Monthly Archives: November 2015

Full text of statement issued by 46 academics against “leftist” historians

Courtesy: The Hindu

A group of eminent historians, archaeologists and scholars have responded to two separate statements on the issue of ‘rising intolerance’ — one issued by 53 academic historians and the other, an open letter by academic historians and social scientists of India at academic institutions overseas — saying they are “neither intellectual nor academic in substance, but ideological and, much more so, political.”

Here’s the full text of their statement:

On 26 October, 53 Indian historians voiced alarm at what they perceived to be the country’s “highly vitiated atmosphere” and protested against attempts to impose “legislated history, a manufactured image of the past, glorifying certain aspects of it and denigrating others….” This was soon followed by an “Open letter from overseas historians and social scientists”, 176 of them, warning against “a dangerously pervasive atmosphere of narrowness, intolerance and bigotry” and “a monolithic and flattened view of India’s history.” 

Such closely-linked statements appearing with clockwork regularity in India and abroad — there have been several more from various “intellectual” circles — are a well-orchestrated campaign to create a bogeyman and cry wolf. They are neither intellectual nor academic in substance, but ideological and, much more so, political. 

As historians, archaeologists and academics specializing in diverse aspects of Indian civilization, we wish to respond to these hypocritical attempts to claim the moral high ground. Many of the signatories of the above two statements by Indian and “overseas” historians have been part of a politico-ideological apparatus which, from the 1970s onward, has come to dominate most historical bodies in the country, including the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), and imposed its blinkered view of Indian historiography on the whole academic discipline. 

Anchored mainly in Marxist historiography and leftist ideology, with a few borrowings from postmodernism, the Annales School, Subaltern and other studies, this new School, which may be called “Leftist” for want of a better term, has become synonymous with a number of abusive and unscholarly practises; among them: 

1. A reductionist approach viewing the evolution of Indian society almost entirely through the prism of the caste system, emphasizing its mechanisms of “exclusion” while neglecting those of integration without which Indian society would have disintegrated long ago. 

2. A near-complete erasure of India’s knowledge systems in every field —philosophical, linguistic, literary, scientific, medical, technological or artistic — and a general underemphasis of India’s important contributions to other cultures and civilizations . In this, the Leftist School has been a faithful inheritor of colonial historiography, except that it no longer has the excuse of ignorance. Yet it claims to provide an accurate and “scientific” portrayal of India! 

3. A denial of the continuity and originality of India’s Hindu-Buddhist-Jain-Sikh culture , ignoring the work of generations of Indian and Western Indologists. Hindu identity, especially, has been a pet aversion of this School, which has variously portrayed it as being disconnected from Vedic antecedents, irrational, superstitious, regressive, barbaric — ultimately “imagined” and, by implication, illegitimate. 

4. A refusal to acknowledge the well-documented darker chapters of Indian history , in particular the brutality of many Muslim rulers and their numerous Buddhist, Jain, Hindu and occasionally Christian and Muslim victims (ironically, some of these tyrants are glorified today); the brutal intolerance of the Church in Goa, Kerala and Puducherry; and the state-engineered economic and cultural impoverishment of India under the British rule. While history worldwide has wisely called for millions of nameless victims to be remembered, Indian victims have had to suffer a second death, that of oblivion, and often even derision. 

5. A neglect of tribal histories : For all its claims to give a voice to “marginalized” or “oppressed” sections of Indian society, the Leftist School has hardly allowed a space to India’s tribal communities and the rich contributions of their tribal belief systems and heritage. When it has condescended to take notice, it has generally been to project Hindu culture and faith traditions as inimical to tribal cultures and beliefs, whereas in reality the latter have much more in common with the former than with the religions imposed on them through militant conversions. 

6. A biased and defective use of sources : Texts as well as archaeological or epigraphic evidence have been misread or selectively used to fit preconceived theories. Advances of Indological researches in the last few decades have been ignored, as have been Indian or Western historians, archaeologists, anthropologists who have differed from the Leftist School. Archaeologists who developed alternative perspectives after considerable research have been sidelined or negatively branded. Scientific inputs from many disciplines, from palaeo-environmental to genetic studies have been neglected. 

7. A disquieting absence of professional ethics : The Leftist School has not academically critiqued dissenting Indian historians, preferring to dismiss them as “Nationalist” or “communal”. Many academics have suffered discrimination, virtual ostracism and loss of professional opportunities because they would not toe the line, enforced through political support since the days of Nurul Hasan. The Indian History Congress and the ICHR, among other institutions, became arenas of power play and political as well as financial manipulation. In effect, the Leftist School succeeded in projecting itself as the one and only, crushing debate and dissent and polarizing the academic community. 

While we reject attempts to portray India’s past as a glorious and perfect golden age, we condemn the far more pernicious imposition by the Leftist School of a “legislated history”, which has presented an alienating and debilitating self-image to generations of Indian students, and promoted contempt for their civilizational heritage. The “values and traditions of plurality that India had always cherished in the past” are precisely those this School has never practised. We call for an unbiased and rigorous new historiography of India. 

1. Dr. Dilip K. Chakrabarti , Emeritus Professor, Cambridge University, UK; Dean, Centre of Historical and Civilizational Studies, Vivekananda International Foundation, Chanakyapuri, Delhi; member, ICHR 

2. Dr. Saradindu Mukherji , historian, retired from Delhi University; member, ICHR 

3. Dr. Nanditha Krishna , Director, CPR Institute of Indological Research, Chennai; member, ICHR 

4. Dr. M.D. Srinivas , former professor of theoretical physics; former vice-chairman, Indian Institute of Advanced Study; chairman, Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai; member, ICHR 

5. Dr. Meenakshi Jain , associate professor of history, Delhi University; member, ICHR 

6. Michel Danino , guest professor, IIT Gandhinagar; member, ICHR 

7. Prof. B.B. Lal , former Director General, Archaeological Survey of India 

8. Dr. R.S. Bisht , former Joint Director General, Archaeological Survey of India 

9. Dr. R. Nagaswamy , former Director of Archaeology, Govt. of Tamil Nadu; Vice Chancellor, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Viswa Mahavidyalaya, Kanchipuram 

10. Dr. B.M. Pande , Former Director, Archaeological Survey of India 

11. Prof. Dayanath Tripathi , former Chairman, ICHR; former Head, Dept. of Ancient History, Archaeology and Culture, D.D.U. Gorakhpur University, Gorakhpur; former Visiting Professor at Cambridge, British Academy 

12. Prof. R.C. Agrawal , President, Rock Art Society of India; former Member Secretary of ICHR 

13. Prof. K.V. Raman , former professor of Ancient Indian History & Archaeology, University of Madras 

14. Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam , Dancer and Research Scholar 

15. Prof. Kapil Kapoor , former Rector, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; Chancellor, Mahatma Gandhi Antararashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya, Wardha (Maharashtra) 

16. Prof. Madhu Kishwar , Professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi 

17. Dr. Chandrakala Padia , Vice Chancellor, Maharaja Ganga Singh University (Rajasthan); Chairperson, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla 

18. Sachchidanand Sahai , Ph.D. (Paris), National Professor in Epigraphy, Ministry of Culture, Government of India, Advisor to Preah Vihear National Authority under the Royal Government of Cambodia; member, ICHR 

19. Dr. J.K. Bajaj , Director Centre for Policy Studies, Former Member ICSSR 

20. Dr. Makarand Paranjape , Professor of English, JNU; Visiting Global South Fellow, University of Tuebingen 

21. Dr. Nikhiles Guha , former professor of history, University of Kalyani, West Bengal; member, ICHR 

22. Prof. Issac C.I. , member, ICHR 

23. Prof. (Dr.) Purabi Roy , member, ICHR 

24. Prof. Jagbir Singh , Former Professor and Head, Dept. of Punjabi, University of Delhi; Life Fellow, Punjabi University, Patiala. 

