Alauddin Khilji and the Remembrance of Pain – Kamalpreet Singh Gill

Alauddin Khalji & Malik Kafur

Kamalpreet Singh GillWe cannot equate Khilji’s atrocities to those of the Holocaust because … we do not have the numbers. We know that millions were killed resisting Khilji and the army of maniacal Sufi zealots who followed in his wake. Many millions more were enslaved and sold off. – Kamalpreet Singh Gill

And so it begins. With Padmavati set to hit the screens, there is a sudden rush to recreate the image of Alauddin Khilji as a just man wronged by history. This article appearing in a website seems part of such a project. In what is a desperate attempt at rebranding, Khilji is referred to as the “People’s King” who implemented a series of reforms that included a new taxation system and the introduction of an espionage system ostensibly for the welfare of the people.

Among his other achievements is cited the successful fending off of successive Mongol invasions, while his subsequent vilification in Indian history as a cruel despot is blamed at Rajputs and other Hindu power brokers who got shunted out of the system when Khilji implemented his series of wide-ranging agrarian and fiscal “reforms”. The piece is not only factually misleading, in the sense that it deliberately hides from the reader a number of known facts about Khilji and his administration, it is also propaganda masquerading as an informed opinion that seeks to subvert the history of oppression and violence against a people.

Such an attempt at rebranding despots is of course nothing new and has been a part of a larger and much older debate about Indian history, where one side has been forcefully arguing that historical acts of genocidal violence against Hindus were merely “political” in nature and, being embedded in specific historical contexts, should not be judged by modern standards . There is, in such interpretations of Indian history, a strong desire to purge any possible vestiges of religion as a driving motive for peoples’ actions. In its place, a secularised, or rather, a sanitised, narrative is posited, reminiscent of a vulgar Marxism long discarded even by the fringes of the academia, in which purely economic motives govern peoples’ lives, motives, desires and memories.

It is sad that despite recent advances in sociology and social history allowing for a far greater range of sources to be accepted as credible historical evidence—including oral histories and folklore—such crude materialism still appears to emanate out of certain sections.

The People’s King?

In the case of Khilji and this particular article, it is strange that nowhere does it occur to the writer that Khilji may have gone down the annals of history as a villain for his wanton murder and rapine rather than merely for economic reasons.

Take for instance the writer’s claim that the predecessors of the Rajputs were the primary land owners and power brokers in the late thirteenth century and Khilji’s supposed reforms broke their back leading them to revile the Sultan in their histories written two centuries later. It is true that with the onset of Islamic rule in India, practically all native chieftains saw a reversal in their fortunes. However, the power brokers and large landholders in early thirteenth century North India were not just Hindu rajas but also included a large number of Afghans, Mongols, Persians and Turkish noblemen who had settled all over north India following the Ghurid invasion of 1192 AD.

By the time Khilji came to power, Muslim rule had been established over most of north India for over a century during which Afghan and Turkic warlords acquired large landholdings and established themselves as middlemen between the state and the peasantry, eating into the power and influence of the Hindu warlords.

Although many Hindu chieftains still managed to cling on to their power and even managed to rise among the ranks, they always had to accept the suzerainty of the provincial governor who was, without exception a Turkic or Afghan nobleman, and they were always susceptible to the envy and the ire of the Persian/Turkic lobby who could, and in many instances did, invoke religion to curtail the power of the Hindus. Given such a scenario, it doesn’t seem logical to presume that Khilji should have come in for special vilification in history from these Hindu warlords whose power he supposedly effaced.

And what of the “reforms” themselves? What was their nature and what effect did they have on the lives of the people who lived through them?

To understand this it is necessary to have another look at Khilji’s legacy, beginning with the famed taxation system which is touted in this article as the single greatest achievement that ought to have ensured lasting fame for Khilji in posterity.

Alauddin Khilji enforced four taxes on non-Muslims in the Sultanate—jizya (poll tax), kharaj (land tax), ghari (house tax) and charah (pasture tax). Of these, the kharaj or the land tax was the form of taxation that the peasant paid in the form of nearly half of his standing crop. As the historian Zia-ud-din Barani, writing shortly after Khilji’s death, informs us about the consequence of Khilji’s taxation system:

While the cultivators were free from the demands of the landowners, the high taxes imposed by the state meant they had “barely enough for carrying on his cultivation and his food requirements.

Barani further informs us:

He (Khilji) also decreed that his Delhi-based revenue officers assisted by local Muslim jagirdars, khuts, mukkadims, chaudharis and zamindars seize by force half of all produce any farmer generates, as a tax on standing crop, so as to fill the sultanate’s granaries. His officers enforced tax payment by beating up Hindu and Muslim middlemen responsible for rural tax collection.

Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund, writing in their History of India again quote from Barani

Furthermore, Alauddin Khilji demanded from his “wise men in the court” to create “rules and regulations in order to grind down the Hindus, so as to reduce them to abject poverty and deprive them of wealth and any form of surplus property that could foster a rebellion; the Hindu was to be so reduced as to be left unable to keep a horse to ride on, to carry arms, to wear fine clothes, or to enjoy any of the luxuries of life.”

It is likely that the accounts of both Zia-ud-din Barani and his contemporary Amir Khusraw, that form the principal primary sources for Khilji’s reign, could be exaggerated, in accordance with the literary style of the period. However, they certainly give us a clear enough picture of the Sultan’s attitude towards his subjects, and the condition of his impoverished people.

A second, much-trumpeted achievement of Khilji is the establishment of an efficient system of espionage. However, it is not certain whether Khilji set this up to ensure better tax collection (as the article would have us believe) or because he feared for his life after facing no less than four major revolts against his cruel administration. The last of these revolts resulted in the mass massacre—over the course of a single night—of over 30,000 Mongols residing in the capital who the Sultan suspected of plotting his overthrow. This was followed by a total ban on any social gatherings of his nobles within the capital, enforced with the help of the Sultan’s network of spies. It would appear then that the espionage network was used more to exert total control over the lives of his nobles who, the by now paranoid Sultan, suspected of murdering him anytime, rather than to ensure the welfare of the peasantry.

As for the feat of repelling successive Mongol invasions, it was hardly a feat given that Khilji himself ravaged all of India with his armies’ plundering raids deep into southern and eastern India massacring thousands and destroying countless temples. The Mongols could scarcely have done worse. For instance, the following description of Khilji’s invasion of Gujarat in the year 1299, given by the Persian historian Hasan Nizami who migrated to Delhi in the 13th century and wrote the Taj ul Ma’sir, the official history of the Delhi Sultanate, offers a case in point:

Fifty thousand infidels were dispatched to hell by the sword and more than twenty thousand slaves, and cattle beyond all calculation fell into the hands of the victors.

The Somnath Temple was looted, desecrated and completely destroyed during the invasion. Certain historical sources claim that the idol the temple was “taken to Delhi, where it was thrown to be trampled under the feet of Muslims.” (Kishori Saran LalHistory of the Khaljis)

As if this was not enough, Khilji’s destructive expeditions also brought in their wake the curse of the Sufis—militant Islamic warrior saints looking for converts to the new faith. Like scavengers scouring the site of a massacre for bits of flesh and bone, these early Sufis trailed the Islamic armies to whichever land they laid waste, looking to convert people even at the pain of death.

Professor Richard Eaton, who has done pioneering work on Sufism in India, has pointed out that in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the Sufis had not yet embraced the benign pacific transcendentalism that was to become the hallmark of their sect.

The latter was to emerge only from the sixteenth century onwards, after a prolonged and painful process of conflict and discourse between the austere, dogmatic, monotheistic Islamic worldview and the varied, pantheistic Indic philosophies that were keen to assimilate all they came in contact with. The early Sufis instead were zealous warrior saints who trailed the invading Islamic armies hungrily looking to spread the new faith and saw conversion or death as the only two options open to the infidel.

Richard Eaton gives the example of Sufi saints like Pir Ma’abari Khandayat, Sheikh Ali Pahlavan, and Sufi Sarmast etc who followed in the wake of Khilji’s army in the Deccan and tried to convert people at the edge of the sword. Quoting hagiographic literature, Professor Eaton writes of Pir Ma’abari Khandayat :

It is said that in the time of the arrogant infidels, surly Hindus and powerful rajas ruled Bijapur by force. He (the Sufi) came here and waged jihad against the rajas and the rebels. And with his iron bar he broke the heads of many rajas and drove them to the dust of defeat. Many idolaters who by the will of God had guidance and blessings repented from their unbelief and error and by the hand of Pir Ma’abari came to Islam.

Citing the instance of another Sufi by the name of Sarmast, Prof Eaton writes:

Sufi Sarmast is believed to have migrated with four companions to the town of Talikota, fifty miles south-east of Bijapur. There he and his companions engaged a number of Hindus in combat and after killing countless numbers of them were themselves slain.

The Persistence of Memory

The question that arises then, is why, and how does the memory of Khilji’s despotic rule linger almost a thousand years since the despot’s death?

Marianne Hirsch, a professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia coined the term “postmemory” to describe the manner in which transmission of trauma and hurt following a catastrophic event are transmitted through the medium of stories, behaviours, practices etc. down to later generations so deeply such that they begin to feel like memories of the event itself to those that came later.

