Is D. N. Jha Communalising History?

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Vinod Kumar

The author is a history scholar and a current affairs commentator.

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Is D. N. Jha Communalising History?

Vinod Kumar

Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party led NDA government came to power in Delhi the “rewriting” of history has become a contentious, at times acrimonious, issue.  Marxist historians who had dominated writing history books under the Congress patronage for decades have suddenly started accusing the BJP government (and the Sangh Parivar) of “communalising” or “saffronizing” history. Those who contest Marxists’ version of history were labeled  as “communal” while they call their own version as “secular”.

Dr. DN Jha, a Professor of History at the Delhi University belongs to the ‘secular’ school of History. In the year 1999, at the Punjab History Conference held at Patiala, he delivered his presidential address focusing on the theme: “Against communalising History”.  Some of the “secular historians” have, in fact, globalized this issue by talking about it constantly at the International conferences and seminars across the globe, and particularly in North America and Europe.

Various aspects of “rewriting” history have been dealt with in the Indian media at length. There are many points of contention but the most notable two that make the issue so divisive are  (i) the treatment given to Aryan invasion theory and (ii) how Muslim invasions and rule are portrayed in history books.

History can be neither secular nor communal. Simply, history is nothing but a record of events as they happened as best ascertained by available evidence. While dealing with history as a subject, ‘objectivity’ should only be the sole criterion and nothing else. Again, this objectivity must be sustainable on archeological or other verifiable evidences. Furthermore, whenever new evidences come along through new scientific methods or newly found evidences at a particular historical site, the “wrong” historical records and books must be corrected to reflect the truth as it unfolds. At any rate, objectivity should be the guiding factor while writing history books, past or present.

In his keynote address Dr. Jha told the audience  “the Hindutva forces, in their bid to aggravate religious conflicts in the country, argue that Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam and Christianity in the past and therefore they have to be reconverted so as to take them back into the Hindu fold. But such an assertion has no basis in our history. The idea that the Muslims were destroyers of ‘Hindu’ temples and that they converted ‘Hindus’ to Islam by force is extremely tendentious and is largely unfounded.”

Citing Alberuni Dr. Jha said “the use of force in this conversion was neither necessary nor possible”. To the best of my knowledge, of all the twenty or so books about India written by Alberuni, only one titled Indica has survived.  It is not clear how from reading

Alberuni, Dr. Jha drew the above mentioned conclusion. Alberuni’s book is not about Muslim conquest of India. It is “an account of the religion, philosophy, literature, geography, astronomy, customs, laws and astrology of India about AD 1030”.

Conversion of Hindus or the demolition of Hindu temples by the Muslims was not the subject of Alberuni’s book.  Yet, he made some observations as and when these touched upon the issues he dealt with in his book.

Alberuni wrote Prince Mahmud that “utterly ruined the prosperity of the country” and calling these as “wonderful exploits” by which Hindus became like atoms of dust scattered in all directions. This, he goes onto observe, has created “the most inveterate aversion towards all Muslims”. Keen as he was on learning about Hinduism and India, he laments that this has caused the Hindu sciences to “retire far away from those parts of the country conquered by us” and have fled to places where “our hands cannot yet reach”. He stayed, it is surmised in Punjab – the area under Prince Mahmud’s occupation.

If Dr. Jha was looking for the full extent of the destruction of temples and conversion of Hindus, he should have rather looked into Tarikh-e-Yamini written by Prince Mahmud’s secretary Utbi and other Islamic sources dealing with the exploits of Muslim invaders and rulers.

 

When it comes to the destruction of temples, the Somanath temple evokes strongest emotions.  Somanath  is mentioned fifteen times in Alberuni’s Indica. While discussing the sacredness of the Somanath idol and its origins and construction, Alberuni records that the idol was destroyed by Mahmud and broken parts shipped to Ghazni; “the upper part with all its trappings of gold, jewels and embroidered garments” being kept at his residence and another part before the door of the mosque of Ghazni, on which people rub their feet to clean them from dirt and wet”. Part of it was thrown into the hippodrome of the town, together with the Chakraswamin, an idol of bronze brought from Thanesar.