25. Dr. G.J. Sudhakar , former Associate Professor, Dept. of History, Loyola College, Chennai 

26. Dr. Bharat Gupt , Former Associate Professor, Delhi University 

27. Prof. O.P. Kejariwal , Central Information Commissioner & Nehru Fellow 

28. Dr. S.C. Bhattacharya , former Professor and HOD, Ancient History, Culture and Archaeology, Allahabad University; former National Fellow, IIAS, Shimla 

29. Prof. S.K. Chakraborty , former professor, Management Centre for Human Values, Indian Institute of Management Calcutta 

30. Dr. Amarjiva Lochan , Associate Professor in History, Delhi University; President, South and Southeast Asian Association for the Study of Culture & Religion (SSEASR) under IAHR, affiliated to the UNESCO 

31. Dr. R.N. Iyengar , Distinguished Professor, Jain University, Bangalore 

32. Professor (Dr) R. Nath , former Professor of History, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur 

33. Kirit Mankodi , archaeologist, consultant to Project for Indian Cultural Studies, Mumbai 

34. Prof. K. Ramasubramanian , Cell for Indian Science and Technology in Sanskrit, IIT Bombay; Council Member International Union for History and Philosophy of Science; member, Rashtriya Sanksrit Parishad 

35. Dr. M.S. Sriram , Retired Professor and Head, Department of Theoretical Physics, University of Madras; Member Editorial Board, Indian Journal of History of Science; Former Member, Research Council for History of Science, INSA 

36. Dr. Amartya Kumar Dutta , Professor of Mathematics, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata 

37. Dr. Godabarisha Mishra , Professor and Head, Dept. of Philosophy, University of Madras 

38. Dr. R. Ganesh , Shathavadhani, Sanskrit scholar 

39. Sri Banwari , Academic and Journalist; former Resident Editor, Jansatta 

40. Dr. S. Krishnan , Associate Professor, Dept of Mathematics, IIT Bombay 

41. Dr. Rajnish Kumar Mishra , Associate Professor, Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi 

42. Dr. Vikram Sampath , Director, Symbiosis School of Media and Communication; former Director of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) – SRC; historian and author 

43. Prof. K. Gopinath , Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore 

44. Prof. M.A. Venkatakrishnan , former Professor and Head, Dept. of Vaishnavism, Madras University 

45. Dr. Sumathi Krishnan , Musician and Musicologist 

46. Dr. Prema Nandakumar , Author and translator 

47. Dr. Santosh Kumar Shukla , Associate Professor, Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

मुसलमान-वध वर्णाश्रम की जरूरत है!

भारत की सबसे निर्धन-कमजोर-सत्ताहीन आबादी-दलितों और मुसलमानों को बे-रोक, बेहिचक मारना और भी आसान हो गया है

By Sheeba Aslam Fehmi

ऐसा लग ही नहीं रहा है कि केंद्र की नरेंद्र मोदी सरकार किसी भी मोर्चे पर नाकाम है. न ये कि कोई भी चुनावी वादा ऐसा है जो अधूरा रह गया है. चारों दिशाओं से आ रही मुसलमानों की बेरहम हत्याओं ने जश्न का कुछ ऐसा समां बांधा है, मानो बेरोक-टोक हो रही ये मुस्लिम-हत्याएं इस देश की हर नई-पुरानी समस्या का अंत कर रही हैं. प्रधानमंत्री नरेंद्र मोदी का लोकसभा चुनाव पूर्व का हर वादा झूठ, ढोंग, जुमला साबित हो चुका है, इसके बावजूद वो दिल्ली, बिहार, उत्तर प्रदेश जैसे मुख्य क्षेत्रों के चुनाव में स्टार प्रचारक हैं. उन्हें लाज क्यों नहीं आती, डर क्यों नहीं लगता कि जनता उन्हें विकास के वादे याद दिला सकती है? और वाकई जनता भी उन्हें ये वादे क्यों नहीं याद दिलाती? क्यों जनता ये नहीं पूछती कि अच्छे दिन की बजाय बदतर दिन क्यों आ गए? किसानों की आत्महत्याएं क्यों बढ़ीं? बलात्कार क्यों बढ़ गए?  दाल का भाव 180-200 रुपये प्रतिकिलो क्यों चल रहा है? श्रम-कानून क्यों लचर किए गए? पर्यावरण कानून क्यों कमजोर हुए? नेपाल क्यों दीदे दिखा रहा है? चीन क्यों नहीं सुधर रहा है? पाकिस्तान से आखिर चल क्या रहा है? बेतहाशा विदेश-यात्राओं की फिजूलखर्ची से क्या हासिल हुआ? काला धन आने की बजाय बाहर क्यों जा रहा है? शिक्षा और स्वास्थ्य का बजट बढ़ाने की बजाय घटाया क्यों जा रहा है? मनरेगा जैसी योजनाओं को असफल क्यों बनाया जा रहा है?

जनता चुनाव की रैलियों में ये सवाल क्यों नहीं पूछती अपने इस अंतर्राष्ट्रीय नेता से? क्या जनता सिर्फ इस बात से खुश है कि और कुछ हुआ हो या न हुआ हो लेकिन म्लेच्छ-मुसलमानों को सही काटा जा रहा है? क्योंकि डेढ़ साल में सिर्फ यही फर्क आया है कि भारत की सबसे निर्धन-कमजोर-सत्ताहीन आबादी-दलितों और मुसलमानों को बे-रोक, बेहिचक मारना और भी आसान हो गया है. तो क्या इस देश को बस यही चाहिए? क्या वह सिर्फ इस बात से राजी-खुशी है कि और कुछ करो न करो बस मुसलमानों को ‘ठीक’ कर दो? दलितों का सिर कुचल दो? विकास की वे बातें सब छलावा थीं.

सवाल यही है कि मुस्लिमों के प्रति हिंसा को बढ़ाने के लिए इतिहास की किताबों तक को प्रोपेगेंडा पम्फलेट में बदल रही ये व्यवस्था किस लक्ष्य को पाना चाहती है? 13 प्रतिशत की आबादी वाले सबसे निर्धन और हशियाग्रस्त मुस्लिम समाज से दुनिया की दूसरी सबसे बड़ी आबादी वाले देश को क्या वाकई खतरा हो सकता है? भारत के किसी भी हिस्से में इतने मुसलमान एक साथ नहीं रहते कि देश की संप्रभुता को कोई खतरा बन जाएं. भारत का कोई भी क्षेत्र ऐसा नहीं जहां इनकी एकछत्र मर्जी चलती हो. कृषि-उद्योग-कारीगरी-श्रम में ये न सिर्फ दूध में चीनी की तरह घुले हुए हैं बल्कि सबसे निचले पायदान पर हैं. राजनीति, नीति और अर्थतंत्र में ये अपने सभी हकों से वंचित हैं, ऐसे में मुस्लिम-वध के लिए इतनी संवेदनहीन और खून की प्यासी जमीन कैसे तैयार की गई? और सबसे बड़ा सवाल यह कि इसकी जरूरत क्यों है?

From the archive: Fragile 19th-century paintings depict the lives of ordinary Indians

The illustrations were bought in 1842 by a British sailor who kept an idiosyncratic diary about his voyage to the subcontinent.

