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Mythification of History and ‘Social Common Sense’
By Ram Puniyani

The discipline of history has come to the center stage of social debate for last two decades. We have witnessed a worsening of inter-community relations and spreading of derogatory myths against minority communities in particular and weaker sections of society in general. The rising tide of communal violence is standing on the myths against the minority community, which are based on a particular interpretation of history. 

These myths are very peculiar. When scratched a little, one can see the falsity of the same. In our context the period of medieval times is the one maximally misused for manufacturing such myths. It should be noted that the bias of our history is towards the kings and heroes of the past and toilers, women, slaves, shudras, the poor peasants, the sections which make the history by providing the very ground on which these ‘nobles’ stand, are missing from the discourse of history.

In today’s parlance many a myths have assumed the status of unshakable facts. Generally it is assumed that Muslim kings destroyed Hindu temples to spite the Hindus. Today’s ‘social common sense’ believes that not only Somnath temple but also Ram Janm bhumi temple, Kashi Vishwanth temple, the Mathura Krishna Janmasthan and thousands of other temples have been destroyed by the Mughal aggressors. The general and sweeping statement apart let us have a look at some of these demolitions. Mahmud Gazni on way to Somanth encountered the Muslim ruler of Multan (Abdul Fat Dawod), with whom he had to have a battle to cross Multan. In the battle the Jama Masjid of Multan was badly damaged. Further on way he struck compromise with Anandpal, the ruler of Thaneshwar who escorted his army towards Somanth with due hospitality. Gazni’s army had a good number of Hindu soldiers and five out of his 12 generals were Hindus (Tilak, Rai Hind, Sondhi, Hazran etc). Before proceeding to damage the temple he took custody of the gold and jewels, which were part of the temple treasury. After the battle he issued coins in his name with inscriptions in Sanskrit and appointed a Hindu Raja as his representative in Somnath. Similarly Dr. Pattabhi Sitarammaiya in his History of India describes the circumstances under which the Kashi Vishwanth temple had to be razed to the ground. He states that when Aurangzeb’s entourage was on way from Delhi to Kolkata the Hindu queens requested for the overnight stay in Kashi to enable them to have the Darshan of Lord Vishwananth. Next morning one of the queens who had gone to have the holy prayer did not return and was found in the basement of the temple, dishonored and raped by the Mahant of the temple. The Mahant was punished and the temple was razed to the ground as it had become polluted due to this ghastly act. Aurangzeb gave land and state support to build another temple.

It should be noted that Hindu Kings were not far behind in attacking and damaging temples when it became a political necessity for their rule or for the lust of wealth. Retreating Maratha armies destroyed the temple of Srirangtatanm, to humiliate Tipu Sultan whom they could not defeat in the battle. Parmar kings destroyed Jain temples. A Hindu king called Shashank cut off the Bodhi tree where Lord Gautam Buddha got his Nirvana. Similarly Kalhan a Kashmiri poet describes the life of King Harshdev of Kashmir, who appointed a special officer, Devotpatan Nayak (An officer who uproots the images of Gods) to usurp the gold from the temples. Aurangzeb did not hesitate to destroy the Jama Masjid in Golconda as Nawab Tanashah refused to pay him tribute for three consecutive years and hid his wealth underneath a mosque, which was damaged by Aurangzeb to recover his ‘dues’. Also many a Muslim kings gave Jagirs to the temples to keep their subjects happy. It is clear that kings from both the religions destroyed the places of worship for the sake of amassing wealth or for other political purposes.

Similarly the myth that Islam spread on the point of sword is equally baseless. It is true that many a ruling nobles and Rajas adopted Islam to rise in the hierarchy of the Mughal emperors. Also some families must have adopted Islam out of fear of the Muslim kings. But this conversion is a small trickle compared to the majority of Dalits (then called untouchables), the poor toiling peasants who took to Islam to escape the tyranny of Brahmins and zamindars. This was out of a longing for social justice, which prompted them to interact with the Sufi saints who unlike Ulama were mixing with the poor and the deprived of the society and adopted local idioms. It was in response to the appeal of peaceful Sufis and the longing to achieve social justice that majority of Shudras got converted to Islam.