While Hirsch was writing specifically in the context of the Holocaust, her ideas have since been elaborated to expand our understanding of the manner in which trauma and pain are transmitted down the generations through mediums of cultural production such as oral histories and folklore.

What is especially devious about the given article is the manner in which the persistence of the memory of a traumatic event is dismissed, stripped of its humanity, and the trauma is attributed to the mere transitioning to a new economic order. The disingenuity is glaring because similar events in world history are treated, especially by the academic Left, with a far greater degree of empathy.

The colonisation of the Americas, or the transatlantic slave trade, or the Jewish or the Armenian Holocaust; in all these cases, the violence is not dismissed away as being embedded in a specific historical context and thus beyond the purview of modern standards of judgement. Nor are oral histories and folklore summarily dismissed in favour of more positivist explanations. The latter methodology seems reserved only for violence perpetrated on Hindus.

Trevor Noah a South African television personality in his autobiography, Born a Crime : Stories from a South African Childhood offers a beautiful explanation for such a reading of history by comparing western attitudes to the Jewish Holocaust with those towards colonial atrocities perpetrated on Africans :

The name Hitler does not offend a black South African because Hitler is not the worst a black South African can imagine. If black South Africans could go back in time and kill one person, Cecil Rhodes would come up before Hitler. If people in the Congo could go back in time and kill one person, Belgium’s King Leopold’s name would come up before Hitler. If Native Americans could go back in time and kill one person it would probably be Christopher Columbus or Andrew Jackson. I often meet people in the West who think the Holocaust was the worst atrocity in human history without question. Yes it was horrific, but I often wonder with African atrocities like in the Congo, how horrific were they? The African people don’t have [what] Jewish people do have, is documentation. The Nazis kept meticulous records, took pictures, made films. And that’s really what it comes down to. Holocaust victims count because Hitler counted them. Six million people killed. We can all look at that number and rightly be horrified. But when you read through the atrocities against Africans, there are no numbers, only guesses. It’s harder to be horrified by a guess.

But we cannot equate Khilji’s atrocities to those of the Holocaust because like the Africans of Congo, we do not have the numbers. We know that millions were killed resisting Khilji and the army of maniacal Sufi zealots who followed in his wake. Many millions more were enslaved and sold off.

And here, like in all pre-modern tragedies, oral histories and folklore remain our primary source of remembrance. It is surprising then that certain sections of the academia should be so keen on brushing these away, while embracing the same oral histories and folklore for research when it comes to, say, Native Americans.

Until this trauma that lives on in ‘post memory’ and folklore is acknowledged, addressed, and productively engaged with, debates on Indian history will continue to remain bitter and divisive. – Swarajya, 7 November 2017


Tipu Sultan, Adolf Hitler and religious tolerance – Balbir Punj

Tipu Sultan, Karnataka, Republic Day Tableau 2014

Balbir PunjTipu Sultan is a hero to some, because he fought against the British. So did Adolf Hitler. Why different yardsticks for the two? – Balbir Punj

By the time this column is out, Karnataka hopefully would have been through Tipu Sultan Jayanti celebrations. Recently, the country witnessed former President Pranab Mukherjee paying glowing tributes to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the founder of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and the father of Muslim separatism in the Indian subcontinent.

The occasion was the 200th birth anniversary of Sir Syed. He is a part of the trio which is described in Pakistan schoolbooks as the spiritual founders of Pakistan—the other two being Muhammad Iqbal and Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Though Sir Syed died nearly half a century before the country of his dreams became a reality, numerous prestigious institutions are named after him in Pakistan to underline his unmatched contribution in promoting the two-nation theory which ultimately led to the vivisection of India. President Mukherjee spoke about his “vision” and several newspapers carried articles eulogising Sir Syed and recalled his “services” to the country and Muslim community.

Meanwhile knives were out last month for the BJP and Sangh Parivar after Sangeet Som, a BJP MLA from UP, committed “blasphemy” (as per secular norms) by questioning the status of the iconic Taj Mahal as a symbol of love and for doubting the patriotism of Mughals. The “secular” uproar that followed Som’s remarks forced the BJP to distance itself from the controversy.

But how can the Karnataka government and Pranab Mukherjee get away with daylight murder, while the BJP has to pay a heavy penalty even for what at worst may be merely a parking offence? Is it because the Left has enjoyed complete control over public discourse since Independence, to the complete exclusion of other valid narratives?

In this context one is reminded of a TV programme called “Alternative Views” which was a great hit in the US. It was one of the longest-running public-access TV programmes, with 563 shows telecast from 1978 to 1998. It covered news, interviews and opinions from a new and progressive perspective.

Nothing of this sort has happened in India. No wonder, we continue to suffer a doctored version of history, manufactured by the Macaulay-Marxist combine to suit its ideological ends. Ironically those responsible for this gagging have also appropriated the label of “liberals” and style themselves as “left-liberals”! An oxymoron in the Indian context.

The two celebrated “secular icons”, Sir Syed and Tipu Sultan had adopted diagonally opposite approaches to promote their community interests. Sir Syed collaborated with the British and worked to promote a Muslim-British alliance against Hindus. Sir Syed justified the alliance on the basis that both Christians and Muslims, were “People of the Book”. For his services, the British empire conferred on him various titles such as Khan Bahadhur and Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India.

Tipu Sultan, on the other hand, is hailed for resisting the British. But why did Tipu oppose the British? Not because they were foreign invaders. In fact Tipu himself sought the assistance of several foreign powers—including the French, who were manoeuvring to establish their domination in the country. The ambitious Sultan solicited the help of Muslim countries like Persia, Afghanistan and Turkey, as well, in the name of Islam. The Sultan opposed the British because they were an impediment in his endeavour to carry out “jihad” against “kafirs” and establish an Islamic state in India.

The Left, however, would say it is all false propaganda, part of the British design to create a rift between Hindus and Muslims. Here are excerpts from some letters which Tipu had sent to his army commanders.

1. March 22, 1788, to Abdul Kadir: “Over 12,000 Hindus were ‘honoured’ with Islam. There were many Namboodiris (Brahmins) among them. The local Hindus should be brought before you and then converted to Islam.”

2. December 14, 1788, to his army chief in Calicut: “I am sending two of my followers with Mir Hussain Ali. You should capture and kill all Hindus. These are my orders.”

3. December 21, 1788, to Sheik Kutub: “… 242 Nairs are being sent as prisoners. Categorise them according to their social and family status. After honouring them with Islam … dress materials may be given to the men and their women.”

4. January 18, 1790, to Syed Abdul Dulai: “With the grace of Prophet Mohammed and Allah, almost all Hindus in Calicut are converted to Islam. Only a few are still not converted on the borders of Cochin state. I am determined to convert them also very soon. I consider this as jihad.”

5. January 19, 1790, to Badroos Saman Khan: “Don’t you know that I have achieved a great victory recently in Malabar and over four lakh Hindus were converted to Islam.”

Lewis Rice, a historian, who wrote a much acclaimed book on Mysore after going through various official records, said as follows: “In the vast empire of Tipu Sultan on the eve of his death, there were only two Hindu temples having daily pujas within the Sreerangapatanam fortress. It is only for the satisfaction of the Brahmin astrologers who used to study his horoscope that Tipu Sultan had spared those two temples.”

The Sultan could not even tolerate the Hindu names of certain regions. Therefore, Mangalapuri (Mangalore) was changed to Jalalabad, Cannanore (Kanwapuram) to Kusanabad, Mysore to Nazarabad, Dharwar to Quarshed-Sawad, Gooty to Faiz-Hissar, Ratnagiri to Mustafabad, Dindigul to Khaliqabad, and Calicut (Kozhikode) to Islamabad. Tipu is a hero to some, because he fought against the British. So did Hitler. Why different yardsticks for the two?

» Balbir Punj is a former Rajya Sabha member and Delhi-based commentator on social and political issues.

Tipu with his mistress

Popular Front of India: Kerala’s conversion factories unmasked – Sushant Pathak & Jamshed Adil Khan


Zainaba A. S.

India TodayWe have lifted the veil off the Islamic non-profit organisation Popular Front of India (PFI), securing stunning confessions of its top functionaries about its mass proselytising and religious conversions, illegal financing, and about its ultimate goal to turn India into a theocratic Islamic state. – India Today Reporters

In public, it proclaims to be a champion of diversity and equality. Kerala’s Popular Front of India (PFI) has consistently denied accusations of religious conversions, hawala funding, murderous assaults and terror links.

But India Today has lifted the veil off the non-profit organisation, securing stunning confessions of its top functionaries about its mass proselytising, illegal financing and about its ultimate goal to turn India into a theocratic Islamic state.

The PFI, already under NIA investigation, is accused of brainwashing Hindu women and marrying them off to Muslim men.

“All these allegations are baseless,” claimed Zainaba A. S., the head of the group’s women’s wing, on Monday (Oct. 29), responding to accusations that she “mentored” non-Muslim women into conversions.

She is suspected of playing a key role in what has come to be known as Kerala’s own love jihad case—the marriage between Hadiya, previously known by her Hindu name as Akhila Asokan, with Shafin Jahan.

