithviraj Chauhan made that vital mistake when he let Ghori escape in 1191. Ghori came back a year later better prepared and with a bigger army — and the rest is history.
India’s tragedy is it’s still awaiting its history to be told from its own perspective. Unfortunately, it remains a distant dream despite a nationalist government in power at the Centre for the past eight years. The current dispensation seems to be preoccupied with tending to the physical aspect of the nation and nationhood, which is a good thing otherwise. But without the mind being released from the confines of coloniality, a healthy body may mean very little. And, for all the resources being allocated and spent in the name of scholarship, Indians may still be looking Westward for legitimacy and that occasional pat on the back. United Nations… Fulbright…