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Why Indians Should Be Allowed to Question the 'Great Muslim Conqueror' Theory of History

By: Abhishek Banerjee

Last Updated: May 17, 2022, 16:23 IST

History is full of bitter facts, but we do not run away from them. We do not try to suppress them by means of court orders, writes Abhishek Banerjee (Image: PTI)

History is full of bitter facts, but we do not run away from them. We do not try to suppress them by means of court orders, writes Abhishek Banerjee (Image: PTI)

Why are we not allowed to talk about the pain caused by centuries of humiliation, the destruction of temples, the humiliation of the jizya tax, and ultimately the forced partition of India?

Where do babies come from? We understand if a number of parents have difficulty answering this question when their kids ask them. That is why we have the education system. But what do you do when educators, academics, intellectuals and media have difficulty answering basic questions? Where does Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb come from? Open the doors of Gyanvapi mosque and let everyone see.

No, you can’t look inside Gyanvapi mosque. There is this or that plea pending in the Supreme Court, and various other courts, to stop the videography. Then there is the supposed idea of India, something called places of worship act, this act or that act. If the Church could come back and have that argument with Galileo all over again, they would certainly appreciate our zeal to make facts illegal. You cannot ban history on the basis of ideology.

But we have been trying exactly that. In the seven decades since independence, we have served ourselves with an invented version of history that can only be seen as an insult to the intelligence of the reader. No, the Muslim emperors never destroyed any temples. Except when they did, which could only be for political reasons or economic reasons or military reasons, and never for religious reasons. Even if those emperors gave themselves titles such as destroyer of idols, or killer of infidels, and inscribed these on their swords. They had no clue about what they were doing when they described themselves in their own words. We have to interpret their thoughts for them.

Some of the most obvious lies were indeed taken back, such as the Aryan Invasion Theory. But these were replaced by new, more viciously clever ones. The term “migration” might sound inoffensive. But that is until you find out that they use it as a catch-all expression that includes everyone who came to India from anywhere for any reason, even Mahmud Ghazni. This is not the only place where they use weasel words. The Qutab Minar and the adjoining mosque were built by “using” portions of 27 Hindu and Jain temples in the area. Go to Hampi and you will find a plaque that warns you explicitly that some people see the 1565 Battle of Talikota in which the Deccan Sultans destroyed the Vijayanagara Empire as a religious conflict. But it wasn’t. It was the result of political changes in the Deccan. Imagine the panic over “secularism.”

On the other end, in order to make up for these “political changes” between Hindus and Muslims, they have to invent religious wars between Hindus themselves. Again, the weasel words come in handy. Almost anything could be called a “conflict” between Vaishnavas and Shaivas. Go to any place of historic significance in India and you will realise that our historians have a real problem saying the word “Hindu.” It is always either “Vaishnava” or “Shaiva.” In the most extreme and now most fashionable version of this lie, Hinduism is a religion that was invented in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in order to oppress the backward castes. Who led this conspiracy? Apparently, it was Mahatma Gandhi. Yes, the academic left is crazy and out of control; and always has been.

How do we know that they are lying to us? For one, there is common sense. And also that sometimes the mask slips, and we catch them in the act. For instance, there is a scholar who tried to include in her official university syllabus that there was some connection between Modi, Hindutva and the rioters at the US Capitol on Jan 6, 2021. She did this based on social media rumours. This incident did not affect her standing one bit in the community of historians. She remains to this day a celebrated scholar on the reign of Aurangazeb. If they could falsify events that happened before our very eyes, imagine what they did with Mughal history, or that of ancient India.

Who is allowed to re-examine history?

I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves,” Michelle Obama famously said at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. It caused an uproar at the time. Could it be that the White House, the US Capitol and other cherished symbols of American democracy have slave labour built into them? Then, the historians intervened and said that the answer was yes. The symbolic significance of an African American president now occupying the most prestigious address in America, a mansion once built by slaves, had to be celebrated.

That is how it is supposed to be, all around the world. History is full of bitter facts, but we do not run away from them. We do not try to suppress them by means of court orders. How would an American like to hear that George Washington was a slave owner? But he was, and in fact, Washington happened to treat his slaves with rather exceptional cruelty, even for his time. And America today is still working through that difficult history. African Americans are being allowed to express their pain and work through it. This is how it is around the world now. They are challenging the “Great White Man” narrative of history.