In May, the state high court annulled their matrimony after the woman’s father challenged it as an act of forcible conversion for terror recruitment.

The couple’s appeal is now being heard by the supreme court.

“I contacted Hadiya only after she came to Sathya Sarani (the PFI’s sister organisation) for admission. Actually, she embraced Islam two years before. In 2013, she embraced Islam,” insisted Zainaba on Monday. “It’s no love jihad (but) an arranged marriage.”

But before Zainaba issued this denial relating to one high-profile case, she had already shared the PFI’s dark secrets with India Today’s undercover reporters.

Herself a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, she was caught on tape telling how the Popular Front of India and its sister organisation Sathya Sarani in Kerala’s Manjeri carried out massive conversions.

“(In) that institute of ours … around 5,000 people have converted to Islam over the past 10 years now,”  Zainaba revealed. They, she admitted, included both Hindus and Christians.

Conversions, an emotive issue in Kerala, are banned in Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha if carried out through force or allurement. Recently, Jharkhand’s assembly also passed an anti-conversion bill recently.

At their home in Malappuram, Zainaba and her husband, Ali, spoke candidly about their involvement in proselytising several non-Muslim women into Islam.

They didn’t speak specifically about the Hadiya case though.

“We had a schoolteacher with us. She was an M.Sc. in mathematics and B.Ed,” said Ali. “Now she’s converted to Islam. She converted four years ago,” added Zainaba.

“Did you proselytise her?” the reporter probed.

“Yes,” confirmed the PFI’s woman leader. “Four years ago.”

The converted woman was previously called Shubha, Zainaba disclosed. “She’s now Fatima.” “How many non-Muslims have you proselytised?” the reporter asked.

“There are many,” replied Zainaba.

She also explained the entire modus operandi for proselytising, emphasising conversion centres have to be disguised as charitable or educational establishments in order to prevent any backlash.

“We don’t have to officially declare it to be a conversion centre. It’s an educational institute,” Zainaba admitted. “A lot of preparation goes into it. We need resources. We have to create a trust first.”

She disclosed such secret centres have to have at least 15 members to qualify for registration as a trust.

“Later, we need to figure out a place for the campus. That campus should house all facilities, such as a mosque for namaz, accommodation, a well-furnished institute like this (Sathya Sarani),” Zainaba explained. “Then we have to get it registered by the government under the Societies Registration Act.”

Further, Zainaba revealed how the PFI outsourced name-change certificates after converting inmates.

“There are two ways. Getting a certificate from some institutes that such and such person has embraced Islam. Then there’s another system of having it notarised on a declared affidavit,” she said.

In its dossier, accessed by India Today, the NIA has also accused the PFI of terror links and hawala financing, charges the group has denied vehemently.

But a founding member of the PFI, whom India Today reporters met in New Delhi under cover, admitted that the organisation aimed at creating an Islamic state.

Ahmed Shareef, the PFI’s founder member and the managing editor of its mouthpiece Gulf Thejas, also confessed to illegal funding.

“All over the world. That is the motive,” Shareef acknowledged when asked whether the PFI and Sathya Sarani worked on a hidden motive to establish an Islamic state in India as suspected. “All over the world. That is the motive.”

“Islamic state is the final goal?” the reported probed.

“Final goal,” Shareef replied. “All over the world. Why only India? After making India an Islamic state and then they will go to other states.”

He also revealed how he raised funds for the PFI in the Middle East five years ago and sent them back home through hawala.

“At that time, (Rs) 10 lakh or something,” Shareef said.

“Ten lakh? And how you sent it?” asked the reporter.

“Hawala,” answered Shareef. He admitted both the PFI and Sathya Sarani received funding through mainstream as well as illegal hawala channels.

Reaction to India Today’s Operation Conversion Factory

Ravi Shankar Prasad says PFI should be banned and these leaders should be prosecuted.

“Your investigation shows that there is a PFI, the Popular Front of India, which is having an organised racket employing people who are owning it up on your channel that they are creating a radical group by some kind of psychological brainwashing,” said law minister and BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad.

“These NGOs that profess that they stand for peace, stand exposed today at your channel. That’s a great job you have done. My greetings and congratulations to you,” said Prasad.

“I have to point out that unfortunately none of the reporting that has come out in the papers, one finds that they haven’t caught the gist of the argument which thankfully your channel seems to have through this entire exercise in a very very good manner caught,” said BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli.

“These are glaring and extremely worrisome trends showing there is a well oiled machinery and psychological kidnappings as Mr Manindar Singh told the Court and as the investigation is revealing. This is not an ordinary case,” said Kohli.

“Upper caste Hindus are harassing lower Caste Hindus, that’s why they are converting to Islam for equality, justice and peace nowadays. ISI members were found in Madhya Pradesh. BJP should be banned for that and the parent organization RSS should be banned. Also follow the Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel’s footsteps who banned RSS once,” said the media coordinator Islamic Research Foundation Ilyas Sharafuddin.

“If someone violates the law of the land he should be punished, Islam does not oppose that,” said AIIA president Maulana Sajid Rashidi.

Meanwhile, NIA is monitoring India Today’s expose Operation Conversion Factory. The agency wants India Today to provide complete recordings of the investigation.

Sources say NIA will probe findings of India Today’s investigation. – India Today, 31 October

» Sushant Pathak and Jamshed Adil Khan are special investigative reporters for India Today. The article was written by Harmeet Shah Singh.

Tipu Sultan was no freedom fighter – R. Sampath

Tipu Sultan

Tipu Sultan was guided by selfish motives in his so-called “freedom fight” against British rule. The very fact that Pakistan has named three of its war ships as PNS Tipu Sultan speaks volumes of his “secular” credentials. – R. Sampath

With an eye on the upcoming Assembly elections, Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah is only stirring the communal cauldron by organising official functions in memory of Tipu Sultan. The government is doing this for vote bank politics and to spite the main opposition party in the state, the BJP.

Siddu of course would not have failed to take the nod of the Congress high command before celebrating with pomp and glare the birth anniversary of Tipu, who according to him, was a “freedom fighter”. Tipu did fight against the British rulers. But it was with an intent to drive them away and not to usher in a secular rule. He was interested only in expanding his kingdom.

It was certainly not his intention to liberate and carve out a “free India”. He cannot be considered a “freedom fighter” at all. In fact, he sought an alliance with France, to not only fight against the British but also to use the French army to invade and settle scores against the Maratha, Malabar, Carnatic and Travancore kingdoms.

The pages of history can’t be simply obliterated by Siddu according to his convenience and advantage. Tipu had the dubious distinction of being an epitome of religious intolerance. He forcibly converted lakhs of Hindus to Islam after his war against the Malabar. Tipu had destroyed the Milagres Church in Mangalore built in 1680. In fact, he did not spare Christians as well.

He had imprisoned at least 60,000 Catholics, suspected of being British spies. Siddu’s suddenly-turned-secular-icon Tipu made the captive Christians walk all the way to Mysore without any food or water. Thousands perished midway. Tipu always engaged himself in expansionist attacks against his neighbours. Though he always remained a rancourous enemy of the British Raj, it was only to perpetrate his own regime where he ruled. He had no love lost for the secular ethos.

The Karnataka CM is eulogising Tipu who was squarely guided by selfish motives in his so-called “freedom fight” against the British rule. The very fact that Pakistan has named at least three of its war ships as PNS Tippu Sultan speaks volumes of his “secular” credentials. If Pakistan and the Congress party were to share a “secular icon” in Tipu Sultan for their own reasons, they certainly have the right and no one can stop them from doing so.

As for the BJP, it has valid, genuine and sensible reasons to keep away from Tipu Jayanti celebrations, as otherwise it will amount to compromising its known consistent stand against Tipu Sultan. – The New Indian Express, 28 October 2014

» R. Sampath reports for The New Indian Express in Chennai.

Louis XVI receives the ambassadors of Tipu Sultan in 1788.

Babri Masjid and the great Indian Muslim divide – Sandhya Jain

Babri Masjid (1991)

Sandhya JainThe Shia Board asserts that the Sunni Board has no stake in Ayodhya as the mosque was Shia property. – Sandhya Jain

In a stunning blow to the hitherto dominant Sunni sect, the Shia Waqf Board filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court on August 8, 2017 fracturing the united front put up by the Muslim community since the dramatic fall of the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992, asserting that the temple for Maryada Purushottam Sri Rama Chandra could come up at the Janmabhoomi site in Ayodhya, and a mosque could be raised at a reasonable distance in a Muslim-dominated area.

As one of the parties to the dispute, the Shia Board claimed that the demolished mosque was a Shia mosque, as the alleged destroyer of the Rama Mandir was a Shia general named Mir Abdul Baqi; hence the mosque built upon the ruins of the temple was a Shia mosque. The Board indicated a desire for peaceful resolution of the dispute which the Supreme Court is not keen to adjudicate upon.

This is a stupendous development as hitherto, since 6 December 1992, all efforts to strike a deal with the Shia community have met with failure as community leaders in Lucknow always pleaded helplessness in opposing the strident Sunni community. The Babri Masjid Action Committee that spearheaded the movement against handing over the site to the Hindu claimants has been dominated by Sunnis. It was the Sunnis who reneged on the promise to the Government of India and the Supreme Court that they would surrender claims to the site if it was established that the mosque was built on the ruins of a temple.

