I would like to comment on another comment about “retoxification” of history textbooks by the UPA government. A couple of years ago, I did a comparison of two of NCERT’s class XI textbooks on Medieval India, one written by Satish Chandra and the other by Meenakshi Jain. I also looked at other NCERT textbooks.
The essay from which I quote below is part of a longer book (in process), concerning the politicization of historiography in India.
Excerpts from my writings:
In Satish Chandra’s and Arjun Dev’s treatments, Islam is portrayed primarily as an egalitarian, scientific, beneficent civilization. They scrupulously avoid mentioning jihad or the undeniably violent nature of the Arab expansion, which many objective scholars, even Pakistani intellectuals have characterized as “Arab nationalism” or “Arab imperialism”. This calculated denial of the essentially violent nature of the majority of the Islamic encounters in South Asia that claims the local populations “welcomed the invaders” is a falsification of the facts. This negationism is a source of contention that has fueled considerable controversies.
In Jain’s NCERT textbook, the chapter on “The World of Islam” pushes the pendulum that had been stuck for five decades. Though Meenakshi Jain certainly does not blaspheme Muhammad, she situates him differently historically than was the custom in earlier (1970’s era) NCERT textbooks written under another paradigm. It is essential to note that, including in textbooks a few details about the very violent nature of the Arab expansion, is no more detrimental to Muslim identity than a discussion of slavery in early America is harmful to Whites. Attempting to learn from the mistakes and accomplishments of our ancestors is the main reason history is taught to students.
Jain writes that, “The Battle of Badr, where Muhammad first wielded the sword to assert his Prophethood, is regarded as the most momentous in Islamic history”. Though this assertion is true according to many devote Muslims, and fits in with the history of the advent of Islam, many politically-correct historians would never frame it in this manner. Jain mentions Muhammad’s “attacks on the Jews and later the Christians” and she does not hide his expulsion of “a Jewish tribe from Medina” and “subsequent assault on the Jewish oases of Khaibar”. She describes his “triumphal entry into Mecca” and that he “ordered the removal of 360 idols” from the Kaaba. In the tale, as told by Arjun Dev, no Jews were attacked, when they are mentioned, he writes that for Muslims, “the prophets of the Jews are revered”.
Islam is treated with kid gloves in the 1970’s era NCERT textbooks, while Hinduism is picked apart for its faults. The NCERT textbook on Medieval India by Meenakshi Jain in many ways matches the manner in which the story of the rise of Islam is told in Pakistan and other Muslim countries in the world that take pride and seek to learn from the acts of the Prophet. His execution of nonbelievers is essential to the story. Arjun Dev may have felt that the real history was too harsh to tell and needed to be softened in order not to shock Hindus or insult Indian Muslims. Jain mentions the “dhimmi system”, which, in a quite euphemistic definition, “reflected the eternal frontier between believers and non-believers”.
Footnote: [Dhimmi literally a “protected subject”, the term describes the status of non-Muslims in a Muslim ruled state. According to “The Venture of Islam, The Classical Age of Islam” (Volume 1), University of Chicago Press, 1974, p. 514, by Marshall G.S. Hodgson, Dhimmi is a “Follower of a religion tolerated by Islam, within Muslim ruled territory” In the glossary of her textbook, Jain defines Dhimmi as “non-Muslim people who were entitled to state protection in lieu of jaziya” (a tax on non-Mulims). The dhimmi status was considered second class citizenship, and dhimmis had to pay a special tax. Jaziya was deeply resented by many Hindus during the Sultanate and Mughal period.]
The doctrine of Dhimmitude impacted the inhabitants of India more profoundly than in other areas because the majority of the population remained non-Muslim. However, the concept of dhimmi, so essential to the administrative organization of Muslim dominated states, is never mentioned by Satish Chandra or Arjun Dev.Jain writes, that -
“Islam was the first attempt in Arab history at a social formation based on religious rather than blood ties. Scholars have therefore viewed the new religion as a manifestation of Arab nationalism.”