In India, we have what should be called the “Great Muslim Conqueror” version of history. In this narrative, the Hindus are always too passive, squabbling among themselves, and deserving of subjugation, until the great Muslim conqueror comes along, providing unity, strength, greatness and even social justice. Why are the Hindus of India being denied the privilege of re-examining this narrative? Why are we not allowed to talk about the pain caused by centuries of humiliation, the destruction of temples, the humiliation of the jizya tax, and ultimately the forced partition of India?

In India, we have what should be called the “Great Muslim Conqueror” version of history. In this narrative, the Hindus are always too passive, squabbling among themselves, and deserving of subjugation, until the great Muslim conqueror comes along.

The partition was in many ways like the American Civil War, only a thousand times worse. Nearly three million people perished. And unlike the American Civil War where the slave owners lost, the Indian Islamists succeeded in setting up their own apartheid state. All across America, the success of the American Civil War is celebrated. Statues of Confederate generals, who fought on the side of slave owners, are being torn down even today. In India, we cannot even remove a portrait of Jinnah from Aligarh Muslim University, for the sake of sentiments. Whose sentiments? Remember the outcry last year when the Modi government tried to declare August 14 as a day of remembrance for the horrors of partition. Let alone re-examine, we are not even allowed to remember history.

Remember the outcry last year when the Modi government tried to declare August 14 as a day of remembrance for the horrors of partition. Let alone re-examine, we are not even allowed to remember history.

History has always been political

I must have been in the fourth or fifth grade when I heard about Savarkar. The mention of his name was accompanied by the information that he wrote mercy petitions to the British government. This is not surprising. In our public discourse, the name “Savarkar” has become inextricably linked with “mercy petition.” It is repeated ad nauseum by the media, historians and politicians.

But it was only a few years ago that I learned about how Nehru signed a bond in 1923 to get himself out of Nabha jail in Punjab. This was after his father tapped his connections with the Viceroy who got in touch with the local king of Nabha. Nehru promised never to return to the princely state, and he was freed. He had spent just under two weeks in jail in what he said were “harsh” conditions. One cannot but wonder how Nehru would have fared in an infamous prison such as Andaman Cellular Jail. And how come the British never sent the great freedom fighter to Kalapani?

But most of all, one would wonder why this embarrassing episode in the life of India’s first Prime Minister is so little known. The answer is simple. Those in charge of our history were fond of Nehru (or like the Communists, were beholden to him) but despised Savarkar. History has always been political. It has always been about how the present looks at the past. And when people change their minds, the way they look at the past also changes.

History has always been political. It has always been about how the present looks at the past. And when people change their minds, the way they look at the past also changes.

“Don’t rewrite history,” has been the rallying cry of liberals ever since India made a choice in the 2014 General Election. This suits them very well because they wrote the existing version of it. Facts always remain facts. But which facts make it to public knowledge always depends on who is writing history. For instance, they always tell you that Golwalkar praised Hitler in the 1930s. They never tell you that the Soviet Union was a military ally of Nazi Germany for the first two years of the Second World War. Did they tell you that the Catholic Church was a supporter of Mussolini? Or that the Catholic Church helped Nazis escape from Germany after the war was over? This included the most infamous Nazis such as Adolf Eichmann, one of the main organizers of the holocaust.

Or would they tell you that the New York Times, the great fountainhead of liberalism, was at the forefront of covering up the holocaust? Yes, the Berlin correspondent of the New York Times in the 1930s was a Nazi sympathiser named Guido Enderis. This uncomfortable fact does not seem to come up very much, whether in India or abroad. So while the military allies of Hitler (the Communists), his political allies (the Catholic Church) and his media allies (the New York Times) got their records wiped clean, the so-called Hindutva forces are left carrying the blame for Nazism!

One of the most interesting examples of this came up a few years ago when Indians on social media began objecting to the use of the term “swastika” for the hated Nazi emblem. It turns out that Hitler had never used the term himself. But when it was time to translate the original German term “hakenkreuz,” the historians decided that simply calling it a “hooked cross” in English would be too difficult for people around the world to understand. So they decided to use “swastika” instead. Who says Sanskrit is a dead language?

Nazism owes nothing to any part of the Western tradition, be it German or not, Catholic or Protestant, Christian, Greek or Roman,” wrote Hannah Arendt, one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century and an icon of the left. So the West has wiped its own slate clean when it comes to the origins of Nazism. However, you can find Hannah Arendt’s famous work The Banality of Evil quoted by numerous mainstream left-wing outlets to suggest comparisons between Modi’s India and Hitler’s Germany. And we are supposed to trust these people to give a fair account of Indian history.