That claim was conclusively proved in a Supreme Court-ordered and monitored excavation by the Archaeological Survey of India. But far from retreating gracefully, the BMAC dug its heels in and refused to retreat from the scene, resulting in a prolonged stalemate.

The sudden divergence of views between the Shia and Sunni Waqf Boards appears to reflect larger Shia-Sunni conflicts in the Muslim world, with Shias being targetted by jihadis in Pakistan and other Muslim countries, and their holy sites desecrated. Iran, the self-proclaimed protector of Shias worldwide, has facilitated the spectacular victory of the Syrian Arab Army against Islamic State jihadis in Syria, thus enabling the survival of the Alawite (Shia) regime headed by Basher al-Assad; it has also prevented Yemen from crumbling before the Saudi assault.

Now, the Shia Board explicitly asserts that the Sunni Board has no stake in Ayodhya as the mosque was Shia property; hence, “only Shia Central Waqf Board UP, is entitled to negotiate and arrive at a peaceful settlement with other remaining stake holders”.

The Board further opined that proximity of “place of worships should be avoided in as much as both denominations using loudspeakers tend to disturb the religious performance of each other often leading to conflicts and acrimony”. Therefore, “to bring a quietus to the issue, Masjid can be located in a Muslim-dominated area at a reasonable distance from the most revered place of birth of Ram.”

Reports claim that the Shia Board decided late July to stake claim to the Ayodhya site. Such a momentous decision could hardly be taken overnight. It seems likely that Yogi Adityanath, head of the non-communal Gorakhnath Peeth, was selected as Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister by Prime Minister Narendra Modi precisely to accomplish an acrimony-free transfer of the sacred site for the Rama Temple. Should this be accomplished, it would be a far greater feat than rebuilding the Somnath Temple in Saurashtra, where the only resistance to be overcome was that of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

In Civil Appeal No. 10836-10867 of 2010, the Shia Central Waqf Board through its chairman, Syed Waseem Rizvi (Respondent No. 24), filed a counter affidavit asserting that the “Babari Masjid” was a Shia Waqf and not a Sunni Waqf as claimed by the Sunni Central Waqf Board UP. As the Allahabad High Court judgement stated that “Muslims” should get not less than one-third of the disputed area, chairman Rizvi asserted that this obviously alluded to “Shias” as the High Court had rejected the Sunni Board’s claim (based on Notification dated 16 February 1944 by the Chief Commissioner of Waqfs under the Muslim Waqfs Act, 1936) that Babari Masjid was a Sunni Waqf.

The High Court declared the said Notification of 16 February 1944 as illegal as it was issued in violation of provisions of the 1936 Act, as it was made without issuing a notice to the interested persons, which was a statutory requirement. It follows that the Waqf was a Shia Waqf as a waqf must always be Shia or Sunni, according to its creator (Waqif).

Certain Arabic inscriptions in the disputed structure, cited in previous judgments, establish beyond doubt that the mosque was built by Mir Baqi, a Shia Waqif, who created a Shia waqf. All mutawallis, including the last one (1949) were admittedly Shia and were descendants of Abdul Baqi, a Shia from Ispahan (Persia). It is notable that the Baqi family tree has not been seriously challenged. Verses engraved on a tablet in the central arch of the mosque describe Mir Baqi as an ‘Ispahani’, a resident of Ispahan.

On 30 March 1946, the Faizabad Civil Judge, S.A. Ahsan, ruled that it was inconceivable that a Sunni waqif would appoint a Shia mutawalli, or vice versa (Regular Suit No.29 of 1945).

The affidavit states that Muslims must ponder that the entire world wants to know the exact teaching of Islam in respect of the relationship of Muslims with others. Indian Muslims, it says, enjoy a unique position. They have been rulers, they have been ruled and now they are sharers in power. They are not in majority but they are also not a negligible minority and are in fact the most populous Muslim community in the world after Indonesia. As legatees of a huge corpus of religious knowledge, Indian Muslims are exceptionally placed to tell the world the true teachings of Islam, beginning with a resolution of the Ayodhya dispute.

The Allahabad High Court proclaimed Muslims, Hindus and Nirmohi Akhara as joint title holders to the disputed premises and allotted them one-third share each, with the stipulation that the portion beneath the central dome, where the murti of Sri Rama is installed, would be allotted to Hindus in the final decree. The Nirmohi Akhara would receive the portion including the Ram Chabutra and Sita ki Rasoi, and the parties could make minor and mutual adjustments while dividing their respective shares.

The Shia Waqf chairman observed that the intent of this judgment was that the parties amicably settle the dispute, and his sect was willing to do so. As there has been no dialogue in the matter in the past seven years, he urged the Supreme Court to appoint a Committee headed by a retired Judge of the Supreme Court and two retired Judges of the Allahabad High Court, with the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister (or his nominee) and a nominee from the Prime Minister’s Office. The nominees of the Shia Central Waqf Board UP, Nirmohi Akhara and Hindu sect, would offer suggestions for an amicable settlement to this committee.

The Shia leader added that the Sunni Central Waqf Board UP was dominated by “Sunni hardliners, the fanatics, and non-believers in peaceful coexistence, who have absolutely no stake in the present case”. As Babari Masjid was a Shia Waqf, the Shia Central Waqf Board UP alone is entitled to negotiate a peaceful settlement with other remaining stakeholders.

Chairman Syed Waseem Rizvi further informed the Court that after his views became known, he had received threats from the hardliners, and had informed the Government of Uttar Pradesh, which is reportedly taking steps for his security. He reiterated the keenness of the Shia sect for amicable settlement of the dispute.

Should the Supreme Court constitute such a committee, this could be a very different Diwali. – PGurus, 9 August 2017

» Sandhya Jain writes on political and contemporary affairs. She is a post-graduate in Political Science from the University of Delhi and a student of  Indian civilisation.

Ramlalla Temple on the Babri Masjid site after the demolition.

Govt must address ‘minority’ syndrome – Tufail Ahmad

Muslims demand reservation

Tufail AhmadThe scope and mandate of the Ministry of Minority Affairs can be changed, which should also pave the way for elimination of quota system in years ahead. … Since minority politics has badly divided Indian society in recent decades, the Indian state must address this issue before it creates further long-term hostilities between Muslims and Hindus. – Tufail Ahmed

On my tour of Uttar Pradesh, I stopped for a few days to talk to Muslim opinion makers in Lucknow, one of the few cities along with Hyderabad and Karachi which have significant populations of Shia Muslims. I reached a conclusion that although the minority psyche among Indian Muslims is preventing their development, there exists a minority of Shias right among them who are doing well in life and do not engage in victimhood or minorityism. My contention, therefore, was also that the minority phenomenon in India is essentially a Sunni Muslim phenomenon continuing from a serious competition for power in early Islam.

Nevertheless, the current polls in Uttar Pradesh have once again ensured that political parties such as the Samajwadi Party, Congress, and the Bahujan Samaj Party used the minority card and the politics of secularism for electoral purposes. In fact, much before the elections got underway, a political rally of BSP on 19 October at Bahjoi in Sambhal district began with the recitation of Quranic verses. Speaking on the occasion, Atar Singh Rao of BSP also cited hadiths (sayings and deeds of Prophet Muhammad) to seek Muslim votes.

In the run-up to the elections, this use of religious symbolisms to attract ‘minority’ votes is not exclusive to BSP. Earlier, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi visited two Islamic seminaries—the Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama of Lucknow and the Darul Uloom Deoband. These efforts are part of minority politics in India. There are several minority communities in India, but the term ‘minority’—and its associated politics—is used mainly for Muslims. Significantly, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains and Shias do not show victimhood associated with Sunni Muslims.

There are two ways to look at who constitutes a minority. One, the word ‘minority’ is derived from the Latin word ‘minor’ and the suffix ‘ity’—meaning the smaller in number of two aggregates which constitute a whole. As per this quantitative definition, a community is a minority if its numbers are fewer than that of the other community in the total population. The term ‘minority’ came into vogue after the introduction of parliamentary democracy in which the numerical strength of communities became a power. But a numerical definition is inadequate to explain social reality. For example, during the Apartheid, the black people were in a numerical majority in South Africa but they were discriminated against and subjugated by the white rulers who constituted a quantitative minority.

The numeric definition also does not explain whether a community is influential in an electoral constituency. Consider this: In 1952 elections, 67 percent MPs won with less than 50 percent votes. In 2004, only 24 percent MPs won with more than 50 percent votes. In 2009, only 17 percent MPs got more than 50 percent votes. In 2014, 61 percent MPs won with less than 50 percent votes. Indian democracy is in a situation in which candidates can win elections with just 30 percent votes, which encourages them to encourage identity-based politics. Consequently, a community with just about 20-30 percent population in a constituency can determine the outcome of an election and assert politically. This is the reason the BSP, the SP, the Congress, and others have been wooing Muslim voters in the UP elections.