From the archive: Fragile 19th-century paintings depict the lives of ordinary Indians

Photo Credit: pixabay
A woman peeks from the curtain of a wagon, rich men parade on a bejewelled elephant and a pensive scholar clutches the tools of his trade: these paintings, no bigger than playing cards, adorn transparent sheets of mica and were bought in India as souvenirs by sailor Charles Augustus Whitehouse in 1842.

They were painted in India for the colonial tourist trade and are so rare and fragile that Dr Kevin Greenbank, archivist at the UK’s Centre of South Asian Studies, admits that he “gets the shakes when I handle these”.

“They represent an important period in Indian art – the Company School of painting – when Indian art developed perspective,” Greenbank said. Some depict courtly scenes, while others appear to be sets of costumed characters or Indian pastimes and trades.

Fragile but intact

The collection has 69 mica paintings. Their vibrant images are remarkably intact despite the fragility of mica – a transparent mineral – which may have been used by the painters in order to imitate the European trend for painting on glass. There are also six paintings on pipal leaves.

Today, they are held in the archives of the Centre for South Asian Studies, which houses a unique collection of letters, diaries, photographs and films belonging to ordinary British people who documented their lives in India and South Asia.

“What I especially like about the mica paintings is they accompany a pair of diaries written by a sailor who bought them when he stopped in India on his was from Liverpool to India on the Brig Medina,” Greenbank said.

Personal account

Unlike many diaries that have become a source of historical information, Whitehouse’s are a deeply personal and highly idiosyncratic account – so much so that they were often written as if there was no one else on board.

Entitled The Sea-Pie, the diaries are inscribed to his mother, and come with a caveat scrawled across the front: “Here it comes something hot from the oven. Mind your eye or it may burn your fingers.”

Alongside his self-portrait, seascapes, a map of his route and a smattering of voyage details – “Potato cakes for tea” – Whitehouse begins to dwell on his lost sweetheart back home, stolen away, he says, by another man: “Hanging, drawing and quartering would be really too good for such an intruder.”

As the Brig continues to be becalmed, the pages fill with plaintive poetry “Love in a woman neer sinketh deep, Into the bosom she lets him creep… Love in a man is a far different thing, Forms more than roses it doth then bring.”

Eventually, many pages later, the sad sailor rallies, bringing his melancholic meanderings to an end with: “So I’ve blued and blued and bored and bored you until I work myself back into my usual good humour. Apres les pluit, les bonne temps. The storm is over and I feel much refreshed… after moping for a good half an hour I went below for a cigar.”

Photos courtesy Centre of South Asian Studies.

This article first appeared on the University of Cambridge website.


‘RSS was silent during the 1984 riots. At places, it was implicated in the violence’

Gautam Navlakha, a senior member of the Peoples Union for Democratic Rights, speaks about the Sangh Parivar’s inaction during the 1984 anti-Sikh carnage.

‘RSS was silent during the 1984 riots. At places, it was implicated in the violence’

Photo Credit: AFP Photo

Gautam Navlakha is a senior member of the Peoples Union for Democratic Rights and a veteran of many battles against the Indian state. In this interview to, he speaks about the Sangh Parivar’s silence and inaction during the 1984 anti-Sikh carnage, its own role in many riots, why the mayhem of 1984 was different from that of 2002 in Gujarat, and why so many people are speaking out against the rising intolerance in the country. Excerpts:

The report Who are the Guilty? created the narrative of powerful Congress ministers fanning the 1984 riots against the Sikhs. It was a joint report of the Peoples Union for Democratic Rights and the People’s Union for Civil Liberties. How did this report come about? Who were the people who contributed to it?

The report was much more significant than just for naming names. The engagement of people from civil society with the 1984 anti-Sikh carnage began from Day One, that is, October 31 itself. Concerned citizens took out a march when the massacres were actually taking place in Lajpat Nagar in Delhi. It was quite a brave effort.
Who were the people who joined this march?
The march took place on November 1, and members of the PUCL and PUDR, professors, social activists, women’s groups [joined in]. In fact, conscientious people from all walks of life joined in – Swami Agnivesh, Prof Sumanta Banerjee, Rajni Kothari, Dinesh Mohan, among others. Of course, the police tried to dissuade them. The Nagrik Ekta Manch came out from the November 1 march.Different people joined in at different moments because the issue wasn’t what happened during those three-four days and its aftermath; it was a struggle of 32 years for justice. Students from Jawaharal Nehru University and Delhi University helped in relief camps. Romila Thapar spoke against it.

Who were the people behind the report?
What happened was that volunteers who were working in relief camps realised that the victims were talking about those who had played a role in fanning the riots. They wanted to tell their stories. It was then decided to collect their evidence. These stories newspapers were not reporting at that time. We found that in many of these cases the names of Congress leaders figured.The decision to carry the names of Congress members who were implicated in the riots was taken after much discussion. There were people who tried to dissuade us from naming them.

People like who?
In the PUDR, there was absolutely no difference of opinion about bringing out the names. But senior members of the PUCL warned that those named might get lynched, or that the list of names we wanted to be published could be used by the Khalistanis to target them. But at that point of time it was important to take out the names the victims were mentioning.Would you agree that the report affixed the blame on the Congress in the popular consciousness?
I and others were happy that the report played the role it did. But several detailed reports too came out subsequently. For instance, the team that Justice VM Tarkunde led came out with an excellent report. In fact, there were many such reports that were made public – and groups like Manushi played a good role in it.

But what is surprising, in terms of contemporary relevance of it, is the fact that members of the RSS-BJP [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Bharatiya Janata Party] were completely silent about it then. It was much later that they opened their mouth and began to blame the Congress for it.

Could you define “much later” – December or January?
It was after the dust settled, so to speak, the Sangh became much more vocal about it. That is alright, I guess. In a large democracy such as ours, people have their right to choose their own way to express themselves. The RSS-BJP, I suppose, felt that the assassination of Indira Gandhi was far more important than the massacre of Sikhs.
Did they feel that way?
Please, let us step back and recall the whole ambience which led up to the massacre of Sikhs. Our report also captures this ambience very well. Very strong anti-Sikh feelings had been built up….
But it was the Congress which built this anti-Sikh feeling?
Absolutely. The Congress was playing upon the Hindu sentiment. It synced with the feelings of the RSS at that particular juncture. There was no difference of opinion between the Congress and the BJP on this count. It was later, for political reasons, the Sangh joined in [to accuse the Congress of fomenting the riots].
What do you mean by later – one year, two or…
That is hard for me to tell. But I have absolutely no memory of RSS leaders speaking out against the killing in that entire period of November. When it was needed for political parties to speak out, they did not, they kept silent even though the ruling party was involved in it. The role of the police, the way rumours were spread…
Are you referring to rumours about Sikhs distributing sweets at the news of Indira Gandhi’s assassination?
Not just that, but also about water being poisoned and trains from Punjab arriving with the bodies of Hindus. Our report referred to the police going around in colonies and asking people not to drink water as it had been poisoned. The nexus between the hoodlums and the police, patronised by the ruling party, was palpable.And because the Sangh claims to represent the Hindus, it was silent about it.

