Akbar was Indian. He was not a coloniser

Tabish Khair
Tabish KhairJun 08, 2016 | 13:45

Akbar was Indian. He was not a coloniser

I ignored - because I was not particularly concerned about - the first round of controversy over Akbar, the Mughal emperor of India. That controversy was about Akbar's greatness, or lack of it.

As someone who believes that, like religion, democracy is one of humanity's greatest (though inevitably imperfect) inventions, I do not yearn to call any absolute monarch "great".

As far as greatness in monarchies goes, I am happy to leave the matter to historians - who can discuss whether the epithet "great" may be conferred on Akbar on the basis of the extent and relative prosperity of his rule or those of his administrative measures, which were copied down to the 19th century, etc.


Personally, I do not care about Akbar's (or any monarch's) greatness. But the second controversy - which has bloomed these days - concerns me.

This controversy started with a bid to rename a road named after Akbar. The reason given - on Facebook and on the streets - was that Akbar was an "outsider" and a "coloniser".

Of course, there are many streets named after "outsiders," but that is not my point. True, Akbar's grandfather, Babur, was an outsider.

Not exactly a "coloniser" though - because no Mughal ruler ever colonised India. Babur conquered Delhi, incidentally by defeating another Muslim king. He (like other Muslim kings before him) settled down in India.

General VK Singh wants Akbar Road in Delhi renamed after Maharana Pratap. 

A colony, by definition, is ruled from outside, from another state - and in that sense India was colonised only by Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries. They ruled parts of India from places like London and Paris.

Akbar was born and brought up in India, and grew up speaking Indian languages. He married a Hindu princess - and she continued to be a Hindu after her marriage.


He - and his successors like Jehangir - issued coins featuring Hindu motifs, such as etchings of Lord Rama and Sita. He clearly espoused a mixed, indigenised culture. The list is long, and to my mind it is "Indian".

If after all this Akbar still stays an "outsider" in some people's minds then the question arises: "When does one become Indian?"

This question is relevant to many Muslims, Christians, Parsis, etc and I do not want to take another route out by talking of the historical nature of "India" and arguing that, in effect, there were no real Indians until the Indian movement for Independence. It would be too easy a way out.

In fact, the question is also relevant to many Hindus, though you are not allowed to say so in some circles - because historically the so-called Aryan peoples (Indian-European, to be exact) moved into India from further up north.

What we call Hinduism today was the result of the ongoing mixture that took place, just as what we call Indian Muslim culture today was the result of the mixture that took place under rulers like Akbar.


It has become customary to note that Muslims in India were converted from Hinduism or other faiths. This is only partly true.

Many Muslims in India also trace themselves, rightly or wrongly, to clans that moved into what is India today.

(There was a lot of admixture in any case, and, genetically speaking, there are hardly any people in the world who are purely native to the place where they live today. A very English friend of mine, with no family history of marrying outside England, had his genes traced recently - and discovered that his unknown ancestors also came from France, Scandinavia, Mongolia and India!)

This does not mean - and I have strongly criticised the "Arabisation" of Islamists in India - that Indian Muslims are "Arabs" or whatever.

No, they are Indians, every inch Indians, but Indians with a certain kind of mixed history.

As are Christians, Parsis, Jews - for that matter even those Sikhs, Hindus, etc, who migrated to India from what is Pakistan today. The list, again, is long - and Indian, to my mind.

I find it deeply offensive when Akbar is called an "outsider". I also do not find it innocent. It sends out a hidden signal: it subtly discredits the Indianness of many Indians.

Most Indians, I would say. Because if one cannot become Indian in three generations, there is no reason why someone would be "allowed" to become Indian in 13 or 30 generations.

Such a perverted use of "outsider" can only sow the germs of alienation on one side and of xenophobia on the other.

Moreover, as an Indian, I shudder to think of the havoc this kind of thinking can wreak.

After all, many Indians are not "native" to the states they live in, and we have seen what happens when, for instance, Indians who are considered "outsiders" in Maharashtra, Haryana, Kashmir or Assam are targeted for that "fault".

I wish people who go about shouting "outsider" at Akbar stop to think of what kind of monster they might awaken with their shouts.

As an Indian, it is not a monster I want to see stalking my land.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Last updated: June 08, 2016 | 13:45
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