This unfortunate stage in Indian democracy has been reached despite the country’s leadership being aware of the complexities of minority politics around the time of Partition, as recorded by Madhav Godbole in his new book Secularism: India at a Crossroads. Writing in The New York Times edition of 19 July, 1942, Jawaharlal Nehru noted: “The real problem so often referred to is that of the Muslims. They are hardly a minority, as they number about 90,000,000 and it is difficult to see how even a majority can oppress them.” Speaking on 24 January, 1947, Govind Ballabh Pant observed: “The question of minorities cannot possibly be overrated. It has been used so far for creating strife, distrust and cleavage between the different sections of the Indian nation.” Pant’s observation is a sad reminder that the minority politics continues even now.

The second way of looking at ‘minority’ is through a qualitative definition. As per it, a community can be called a minority if it is discriminated, segregated and subjugated by the majority community or the government. For example, Dalits in India were socially segregated and lived at the outer edges of villages for centuries. They were also discriminated through the practice of untouchability by upper castes. By a qualitative definition, Dalits can therefore be called India’s first sociological minority. As per this definition, even women qualify to be a minority. In this year’s UP elections, it was noticed that some Muslim women were willing to understand Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stand against the arbitrary practice of triple talaq which affects them. Another example of why the qualitative definition must prevail over the numeric criterion is this: The Muslims under the Mughal rule were numerically small but a politically dominant community.

A minority status carries with it an exclusion from full participation in the collective life of a society. This status is derived from its subordinate relation to a dominant group, which need not be a numerical majority. The Tibetans, living under the Chinese occupation, fully qualify for a minority status. A minority can be racial, linguistic, religious or caste group, if it is differentiated and discriminated against because of any of these factors. A group may be a minority either by choice or by compulsion. Sociologist Louis Wirth defined a minority as “a group of people who … are singled out from the others in the society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment.” In the case of Indian Muslims, it appears they strive to single themselves out from the mainstream.

Recently, Firstpost interviewed Amana Begum, a Law student based in Jaipur, who offered a telling comment on the behaviour of Indian Muslims: “As a community, we want either victimhood or supremacy.” The Muslim elites too love to be called a minority because it helps them to receive some handouts from the government. Over the past few decades, the Muslim elites demanded setting up a minority financial corporation or an Urdu university, not the establishment of a chain of industrial training institutes for the education and training of the children of poor Muslim artisans and mechanics who work by the roadsides from Delhi to Kolkata. Therefore, it can be said that the minority politics used by Muslim elites to their benefit is harmful to common Muslims. There were also indications that in the UP elections, the minority politics was causing a reverse polarisation in favour of the BJP.

So, associated with the qualitative definition of minority are its behavioural characteristics. In the Indian society, the minority phenomenon can be described as a syndrome which moulds the behaviour of politicians, journalists, communities, or organisations such as political parties, NGOs and government departments. Everyone is a participant in this syndrome, which treats Muslims as a homogeneous group throughout India. This treatment of Muslims by non-Muslims and Muslims themselves is invalid because Indian Muslims are not homogeneous. Notably, Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir – or for that matter Sikhs in Punjab—cannot qualify to be a minority. Also, in Uttar Pradesh, where Muslims have sizeable population, they tend to behave as a dominant community, unlike a real minority which is subjugated.

Also, the lower castes among Muslims are not even considered a minority—both by non-Muslims and Muslims. So, the minority politics—whether practised by political parties or by journalists and authors when discussing Muslims in their writings—doesn’t even consider the welfare of Dalit Muslims and the Other Backward Classes among Muslims. This is despite a pioneering academic work carried out by sociologist Imtiaz Ahmed on caste-like divisions among Indian Muslims. It suits the media and the academic world to treat Muslims as a homogeneous community, as it suits the Sunni Indian Muslims who too like to see themselves as part of the Ummah, or the global Muslim nation. So, India has reached a stage where Indian Muslims behave like a dominant group, unlike a truly subjugated and discriminated group such as Dalits and women.

The ‘minority consciousness’ among Muslims is, therefore, more of a politics that prevents them from disengaging from emotional issues. To some extent, this is a north Indian phenomenon. The Muslims of southern India who have been largely free from minority consciousness have been able to register economic and educational growth while their northern counterparts remain emotionally engaged in issues which are more political than substantive. Also, compared to Muslims, India’s Christians, Sikhs and Parsis, though in a numerical minority, do not exhibit any ‘minority consciousness’—except for the fact that Parsis are worried about their diminishing numbers.

Given the highest degree of historical discrimination, social prejudices and forced exclusion from mainstream life, Dalits can be called a minority by compulsion. The Muslims in India are, unfortunately, a minority more by choice and less by compulsion, since they have been the ruling community in India, a primary reason why they conduct themselves boldly and assertively. In Lucknow, social anthropologist Nadeem Hasnain told me: “When will Muslims learn to live like a minority?” He added: “I think our biggest complex is that we have ruled India for 800 years.” The Muslims also enjoy a strong sense of history and culture which is an essential prerequisite for a community to take voluntary initiatives. And unlike the Dalits, Muslims carry no social stigma which could potentially inhibit their economic enterprise.

In conclusion, a key challenge is how to disengage Muslims from the minority consciousness. While any set of measures will require decades to bring about such change, some small steps can be initiated. One, political parties should close down their minority wings and start treating their Muslim members like all other members. Intellectually, the BJP is well placed to do this and therefore, it must set a precedent. Two, a case is pending before the Supreme Court which has been asked to rule that the Aligarh Muslim University is not a minority institution. Unfortunately, this university encourages the minority consciousness among Muslims and sends a message to them that it is the only university in India where they can study.

If the apex court rules that the AMU is not a minority institution, it will unshackle Muslim minds and they will begin to think that there are thousands of other colleges open for them across India. In Aligarh, Tariq Islam, a professor at the department of philosophy, told me that if the Supreme Court rules against AMU, the university will start behaving like any mainstream university in India.

Third, the India government needs to make a decision to rename the ministry of minority affairs and change its mandate to include welfare of all disadvantaged Indians. Just as a suggestion, it can be renamed as the ministry for the welfare of the disadvantaged Indian citizens. It is a condition of democracies to help their underprivileged citizens, not communities. The government can think of including every Indian below the poverty line under this ministry’s mandate. It will also eliminate the electoral politics centred on demands for quota for Muslims.

There is a precedent for such a measure. The Planning Commission was renamed as the Niti Aayog and its mandate was changed. Similarly, the scope and mandate of the Ministry of Minority Affairs can be changed, which should also pave the way for elimination of quota system in years ahead. Importantly, it will help eliminate minority politics which harms Indian Muslims. Since minority politics has badly divided Indian society in recent decades, the Indian state must address this issue before it creates further long-term hostilities between Muslims and Hindus. – FirstPost, 16 March 2017

See other articles of the series on FirstPost

» Tufail Ahmad is a contributing editor at Firstpost and executive director of the Open Source Institute, New Delhi. He tweets @tufailelif.


Audrey Truschke and academic bullying – Koenraad Elst

Aurangzeb and his apologist Audrey Truschke

Koenraad ElstLike Truschke herself, I am neither Hindu nor Indian, yet I can read for myself with what explicit glee the Muslim chroniclers described temple destructions and massacres of unbelievers. – Dr Koenraad Elst

Audrey Truschke is a Professor of Religious Studies in Stanford, California, and has gained some fame with her work on the patronage of Sanskrit by the Moghuls. In order to get that far, she had to toe the ideologically mandatory line: neither in America nor in India does the Hindu-baiting establishment allow a dissident to get seriously established in the academic world. Predictably, we see her elaborating the same positions already taken by an earlier generation of academics, such as whitewashing Aurangzeb. Not that this was a hard job for her: one gets the impression that she is a true believer and really means what she says. Then again, she may have done an excellent job of creating the desired impression all while secretly knowing better.


Her position in the article “The Right’s problem with history” (DNA, 26 Oct. 2016) is summed up as: “Unable to defend a fabricated history of India on scholarly grounds, many foot soldiers of the Hindu Right have turned to another response: bullying.” It would be normal to compare secularist historians and their Western dupes with people of the same rank, namely different-minded historians, in this case belonging to the “Hindu Right”. These are not exactly numerous, having been blocked systematically from academe by the single permitted opinion in both India and America, but they exist. Yet, they and their output are absent from her paper. From a street bully, I would expect a denunciation of street bullies, and from an academic a polemic against her own peers.

Hindu Nationalists : Banner image accompanying Truschke's article in DNA The photograph accompanying the article tells it all. If it had been about her own school of history, the picture would have shown established historians involved in this debate, such as Wendy Doniger or Sheldon Pollock. But now that the opposition is at issue, it shows a group of non-historians, not in an air-conditioned college hall but in a street demonstration exercising their freedom of expression. The reader is expected to recognize them as representatives of the “Hindu Right”, and as “bullies”.

She testifies to verbal attacks she herself has endured “from members of the Hindu Right”, and which she evaluates as “vicious personal attacks on the basis of my perceived religion, gender and race”. Correction: she could have maintained the very same religion, gender and race and yet never be attacked by those same Hindus (indeed, most Jewish female whites have never experienced such attacks), if she had not belonged to the “scholars who work on South Asia” and who have earned a reputation as Hindu-baiters. She has been attacked on the basis of what she has written, nothing else.