Did you come across Sangh members pitching in at the relief camps?
Our report also implicates RSS people in the riots at some places.
Are you saying the RSS people were at the forefront of the riots?
Let us not mix it up – the 1984 riots were carried out by the Congress. But at some places the RSS people did play a role. It doesn’t surprise me. Given that the Congress was stoking the Hindu sentiment, and trying to exploit it for its own end, it jived well with the RSS.
From this perspective, the BJP has managed to change the narrative of the 1984 riots, hasn’t it? For instance, when the writers were returning their awards, the BJP leaders kept asking, why were the awards not returned in protest against the 1984 riots?
This is like a dog’s whistle. They are trying to drive the point that these people did not open their mouths in 1984 because they were Congress supporters, and now that they are opening their mouth, they are doing it because of their ideological proximity to the Congress. I find this attempt to focus on 1984 as ridiculous.They also say these people didn’t speak against the Emergency, and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley referred to the 1989 Bhagalpur riots.

When the Janata Party came to power in 1977, a series of anti-Muslim carnages took place, such as in Jamshedpur and Aligarh. The RSS was involved in them. They are being extremely selective when they talk about the Emergency or 1984. What about the riots since the one which took place in Jabalpur [in 1961-1962]? The fact is that one commission of inquiry after another has established the role of the RSS in them. Are we going to close our eyes to that? What about [RSS chief] Balasaheb Deoras’s overtures to Indira Gandhi during the Emergency?

As someone pointed out in a TV debate the other day, one is bound to be selective in one’s outrage. There is nothing wrong with that. You can’t expect people to be outraged with everything happening around them all the time. There are situations in which all kinds of people get very agitated because of things going far beyond what they believe is the normal.

Do you feel this point has been reached now?
Of course, but this doesn’t mean that attacks on our freedoms have begun today. Civil liberties and democratic rights activists know that attacks on our freedoms have continued unabated from the First Amendment to the Constitution [which imposed restrictions on fundamental rights] onwards. Restrictions on our freedoms which are claimed to be reasonable are downright unreasonable. This is because it has given the government of day the discretion to decide what is right and what is wrong.
So what makes the current situation special?
The danger that faces us is that when our freedoms have already been infringed to such a great degree, you allow the most vituperative, hate-filled propaganda of the Hindutva right-wing because you describe them as nationalists of the extremist bend. There are groups which are being targeted through anti-terror laws – for instance, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, in practice, ends up prosecuting the minorities, the oppressed castes, the Dalits, the indigenous people, or political dissidents like the Maoists, or SIMI [Students Islamic Movement of India], or the Hizbul Mujahideen. Yet their [Hindutva forces] exhortation to violence…
Give me an example of them exhorting violence.
It is very clearly etched on my mind. On March 1, 2002, when the Gujarat carnage was going on, there was [VHP leader] Pravin Togadia on Zee TV exhorting people to carry on with what they were doing. It was not an opinion he was expressing. Those were fighting words, which in criminal law means you are inciting people to take to violence. Nothing happens to them.Or, say, what [Tamil Nadu Chief Minister] Jayalalithaa has done recently, charging the folk singer [Kovan] with sedition. Well, it has become a norm. There has to be public pressure of enormous kind before the government backtracks. All this shows  how much power has come to reside in the hands of various governments.

Is it this which has made the current situation so very dangerous?
Yes, and this is because in addition to an already-weakened Constitutional order, in which freedoms have come under attacks, restrictions and infringements, you now have an ideological-driven party, based on a combustible combination of bigotry and jingoism, in power.It is a two-pronged attack – they carry out their social agenda through agitations such as love jihad, ghar wapsi, beef (the next one now will be on the Muslim population) and they are patronised by the party in power. In fact, there is no difference between the two. What happens on the ground is legitimised through a deliberately constructed rationalisation. For instance, the Haryana Chief Minister said that Mohammad Akhlaq had said something very insulting against the holy cow and people got incensed and, therefore, lynched him. In other words, Akhlaq was to blame for what happened to him. That’s legitimising what the hoodlums have done.

This kind of nexus exists between the political and government authority on the one side and the hoodlums and social forces which come from the same family [the Sangh Parivar]. Obviously, you then see a very dangerous phenomenon take root – and that is very worrying.

Why is it that what is happening now worries us far more than the many communal riots in the past?
In one respect, all riots are all the same – that is, as far as the criminal justice system is concerned, it has failed to provide justice to the victims of these massacres. It is not only true of 1984, it is also true of Bhagalpur, Mumbai in 1992 and 1993 – there is a long list of it. After the carnage between October 31 and November 10, 1984, there was an attempt at suppression and cover-up to protect those who were implicated – that is, from police officers to party members, particularly those senior.However, the difference between 1984 and 2002 is that civil society interventions and engagements with the survivors and victims of the 1984 carnage did not lead to a situation in which Muslims found themselves after the 2002 riots. The Muslims in Gujarat were reduced to becoming second-class citizens.

Also, after the 1984 riots, there were a few efforts at finding a political solution to the Punjab problem. This isn’t to say that the Congress involvement in the riots should be excused. However, in Gujarat, the Muslims lost out in terms of their economic position or clout or prosperity they enjoyed earlier. In post-1984, the same kind of excommunication or isolation of the Sikhs didn’t take place. They weren’t ostracised as Muslims in Gujarat were.

Therefore, what you saw in Gujarat was the coming together of the state and the [divisive] social forces. This poses a much greater threat. That is why all of us find it worrying. This is why from the RBI governor to Moody’s, they are speaking out against it. They are, after all, not Modi-baiters, as the BJP believes. The danger is palpable to some.

There is also the culture of impunity.

On October 23, the RSS was allowed to take out and brandish weapons on Vijayadashami in Jammu region, which is a disturbed area. A boy, please remember, throwing a stone can get killed in Kashmir. But in Jammu region, the RSS can get away with brandishing weapons in the name of celebrating Vijayadashami, in utter violation of law. It shows you the extent to which the administration and the police system have been implicated in what the RSS wants to carry out.Or take what happened at Delhi’s Kerala House. It is shameful we have a police commissioner who at a press conference said that whatever he did, that police action – mind you, he insisted it was not raid – was in accordance with law. He was not even familiar with the law, which actually shows that the police had no authority to enter Kerala House. He was completely silent on the rude behaviour of the Parliament Street SHO, the same person who detained three persons, including the journalist from Scroll, and lectured them on Hinduism, patriotism and nationalism.

While I welcome the churning…

Churning? What do you mean by that?

The current period is extremely heart-warming. You see writers, natural scientists, film-makers, social scientists, bankers, in fact, people from all walks of life breaking their silence and speaking out. These different types of voices have put to shame the ministers and their other leaders who speak in the print media and on TV channels.It is heart-warming also in the sense that it creates the condition for the people to understand that encroachments on our freedom of expression and the right to form association, which are two basic fundamentals for any democratic society, have made state institutions so decrepit and weak that they are at risk of being taken over by the RSS elements.

Well, you say it is heat-warming for you that so many people are speaking out today. But the Sangh claims these people never spoke in, say, 1984.
Nayantara Sahgal, Romila Thapar, so many of them spoke. Why focus on 1984 alone? Just because Jaitley spoke about it? They are being very selective. I have a grouse that very few democratic and even progressive-minded people have spoken about the atrocities the Indian armed forces have committed in Kashmir, that they spoke very late about the atrocities that were committed in the North East, that they are still very selective in their position about the war unleashed in the forests of central India against the adivasis, who are led by the Maoists, or that they never spoke on the ban on SIMI on grounds that are very ridiculous. There is an endless list of woes I have.My grouse against the RSS is that they were nowhere around in the freedom movement. As far as I am concerned, it cancels them out. The BJP’s claims and counter-claims are very juvenile. They pick up some issue but do not speak on others. They talk about Godhra, but they are completely silent on the carnage which took place in Gujarat subsequently.

