(These articles appeared in the weekly Organiser and invited some comments from the readers, particularly Dr. K.K. Mittal with whom I developed almost a debate spread over several issues of the weekly. I discovered that Dr. Mittal had equated Islam with Urdu poetry with which he happened to be in love. The following questions from Sindhu, the pseudonym used by the editor, Shri K.R. Malkani, and the answers I gave are relevant to this book.)
Any Silver Lining?
(Sindhu, New Delhi)
I have been following the Sitaram Goel series - and the Goel-Mittal Debate - with much interest.
I agree with the intent of both, Shri Goel and Shri Mittal.
Shri Sitaram is only recapitulating recorded history. But the account makes such sad reading that Dr. Mittal tries to see some silver linings. Maybe he is only looking in a dark room for a black cat, that is not there. But the effort is laudable.
Shri Goel is speaking the truth and nothing but the truth. But is it the ‘whole truth’? Is it possible that Muslim rule was not all jet-black - but also part-gray?
According to Max Weber, more ‘tribals’ joined the Hindu mainstream as a result of the Muslim shock, than the number of Hindus who converted to Islam.
As a friend once put it, it was in reaction to Muslims we became ‘Hindus’; and it was in reaction to the British that we became ‘Indians’.
While Hindu rulers through much of history contented themselves with local hegemony, few of them had any idea of the political unity of India. On the other hand, even regional Muslim chieftains were always trying to expand and, if possible, to capture the centre. Could this be interpreted as a contribution to the political unity of India?
A centralised State under the Sultans created a huge Common Market. Did this encourage trade and industry?
When Europeans arrived in India, they found Delhi and Agra much bigger and richer than London and Paris. Would this have been the case if Muslim rule had been an unmitigated evil?
Even during Muslim rule, we produced great poets like Tulsi, Mira, Sur, Kabir - apart from innumerable Sufi saint-poets. Why are these poets silent about Muslim misrule? Is it because even the misrule was governed by a certain rule of law?
I do not know. But perhaps Shri Goel, Dr. Mittal and other friends could enlighten us all on these and other related points.
Muslim Rule Had no Silver Lining
(Sita Ram Goel)
Sindhu has raised certain questions in the Organiser dated April 11- 17, which I should like to answer. I may, however, state my final conclusion first - Muslim rule in India was an unmitigated evil.
I have never read Max Weber and do not know how he has arrived at the conclusion that ‘more tribals joined the Hindu mainstream as a result of the Muslim shock than the number of Hindus who were converted to Islam’. Perhaps he had in mind the people of Assam whom Bakhtyar Khalji and a few other Muslim invaders tried to subjugate, or the hill people all over our northern borders whom Muhammad Tughlaq tried to conquer but failed, or the Gonds who fought Akbar under Maharani Durgavati, or the Bhils who fought for freedom under Maharana Pratap, or the Mavlas who joined Shivaji at a later date. But the very fact that these so-called ‘tribals’ fought spontaneously against the Muslim marauders rather than walk over to the winning side goes to prove that they shared a common culture with the rest of the natives. Of course, the term ‘Hindu’ can be defined in a narrow manner to mean people within the fold of VarNaśrama in which sense the so-called tribals were not the so-called Hindus. But that is only proving what one has already assumed. A Hindu should not walk into that trap.
It is true that the natives of Bharatavarsha became known as Hindus to themselves only after the Islamic invasion, as they were known earlier only to the foreigners. But that was not a happy outcome which we could welcome. We were a great culture before the Muslims came to this country - the culture sustained by Sanatana Dharma. The Muslim invasion converted us into a mere community which was now called upon to defend its very existence. We have to hug the term Hindu because Bharatavarsha now is also inhabited by communities which do not share the culture of Sanatana Dharma. We have to have a distinct identity of our own, however defective the name we choose or are forced by circumstances to choose, for ourselves. Moreover, the term Hindu has now become hallowed by association with countless heroes and martyrs who lived and died for Hindu Dharma and the Hindu homeland. Even so, it would be the beginning of a new dawn if we can win our alienated brethren back to their ancestral faith and become once again a single family sustained by Sanatana Dharma. The term Hindu will then become superfluous, and can be dropped.