But it is true, and deplorable, that an uncouth but vocal class of people clothe their denunciations of an ideological position in foul personal attacks. It so happens that I know her plight very well, for I too receive my share of what some would call “hate mail” when I express skepticism of beliefs dear to Hindu traditionalists (e.g. the eternity of Sanskrit, the supernatural origins of the Vedas, the Rama Setu, or the Krishna bhakti verses in the Gita). And also when going against the dogmas of her own school, such as that Muslim rule in India was benign, or that Sanskrit has an origin of white invaders oppressing black natives. Nothing dangerous, though, and I doubt her claim of “physical attacks” on Indologists, unless she means the egg thrown at Wendy Doniger in London.

From the start, Truschke tries to capture the moral high ground by citing one of her lambasters as tweeting: “Gas this Jew.” In America, such reference to the Holocaust is absolutely not done, and Indian secularist circles adopt the same sensitivities once they see these as valid for the trend-setting West. To the Hindu mainstream, this hyper-focus on anything associated with the WW2 is not there, and they had no history with antisemitism; but still this quote would be unacceptable there, for regardless of what Jews exactly believe, Hindus tend to respect other faiths.

However, her claim might be correct (not sure there), for there are indeed some Hindu hotheads who have adopted this kind of rhetoric. In pre-internet days, they would brew their own conspiracy theories, but now the access to websites carrying elaborate Western conspiracy theories, starring the Zionist World Conspiracy, entices them into using this kind of language. Certainly deplorable, but not at all representative for the “Hindu Right”: hardly even for its bullies, not for its leaders (both V. D. Savarkar and M. S. Golwalkar described the Jews as role models for loyalty to one’s own roots) and not at all for the “Hindu Right” scholars whom she is carefully ignoring.

Academic bullying   

This “bullying” had best been compared to the “bullying” on the other side. Like, for instance, the two attempts by Leftist students to silence me, as a twice scheduled speaker, at the Madison Wisconsin South Asia Conference in 1996 and a private event preceding it, hosted by Prof Andrew Sihler. Or the successful protests against the Dharma Civilization Foundation’s offer to fund a chair at UC Irvine, when so many US chairs are comfortably being funded by the Saudis.

But on Truschke’s own side, the dividing line between bullies and academics is not so neat. Why stoop to street bullying if you have tenure? It is far more effective, then, to resort to academic bullying. Thus, in their intervention in the California Textbook Affair, where Hindu parents had sought to edit blatantly anti-Hindu passages, the explicitly partisan intervening professors even managed to get themselves recognized as arbiters in the matter. This would have been unthinkable if those bullies had not been established academics. (And this I can say even though my criticism of the Hindu parents’ positions exists in cold print.) Her focus on street bullies has the effect of misdirecting the reader’s attention, away from the more consequential phenomenon of academic bullying.

I myself have been barred from several Indologist forums by active intervention or passive complicity of the same professors who otherwise clamour “censorship!” when anything at all happens to a book they favour. Thus, they are so very sensitive that they dramatically talked of “threats to freedom of speech” when … Three Hundred Ramayanas, a book belittling a Hindu scripture, was not selected as required reading in Delhi University, though otherwise, it remained freely available. They claim to champion “freedom of speech!” when Wendy Doniger’s error-ridden book Hinduism was withdrawn from circulation, though it was never legally banned but was left available for another publisher; who did indeed come forward, so that the book is again lawfully omnipresent. But when I appealed to them to intervene for annulling my banning from the Religion in South Asia (RISA) list, which had been done in violation of its own charter, they all looked the other way.

A recent example. In 2014, I read a paper on the Rg Vedic seer Vasishtha and his relative divinization in a panel on “divinization” at the European Conference for South Asia Studies in Zürich. My paper was enthusiastically received, also by the panel’s organizers when I sent in the final version for publication. First, they accepted it, but then, I received an embarrassed e-mail from the organizers stating that they could not include my paper, without any reason given. Upon my enquiring, the half-line reply said that it did not fit their project. In all its insignificance, this still managed to be a blatant lie, and their earlier acceptance confirmed that this could not have been the reason. But some higher up had warned them that I am to be treated as excluded, just like on many other occasions.

Far more seriously, both in America and in India, scholars suspected of pro-Hindu sympathies are blocked in their access to academe, and their work gets studiously ignored. For India, a tip of the blanket over this hushed-up phenomenon was lifted by Dr A. Devahuti: Bias in Indian Historiography (1980). It is seriously in need of an update, but I am given to understand that one is forthcoming. For America, a start was made by Rajiv Malhotra with his books Invading the Sacred (2007) and Academic Hinduphobia (2016).


Coming to contents, Truschke accuses “Hindu Right-wingers” of attacks on “academics”. I would have expected them to attack “anti-Hindu Left-wingers”, and indeed I learn that this is exactly how they see it—and how they see her. If she doesn’t like being characterized this way, she is herewith invited to stop calling her adversaries similar names. The binary Left/Right is at least problematic here, yet for a quarter century I have seen this scheme used to explain matters. Except that the Left doesn’t call itself Left: it treats itself as the natural centre, and anything to its right is deemed politically coloured: “Right” or very easily “extreme Right”.

Anyway, she calls “alleged Hinduphobia” nothing more than “a strawman stand-in for any idea that undercuts Hindutva ideology”. The term was made popular by Rajiv Malhotra, whom I have never known to swear by “Hindutva”, a specific term literally translated as “Hindu-ness” but now effectively meaning “the RSS tradition of Hindu nationalism”. At any rate, one does not have to follow Hindutva, or even be a Hindu or an Indian, to observe that American India-watchers utter a strong anti-Hindu prejudice in their publications. Not to look too far, I can find an example in myself: I have written a number of publications criticizing both Hindutva as an ideology and the Hindutva organizations, yet I can off-hand enumerate dozens of illustrations of Hindu-baiting by supposed India experts in the West as well as by their Indian counterparts.

At most, one can criticize the term “Hinduphobia” for being etymologically less than exact. Words in -phobia normally indicate an irrational fear, and fear is not the attitude in which Hinduism is approached. The term was coined on the model of Islamophobia, a weaponized word meant to provoke hatred, yet now a thoroughly accepted and integrated term among progressive academics. A phobia is normally a psychiatric term and its use to denote political adversaries is of a kind with the Soviet custom of locking up dissidents in mental hospitals. And indeed, people shielding Islam from proper enquiry do treat their opponents as mentally warped marginals. But the core of truth in the reprehensible term “Islamophobia” is at least that it points to “fear of Islam”, a religion which its critics do indeed diagnose as fearsome. Hinduism, by contrast, has been criticized as cruel, evil, superstitious, ridiculous, but not as a threat. It is only Hindus who flatter themselves that the “Abrahamics” want to destroy Hinduism because they fear it as being superior and more attractive.

The use of the term Hinduphobia is predicated upon the already existing acceptance and use of the term Islamophobia. If the UN, the governments of the US and EU, etc., and the pan-Islamic pressure group OIC, were to give up this ugly and vicious term, then the Hinduphobia term so disliked by Truschke would lapse with it and get replaced again by the older and more accurate term Hindu-baiting. But until then, it throws the Islamophile and Hindu-baiting scholars of Truschke’s persuasion back on the bare fact that they themselves have and display the kind of prejudice against Hinduism of which they accuse the Islam critics.


According to Truschke, “a toxic combination of two realities fuel the Hindu Right’s onslaught against scholars of South Asia: Hindu nationalist ideology rests heavily on a specific vision of Indian history, and that version of history is transparently false.”

Now it gets interesting, with two competing views of Indian history, one true and one false: “Hindu nationalists claim that India’s past featured the glorious flourishing of a narrowly defined Hinduism that was savagely interrupted by anybody non-Hindu, especially Muslims. However, the real story of Indian history is much more complicated and interesting.”

A “narrowly defined Hinduism” is only projected into the Hindu past by semi-literate non-historians who do indeed man the middle ranks of the uniformed RSS ranks. No serious Hindu historian, not the lamented Jadunath Sarkar, R. C. Majumdar, Harsh Narain or K. S. Lal, nor contempory scholars like Bharat Gupt or Meenakshi Jain, would be foolish enough to simply deny the “diversity and syncretism” that Truschke sees in India’s past. But here again, we see how Truschke has chosen not to address the scholars of a competing persuasion, but the village bumpkins.

In one sense, however, even the most sophisticated historians will affirm that India’s past was indeed “glorious”. And it was not at all “complicated”: India was simply independent. Yes, ancient India had its problems too, it had local wars, it was not paradise on earth, but in one decisive respect, Indians under Muslim or British occupation correctly remembered it as “glorious”: it ruled itself. When the British told Mahatma Gandhi that his hoped-for independence would only throw India back into its headaches of casteism, communalism and the rest, he answered that India would, of course, have its problems, “but they will be our own”. Compared to being under foreign tutelage, such self-rule is nothing less than glorious.

This brings us to Truschke’s own field of research: “Especially problematic for Hindu nationalists is current scholarship on the Indo-Islamic rule, a fertile period for cross-cultural contacts and interreligious exchanges. This vibrant past is rightly a source of pride and inspiration for many Indians, but the Hindu Right sees only an inconvenient challenge to their monolithic narrative of Hindu civilisation under Islamic siege.”