Jain then takes up the topic of “Arab Expansion” that was either ignored in the case of Satish Chandra, or glorified in the case of Arjun Dev who saw the locals welcoming the invaders with open arms. Jain states something that is hardly ever mentioned in school book narratives, “The conquest of India… proved to be no walkover for the invaders”. She adds details that, though they had been left out of earlier NCERT textbooks, are actually a part of history,
“While they had won relatively easy victories in Christian and Zoroastrian lands, they were checkmated in Sind, Kabul, Zabul, three tiny Hindu kingdoms on the north-western frontier of India, for almost four centuries.”
Balochi and Pakhtun nationalist historians have told me about the centuries of fierce resistance, but this does not find mention in either Pakistani history textbooks or those of the 1970’s vintage NCERT series. Perhaps the authors of the 1970’s vintage NCERT textbooks thought that if students were taught that the Islamic invasions into the Subcontinent were held at bay for 400 years, instead of being “welcomed by the natives”, it might make the modern school child less than welcoming to his or her Muslim neighbors. Maybe such honesty would help all citizens to be more realistic about how these historical events have spun out to the present.
[Footnote: Others argue that to deny the violence is damaging to the society and citizens should distance themselves from bad practices of their ancestors. The example that comes to mind again is slavery, something no American should take pride in. So, too many Hindus think that Muslim Indians should distance themselves from the violence that accompanied the advance of Islam in India. At least, they think it should not be a source of pride, that their distant ancestors destroyed temples and educational institutions, anymore than white Americans should defend slavery.]
Arjun Dev’s textbook does not mention the Arab invasion of Sindh, which warrants its own subsection in Jain’s textbook. In Pakistani textbooks it is one of the proudest moments in history. The narrative in Jain’s textbook reads differently than the way it is represented by the official Pakistani version, and more the way the tale is told by Sindh nationalists. This telling includes aspects of the Arab invasion of the Indus corridor that are not mentioned in most textbooks, either in India, Pakistan, or the West. Jain writes,
“After their unsuccessful attempt to conquer Thana near Bombay in A.D. 636… subsequent expeditions …. also ended in failure, though the Arabs continued their attacks by and land and sea. They focused on the hilly region of Kikana near the Bolan Pass inhabited by the sturdy Jats. Is was only in A.D. 712, after over seven decades of dogged resistance, that the Arabs under Muhammad bin Qasim finally succeeded in establishing their rule in Sindh.”
Meenakshi Jain concludes this section, stating that even after the defeat of the last Hindu king, Raja Dahir, “his widow and later also his son continued the resistance”. According to Arjun Dev, there was no resistance to the invaders who were welcomed by the locals with open arms. According to Satish Chandra, Islam brought a peaceful and egalitarian social system that unified India. Meenakshi Jain added a few ripples to the smooth tale.
Regarding Islamic conquests of Afghanistan, Jain writes that the “Arabs waged an inconclusive struggle [against the indigenous people of] the region for 220 years, which was eventually continued by the Turks”.
This militaristic and cultural resistance of the pre-Islamic peoples in the area that is now Afghanistan is attested in many accounts. In the eighth and ninth century most people in Afghanistan were Hindus and Buddhists. Unlike other parts of western and central Asia, they resisted Islamization for hundreds years. However, this anomaly in the historical narrative of the Indian nation is considered, by some quarters, to be communalization. If Hindus are shown bravely and successfully resisting Islamic invaders, it is seen as communal. To be “secular”, history has to show Hindus as welcoming Muslim rule. However, that was not necessarily the case.
Footnotes: [Meenakshi Jain describes these centuries of successful resistance, “Thus from the first Arab foray into Sindh to the Turkish conquest of Lahore [by Mahmud of Ghaznavi], it took the invaders nearly four hundred years to establish a foothold in the subcontinent”. Mentioning this valiant, centuries-long resistance to multiple invasion attempts is eschewed as communal by scholars who seek to represent the arrival of Islam in India as a welcome reprieve from caste domination. [Surjit Mansingh, in the Historical Dictionary of India, p. 242, wrote about this: “Five hundred years of Arab-Turk attacks over stubborn resistance pushed that frontier east and south in stages: the battle for Sindh 636-713; the battle for Afghanistan from 643-870; the struggle for Punjab from 870-1030.]