Hindu rulers on the eve of Muslim invasion had not totally forgotten the idea of the political unity of India. The ancient tradition enshrined in the Mahabharata and the Puranas and honoured by Indian emperors as late as Samudragupta, namely, that the whole of Bharatavarsha was a cakravarti-kshetra, was still smouldering when many princes joined the Hindu Shahiyas in their fight against Subuktigin. But the tradition had become greatly weakened, though it did not die till 1947 when we accepted Partition and conceded to the aggressor the fruits of his aggression. Of course, the ancient idea of political unity was not the same as that brought in by Islam which has always stood for a monolithic and militarised state serving a system of an incurable fanaticism. Our concept of samrajya was derived from Sanatana Dharma and fostered a true federation of many janapadas enjoying swarajya, local autonomy, on the basis of swadharma, local tradition and culture. Islam made no contribution to the unity of Bharatavarsha; on the contrary, it seriously damaged the deeper fabric of our national unity and, in the final outcome, dismembered the nation into fragments like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Hindustan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
The eulogisation of a common market is a capitalist-imperialist innovation. It only means that the common people in the interior who produce the wealth, are not permitted to enjoy it. The fruits of their labour, enterprise, and skill are taken away from them by tampering with the terms of trade, and made available to a parasitic population in metropolitan centres; or, worse still, the common people in the interior are forced or lured to produce not what they need for themselves but what a parasitic urban population requires for a life of profligacy and waste. The infrastructure created by the ancient culture of this country was informed by the spirit of swadeshi - local materials, local techniques, and local labour are mobilised for the satisfaction of local needs, and only the surplus is sent out in exchange for useful goods from outside. The Muslim rule damaged this infrastructure to a certain extent under pressure from its parasitic court and aristocracy. But, by and large, it survived the Muslim rule till it was undermined to a great extent by inroads from British capitalism-imperialism. We are now dealing to it the final death blows by our five-year plans. Let us be fair to the Muslim rule in India. It did not create any significant centralised market, nor, consequently, did it damage very significantly the infrastructure which had proved an infallible source of strength throughout our long history.
The Europeans might have found Delhi and Agra bigger than London and Paris at that time. But what was Europe as compared to India till the end of the 18th century? It was a poor continent sending out large armies of its anti-social elements in search of loot under the banner of Christianity. Agra and Delhi should be compared with Pataliputra, Varanasi, Ujjain, Kanauj, Kanchipuram, Madura and Tanjore which flourished before the advent of Islam or even with contemporary Vijayanagara, to find out what a sorry figure the former make. These renowned seats of Muslim rule were small towns in comparison to the leading cities in ancient India. Moreover, all Muslim cities were networks of narrow slums which would have outraged the classical tastes of our ancient town planners. The layout of Mohenjo-daro is the oldest and that of Jaipur the latest specimen of what wide spaces entered the imagination of an urban culture which derived its inspiration from an infinitude of the inner Spirit. The Muslim cities were mostly ghettos - the material manifestation of a spiritual ghetto which is Islam.
Sufis during the Muslim rule might have been poets. I cannot judge because I am no connoisseur of Persian poetry. But I seriously doubt if they were saints, except a few on whom Islam continues to frown even today. Nor were the sufis specific to India. Islam produced whole armies of them in all lands it invaded during its heyday. In any case, I cannot take pride in Indian sufis who were a part of the imperialist establishment of Islam. On the other hand, Muslim rule had nothing to do with the rise of Hindu saints like Kabir, Nanak, Tulsi, Sur and Mira. They arose in spite of Islam, and flourished only because Islam could not reach out to kill them. Shall we attribute the rise of Solzhenytsin to the rule of Stalin? Human spirit is unconquerable in the long run. Kabir and Nanak have referred to the inequities of Islam in very clear terms. Tulsi, Mira and Sur did not refer to Islam because it was beneath their contempt. At the same time, let us not forget that Mira flourished in Mewar which was never under Muslim rule, and Tulsi and Sur flourished under Akbar who had largely dismantled the edifice of the Islamic state in India and struck up a deal with the Rajputs. The misrule of Islam was of course governed by a rule of law - the ‘law’ of Islam. But the ‘law’ of Islam never became universal in India. How gray Jewish, Christian, Zoroastrian and Buddhist mystics and saints flourished in lands where the ‘law’ of Islam attained a universal sway?
I wonder if I have answered the 6 questions raised by Sindhu to his entire satisfaction. But this is the best I know.