Note how two issues are artfully mixed up here: the questionable monolithic view of Hinduism and the very correct view of a Hindu civilization besieged and raped by Islam. It is true that non-historian “Hindu nationalists” are rather inaccurate in their “monolithic narrative of Hindu civilisation”; but it is not true that the period of “Indo-Islamic rule” is a “source of pride and inspiration”, nor that it is contested only by “Hindu nationalists”. Her notion of “current scholarship” is of course limited to her own school of thought, heavily over-represented in academe, partly due to its aggressive policy of exclusion vis-à-vis others.

There are admittedly those who identify with foreign colonizers: many Indian Muslims identify with Mohammed bin Qasim and with the Moghuls (whom Pakistan considers as the real founders of their Indo-Islamic state), and many Nehruvian secularists share and continue the British opinions about India and Hinduism. But those who identify with India, even if they admit some good aspects of these colonizations, do not take any pride at all in having been subjugated. Yes, there were instances of collaboration with the colonizers, such as the hundreds of thousands of Indians whose sweat made the “British” railway network possible, or the Rajputs whose daughters filled the Moghul harems in exchange for their fathers’ careers in the Moghul army. But those instances are at most understandable, a lesser evil in difficult circumstances, but not a source of “pride and inspiration”.

A few episodes of Muslim occupation were indeed “vibrant”, viz. after Akbar’s realistic appreciations of the existing power equations persuaded him to rule with rather than against his Hindu subjects. Then, as everybody already knew, Hindus did indeed give their cultural best, rebuilding the temples which the Sultanate had demolished (and which would again be demolished by Aurangzeb)—a tribute to the vitality of Hindu civilization even under adverse circumstances. And some Muslims did indeed engage in “interreligious exchanges”, such as Dara Shikoh translating the Upanishads into Persian; later, he was beheaded for apostasy.

But even then, academics had better use their critical sense when interpreting these episodes, rather than piously taking them at face value. In the Zürich conference already mentioned, I heard an “academic” describe how contemporary Hindi writers praised Aurangzeb, the dispenser of their destinies. Well, many eulogies of Stalin can also be cited, including by comrades fallen from grace and praising Stalin even during their acceptance speeches of the death penalty; but it would be a very bad historian, even if sporting academic titles, who flatly deduces therefrom that Stalin was a benign ruler. Govind Singh’s “Victory Letter” to Emperor Aurangzeb was, in all seriousness, included among the sources of praise, leaving unmentioned that Aurangzeb had murdered Govind’s father and four sons. Every village bumpkin can deduce that Govind hated Aurangezb more than any other person in the world, and that he was only being diplomatic in his writing because of the power equation. Academics laugh at kooks who believe in aliens, but it took an academic, no less, to discover an alien who actually admired the murderer of his father and sons.

According to Truschke’s admission, a lot of Hindus are “happy to underscore the violence and bloodshed unleashed by many Indo-Islamic rulers”, but she wrongly identifies them as “Hindu Right”. It doesn’t require a specific ideological commitment nor even any religious identity to observe well-documented historical facts. Mostly documented by the Muslim perpetrators themselves, that is. Thus, like Truschke herself, I am neither Hindu nor Indian, yet I can read for myself with what explicit glee the Muslim chroniclers described temple destructions and massacres of unbelievers.

The mistake of plagiarism

“In contrast to the detailed work of academics, the Hindu nationalist vision of India’s past stands on precarious to non-existent historical evidence. As a result, the Hindu Right cannot engage with Indologists on scholarly grounds. Indeed, the few Hindutva ideologues who have attempted to produce scholarship are typically tripped up by rookie mistakes—such as misusing evidence, plagiarism, and overly broad arguments—and so find themselves ignored by the academic community.”

The inclusion of “plagiarism” among her list of “rookie mistakes” gives away that she is fulminating specifically against the work of Rajiv Malhotra, whom she is careful not to mention by name. For his book Indra’s Net, he was famously accused of plagiarism (by a mission mentor), for he quotes the American scholar Andrew Nicholson’s book Unifying Hinduism, in which he concurs with the same position that Hinduism had elaborated its common doctrinal backbone long before the Orientalists “invented Hinduism”. In fact, he only used Nicholson as a source to prove that Westerners too could acquire this insight, there was nothing “Hindu nationalist” about it. And he amply quoted him in so many words, though a few times, for the flow of the narrative, he merely rephrased the theses of this much-quoted author. By that standard, most papers contain plagiarism; but what passes unnoticed elsewhere becomes a scandal when done by a self-identifying Hindu.

Yet, numerous Indologists started a holier-than-thou tirade against the “plagiarism”, a comical drama to watch. Malhotra then walked the extra mile writing Nicholson out of his narrative and quoting original sources instead (thereby incidentally showing the amount of plagiarism that Nicholson himself had committed, though no Indologist ever remarked on that). But this inconvenient development was given the silent treatment, and Truschke still presupposes that there ever was a substantive “plagiarism” case against Malhotra, and by extension against the whole “Hindu Right”.

Malhotra has indeed been “ignored by the academic community”—until he found the way to make his critique non-ignorable. That indeed shows a lot of skill in dealing with the way of the world, for until then, Hindus had only painstakingly proven themselves right and the “academics” wrong, but had had no impact at all. By contrast, Malhotra, by personalizing his argument into specific dissections of the work of leading scholars such as Wendy Doniger, Sheldon Pollock or Anantanand Rambachan, has earned a session at the annual conference of the trend-setting American Academy of Religion. On Indological discussion forums, his input is frequently mentioned, though the academics mostly keep up their airs of pooh-poohing that interloper, in a bid to justify their ignoring his actual critique of their own work.

By the way, notice my term: a “self-identifying Hindu”. As the case of Malhotra has amply exemplified, it suffices to stand up as a Hindu, or to own up Hinduism, in order to be dubbed “Hindu Rightist”, “Hindutva ideologue”, as well as “fanatic”. “rookie” and all the fair names Hindus have been called by Prof Truschke’s august school of thought. To them, the acceptable Hindu, or what Malhotra calls a “sepoy”, is one who never identifies as a Hindu, but rather as “Indian” (or better, “Bengali”, “Malayali” etc.), “low-caste”, and ideologically “secularist”. The exception is when countering criticism from self-identified Hindus, for then, he is expected to say: “But me too, I am a Hindu!” That way, he can fulfil his main task: as long as there are Hindus, he must deny them the right to speak on behalf of Hinduism and to give it a presence at the conversation between worldviews.

History debates

Most Hindu scholars had or have not found the way to impose their viewpoint on the sphere of discourse yet. In the case of objective scholars among non-Hindus, this would not have mattered. It is, after all, their own job to trace any material relevant to their field of research, including obscure works by other scholars, even adversaries. But in this case, there are some cornerstones of the Indological worldview which tolerate no criticism nor alternatives, so these are to be carefully ignored.

Thus, Shrikant Talageri’s case against the Aryan Invasion Theory, the bedrock of the “academic” view of ancient Hindu history, is painstaking, detailed, voluminous, factual and well-formulated, yet Truschke’s own entire tribe of “academics” simply goes on ignoring his case without bothering to refute it. (Well, there are two articles talking down to him, but we mean actual refutations, not mere denials.) If academics were to live up to the reputation they have among laymen, they would have set aside their current business to deal with this fundamental challenge to their worldview.

Or take A Secular Agenda by Arun Shourie, PhD from Syracure NY and stunningly successful Disinvestment Minister in the A. B. Vajpayee Government, when India scored its highest economic growth figures. It was a very important book, and it left no stone standing of the common assumption among so-called experts that India (with its religion-based civil codes and its discriminatory laws against Hinduism) is a secular state, i.e. a state in which all citizens are equal before the law, regardless of their religion. Though the book deconstructs the bedrock on which the “experts” have built their view of modern India, they have never formulated a refutation. Instead, they just keep on repeating their own deluded assumption, as in: “The BJP threatens India’s structure as a secular state.” (Actually, the BJP does not, and India is not.) They can do so because they are secure in the knowledge that, among the audiences that matter, their camp controls the sphere of discourse. Concerning the interface between religion and modern politics, the established “academic” view is not just defective, it is an outrageous failure.

Or consider historian Prof K. S. Lal’s works on caste and religion, refuting with primary data the seeming truism, launched by the Communist Party ideologue M. N. Roy and now omnipresent in the textbooks, that the lowest castes converted en masse to Islam because of its claimed message of equality. Islam mainly won over the urban middle castes (and not because of equality, a value rejected as ingratitude towards the Dispenser of destinies in the Quran, but because of the privileges vis-à-vis non-Muslims), not the Untouchables. Again, the silent treatment has been the only response the “experts” could muster.

The Ayodhya affair

It is uncommon for Audrey Truschke and the opposite school to have any kind of direct debate at all. In the US this was, until Rajiv Malhotra, unthinkable for lack of any pro-Hindu school willing and able to stand up to the overwhelming anti-Hindu bias among those Indologists willing to wade into any controversial subject. But in India, there have been a few such confrontations. And on those occasions, the “academics” did not cover themselves with glory.