In the retelling of the invasions of Mahmud Ghaznavi and Muhammad Ghori, Meenakshi Jain recounts the interaction from the point of view of the recipient – referring to the destruction of temples, as well as the wealth that was extracted. When she quotes Alberuni it is to show his sympathy and regret for the devastation wrought by Mahmud, and also the praise that he lavished on famous Indian architectural sites, before Mahmud razed them.
Satish Chandra recounted the events though the lens of the invaders, describing inter-Islamic conflicts and their mode of warfare, and adding editorial comments such as, “It was the resourcefulness of the ghazi and his willingness to undergo great privation for the sake of the cause which enabled these infant states to hold their own against the Turks”. Chandra waxes eloquent about the “Persian renaissance of the Iranian spirit” with which Mahmud of Ghaznavi was “closely associated”.
Regarding local resistance to Mahmud’s incursions into India, Chandra wrote about the indigenous resistance in the “said-to-be” mode:
“It seems that many princes of north-western India, including the rulers of Kanauj and Rajasthan, took part in [.…] the decisive battle between Mahmud and Anandapala … in1008-09 … near Peshawar”.
Besides a few sentences about how Anandapala’s father had been routed several times by Mahmud, there is no discussion of the motivations or methods of the indigenous defenders. Just the valor of Mahmud is discussed, not his valiant foes. Chandra writes that “Mahmud marched across Rajputana in order to raid the fabulously rich temple at Somnath without encountering any serious resistance on the way”. Chandra adds in this quasi-eulogy, defending Ghaznavi in much the same way as do Pakistani textbooks, “It is not correct to dismiss Mahmud as just a raider and plunderer”.
In contrast, Meenakshi Jain focuses her text on the alliances among the local rajas, such the Pratiharas of Kanauj, the Chandellas, and the defensive strategies of the “intrepid Hindushahis”, among others. She quotes from Alberuni who paid a “tribute” to the Hindushahi dynasty that had “expended four generations… in the struggle”. Alberuni had called them, “men of noble sentiment and noble bearing”. She describes several of Mahmud’s expeditions into India, quoting from his “court historian, Utbi, who left a vivid description of the extraordinary buildings that Mahmud saw [in Mathura] which, according to some accounts, included one thousand temples”.
In contrast to what Chandra depicted as a lack of “any serious resistance” against Mahmud when he attacked Somnath, Jain writes that “Mahmud captured the city after a grim struggle in which more than fifty thousand defenders lost their lives”. She again quotes Alberuni, who described the demolition of the temple. She concludes the episode saying that on his return home, Mahmud’s “soldiers suffered many hardships … partly due to pressures from the Jats of Sindh”.
Footnote: [The use of the word defenders here has subtle but serious implications. It implies that the Muslim armies were not welcomed, as the 1970’s versions of NCERT history had described. It also implies that the Hindus were the defenders and the Muslims the attackers, which does not paint a picture of communal harmony during this period.]
In Satish Chandra’s version, the Jats are cited more often for pillage than are the invading Islamic armies. The representations of the Jats as found is Chandra’s narrative is the reason members of the Jat community filed a writ with the court citing their complaints against the old NCERT textbooks. Chandra’s treatment of Mahmud of Ghaznavi and his armies is more positive than his comments about the role of the Hindu communities such as Jats, in medieval India.
These quotes from Pakistani textbooks bring us back to New Delhi, where left-leaning critics of the BJP-era NCERT textbooks repeatedly accused the then HRD Minister of aping Pakistani’s theocratic approach to historiography. Ironically, as can be seen from the above comparison, the 1970’s era, Marxist influenced NCERT textbooks mirror the Pakistani version of the historical narrative more closely than those published with BJP support. In Pakistani textbooks the heroes of medieval history are the Islamic invaders, the Arabs, the Central Asians, the Turks, including the most ruthless of the Persians and Afghanis who ravished the countryside for centuries. These raiders and military men, many of whom never stayed long enough in the Subcontinent to establish kingdoms, plundered Peshawar, Lahore, Multan, and Sindh mercilessly for hundreds of years. They laid waste to the urban centers and the countryside of the land that is now Pakistan. But they are considered heroes.
