Muslim Rule, Hindu
Diaspora and India?
Arguing her case for rewriting of history and discussing the role of the
Indian Diaspora in her article "One Nation's Many Pasts" (Hindustan
Times, March 1, 2004), Romila Thapar states that the first exposition of
the notion of Muslims being foreign to India is found in James Mill's
History of British India, published in the early 19th century.
"He periodised Indian history into Hindu civilisation, Muslim
civilisation and the British period and argued for the antagonism
between the first two and maintained that the Muslims were aliens. His
history became a hegemonic history. Colonial policy was directed towards
emphasising the oppression of the Hindu by the Muslim in the past in
order to prove that the Hindu was rescued by the coming of the British.
Such history can hardly be regarded as indigenous when it was in effect
derived from colonial readings of Indian history" -- Thapar went on to
Romila Thapar has gone to extremes when she says Muslims were not
foreign to India and there was no antagonism between the Hindus and the
Muslims till the British wrote Indian history books calling the Muslims
Muslims today form a large percentage of India's population -- even a
larger percentage if one was talking of British India -- but no one,
including the Muslims, will claim that Islam is indigenous to India. A
large presence of Islam in India does not make it of Indian origin. The
same is true of the Muslims. Before the Muslims came to India from
foreign countries, there were hardly any local converts to Islam.
The first presence of Muslims was due to traders from Arabia on the West
Coast. This was rather minuscule. First large presence of Muslims
occurred in Sind after it was invaded by Muhammad bin Kasim from Iraq.
This occupation did not last long. Then after Ghaznavid invasions parts
of the Punjab came under Muslim rule permanently. But this did not
result in any massive Muslim immigration or Muslim population. Large
percentage of those converted forcefully returned to their native
The main spurt in Muslim population of India was primarily due to mass
migration after Muslim rule had been established in parts of India
following the Ghurid invasions.
Read any book written by any contemporary Muslim chronicler, and you
will find wave after wave of Muslims -- not counting the hordes that
came to invade and plunder -- migrating to India specially after Muslim
rule was established.
A Muslim scholar S A A Rizvi records it thus: "Soon after the Ghurid
empire was established in Delhi, the exodus of scholars and holy men
from Central Asia and Iran after the fall of Muslim powers to the Mongol
barbarians made Delhi the strongest eastern Islamic capital, the city
medieval scholars loved to call the Qubbatu'i Islam (Cupola of Islam) (A
History of Sufism in India, Rizvi, vol. 1 pp. 134)
of all kind of Muslims continued for centuries. Even as late as
eighteenth century most of the top posts in Muslim administration were
held either by fresh Muslims from Arabia, Iran and Central Asia or the
progeny of recent arrivals. For most part immigrant Muslim soldiers
formed the Muslim army. Reading contemporary history, one rarely comes
across a Hindu name. It was only relatively later that local Hindus were
part of it. Even the local converts to Islam did not have much to share
in top administration jobs.
Ibn Batuta mentions how new arrivals from abroad were met by the
representatives of Tughlaq at the border near Multan and news sent to
the Sultan as to who has entered the borders. Muslims from abroad were
given choice posts depending upon their credentials and genealogy.
Thapar goes on to question: Should the medieval period be called Islamic
It is not the British but the Muslims themselves who described their
administration as Islamic.
How does Babur record his victory?
"By the help of our victorious soldiers the standard of Islam have been
raised to the highest pinnacle." Then he goes on to describe the fight
with Rana Sanga. He repeatedly calls his army as "army of Islam" and
after he had renounced drinking wine, he issued a decree "abolishing
throughout all the territories the tax on Mussulmans, noting though its
yield was more than the dreams of avarice, and though it had been
established and maintained by former rulers".
Babur was not unique. Almost every Muslim ruler called his rule Islamic
and ruled according to Islamic Sharia.
Thapar would like her readers to believe that there was no oppression of
the Hindus by the Muslim rulers or any animosity between the two.
It is common wisdom that the sufis represent the kinder, gentler and
tolerant face of Islam.