One consequential instance in India was the Ayodhya scholars’ debate in the winter of 1990-1991, organized by the Janata (Left-populist) government headed by Chandra Shekhar. This was won hands down by the scholars affirming the existence of a Hindu temple underneath the Babri Masjid, first against a delegation of Muslim leaders unfamiliar with historical methodology, selected by the Babri Masjid Action Committee, then against a group of Marxist academics called in by that same Committee for saving the day. The latter’s position was but an elaboration of the official orthodoxy created by a group of academics from JNU when they issued a statement, The Political Abuse of History (1989), denying the existence of temple remains underneath the Babri Masjid. It had been taken over as gospel truth by most of the academic and journalistic India-watchers in the West, including Truschke’s mentors. They kept the lid on the debate’s outcome.

More detail about the controversy can be found in my paper The Three Ayodhya Debates (2011). But since I do not hold an academic chair, she might not take me seriously, so let that pass. Instead, I may refer her to the excellent book Rama’s Ayodhya (2013) by Prof Meenakshi Jain of DU. No Indian or Western academic has refuted it or even formally taken cognizance of it. After court-ordered excavations in 2003 had definitively confirmed the existence of the temple, acknowledged in the court verdict of 2010, they have all turned conspicuously silent on Ayodhya.

Indeed, what insiders knew all along, has now become official: the stance of the “academics”, both Indian and Western, has been an outrageous failure. It relied entirely on the authority of a few “experts” already known for their anti-Hindu positions. Their “expertise” fell through completely once they were cross-examined on the witness stand, as amply documented by  Prof Jain.

That those “experts” didn’t manage to uphold their case against the temple was a surprise only to their dupes, including the American India-watchers. At least, I assume these were dupes and had genuinely swallowed the no-temple claim (“concocted by the wily Hindu fundamentalists”). The alternative is that they were deliberate accomplices in the Ayodhya deception, an artificial controversy that killed thousands and brought down several governments. I would prefer not to think such things about scholars like Audrey Truschke and her mentors.

A remarkable aspect of the experts’ fall from grace was the smugness with which they took the witness stand. They had not deemed it necessary to brush up their knowledge of Ayodhya, or to give their ill-founded statements of opinion a more solid basis at least after the fact. They had for so long publicly pretended, as Truschke now does, that the Hindu side merely consisted of a bunch of deplorables, that they didn’t see the need to gear up for the confrontation.


The Ayodhya controversy was part of a larger issue, viz. Islamic iconoclasm, which victimized many thousands of places of worship in India and abroad, starting with Arabia. Or at least, that is how historians like Sita Ram Goel and Profs Harsh Narain, K. S. Lal, Saradindu Mukherji saw it: turn this one controversy into an occasion for educating the public about the ideological causes of the iconoclasm that hit Hindu society so hard and so consistently for over a millennium. But the RSS-BJP preferred to put the entire focus on their one toy in Ayodhya, and obscure or even deny the Islamic motive behind it. (The ideological impotence and non-interest on their part provides yet another contrast with the academics’ imaginary construction of a wily, resourceful and highly motivated Hindu movement.)

As part of his effort, Goel published a two-volume book giving a list of two thousand purposely demolished temples, mostly replaced by mosques. The part on the theology of iconoclasm proved irrefutable, and has never even been gainsaid on any of its specifics. The list of two thousand temples equally stands entirely unshaken, as so many challenges to the reigning school that tries to downplay the tradition of iconoclasm pioneered by the Prophet. Ever since, the dominant policy has been to disregard Goel’s work and carry on whitewashing the record of Islam regardless.

Since stray new proofs of Muslim temple destruction keep popping up, that school has developed an alternative discursive strategy to prevent such cases from suggesting their own logical conclusion. It now preaches that a few temple destructions have indeed taken place, but channels this admission towards a counterintuitive explanation: that Hinduism is to be blamed for these, not Islam. The core of truth is that a handful of cases have been documented of ancient Hindu kings abducting prestigious idols from their adversaries’ main temples, just as happened in Mesopotamia and other Pagan cultures. These are then presented as the source of inspiration for Aurangzeb’s wholesale destruction (documented in his own court chronicles) of thousands of temples and many more idols.

Not that any of the many Muslim iconoclasts ever testified that such was his inspiration. Their motivation, whenever explicitly stated, and whether inside or outside of India, is invariably purely Islamic. Since the negationist school is unable to document its thesis, let me show them by example how to do it.

Kashinath Pandit’s book A Muslim Missionary in Mediaeval Kashmir (Delhi 2009) contains a translation of the Tohfatu’l Ahbab, the biography of the 15th-century Islamic missionary Shamsu’d-Din Araki by his younger contemporary Muhammad Ali Kashmiri. After describing the many temple demolitions Araki wrought or triggered in thinly populated Kashmir (many more than the “eighty” which the secularists are willing to concede on Richard Eaton’s authority for all of India during the whole Muslim period), the biographer gives Araki’s motivation in practising all this iconoclasm.

Does he say: Araki then recalled the story how a Hindu king ran off with an idol and thereby felt an urge to do something entirely different: destroy all the idols and their idol-houses with it? No, he recounts the standard Islamic narrative of the Kaaba: it was built by Adam and rebuilt by Abraham for monotheistic worship (thus yielding a far more authoritative precedent than idol theft by an infidel king), until unbelievers made it “a place for the idols and a house for the statues. Some Quraish chieftains (…) turned this House of God into the abode of devilish and satanic people. For innumerable years, this house of divine light and bliss became the worshiping place for sorcerers and depraved people and the centre of worshippers of idols (made of stones).”

Fortunately, this injustice didn’t last, neither in Mecca nor in Kashmir: “When the last of the prophets (Muhammad) saw this situation, he lifted Imam ‘Ali Murtaza on his shoulders so that defiled and impure idols and images were struck down in the House of God. (…) In the same manner, Kashmir was a den of wicked people, the source of infidelity and a mine of corruption and aberration.” (p.258)

And then the enumeration of Hindu sacred places levelled and mosques built in their stead resumes. An extra detail of interest for all those who idealize Sufis is that the text lists many occasions when “Sufis” and “Derwishes” participated in massacres and temple demolitions.

At any rate, that is what a Muslim testimony of the motive for temple destructions looks like. At least in the real world, not in the make-believe world of our “academics”. I had already challenged Richard Eaton (the originator of this thesis, a self-described Marxist) and his followers to come up with such evidence in 1999, but nothing has ever materialized. Come on, Prof Truschke, you can make an excellent career move by producing this proof.

To sum up: on the one hand, we have Islamic icononoclasts and their contemporary supporters saying in so many words that Islam made them do it. Moderns who highlight this evidence are, in Truschke’s estimation, “bullies”. On the other, we have no evidence at all for the claim that the Islamic iconoclasts, intent on destroying Hinduism itself through its icons, took inspiration from Hindu icon-stealers, who installed the icon in their own temple for continued worship (as if abduction, wanting to have something close to you, were the same thing as murder, i.e. wanting something to disappear from this world). This claim is nothing more than special pleading. Yet, people who propagate it are, in Trusche’s description, “academics”.


The bourgeoisie sets great store by status. Scholars go by a different criterion: knowledge. They know, through learning or personal experience, that for some of the great insights and discoveries we are indebted to outsiders and amateurs; and that quite a few of their colleagues have big titles and positions not corresponding to their actual knowledge. They also know that holding (or at least uttering) the required opinions can make or break an academic career: either formally, as when a non-Anglican could not get admission to Oxford University, or informally, as under the reign of progressivist conformism today.

To think highly of the academic world presupposes a link between scientific achievement and academic rank, and this largely makes sense in the exact sciences. In the humanities, especially in the social “science” and literature departments, this link is also deduced, but only as a parasitical extension of the conventions in the exact sciences. Much of what passes for scholarship these days is only ideology wrapped into jargon. Some sophomores take it seriously: having just gained entry into the academic world, they idealize it and are proud of their belonging to a higher world distinct from lay society. And most laymen believe it: over-awed by status, they assume that academic status presupposes both knowledge and objectivity, the basis of academic authority.

There exists a test for objective knowledge: a good theory predicts. Physicists who know the relevant parameters of an object in motion, can predict its location at future times. Well, how about the predictions by the academic India-watchers? In the mid-1990s, when the BJP’s imminent coming to power was a much-discussed probability, top academics predicted that a BJP government would turn India into a Vedic dictatorship, whatever that may be. They were put in the wrong even swifter than expected: in 1996, BJP leader A. B. Vajpayee was prime minister for 13 days, then lost the vote of confidence, and instead of seizing power for good, he meekly stepped down. Academics predicted the victimization of Dalits and women, gas chambers, “all the Indian Muslims thrown into the Indian Ocean”, and what not. Well, the BJP has been in power from 1998 till 2004, and since 2014: where are those gas chambers?

Scholars of modern India, as well as historians of fields relevant for contemporary political debates, have a lot to be modest about. They may have academic positions, but their record is not such that they are in a position to talk down to outsiders, the way Audrey Truschke now does. – Pragyata, 30 November 2016

» Dr Koenraad Elst is an author and Indologist based in Belgium.

Kashi Vishwanath Temple replaced by Aurangzeb's Gyanvapi Mosque, Varanasi (James Prinsep 1834)