Poisoning minds

by AG Noorani | Published at 12:00am on January 24, 2021

IN AN excellent review of the great Mughal emperor Babar’s memoir, The Babarnama, published in a leading English daily in India, the reviewer recommended that such works of the Mughal era be taught in Indian schools and colleges. He was running bravely against a powerful tide which the British rulers of India let loose in the 19th century and Indian revivalists swam merrily with that tide.

Indian Civil Service cadets were raised on James Mill’s notorious The History of British India. He divided India’s history into Hindu, Muslim and British rules. Mughal rule was Muslim rule though they settled down as Indians, married Hindu wives and had Hindus in high positions in the army and administration. The work had a lasting and baleful effect.

The secret will of Babar to Humayun, his son and successor, is illuminating. It read: ‘Oh Son! The kingdom of India is full of different religions. Praised be God that He bestowed upon thee its sovereignty. It is incumbent on thee to wipe all religious prejudices off the tablet of thy heart, administer justice according to the ways of every religion.…

‘Do not ruin the temples and shrines of any community which is obeying the laws of government. Administer justice in such a manner that the king be pleased with the subjects and the subjects with the king. The cause of Islam can be promoted more by the sword of obligation than by the sword of tyranny.’

This document alone suffices to provide a telling instance of abuse of history for the sordid ends of politics. The Babri Masjid built by Babar’s general, Mir Baqi was demolished on December 6, 1992. Muslims were abused as ‘Babar ki aulad’ (Babar’s offspring) by RSS goons. People were indoctrinated for decades with the RSS brand of history, including in the US.

In March 2006, The Times of India carried an article by India’s highly respected Romila Thapar and Michael Witzel, professor of history at Harvard University. Excerpts have been reproduced here. They reported how the California State Board of Education had ‘to ask the community for suggestions in regard to the updating of school textbooks. Ominously unscientific, religious-based materials thus received may now be presented as historical facts. Remarkably, in this case, the religious fundamentalists are not Christian but Hindu. Initially, the goals of these pressure groups seem benign and even righteous.…

‘However, agendas being pushed are oddly familiar. The first Indian civilisation is 1,900 million years old, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are historical texts to be understood literally, and ancient Hindu scriptures contain precise calculations of the speed of light and exact distances between planets in the solar system.…

‘California has a large Indian American population and one of the largest school systems in the country. Changes made there have immediate repercussions for school systems across the whole country.…

‘Hindu Americans have a legitimate right to a fair and culturally sensitive representation in public school curricula. However, no one has a right to distort the truth and push their own political agendas at the expense of schoolchildren.’

Aurangzeb fared no better. Roads in New Delhi are named after each Mughal emperor. Aurangzeb Road has been renamed after a sarkari Muslim who was made president by the BJP: APJ Abdul Kalam. Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s magnificent bungalow stood at 10 Aurangzeb Road. Audrey Truschke’s book, Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth is based on primary sources, analysed objectively. A vicious campaign was mounted against her by the goons of the Sangh Parivar.

The author wrote: ‘Shivaji welcomed Muslims within his army; he had qazis… on his payroll, and Muslims ranked among some of his top commanders. Mughal alliances and the imperial army were similarly diverse, and… Aurangzeb sent a Hindu, Jai Singh, to besiege Shivaji at Purandar. Modern suggestions that Rajputs and Marathas who resisted Mughal rule thought of themselves as ‘Hindus’ defying ‘Muslim’ tyranny are just that: modern. Neither Mughal nor Maratha writers shied away from religiously tinged rhetoric in narrating this clash…. But, on the ground, a thirst for political power drove both the opposition to Aurangzeb’s rule and the Mughal response.’

The Modi government packed the Indian Council of Historical Record and the National Book Trust. In the changed clime, RSS ideologue Dina Nath Batra reportedly said he wanted to ‘saffronise’ education in India. ‘I am working for saffronisation of education in the whole country and I want to complete it at the earliest,’ said Batra, who had forced the pulping of distinguished American scholar Wendy Doniger’s book on the Hindus. ‘Let us teach the world about the contribution of our experts and expertise towards global growth.’ The environment speaks for itself.

 

Dawn.com, January 23. AG Noorani is an author and lawyer based in Mumbai.