Home > News > Columnists > Amberish K Diwanji
Half-truths and history
February 13, 2003
Ram Madhav, in a guest column on rediff.com, listed how many countries have overturned the monuments of conquerors to salvage their pride and spirit. He tells us of how in Spain, in Istanbul, in Poland, mosques or churches were turned over into churches or mosques, or vice-versa.
There is no doubt that history is replete with such examples. But in looking at historical examples, we run the risk of a partial and subjective understanding. There is no such thing as objective history. Like any story, it depends on who tells it, and what is the perspective we look at. What is missed out in such limited views of history is the complex situation prevalent then, affected by the circumstances and the times, and the thinking that prevailed then.
An example: for centuries, slavery was justified on one ground or the other. Even Aristotle supported slavery. But today, no one will suggest that it is right. Now the question is: because whites enslaved blacks a century ago, does that mean blacks should enslave a white man today?
Virtually every example quoted by Ram Madhav can be challenged. Take the Spanish example. Yes, the Spanish did convert numerous mosques into churches. It is an era referred to as the Dark Ages (are we in India in the Dark Ages today? Do we want to make this our Dark Ages?). By 1492, the Spaniards had driven out virtually every Muslim in the country, save in the far south, a terrible form of ethnic cleansing (the Moors never sought to drive out every Christian). But intolerance, as history reveals, is difficult to control, and those who hate constantly find new enemies to hunt down.
After driving out the Muslims and destroying mosques in the name of Christ, the radicalized church turned to fellow Christians and began one of the cruellest phases in human history: the Inquisition, where any form of heresy was disallowed, and any suspected heretic (who invariably confessed under inhuman torture) was burnt at the stake. Thus, Spain, which started the 16th century as the leading European power, financing voyages (and discovering America for the West), became one of the more backward nations of Europe, convulsed by religious fervour and overtaken by its northern neighbours. Spain still remains one of the less developed parts of Europe, a tragic ending for a country that once led the way.
The tragedy of India is that this determination to avenge perceived wrongs, reduce Muslims to second-class citizens, and overturn every Muslim monument in the name of Hindu redemption is driving India down the same road. Because after finishing off with the Muslims, revenge-seeking Hindus will look for new targets: they will turn against Christians, other (secular) Hindus, dalits, tribals, and so on. This is not a far-fetched theory: the best proof is next door.
Pakistan, in the name of Islam, drove out all the Hindus; then the same Islamic fanatics turned against the Ahmediyas; now the majority Sunnis have begun to attack the Shias while fanatical Deobandis target non-fanatical Muslims. Result: Pakistan is one of the world's most unstable countries, where Islam is used to justify every murder, every crime.
The problem is not that wrongs did not occur centuries ago. Of course, they did. Far too many to even enumerate. But that was the nature of human society then. We correct the wrongs to make a better society, not to take revenge. When the Mughals ruled India, there was no rule of law, no reasoning, no rationality, and no human rights. Kings were perceived as agents of gods, free to do as they willed. Do we accept any of those dogmas today? Or do we consider ourselves more civilized? If we do the latter, then why must we replicate the behaviour of the very people we condemn?
Ram Madhav writes that Aurangzeb's policies were aimed at hurting Hindus. True, which is why so many rose in revolt during his rule. That is why Aurangzeb is such a despised figure today (ever come across an Indian Muslim named Aurangzeb?). So why are we seeking to follow his example? Why is the RSS seeking to be a Hindu Aurangzeb that uses its overwhelming power to breaks the places of worship of a subdued community? Do Hindus want to be Aurangzeb? Let us remember that Aurangzeb's bigotry ended the Mughal empire.
Let us remember that in the 18th century, under the Marathas, Varanasi gained autonomy from the Mughals. Yet the Marathas, staunch Hindus, did not think it necessary to demolish the mosque that adjoins the Vishwanath temple, preferring to support the temple with grants. Were the Marathas less Hindu?
Yes, certain wrongs of history must be corrected. But how we do it is what distinguishes us from the barbarians of the past. The Ayodhya controversy never needed to have taken the ugly turn it did in the late 1980s. That it did only proves the intention was always political, never religious. L K Advani took out his rath yatra with the singular purpose of making the BJP a relevant political force, never to build a Ram temple. If the temple really mattered, it would be standing today.
The real option of negotiations over Ayodhya was never considered because talks do not make for good politics, do not mobilize sentiment, do not create vote banks. A radical and shortsighted Muslim leadership and an inept government only helped Advani in his cause.
The political nature of the Ram temple movement is clear when one considers that with a general election just over a year away, the VHP has once more raised the issue. The RSS/VHP will continue to harp on the temple or some Muslim wrong (fact or fiction) every time elections draw near. If Ayodhya is resolved, rest assured the VHP/RSS will target other monuments: the Qutub Minar (a symbol of Muslim victory in Delhi); the Taj Mahal (a monument of love, but who cares for love between two Muslims?); various mosques and dargahs… As long as Hindus can be mobilized to vote on the basis of destroying a (non-Hindu) monument or two, monuments with 'Hindu antecedents' will be found regularly.
Perhaps the greatest threat of this revanchism is that it is a double-edged sword. Today, the divide is religious: correcting the wrongs Muslims committed centuries ago. What if tomorrow the divide is linguistic or caste-specific? For instance, the Marathas are known to have raided various cities across India, especially in Gujarat. Must Maharashtrians today pay a price for what their ancestors did? And for all the inhumanity heaped upon the so-called lower castes -- just two inhuman examples: in Bihar, dalit women spent their wedding nights in the house of the thakur landlord; in Kerala, dalit women could not cover their upper body -- will the so-called upper castes be told to pay back in exactly the same way? Should these castes be banned from temples to pay back for banning dalits in the old days?
Where does it end? When does it end?