Stories about the of resistance that the Islamic armies encountered among the peoples that inhabited Afghanistan and what is now NWFP (North West Frontier Province) are not included in Pakistani narratives nor the 1970’s NCERT versions. It took hundreds of years of violent conflicts to convert the Pakhtuns to Islam, unlike the “heady” tempo of empire building in the first centuries after the death of Muhammad. Islam swept across North Africa, Assyria, Babylon. Persia, but the armies and the doctrine of Islam met a roadblock in what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province, and West Panjab.
Fierce as they may have been, the local inhabitants of northwestern India, during the eighth and ninth centuries--Hindus and Buddhists, whose descendants were eventually converted to Islam--do not figure into the story of the Pakistani nation, or in the 1970’s era NCERT textbooks.
A few Hindu kings and kingdoms have found their way into Pakistani textbooks, such as Raja Dahir, who successfully resisted numerous Arab invasions before he was defeated by Muhammad bin Qasim in Sindh in 712 A.D. That he successfully repelled over a dozen Arab invasion attempts is rarely mentioned, only his defeat. Raja Dahir, and any other Hindu rulers that figure into the Pakistani story of the past, are depicted as disorganized cowards ruling hapless victimized subjects who are hopelessly divided by caste. The caste ridden locals are described, as in Arjun Dev’s treatment, as welcoming the egalitarian Arab armies with open arms.
Pakistani narratives also portray the response of the local Sindhis in this way, as if there was a welcoming committee up and down the Indus corridor. Pakistani textbooks also proudly tell students that bin Qazim’s army razed several cities to the ground and massacred all the inhabitants. It is not clear if the locals were killed for waving at the Arab army or resisting the invasion.
Pakistani textbooks, and also earlier NCERT textbooks in India, never mention that for decades Arab forays into Gujarat and Rajasthan were successfully repelled by martial groups such as the Pratiharas. For hundreds of years, the Arabs in Sindh failed to make any inroads east of the Indus. That this fierce and effective resistance is not mentioned in Pakistani textbooks, is not surprising, but that these historical events are excluded from the 1970’s era NCERT textbooks written for Indian students is astonishing.
In Pakistani textbooks, nothing positive is said of the locals who lived in the land before the advent of Islam, particularly the evil Brahmans who “burned their wives “ and “put lead in the ears of Shudras if they herd the Vedas”. The politics, the art and literature, architecture is purely Islamic. There is nothing good about Hindus, nothing worthwhile to include in a textbooks.
This is the narrative as published by the Textbook Boards in Pakistan and amazingly, in a modified form, also in textbooks published the 1970’s by the NCERT. The volume on Medieval India by Meenakshi Jain brings a different perspective to the story of the advent of Islam in South Asia. It situates the local inhabitants along with the invaders, instead of depopulating them from the land and excluding them from the historical narrative.
In general, Hindu resistance to Islamic invaders is not included in historical narratives, neither colonial, Marxist, or Muslim. Therefore, the fact that Hindu India was eventually dominated by Islamic dynasties can be blamed on the internal weaknesses of the victims, whose stories were never told. Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains in the medieval era, exist only as a subtext in a tale told through the lens of “Muslim India”. When indigenous peoples are discussed they are shown as chaotic, caste-ridden, effete, unable to defend themselves. This approach of the “Cowering Hindu and the Towering Sultan” is ingrained in the vast majority of historical records, a legacy of schools of thought that have dominated India intellectually for centuries.
End of excerpt
Then in this soon to be completed book, there is a section on how the premise of the “Cowering Hindu and the Towering Sultan” is ingrained in historiography, regardless of its veracity.