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Fact Check: Historian Trolled for Claiming Mughals Brought Rakhi to India Never Actually Said it

A claim that the mughals brough Rkahi to India, attributed to historian Rana Safvi, has been circulating on social media | Image credit: Twitter

A claim that the mughals brough Rkahi to India, attributed to historian Rana Safvi, has been circulating on social media | Image credit: Twitter

In December 2018, a newspaper published an article with an excerpt from Rana Safvi's book with a misleading headline. The erroneous article has since gone viral on social media.

Raksha Bandhan is meant to be a day of love and camaraderie where loved ones offer protection to their family and friends. But for Delhi-based historian Rana Safvi, the last few years of the festival have been nothing but full of pestilential abuse and trolling. All for a mistake that she never committed.

While Rakhi festivities remained low key this year due to the coronavirus, misinformation and divisiveness on the internet peaked.

It all began when a Twitter account called 'True Indology' that is known for making controversial statements on the microblogging site mounted an attack on historian Rana Safvi about an old article that appeared in the Hindustan Times in December 2018 following the release of her book 'City of My Heart'.

The tweet referred to Safvi as an "eminent historian" who was spreading "blatant lies" about the origin of Raksha Bandhan.

The article was titled, "How Mughal Delhi Gave Birth to Raksha Bandhan" and delved into a story about Mughal emperor Alamgir II in 1759 who was ambushed and killed by his wazir Gazhi ud-Din Khan Feroze Jung - III.

The story goes that the wazir lured the king to the Jama Masjid in Feroz Shah Kotla, killed him, and threw his body into the river. A Hindu woman found the body of the emperor floating along the river the next day and retrieved it. The woman allegedly guarded Alamgir's body until his coterie arrived and he was buried in Humayun's tomb. To honour the woman, the emperor's successor declared the woman his sister. From then on, on the festival of Raksha Bandhan - which the Mughal referred to as Salona - the Hindu woman would come to the Mughal court to tie a Rakhi to the Mughal king and receive gifts in return.

This account first appeared in a book called Bazm-e-Akhir written by a Mughal courtier Munshi Faizuddin in 1885. Safvi translated the book in 2018 and the Hindustan Times article was published soon after. The article, however, misquoted Safvi in the headline and the blurb which read, "not many know that Raksha Bandhan is actually a Mughal festival that originated in the heart of Delhi".

"It was an error on the part of the publisher. The headline and the blurb was not written by me. The Mughals did not "bring" Raksha Bandhan to India, they embraced the festival. If anything, the story only highlights how Hindu traditions were often embraced by Mughal rulers," Safvi tells News18 in a phone conversation.

The historian clarified that when the 2018 article came out with the misrepresenting headline, she instantly wrote to the editor of the paper and had a correction issued. The paper ran a corrected version of the story with a fresh headline a blurb, "How the Mughal Court Embraced Raksha Bandhan".

The corrected blurb read, "Shah alam II began the practice of celebrating Salona (Raksha Bandhan) to honour a Hindu woman".

Despite the correction, trolls have not left Safvi alone and have for the second year dug up the erroneous article to malign Safvi. Trolls called her a liar and a fraud and also made communal attacks on her. Mughals, in fact, became one of the top trends on Twitter in Delhi.

"I know why they do it. On social media, I always highlight instances of communal harmony, of the shared culture between Hindus and Muslims in India which dates back to hundreds of years. This irritates many far-right sections on the internet who have made it their agenda to spread fake news and malign intellectuals and scholars," Safvi said.

This is not the only issue that Safvi is trolled for on the internet.

A few days ago when the Masjid Mubarak Begum built-in 1822 was damaged by lightning and heavy rain in Delhi, Safvi was trolled for sharing the story of its namesake courtesan Mubarak Begum in whose honour the mosque was built. Many blamed her for being in approval of the speculated forced conversions of Hindu girls into Islam that took place in the Mughal era and would continue to this day if it remained unchecked.

"They think I want to convert everyone and everything to Islam including history," the historian chuckles.

But the problem of lack of safeguards against trolls on social media is not just one faced by Safvi alone. Several academics, especially women, who are unafraid to raise their voice against misinformation and abuse are repeatedly targeted by trolls on Twitter. Professor Audrey Truschke who authored 'Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India's Most Controversial King' is often at the receiving end of vitriolic trolling and misinformation campaigns on Twitter.

Unlike Truschke, however, who is always on the front foot when it comes to dealing with trolls, Safvi has so far taken a softer stance. Until now.

"So far I used to just clarify the misinformation, if any, and let the trolls continue with whatever they are doing. But now it's getting out of hand," a concerned Safvi said.

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