Let us see what even sufis had to say about how the Hindus should be
Saiyid Nurud-Din Mubarak Ghaznavi was a khalifa of Shaikh Sihabuddin
Suhrawardi -- the pioneer of Suhrawardi silsila of Sufis. Sultan
Iltumish appointed him Shaikhu'l Islam and he was called by the people
of the city, Mir-i-Dihli (Lord of Delhi).
His principles for the protection of Islam were:
* Promote Sharia
* Uproot kufr, shirk and idolatry
* If they cannot do it, the they should make every effort to disgrace
and humiliate the Hindus, mushriks and idolaters
* They should not tolerate the sight of Hindus, and in particular they
should exterminate the Brahmins, who are the leaders of the heretics and
disseminators of heresy.
* They should not allow the kafirs to lead an honorable life or assign
them high office.
(A History of Sufism in India by SAA Rizvi, vol. 1, pp. 194)
Treatment of Hindus by most Muslim rulers was along the lines
recommended above and Caliph Omar's well-known covenant with the
dhimmies, if not worse.
Given the condition of the Hindus under the Muslim hegemony, actually,
there may be some truth to rescue of the Hindu by the coming of the
Much has been made of the composite culture of India. This so called
composite culture actually never existed. Whatever little hope for this
"composite culture" was, lie cremated in the communal fires of
partition. Jinnah, the Father of Pakistan had the right angle on this
issue when he said "the history of the past 1200 years has failed to
achieve Hindu Muslim unity and has witnessed, during the ages, India
always divided into Hindu India and Muslim India."
He called the Muslims a nation by any definition.
Jinnah's view of the British role in India was also opposite to one held
by Thapar. He believed that whatever Hindu Muslim unity existed was
artificial and dates back only to the British conquest and was
maintained by the British bayonet. He saw the British as a unifying
force -- not a dividing force.
When did the Muslims become part of India is difficult to understand?
Hindus and Muslims did not form one nation in 1947. Have they become one
nation since then? Looking at Kashmir and the imbroglio over the
Ramjanmabhumi temple and Babri structure, a logical person would have
hard time in believing this.
Romila Thapar seems to be somewhat disturbed by the role being played by
the Hindu Diaspora in the debate now going on about Indian history.
Truly speaking, the Hindu Diaspora is not alone in this debate. They
have a healthy cooperation from their counterpart in India. In fact,
they are playing only a secondary role. The main players are in India.
The Hindu Diaspora, she asserts is seeking "a bonding and an identity.
This is sought to be derived from religious nationalism, and therefore
the Hindu past has to be viewed - consistently and uniformly - as a
golden age, and no critique is allowed."
But she seems to miss the point. For some decades -- almost a century
now --- the true nature of History has been distorted in India. The
Hindu Diaspora is looking for truth in history -- not only of the Hindu
past but also of the Muslim rule. To accuse them of "no critique is
allowed" is denying reality. If anything, the Hindu Diaspora -- being
legacy of Hinduism -- loves, it is critique. Without their faculty of
critique they would not be where they are today. They are not driven by
religious nationalism, if this is the term one prefers to use -- it is
their search for truth that leads them there.
Thapar accuses the Hindu Diaspora of "virulent attacks on scholars who
do not support religious nationalism. They are described as
'Communists'". The Hindu Diaspora is not interested in the narrow
religious or nationalist constraints. The Hindu Diaspora is very happy
with its global identity. And it is the "scholars" who subscribe to
Marxist interpretation of history who call themselves 'Communists'. Not
only that it, is these "scholars" who call those who do not subscribe to
their "Marxist interpretation of history" as "Hindu nationalists".
I fully agree when Thapar writes: "There now has to be an awareness of
the need to monitor curriculum procedures and the quality of textbooks,
with a constant effort to keep the discussion on these open and active.
At the same time, the universe of discourse on Indian history and the
human sciences, among academics both in India and outside, will have to
be maintained through protecting the right to free _expression."
Let us cut through the chase of name calling and present history without
bias -- Marxist or otherwise. Let history be what it is supposed to be.
Let history not become political football.