They use Godhra to justify the carnage in Gujarat.

Justification is shameful and reprehensible. You can’t justify a massacre on any count, by citing any argument. The Gujarat carnage happened when the police and the administration were under their control. At best, it shows a complete lack of administrative ability; at worse, their complicity in it. And yet they don’t feel ashamed at the carnage. What about Mumbai, Babri Masjid?The BJP says no one talks about the fact that the Kashmiri Pandits were compelled to leave the Valley.
The Indian government is one body which has talked about them – and only them.

I suppose no one here means civil liberties activists and the liberal-left.

We can’t be accused because of the illiteracy of the RSS. Our records and our reports are available on our website. They can read our first report that appeared in March 1990 on Jammu and Kashmir. But their own demand that the Indian armed forces be given a free hand to suppress the proxy war of Pakistan, well, Kashmiri Muslims simply don’t exist for them. It doesn’t matter to them that 80,000 Kashmiris have been killed, that even a child throwing a pebble has been shot dead.This charge that you spoke for Y but didn’t when X happened, I am sorry but this accusation can’t be levelled against the civil liberties and democratic rights organisations. Our record speaks for itself in our reports. Yes, but we do feel it is a matter of grave concern when the Indian state gets implicated in terrorising the civilian population.

The Sangh has many outfits on tribals, swadeshi, etc. but it doesn’t have one on human rights. Why?
It is a question you should ask them. I am just happy they don’t have one. It is not that human rights needs a fascist definition. On a lighter note, they are more interested in animal rights – and that too of a particular type. Human beings, for them, are less important than animals… Well, they could always float an outfit on human rights. The point is that this wouldn’t mean they are committed to democratic rights and civil liberties. Ever since Modi came to power, there has been an attempt at straitjacketing our thoughts.

We are being told that X, Y, Z are taboo subjects and you can’t talk about it. It is as if they are the repository of all wisdom and knowledge. So if Hamid Ansari doesn’t salute the national flag, they get outraged. But when governor Ram Naik interrupts the playing of the national anthem, there isn’t a wrinkle on their forehead. They are not guided by patriotism or nationalism. They are imposing the most bigoted and jingoistic ideas on the nation and they will put us back by 50 years if they are allowed to carry on.This is why scientists felt compelled to speak out. Please, look at Modi’s intellectual contribution from the time he became prime minister – he compares the successful Mangalyaan venture to the cricket team’s; he talks about plastic surgery, cloning, etc. If we have a prime minister who talks about all this from a public platform, then it is very scary and dangerous. That is why scientists have spoken. As I said, we are living in very interesting times.

I guess it is interesting times because of the debate that has been triggered.

As a civil liberties and democratic rights activist, I do ardently hope that the debate which has been triggered, and has also led to churning in our society, will lead to discussions on a whole range of issues which have come to the fore. For instance, I hope the Uniform Civil Code and the cow-slaughter issues will be debated. It is very good that people are talking about beef in a number of ways which go beyond food habits and connects it to the issue of livelihood.But I also hope that this is the time for us to ask about the kind of nationalism we set out to establish in 1947 and where it has gone wrong.

We have refused to recognise that the Indian state is waging war against its own people in J&K and North East. This is because of the suppression of what are political movements demanding the right to self-determination or negotiated solutions for independence or autonomy. We have refused to recognise the predatory development model which has been imposed on the adivasis and the middle and poor peasantry.

When we talk about freedoms, we cannot fight for our freedom by squelching the freedom of the Kashmiris or the Nagas or the Meitis or by trying to suppress the Maoists and the adivasis on the ground they are obstructing development when that develpoment itself is predatory.

There are many serious issues which confront us. Freedom is under attack from various quarters and for a variety of reasons. When there are so many questions being asked of tolerance and intolerance, [I hope] we become intolerant of bigotry and jingoism, we become intolerant of anyone who espouses the cause of inequality and subscribe to the disparities of all kinds. We can only cherish freedom when we respect the struggle of people for freedom taking place amidst us.

A lot of people who are protesting today might not agree with you on these counts.

Sure, and that is alright. Our commitment to freedom of speech and the right to form association is that you don’t have to agree. But you can’t curb my freedom to say what I believe in, you can’t say that because you support X, Y, Z, or that you criticise the Indian state, or that you condemn the atrocities of the Indian armed forces, you are therefore anti-national. If there is weight in my argument, if there is weight in the evidence we present, we will be able to convince more people. I believe they are more open to these divergent opinions today than what they were a few years ago. That’s my conviction.

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, has as its backdrop the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It is available in bookstores.

Ramayana, with a Mughal brush

As the idea of a unified, secular India appears to be giving way to a divided and polarised one, the art of the past sends a special message: that India’s greatest artistic achievements arise out of inclusiveness, not division. Painters, musicians, dancers, writers, poets, textile-makers, builders, metal and stone workers, jewellers, cooks and other creative individuals have knitted India together over centuries, creating a fabric that reflects a blend of faiths and regions, and many foreign influences. Here are five masterpieces of the Mughal period to reflect upon. In doing so, let’s ask the question: Do we prefer the inspiring vision of India they provide, and celebrate the cosmopolitan reality that produced these treasures, or do we accept the intolerant and provincial alternative that is unfolding? The claim that India is a monolithic culture, as reflected in some imagined past, is belied by centuries of artistic production. The Mughal period brought together talented artists from all regions and religions together to create extraordinary works of art. In their time, these works provided pride, pleasure and education to their viewers. It is hoped that they will do so again here.

In 1574, Mughal emperor Akbar (reign 1556-1605) created a bureau of Records and Translation at Fatehpur Sikri. The aim was to translate important texts, including Hindu epics, into Persian and to illustrate them in the royal workshops. In order to accomplish this task, scholarly Mullahs and Pandits collaborated over several years as Sanskrit texts were reborn in Persian — the Mahabharata became the Razmnama; the Vishnu Purana and Kathasaritsagara were translated; and four illustrated versions of the Ramayana were made — three for different members of the Mughal royal family and one for a Rajput ally. For the artists at the Mughal court (which included Muslims, Hindus, Europeans and women painters), illustrating these manuscripts posed a special challenge because this was an almost entirely new type of imagery. For example, there is no surviving evidence that the Ramayana was illustrated in manuscript form before the 16th century. So, many of these paintings are innovations of the Mughal period.

One masterpiece from the Harivamsa depicts Krishna lifting Mount Govardhan to protect the villagers of Braj from the wrath of Indra. At the very centre of the painting stands the blue god, executed in the naturalistic Mughal style, but also bearing his attributes of blue skin, vanmala and peacock crown. The mountain is painted as a mass of stylised rocks, derived from Persian, and ultimately Chinese, painting, and is filled with plants, birds and animals. Clustered below are the villagers of Braj, along with a trio of Mughal courtiers. Among the old men, sadhus, young boys, and women, one female figure on the right is loosely based upon a European print image of the Madonna. Of equal interest is the group of cows in the foreground that are painted with great sensitivity and individualisation. While temple sculpture of the period tends to show Krishna using his little finger to lift the mountain, in this painting he performs the miraculous act with the flat of his palm. This small but significant detail shows that the unknown artist was in line with the earliest iconography of this subject, such as in the relief carvings at Mamallapuram (7th century). The miracle of this and other such works of its kind reflect a simple fact — that Muslim patronage was a vital key to the development of Hindu religious painting.

