Saturday 15 February 2020

India must rectify Aurangzeb’s excesses (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Rediscovering the truth of the past is essential to the building of a better future.

Holocaust denial is a thought atrocity that mocks and belittles the suffering and eventual death of millions of the most talented people on earth during the period when Adolf Hitler ruled Germany. But there are other mass killings that have been sought to get pushed away from public consciousness, such as the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire. Or the death of millions of colonised human beings through enforced poverty and starvation by miscellaneous European empires, including that of the British in India. Or the mass killings and distress caused by an emperor whose coronation site is soon to be refurbished by the Archaeological Survey of India. Emperor Aurangzeb was the slayer of millions. Sadly for the truth, history books in India are filled with denial of the massacres of the past, and an honest examination of their causes and effects. And so it has been with Aurangzeb, a situation that calls for rectification, and not just in textbooks. The coronation of Aurangzeb in 1658 marked the start of the decline of the Mughal Empire. The cause of such a collapse was the zeal with which the new emperor sought to erase the past and fashion the present in a manner that reflected his own cruel and narrow beliefs.
The first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, dealt with the failure of the Congress Party to prevent the partition of India by acting as though such a tragedy never happened. He repeated in his policies several of the causes of Partition and ignored the need to rectify at least some of the consequences. Nehru’s consistent policy of Genocide Denial caused him as Prime Minister to look the other way when hundreds of thousands of Hindus and Sikhs were killed in both the western as well as the eastern parts of Pakistan, a state set up as a consequence of the convenient (to British objectives) fiction that Hindus and Muslims could never live in harmony with each other. In order to protect Pakistan from even verbal barbs from India, Nehru got passed the first amendment to the Constitution of India within less than a year of that bedrock of the law coming into force. The legislation he got enacted was transparently intended to silence critics and give his government a degree of power that was never envisaged by the authors of the Constitution.
In our textbooks, history has been written so as to reflect Nehru’s views, so much so that in some works, there is a transformation of Bigot Aurangzeb into Saint Aurangzeb. Reading the “Partition Denial” version of history that is taught in our schools and colleges to this day, students may be forgiven for believing Aurangzeb to be a medieval version of Vinoba Bhave. The despot has been portrayed as a well-intentioned ascetic. The self-proclaimed champions of religious freedom who wrote history textbooks forgot that it was this ruler who demolished the three holy sites of the Hindu majority in his realm, at Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi. As long as this wound on the traditions of India remains to fester, communal harmony will remain out of reach. Just as Muslims deserve their holy sites as Christians do theirs, surely Hindus in a country torn apart into two on the explicit basis of religion in 1947 deserve their three holy sites to be returned to what they were in before Aurangzeb wreaked his rage on them. Neither Mathura nor Kashi nor Ayodhya is in Pakistan. All three are in India, and yet 73 years after Independence, these three holiest sites of the Hindus have not been restored to what they were before each got destroyed by Aurangzeb. The case of Mathura is especially poignant, as the temple built on the birthplace of Lord Krishna had once been destroyed by Central Asian marauders, but was rebuilt with assistance from none other than Emperor Jehangir. After the structure got rebuilt, each night a lamp was lit atop the temple spires, and it was the sight of the light on that tall and distant spire as he was on his way to Mathura from Agra that so annoyed the Wahhabi in Aurangzeb that he ordered the destruction of the temple. More than three hundred years later, the structure has yet to be rebuilt to what it was before Aurangzeb’s act.
Fanaticism and intolerance are evil, no matter who the perpetrators are. Those Hindus who lynched Muslims whom they suspected of eating beef are as much terrorists as village lads from Pakistan who have been brainwashed into zombies by GHQ Rawalpindi and sent across the border to cause mayhem. Some of the hateful remarks, including on social media, made by those in the majority community who claim to be defending tradition in India go entirely counter to the philosophies that evolved in a continuing civilisation that is countless years old. Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq and other countries bear witness to what happens when the intolerant seek to enforce their brutal will on the people. A practical way of ensuring that the people of India understand the fell effects of fanaticism would be to convert the coronation site of Aurangzeb into a museum that would showcase his evil deeds and the consequences of them on the people and finally the empire, whose weakening and eventual dissolution he caused. There are those who believe that the Archaeological Survey of India (in a context when even the path followed by Lord Ram from Ayodhya to Lanka and back remains forgotten and the Ram Setu has yet to be declared a national monument) should expend taxpayer cash on the coronation site of Aurangzeb only after Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura have been restored to what they were before the depredations of Aurangzeb. An alternative course would be to create from the coronation site a museum that illustrates the kind of ruler that Aurangzeb really was, rather than continue with the fiction that he was the saintly figure depicted in Nehruvian history books. Citizens can thereby understand the lessons in the destruction of a state because of the intolerant and genocidal impulses of its ruler. Along with a memorial to the legacy of Aurangzeb, the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata needs to be converted into a museum showcasing the loot and suffering caused by British rule in India. Not that life before the Mughal invasion and British conquest was perfect. The people of India need to come to terms with misdeeds committed during each phase of the past of this land. They need to be educated about the follies committed by the Hindu kings of ancient India that caused them to be serially defeated by Mughal invaders. The lessons of history should teach us to ensure that mistakes be avoided that permit colonial practices and mindsets to continue; that avoid the repeat of follies that so weaken a people that they get overcome by invaders; that never permit intolerance to reign. These are lessons that three museums dedicated to these subjects would help embed in the psyche of the people.
Rediscovering the truth of the past is essential to the building of a better future rather than remaining stuck in the morass caused in large part to attitudes fashioned by a refusal to acknowledge the imperative of recorded history being rendered in a manner hewing to the motto of Satyameva Jayate.

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