Similarly the glorification of Shivaji and Rana Pratap for establishing Hindu Kingdoms is a total myth. Rana Pratap was longing for a higher status in the Mughal administration and having been denied that, entered into a battle with Mughal king Akbar. Now this was by no means a fight between Hindus and Muslims. Akbar was represented in the battle by Raja Mansing and an army, which was a mix of Rajput soldiers and Muslim soldiers, while Rana Pratap’s army also had Muslim (Pathan) and Rajput soldiers. His second in command was Hakim Khan Sur, whose mazar is the place of annual festival in Haldi Ghati even today. After Rana Pratap, his son Amar Singh was granted higher status in Mughal administration and he became a close ally of Jehangir. Similarly Shivaji was struggling for removal of corruption and a higher control of local resources, His confidential secretary was Maulavi Haider Ali, and the chief of his cannon division was Ibrahim Gardi. 

Also his close ally at the time of his escape from Agra forte was none other than Madari Mehtar, a Muslim prince in whom Shivaji reposed all his trust. 

His respect for other religions is legendry. He had built a mosque near the temple in front of his fort in Raigadh. He paid obeisance to Muslim seers (Hazrat Baba Yakut Bahut Thorwale) and Fr. Ambrose Pinto of Surat. The battles of Guru Govind Singh were far from religious. Though the torture of his children and the carrot of pardon in lieu of conversion to Islam are true, it was more to humiliate the enemy than to spread the religion by the Muslim kings. It must be remembered that Govind Singh had proceeded to Deccan to strike a compromise with Aurangzeb but when on way he came to know of Aurangzeb’s death. Later the compromise was struck with Bahadur Shah in return for higher status in administration. We also cannot forget that when most of the Indian kings felt the stifling policies of British rulers they requested Bahadushah Zafar, who despite his old age accepted the leadership of the rebellion at great personal cost. Also it is worth remembering that many a ideologues regard this anti British rebellion as the ‘First war of Independence’.

We cannot ignore the fact that kings were primarily rulers out to expand their empires or to aspire for a higher status in the administration or to garner more wealth through whatever means.

Some of the myths from the ancient Indian period are also worth recounting. It is asserted that women had a place of honor in ancient India where they were worshipped. This ‘Indian value based place of woman’ is offered as a contrast to the ‘Western campaigns’ of Women’s Liberation movement. Now we know that Manusmriti, the 2-3rd century AD text, makes the position and treatment of women in ancient India very clear for us. As per this: Women (and also shudras) were denied access to sacred learning, and the substitute offered to them was marriage and serving the husband. Also for women performance of household duties was identified with the worship of sacred fire i.e. total domesticity was the domain of women. They were to be under control of father, husband or son depending on the stage of their life, and even in her own house she was not supposed to do anything on her own. 

The other myth from this period is about the untouchability. It is being propagated that Untouchability is the creation of Islam. Communities escaped to Jungles etc. to avoid conversion by the tyrannical Mughal rulers, became poor and untouchables. Contrary to this, in fact, the truth is something else. The truth exposes the brutality of Brahminical ideology. First of all, untouchability became the accompaniment of `caste' system, somewhere around first century AD. That is from first century itself untouchability is the social practice prevalent here. Manusmriti, codifies the then existing practices, which show in utmost clarity the type of despicable social practices, which the upper castes were imposing upon the weaker, lower castes. Now the major incursion, invasions of Muslims began in the subcontinent from 11th century AD. Much before the invasion of Muslim Kings shudras were, treated as untouchables.

The discipline of history is a double-edged weapon. When developed in a rational way with the focus on the lives of the people and communities at large it acts as a cementing force between different communities, in the hands of communalists the same History becomes a mechanism to spread hatred against the ‘other’ community.

(Dr. Ram Puniyani teaches at IIT Mumbai and is member of EKTA, Committee for Communal Amity, Mumbai)
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