The verses of 13th century Sufi poet Amir Khusrao were illustrated in the late 16th century at the Mughal court. Among the exceptional artists involved in the project was the master Basawan, who is one of the talents named by Abu’l Fazl in his famous chronicle, the Ain-i Akbari. Here, Basawan has depicted a tale where a Muslim pilgrim meets a Hindu Brahmin. He asks the Brahmin why he is crawling on the ground, who replies that he has turned his heart into a foot and travels upon it in devotion to his deity. The Muslim pilgrim is so impressed by this show of piety that he removes his own shoes to continue barefoot on his way. Basawan was one of the first Mughal artists to be deeply interested in the European styles of shading, modelling and volume, techniques which can be seen in this painting. The inscriptions visible on the page are by the hand of another Mughal master — calligrapher Muhammad Husain Kashmiri, whom Akbar titled ‘Zarin Qalam’ or Golden Pen, for his beautiful handwriting.

So, we see again a coming-together between Muslim and Hindu on every level, from patron to writer and artist to calligrapher to have made this work possible. How appropriate, especially for a story that essentially is a metaphor for the meeting of Islam and Hinduism in the subcontinent.

The tradition of illustrating Hindu subject matter at the Mughal court continued through the 17th century and, from the period of Shah Jahan (reign 1628-58), another great painting survives, attributed to Mughal master Payag in about 1630. The subject is the fearsome Devi Bhairavi, shown here in a cremation ground, with Shiva appearing as an ash-covered devotee. Seven funeral pyres burn around, and jackals edge close while the ground is filled with human bones and corpses. The devotee expels a fiery breath, possibly to indicate a mantra, while the goddess herself spews blood, wears skulls, and also varieties of Mughal-style jewellery. Remarkable for its conceptual depth and iconographical sophistication, a close study of the painting has revealed that Payag relied in part on 17th century European images of the Crucifixion to create the scattered bones in the landscape, and also to create the naturalistic modeling of the figures. The image of the Devi herself may have evolved from an early Mughal illustrated Devi Mahatmya series, although here the rich detail of the iconography is unprecedented. This painting was likely made for Shah Jahan as a gift for the Hindu ruler of Mewar, to which collection it later went and where it got its visible Devanagari inscriptions. This particular goddess is among the rarest images of the Hindu pantheon, yet has emerged in full force at the Mughal court.

The beautiful flower at the centre of this kalamkari tent panel of the late 17th century is an imagined plant, as demonstrated by the different blossoms and leaves which grow out of the same stalk. This sense of fantasy and imagination is a hallmark of the Deccan schools of art, which flourished under the patronage of the Sultans of the Deccan courts of Bijapur, Golconda, Ahmadnagar, Bidar and Berar. But they were not the only rulers who patronised the great painters and textile dyers of the region. The Mughal and Rajput nobles, perched in the northern Deccan from the early 17th century in their bid to conquer the region, also employed kalamkari textiles as clothing, furnishing and tent panels, such as this example. This panel was once part of a tent made for Mirza Raja Jai Singh of Amber (reign 1622-67). His Rajput kingdom, along with many others, was part of the extended Mughal empire. This composite, multi-cultural and multi-faith alliance was poised, under the command of emperor Aurangzeb, to conquer another, equally diverse group of Muslim kingdoms in Deccan India, which they succeeded in doing by 1687.

The styles of art of this period speak of this mix of Mughals, Rajputs and Deccanis. Here, the flower is shown beneath a cusped arch with Chinese-inspired clouds in the sky. The idea of such ornamental flowers took shape in the Mughal world where by about 1640 such motifs were found all over architecture and decorative objects, including in the Deccan and Rajasthan. Not only did Mirza Raja Jai Singh purchase such kalamkaris (as indicated by the Amber toshakhana inventory notes on it and on many examples in Jaipur) but his memorial in the Deccan where he died is executed in the same Mughal-inspired aesthetic that we see in this piece. The language of ornament and artistic styles was thus shared across communities, and stands in marked contrasts with the prejudices and preferences being expressed today.

Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (reign 1658-1707) spent the last twenty-five or so years of his life in the northern Deccan, bent upon conquering the Muslim sultanates of the region. He finally succeeded, but he was already an old man by the time he did. The painting by the Hindu artist Bhavanidas portrays him on a palanquin in an open landscape with a royal army in the distance. The dramatic hills in the background indicate that the setting is the Deccan, which has a distinctive rocky terrain in some areas. The emperor himself sits on a palanquin which is carried by attendants and also noblemen. Paying homage to him are noble figures among them, probably his son and successor, Bahadur Shah I and his grandson. In the very front of the painting we see preparations for a shikar or royal hunt, with a party of huntsmen dressed in green. While the painting contains visible ink inscriptions in Persian giving the name of the painter Bhavanidas, the artist has also hidden his signature (also written in Persian) in a tiny gold inscription in the green ground, as was often done by Mughal artists.

This important work shows the production of painting in the late Aurangzeb period — one of the most distorted and misrepresented periods of Indian history today. It also demonstrates that the mature style of the period had evolved to encompass historical subjects, observation of daily life, the imperial image, and human portraiture, all of which can be seen here. Bhavanidas continued working in the Mughal atelier until 1719, after which he moved to the Rajput kingdom of Kishangarh and became its premier artist. The famous development of bhakti-themed paintings at that court would not have been possible without the Mughal input from artists such as him.

Thus, the creative energy of art emerges from the combination of forces, not their separation — a profoundly important message that is deliberately being forgotten today. The political obsession with a singular identity based on an assumed idea of purity rests on a falsehood about India’s historical past. The world has witnessed such impulses before and the effects have been devastating. In India’s case, the loss would be nothing less than the obliteration of its multifaceted and rich culture and history, to be replaced by a fictive distortion of what India was and ought to be. It is hoped that these masterpieces from the past inspire us to remember where India’s greatness lies.

Navina Najat Haidar is a historian of Indian and Islamic art. This article is available in five Indian languages:

Courtesy: The Hindu

Ali Akbar Khan and his students explore the magic of Raag Chandranandan

The sarod maestor’s renditions of the raag he created were so powerful, few have been able to find their own interpretations of it.

Raag Chandranandan, a creation of Ali Akbar Khan, sarod maestro and one of the chief exponents of the Maihar-Senia gharana, seems to be one of those exceptional raags that have been primarily performed by musicians belonging to a particular guru-shishya or master-disciple lineage.  In this case, it is popular mainly among the disciples and grand-disciples of the composer, and not so among others even from the same gharana.  A few other instrumentalists have added it to their performance repertoire, but it has still to find its place in the common pool of raags that are favoured by vocalists.

An exquisite combination of existing raags, Ali Akbar Khan’s exploration of raag Chandranandan has been so captivating that most others who have sought to present the raag have seldom managed to break away from his idiomatic expression and create their own interpretations.

Ali Akbar Khan accompanied by Mahapurush Mishra

The first track this week is an early recording of raag Chandranandan performed by Ali Akbar Khan accompanied by Mahapurush Mishra, a well-known tabla player of the Banaras gharana.  Beginning with a small aaochaar or introduction, Ali Akbar Khan moves to a vilambit gat or slow instrumental composition in Teentaal, a cycle of 16 matras or time units.  Closely juxtaposing responsorial melodic phrases, he introduces the unpredictable phrase or note that takes the listener completely by surprise.   Significantly, this treatment in the hands of a master like Ali Akbar Khan does not appear like melodic acrobatics.

The camaraderie between the two performers is quite evident in the quick and brief responses from Mahapurush Mishra leading up to the saath-sangat section where he anticipates the melodic-rhythmic phrasing and joins in as the gat accelerates to the madhya laya or medium tempo.