Only those with liberal privilege are allowed to revisit history

In the US, the New York Times is currently leading a high prestige effort known as the “1619 Project.” Why the year 1619? Because it was in 1620 that the pilgrims from the Mayflower landed at Plymouth rock and set up their colony in Massachusetts. This is the origin myth of the United States as taught to millions of American schoolchildren. An all-white group of audacious sea-farers from England, who make a voyage across the ocean to begin a new life in a land where they will have liberty, justice and freedom.

The New York Times wants to challenge this narrative. In their view, the real history of the United States should begin in 1619, when the first African slaves were brought to work in the colony of Virginia. The outcome of this research project is to prepare a blueprint for schools across the country. Thus, the new history of the United States will put racial injustice at the center of everything.

What if we Hindus asked for something similar? What if we wanted atrocities committed by Muslim empires to be placed at the core of modern Indian history? That would make us “communal” and “fascist.” But why?

You cannot miss the obvious here. The common thread between the New York Times, the Obamas and everyone else around the world who has a license to revisit history is that of liberal privilege. There are groups of young radicals all across North America (and in Britain) right now who are bringing down statues of colonists, confederate generals, or anyone they see as an imperialist. Would similar actions by Hindus be acceptable? We know that Christopher Columbus set sail in 1492. What if Indian Hindus wanted to demolish something built by an oppressor say from 1526? Would they be okay with it?

We know the answer is no. Does anyone remember the outcry when a statue of Lenin was destroyed in Agartala after the BJP won the 2018 election in Tripura? The two-tier system when it comes to dealing with history and historical figures is clear. Those with liberal privilege can do anything. For everyone else, there is the idea of India.

The indigenous faiths stand up for justice

The Hindu-Muslim binary in India cannot just be looked at in isolation. There is a larger story of injustice here, which has been unfolding across the world for millennia. It is the suppression of indigenous, so-called “pagan” faiths, by Abrahamic religions such as Christianity or Islam. The Hindu religion is one among numerous faith traditions that used to be common across the ancient world, from the ancient Egyptians, to the Greeks, the Romans, even the Aztecs of Central America and the aboriginal people of Australia. The Hindus worship forces of nature, the masculine and the feminine, the seasons and trees and rivers that give life to this land. But one by one, these cultures fell, and were wiped out by the onslaught of Christianity or Islam.

This is a rebirth. Around the world, the remnants of indigenous faiths have been standing up to reclaim their place in history. In Canada, in the United States, in Australia, they are looking for the graves of children stolen by the church and held for conversion to Christianity. The skeletons are tumbling out of the closet, almost literally. From national monuments to workplaces in modern cities, they are acknowledging how the land of the ancient nations was annexed, and the people subjugated. This applies even to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, where the faces of America’s greatest presidents are carved in solid rock on the mountainside.

The conversion of people from indigenous faiths to Abrahamic religions, whether by direct or indirect means, has always been a form of imperialism. But for some reason, the Hindus of India are expected not to know and never to talk about the symbols of subjugation built upon their land. They are not even allowed to set their eyes upon them, not see what is inside, let alone document or make videos of anything.

But what about ‘Whatsapp University’?

For all the ways in which Hindus are insulted and mocked for asking questions, there is one last arrow in the quiver. Believe what the liberals tell you, or you must be from “Whatsapp University.” Yes, we are, so what?

In fact, the so-called “Whatsapp University” is like a black market for information. It exists because we know that the official channels are heavily censored by the liberal elite. You would have never told me about Nehru signing that bond to get out of Nabha jail. so I picked it up on the “black market.” Show me what exactly I did wrong.

Much like your heavily censored official channels, the black market sometimes gets things wrong. For instance, I have a feeling that the search for a Hindu temple inside the Taj Mahal is likely misguided. But that’s okay. Remember the prestigious 1619 project by the New York Times? They got a whole lot wrong as well, such as saying that the American revolution was a war to protect slavery. They corrected it and picked themselves up. So stop dismissing everything you don’t like as “Whatsapp University” and let the “Great Muslim Conqueror” theory of Indian history be challenged in the mainstream. The exaggerations and half-truths found on social media will die a natural death.

Here’s to history! It will remain alive only when we are allowed to constantly re-examine everything. Keep asking questions.

Abhishek Banerjee is an author and columnist. He tweets @AbhishBanerj. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.

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first published:May 17, 2022, 16:16 IST
last updated:May 17, 2022, 16:23 IST