Pitfalls of erasing Mughals from Indian history

The State, especially in a democracy, cannot play a partisan role without the danger of alienating entire communities.

 |  4-minute read |   10-08-2017
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A few days ago, an article in the Pakistani newspaper The Dawn was being shared on social media - “Why is the great philosopher Kautilya not part of Pakistan’s historical consciousness?”

It ended with: “If Pakistan is to come out of its tortuous identity crisis, it needs to accept its non-Muslim history as its own. Recognising someone as important as Chanakya will have to be part of the long process.”

Many in India endorsed this, as they should.

Ironically, a few days later we were told that history textbooks in Maharashtra had all but deleted mention of Mughal (read Muslim) and Western history from its syllabi, claiming it’s irrelevant. It is now Maharashtra-centric and the role of Shivaji and his family has been expanded.

I have not seen the textbook; just the table of content shown in The Quint. Do the Ahmadnagar and Bijapur kingdoms find mention, which would fall into present day Maharashtra? Do they mention the legendary Chand Bibi who ruled Ahmednagar? A contemporary of Elizabeth I, she ruled over a huge area and was one of the few rulers who defeated Akbar’s army.

In fact, Shivaji’s grandfather, Maloji Bhonsale, was a general in the army. He had no children despite many years of marriage and finally went to a Sufi saint named Shah Sharif, with whose blessings he got two sons, named Shahji and Sharifji.

Shahji too served in the Ahmadnagar army under Malik Ambar, an Ethiopian slave who rose to become a general in the army due to his brilliance in strategic and administrative abilities. He was a pioneer of guerrilla warfare and this strategy was later adopted by Shivaji.

India has been home to a diverse, multicultural, multiplural society which has shaped its society and people. In a multi-cultural country, where there are different shared experiences for different groups, it is the state which has to play the role of the unifier.

history_081017021757.jpgTo glorify one we don’t need to belittle the other. That is the act of a very insecure people.

The state, especially in a democracy, cannot play a partisan role without the danger of alienating entire communities. We cannot deny or wipeout 800 years from our country’s history for they have made us what we are today.

“Except perhaps the most primitive, every society includes diversity, and not all its members hold identical views on all areas of life,” writes Bhikhu Parikh in Composite Culture in a Multicultural Society.

When writing and teaching history, sociology and other subjects which deal with the past, we cannot remove or ignore entire chunks from it. No ruler or incident lived in isolation. Particular events were shaped because of reaction to others and as such teaching of accurate history is important.

What then is history?

When writing history for present and future generations what is the responsibility of the historian?

Is “history the lie commonly agreed upon,” as Voltaire said, or is “accuracy a duty and not a virtue” according to AE Housman?

There is no doubt that every historian will analyse historical events within his/her own knowledge, existing bias and social context but that it should be accurate is a given.

We cannot simply change the outcome of a war because we want to belittle one protagonist and celebrate the other - as has been done in Rajasthan University.

To glorify one we don’t need to belittle the other. That is the act of a very insecure people. The Battle of Haldighati was a battle between two brave rulers. Akbar’s army was led by the Rajput king Man Singh and Maharana Pratap’s general was the Afghan general Hakim Khan Sur. Why are we trying to reduce it to a battle between rulers belonging to different religions?

History is taught in schools because it introduces young minds to events of the past so they may learn from it. By removing references to events such as the French Revolution, Greek philosophy and the American War of Independence which shaped the world, we are doing a disservice to our students. In a world of growing awareness and knowledge we seek to curtail their knowledge.

By not teaching them about Sultan Raziya, the first female monarch of South Asia, we take away the sense of pride. History should be taught for its impact on the future so we may take lesson from it.

By teaching selective history we also deprive students of centuries of cultural experiences. They will then rely on distorted WhatsApp forwards for their history lessons.

The Mughals like the Delhi Sultans adopted India as their country. Good, bad or ugly, they lived here, married here and died here and weren’t invaders, as is being portrayed. They shaped India’s destiny, and crafted an image of a confident nation and apart from their contribution to India’s art, architecture and culture, they made it the largest economy, controlling 25 per cent of the world’s economy, making it the most sought after nation for trade in Europe.

Unlike the British, they invested the wealth of India, in India. Their contribution to its history and culture is immense and can’t be negated or ignored.

On August 15, our Prime Minister will address the nation from the Red Fort in Delhi. The elves didn’t build it. It was built by Shah Jahan, one of history’s most prolific builders. Don’t deprive students of that knowledge.

Also read: Rewriting history so Hindutva brigade doesn't have to

Writer

Rana Safvi Rana Safvi @iamrana

The writer is the author of 'Where Stones Speak' and other books.

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