The second composition is a drut gat or fast instrumental composition, also set to Teentaal.  Here, Ali Akbar Khan quickly moves to the jhala section where the right-hand strokes are percussive and repetitive to mark each matra of the taal.  A savaal-javaab or question-answer section has been included here.  The savaal-javaab suggests a rhythmic response to the idea introduced by the instrumentalist, but conventionally this response is restricted to a reproduction of the idea on the tabla rather than one that need not necessarily mirror the original phrasing but could take the conversation forward.  To many, this section has seemed simplistic, and yet it continues to excite lay listeners due to its playful quality that often invites the main performer to challenge the accompanist.

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Pandit Nikhil Banerjee

The next two tracks feature a more detailed exposition of the same raag played in a live concert by Ali Akbar Khan and Nikhil Banerjee, the eminent sitar player who studied under the sarod maestro in addition to training with other gurus.  In the first clip, the two instrumentalists take turns in playing an extensive aalaap or introductory section, often resonating each other’s ideas with supporting phrases or single notes played in a different octave.  The entire aalaap moves through three contiguous subsections, the first one also called aalaap, and the second and third called the jod and jhala (not to be confused with the jhala that is conventionally played with the tabla at the end of an instrumental rendition of a raag).  The second and third subsections have a definite pulse that gradually accelerates through the complete movement.  Ali Akbar Khan’s masterful strokes are at times sombre and majestic or delicate, and rounded or percussive and sharp-edged.  Coupled with the peculiar phrasing that he chooses, they conjure up a rich melodic imagery.  Nikhil Banerjee acts as a respectful and responsive foil in this grand scheme.

The tabla joins in on the next clip, as Ali Akbar Khan and Nikhil Banerjee play the vilambit and drut gats set to Teentaal.  The performance showcases the ease and informality of recitals of yesteryear when the soloists and accompanists often indulged in musical banter.

Pandit Brij Bhushan Kabra and Zakir Hussain

Brij Bhushan Kabra, disciple of Ali Akbar Khan and the pioneer of the slide guitar in Hindustani music, plays raag Chandranandan on the next clip, accompanied by renowned tabla player Zakir Hussein.  He plays a vilambit gat and a madhya laya or medium tempo gat, both set to Teentaal.  The performance ends with a jhala.

Pandit Tejendra Narayan and Pandit Kumar Bose

The concluding track features a short excerpt of well-known sarod player Tejendra Narayan Mazumdar, a disciple of Bahadur Khan (a cousin of Ali Akbar Khan).  Having learnt under Ali Akbar Khan too, Mazumdar plays the same vilambit gat in Teentaal that has been included in the first and third tracks provided earlier.  He is accompanied on tabla by Kumar Bose, exponent of the Banaras gharana.


Ban the entry of women into the famous Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai: Retrograde Custodians

The attempt to ban the entry of women into the famous Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai is an irrationality shaped by regressive minds—and an insult to a liberating religious tradition.

Raziuddin Aquil ( is Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Delhi

One of the defining features of popular devotion in the Indian subcontinent is the welcome presence of women at Sufi shrines. Therefore, it is so unfortunate and disturbing to hear of the attempt by some vested interests to ban the entry of women at Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai. It is one of those irrationalities of our time that we are confronted with almost on a daily basis. There was a time, in the first centuries of Islam—for a millennium indeed—when Muslims were setting standards of excellence in almost all fields of life, and now not a day passes without some self-declared custodians of Islam coming up with wicked and irrational ideas shaped by their regressive minds—bringing so much disrepute to a religious tradition, which was so liberating to start with.

If that thing called soul does exist, the Prophet of Islam, who must have been one of the finest figures of his time and a role model for Muslims for all time to come, must be turning in his grave. What is wrong with the communities of people claiming to be his true followers? As lovers of God and followers of the righteous path shown by the Prophet, Sufis and other Muslim holy men would never discriminate against women in the manner in which the current guardians of Islam seek to bar them even from such spaces as a dargah—a sacred space where they have historically been allowed to have a corner of their own as a sanctuary of relief from the oppressions of a patriarchal order that wants to subjugate them as toys or trophies as well as reproductive machines, mainly for a feudal society’s fancy for male children.

For long, in large parts of the subcontinent, women have not been allowed to enter a local mosque or a graveyard, and now some self-declared reformists want to block their entry into Sufi dargahs also on the ludicrous ground of a patriarchal belief in women being impure for certain days of the month. Such occasions remind one of the historical memories of a galaxy of such fine souls in medieval Islam as redoubtable Rabiya of Basra, of the venerable Fatima Sam of Delhi, and of the miracle-working saint Bibi Kamalo in Bihar; these saintly women are known in history and popular traditions for their defiance of all the restrictions of the persecuting society of their times, working and fighting for sanity and justice for all.

In the irrational times we inhabit, mobs are unleashed by extra-state actors for their petty political benefits, while those representing the state try to absolve themselves of any responsibility—as in the Haji Ali case in which the state does not want to be a party in the court, and also in other instances of ink-throwing, lynching beef-eating suspects, and a host of other violations. Political propagandists claim to speak for history, and rumours and false reports are peddled as truth. These are signs of a society and its polity on an irreversible path of decline—surely, to set things right, there is a need to replace those in power with others with fresh ideas and energies.

For those who care, insights from history are tantalising, and we are indeed heading into a forbidding time for a while. The all-time great Muslim historian and proto-sociologist, Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406), who looked at the history of rise and decline of the state from the perspective of what he called the science of human society (now identified as the social sciences), has said that it is not difficult to understand the unpredictability or fickleness of the human mind in certain social and political context: “Traits of character are the natural result of the peculiar situation in which they are found.” So, for those in power, it is important to control the situation. Medieval theorists have also recommended the use of a heavy hand, especially when violent mobs are unleashed for creating anarchic situations. They had warned: a thousand years of dictatorship is better than one day of violence on the streets of the city, in a village or an island, for that matter.

Our modern social scientists are also a product of the peculiar situation in which they are formed; few break free from, or rise above, the filth of the sociopolitical reality, and that is why they do not command much respect. Indeed, few historians have been able to maintain what is referred to as “historical distance” and free themselves from biases for them to be recognised as a credible voice; thus, even illiterate followers of political groups as well as lonely fanatics on social media easily dismiss them as partisan, often using violent invectives.

Even if other cases are to be dismissed as occasional aberrations, what is a society worth if half of its population is scared away from a life in public, kept veiled in purdah in the hidden corners of their little dwellings and even possibly sought to be disenfranchised on the whims and fancies of a few clogged minds? And, all along, my thought goes to what Haji Ali himself would have thought about this madness around his sanctuary of peace. Are lovers going to be doomed and women deprived of whatever solace they would get from visiting the shrine?

Courtesy: The EPW

How India Turned a Turkish Invader into a Saint Revered by Hindus and Muslims Alike

By Seema Alavi

The much-awaited book, Conquest and Community: The Afterlife of Warrior Saint Ghazi Miyan, by India’s premier social historian Shahid Amin is an exploration of the life of the 11th century saint Syed Salar Masud who fell in battle against local Hindu (Pasi) chiefs 350 miles east of Delhi in 1034 CE. Known as Ghazi Miyan, he is most remembered for having forsaken marriage for martyrdom and for being popularly perceived in North India as the nephew of the well-known conqueror Mahmud of Ghazni. It is believed that his parents entered the sub-continent with Mahmud and he was born in Ajmer.

