Can we just wish away our past?

In the light of the recent controversial remarks made by a BJP legislator in Uttar Pradesh -- calling the Taj Mahal a blot on Indian culture and terming Mughal rulers “traitors”, demanding that their names be removed from the pages of history — one must understand that history cannot be written as per the whims and fancies of a few politicians.

History is a record of past events through the ages, based on archaeological and literary sources, chronologically arranged by a historian pursuing a methodology that comprises collection of data, critical examination, synthesis and, finally, exposition. Discovery, collection and interpretation of evidences are great challenges the historians face, particularly in writing Indian history due to its multi-dimensional and multi-ethnic aspects.

In tracing India’s history through the ages to the present era, the time-line is categorised into ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary periods. While ancient Indian history pertains to the Vedic and Epic ages and the splendid political ideas and institutions initiated by great dynasties, starting with the Mauryas, the medieval epoch begins in the 12th century, with Muslim invasions into India.

Those invasions began with Mahmud of Ghazni, who launched repeated expeditions into India from Afghanistan, but it was Muhammad of Ghor, who firmly planted Muslim rule in India after he defeated Prithiviraj Chauhan in the second Battle of Tarain in 1192, leading to the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate and eventually the Mughal dynasty, which lasted right up to the time the British gained mastery of India.

If this entire period of Muslim kings and emperors is deleted from our history, wouldn’t it leave a huge void between the 12th century and the advent of the Europeans in the 15th century? Even the British ravaged India for nearly 200 years. The Indian economy bore the brunt of the British quest for supremacy as Dadabhai Naoroji recorded in his book “Poverty and UnBritish Rule in India”, in which he first proposed the “Drain” theory, tracking the flow of wealth from India to England in different forms.

If British Imperialism continues to be an important chapter in modern Indian history, why and how can the period of Muslim rule over India be simply expunged from our history books?

Among the Mughals, Akbar was a benevolent monarch who tried to establish unity amongst different faiths and founded his own version of a universal religion, Din-Ilahi, for this purpose. History also recognises the autocratic rule of Aurangzeb, who had subjugated his subjects, particularly the non-Muslims.

Similarly, while the policies of a few British governors, like William Bentick, in the domain of social reform, and Charles Wood’s Despatch in the educational sphere  helped push India onto the progressive path, Lord Curzon’s repressive measure of Partition of Bengal (1905) sowed the seeds of communal venom, paving the way for discord between the Hindu and Muslim communities.

Therefore, whether it was the Muslim rulers or the British colonialists, both had their own effects on the course of Indian history. Both came as foreign invaders, exploited Indian wealth but, in the course, have also influenced Indian culture deeply and became a part of it. It’s impossible to simply wish this truth away.

Rich legacy

As we scroll back the pages of history, a rich heritage of ancient India and her incredible legacy unravels, in various facets of life — Yoga, Ayurveda are unique gifts to the physical and mental health of man, as also the great works of Charaka and Sushrutha in medicine, or Aryabhatta in Mathematics and Astronomy; the universities of Nalanda and Takshashila, which attracted a number of foreigners, testified to the spiritual and intellectual triumph of the India of those times. Sanskrit, which had become the lingua-franca of the time, influenced the development of many regional languages.

During the medieval age, the Persian language became important under Muslim rule and, finally, under the British, English became the prime language and continues to thrive to this day. Through all this, a composite culture has evolved. The historical monuments that belong to distinct past ages are wonderful specimens of artistic excellence. Taj Mahal is one of them. Despite a few administrators being despotic, Indians through the ages have always developed a spirit of tolerance.

Let not today’s political leaders belittle that spirit and inject communal venom into society. By intruding into the domain of historical facts through their irrational statements, they are only seeking to escalate needless controversies and create havoc.

Our constitution, the present socio-economic conditions, and the effects of globalisation have minimised our religious and caste differences to an extent. Indians (Hindus) believe in the concept of ‘Sarve janaha sukhino bavanthu’, meaning, let all people be happy. Let us take pride in our belief system and uphold the glory of the nation.

(The writer is Lecturer, Department of History, St Claret’s Pre-University College)
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