Additional proof of the destruction of Somanath temple, again, is recorded in a letter written by Aurangzeb. He wrote:.”The temple of Somnath was demolished early in my reign and idol worship (there) put down. It is not known what the state of things is at present. If the idolators have again taken to the worship of images at the place, then destroy the temple in such a way that no trace of the building may be left, and also expel them (the worshippers) from the place.” (Quoted in Jadunath Sarkar’s History of Aurangzeb from Inayetullah’s Ahkam, 10a, Mirat 372)

Somanath temple was demolished by the Muslims — from Mahmud to Aurangzeb – and rebuilt by the Hindus several times – the last time soon after India gained her independence.

Focussing on Somanath temple does not, in any way, imply that this was the only temple demolished by the Muslims. This was one of thousands that met similar fate.

Breaking of idols and demolition of places of worship was not unique to medieval Muslims. The latest example of this practice was witnessed by the entire world only two years ago (April 2001) when in opposition to calls from all quarters centuries old Buddha statues carved on hillside in Bamiyan were demolished in Afghanistan.

“The possibility of a forced mass conversion is, in fact, contradicted by Muhammad ibn Qasim himself who, according to Baladhuri, is believed to have said: “The temples shall be unto us like the churches of the Christians, the synagogues of the Jews, and the fire temples of the Magians.” Dr. Jha went on to say.

Islamic warriors spared some temples. However, this was not done as an act of tolerance or compassion towards Hindus. Alberuni writes about one such incident. When Muhammad bin Kasim conquered Multan, he inquired “why the town was so very flourishing”? When told the cause was the idol of Aditya, for there came pilgrims from all sides to visit it. He decided to “leave the idol where it was but he hung a piece of cow’s flesh on its neck by way of mockery.” When the Karmatians occupied Multan, Jalam ibn Shaiban broke the idol into pieces and built a mosque at the same place, Alberuni went on to add.

For reasons best known to him, Dr. Jha does not tell all the facts of the history. He gives only a sanitized account of Muslim invasion, and exploitation.

At Debal, the temples were demolished and mosque founded; a general massacre endured for three whole days; prisoners were taken captive; plunder was amassed.  At Nirun, the idols were broken, and mosques founded on the site of the temple of Budh, notwithstanding its voluntary surrender. The account of Mahmud’s invasions is full of demolition of temples (at Thanesar, Mathura,  Kannauj, Somnath – to mention a few), plunder, massacres, enslavement and forced conversions.

Hajjaj, the governor of Irak and sponsor of  Muhammad bin Kasim’s campaign to Sind had written clear instructions: “My dear cousin, I have received your life-augmenting letter. On its receipt my gladness and joy knew no bounds. But the way of granting pardon prescribed by law is different from the one adopted by you. The Great God says in the Koran: ‘O true believers, when you encounter the unbelievers, strike off their heads. The above command of the Great God is a great command and must be respected and followed.”

If at times Hindus enjoyed some freedom in the practice of their religion; it was dictated less by any principle of justice or humanity, than the impossibility of suppressing the native religion by the small number of Muslim invaders. The Hindus were never treated equal to Muslims. They had to pay higher taxes in addition to humiliating Jiziya.

The truth is that Muslim invasions, almost without exception, were followed by a great massacre and demolition of Hindu temples. All means from the sword to political to economic pressure in the form of excessive taxation and humiliating Jiziya were used to convert Hindus to Islam.

When the Communist Government of West Bengal issued orders not to mention demolition of Hindu temples by the Muslims in textbooks, at least indirectly, they accepted that, indeed, this had happened.

However, historians such as Dr. Jha go to extraordinary lengths to deny, hide and twist true historical facts.

What is presented by Dr. Jha is far from objective history. It is communal history – history favoring one community at the expense of the other in contradiction to all available evidence. Ironically, Dr. Jha while protesting against “communalising” history is very much doing the same. What India needs now is “true” academic historians who won’t be afraid to call a spade as spade.

 


The author is a history scholar and a current affairs commentator.

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