The case of Ghazi Miyan merits historical attention because historical facts do not corroborate the popular belief and perception of his India career. That he was at best a  ‘fictional nephew’ of the conqueror Mahmud of Ghazni is evident from his conspicuous absence from the pages of contemporary medieval texts and historical writings informed by them. The link with the conqueror and the conquest begins to be established almost three centuries later when the 14th century historian Ziauddin Barani in his Tarikh-i-Firozshahi (1357) refers to the martyred Ghazi as one of the heroes of Mahmud of Ghazni’s campaigns. And a century later, Abul Fazl, the court historian of Akbar, testifies to the Ghazi’s blood relationship with Mahmud of Ghazni.

Shahid Amin’s story of Ghazi Miyan is pioneering and enthralling as it navigates through historical fact and fiction, gives each its due, and retells the tale of the martyred saint of Bahraich – in northeast Awadh – where he lies buried. He picks up the story of Ghazi Miyan where other stories end, and unpacks the entangled referents of truth and belief to offer a brilliant social history of eastern Awadhi society. This history offers a refreshing perspective on the act of conquest. Here, the memory of one of the most gory Afghan-Muslim conquests becomes the beginning also of one of the most cosmopolitan and long lived cults of the region. Indeed in Amin’s retelling of the Ghazi tale, the conqueror Mahmud of Ghazni gets an exceptional spin as his bloody forays in India get entwined in the story of the birth, marriage and martyrdom of Ghazi Miyan. Indeed, the guts and gory image of conquest gets displaced with the miraculous and the wondrous profile of the warrior saint. In Amin’s captivating account, Ghazi Miyan emerges as a venerated Sufi whose popular appeal stretches to Hindus and Muslims alike, and who carves out a comfortable niche for himself in the later nation state’s historical sensibility, much to the disquiet of some sections. The book offers a novel method of writing a nuanced history of the nation state that engages with the reality of past conquest rather than erasing its memory from society’s sense of self.

Pilgrims getting reading for the journey to the mazhar of Ghazi Miyan in Bahraich. Credit: Vipin Patel/YouTube

Pilgrims getting reading for the journey to the mazhar of Ghazi Miyan in Bahraich. Credit: Vipin Patel/YouTube

Amin’s riveting account of the afterlife of Ghazi Miyan is richly informed by an impressive array of historical sources. These range from the 17th century hagiography of the saint – the Mirat-i-Masudi – to British administrator commentaries, gazetteers and official reports, folk songs, ballads, and late 19th century Urdu and Hindi printed material. As the points of emphasis and sequence of events – and the borrowing of cultural motifs – change in different renditions of the Ghazi story, there is no denying the fact that the Turk Sufi saint continues to occupy a major space in the historical consciousness of ordinary people. Amin urges us to factor this historical consciousness into the narrative of the nation state. The story he tells us is compelling also because it points at new ways of writing the history of conquest: its popular reception, its memory and the critical role that these spin offs play in the making of a community of devotees that over-rides denominational differences between Hindus and Muslims in North India. Amin’s book is rich in detailing the making of the Ghazi Miyan cult, and the coming together of a community of devotees whose most distinguishing feature is their cultural and religious heterogeneity.

As he narrates the wondrous life of Ghazi Miyan that made him the stuff of popular folklore, he takes us through the predominantly Hindu pastoral cattle rearing society of eastern Uttar Pradesh. It is here that the cult of the Ghazi was shaped. The varied narrations of Ghazi Miyan’s life, that range from the Persian Mirat of Abdur Rahman to the Awadhi and Bhojpuri ballads of Dafalis or Muslim balladeers in more recent times, forefront his miraculous power. Their divergences and overlaps notwithstanding, the predominant trope that emerges is that of an exceptionally gifted warrior saint who embeds himself in the local Awadhi society by his supernatural powers: his blessings make an infertile local milkmaid conceive a son, and give back vision to an elite blind Muslim woman, Zohra of Central Asian origin, encouraging her to devote her life in divine love for him. His shrine and tomb at Bahraich, built by this blind devotee Zohra, becomes the major pilgrim site in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Pilgrimage to the Bahraich burial site becomes critical both to the creation as well as the longevity of his cult.

Music at the shrine of Ghazi Miyan, Bahraich. Credit: Vipin Patel/YouTube

Music at the shrine of Ghazi Miyan, Bahraich. Credit: Vipin Patel/YouTube

It also becomes the pivot around which a community of devotees is produced who in their written and oral renditions of the Ghazi tale transcend denominational religious and caste identities. Sites and cenotaphs across the Awadh countryside commemorate the martyrdom of the Ghazi and keep alive the memory of the military campaign where commanders of his army had laid down their lives. These sites create the sacred geography centred on the Bahraich shrine and knit together the pilgrims into an eclectic community of devotees. Not surprisingly, there is no dearth of reformist Muslim and Hindu printed literature in Urdu and Hindi at the end of the 19th century that raises an eyebrow on the cult of the Ghazi.

So what is so refreshing in Amin’s tale of Ghazi Miyan? The location of the narrative at the cusp of fact, belief and memory makes this tale a particularly textured piece of social history. One where conquest is not elided but displaced by a relatively benign image of the wondrous and miraculous feats of a warrior saint; where the past is not idealised but seen as contentious; where the Turk is embedded in local north Indian society by invoking the motifs of kin and family relations and borrowings from the great epics of the subcontinent. Amin is able to offer this beautiful slice of history because of his enviable command of the vast range of sources in multiple languages.

The shrine of Ghazi Miyan, Bahraich. Credit: Vipin Patel/YouTube

The shrine of Ghazi Miyan, Bahraich. Credit: Vipin Patel/YouTube

This delightful history of Ghazi Miyan is an equally pioneering history of Muslim conquest and the complex embedding of its protagonists in Indian society. Our biggest challenge today is to see that these contentious relationships between the Muslim conqueror and the Hindu vanquished that constitute our historical past are given their rightful space in the meta narrative of the nation state. This is of utmost relevance in our present times when the historical past is being tailored to fit the narrow confines of a Hindu rashtra. Amin’s book is the best critique of the homogeneity discourse that sadly threatens to colour our historical past. One only hopes that the barakat of Ghazi Miyan rescues our past and our profession from this onslaught.

Seema Alavi is Professor, early modern South Asia, Delhi University

Courtesy: The Wire 

Decoding Ramayana – Indian Express

An interesting compilation by Indian Express – of note –

Mappila Ramayanam: Setting India’s most ancient epic in a Malabari Muslim milieu

It’s not easy to pin down the origins of the Mappila Ramayanam. Like with most oral compositions, the actual story of its creation is lost to us.

Many Ramayana storytellers come from Muslim communities. The Mappila Ramayanam, coming from the folk song tradition of the Malabari Muslims or Mappilas, is an example of how the epic has crossed cultural boundaries.

Yakub’s Ramayana: A Muslim artisan and his rendition of the classic
Yakub Chitrakar shows a scroll painting depicting incidents from Ramayana at his home at Noya in West Midnapore. (Source: Express photo by Subham Dutta)

For centuries, Muslim patuas spread across several districts of West Bengal have retold the epic through songs and scrolls.

No exaggerations: The truth behind what happened in the Ramayana
A fascinating feature of the Jain versions of the Ramayana is the treatment of Ravan. In fact, he isn’t even a rakshasa as popularly understood; like Hanuman and the other vanaras, he, too, is a vidyadhar, only he belongs to the rakshasa lineage.

In keeping with their religion’s emphasis on reason and non-violence, the Jain Ramayana features vanaras who are not monkeys and Ram as the warrior who eventually forsakes the battlefield.