The last few days have seen two separate terrorist incidents in France, both involving Muslim youth (both refugees, not French-born Muslims) beheading (or trying to behead) French civilians because of perceived outrage over blasphemy. In the first shocking incident a teacher named Samuel Paty tried to do what good teachers do; he was teaching about freedom of expression and wanted to show the cartoons that led to the murderous assaults on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. He told his Muslim students that if they felt uncomfortable seeing those cartoons, they could step outside the class. There is no indication that he himself said anything that could be construed as an attack on the prophet. But the very fact that he showed the famous cartoons in his class was enough to rile up at least one of the Muslim student’s parents, who started to outrage on social media, which led a Chechen youth named Abdullah to travel a 100 km, find the teacher by paying his students to point him out and then beheaded him on a public road before being shot dead himself.
If this was not bad enough, today another “refugee” (this one from Tunisia) went on a stabbing/beheading spree at the basilica of Notre Dame in Nice and killed 2 women and a 55 year old sexton. Another person, this time in Saudi Arabia, stabbed a guard at the French consulate before being arrested. At the same time there have been massive protests in Bangladesh, a mock beheading at a girl’s school in Pakistan, official protests from Pakistan and Turkey and boycotts of French products all across the Muslim world. Continue reading “Why do Muslims React More to France Than to China?”
Even though the comment thread on my previous blog post – Playing with Fire was the immediate trigger for me writing this post, but I have been meaning to wade into this topic for some time. History writing in India has been a controversial topic especially since the ascendency of Hindutva. NCERT books on history are often blamed for preventing the “Truth and Reconciliation” between the Hindus and Muslims. While these criticisms have some merit, I often feel they’re overstated and straw-manned. Left-Liberal historians – Messrs Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Satish Chandra has been the favorite punching bag of Hindutvavadis in general. A lot of times people get carried away in hubris while punching these histories. Generalizations and misrepresentation of writings of these historians are rife in the Hindutvavadis.
I will go through Medieval India by Satish Chandra (class 11 history), Romila Thapar’s Medieval India (class 7), and Medieval history book by Nios (by multiple authors).
This piece focuses on the treatment given to Pre-Delhi Sultanate Muslim Invaders – the famous Ghazis of Islam. My recollection of textbooks is that the Mughals (except Babur and Aurangzeb) are glorified to a certain extent – especially Akbar, but none of the previous Muslim rulers are. I may be wrong – I am yet to read those chapters and will be posting about them later.
Mohammad Bin Qassim :
The Ummayad General doesn’t get much mention in these texts as by most accounts the Arab conquests of Sindh were at most localized events and did not have lasting consequences beyond Indus. Yet the one mention he gets in the Medieval history NCERT book isn’t something which appears positive.
NIOS book – Module 2 – Page 134 History Module 2: “Arabs were also attracted by the wealth of India. Arab merchants and sailors had brought back stories of great wealth of India. However, the reason for the invasion of Sindh was to avenge the plunder of Arab Ships by pirates of Debol. King Dahir refused to punish the pirates. Hajjaj the governor of Iraq despatched an army under Muhammad Bin Qasim. He arrived in Sind in AD 712, and besieged Debol which was situated on the sea coast. After crossing the Indus he marched forward. At Rawar, Muhammad Bin Qasim attacked Dahir who was defeated. Arabs killed a large number of fleeing soldiers. Dahir was also caught and killed. Muhammad Bin Qasim now proceeded forward and within a short span he conquered various important places in Sind including Brahmanabad”
Mahmud of Ghazni:
In Satish Chandra’s Medieval history, the period from 1000-1200 is called the Age of Conflict. The intra-Turkic conflict between Muslim and Non-Muslim Turks before the consolidation of Turkic sultanates also finds mention in the chapter. Additionally, he notes “The Islamized Turkish tribes were to emerge as the greatest defenders and crusaders of Islam. The love of plunder went side by side with the defense of Islam. About Mahmud – Mahmud is considered as a hero of Islam & the ghazi spirit further increased during his time. In India his memory is only of a plunderer and destroyer of temples. Mahmud also posed as the great But-shikan or destroyer of images. Mahmud also broke the Shivlingam and ordered parts brought back to his capital.”
In Romila Thapar’s Medieval history, Mahmud doesn’t get a positive treatment. Thapar says “One of the attacks which is frequently mentioned was the destruction of the Somnath temple. Destroying temples had another advantage – he could claim as he did that he had obtained religious merit by destroying images. In 1030 Mahmud died and people of North India felt relieved“. After this Thapar does state his achievements for his capital and state along with his patronage of scholars like Firdausi and Al-Birauni.
NIOS book – Module 2- gives a slightly more neutral characterization of Mahmud “Mahmud enriched his treasury by looting the temples of Nagarkot, Thanesar, Mathura and Kanauj. The attack against Nagarkot in AD 1008 has been described as his first great triumph. In AD 1025, Mahmud embarked on the most ambitious Indian campaign, the attack on the Somnath temple in Saurashtra. Mahmud captured the city after grim struggle in which more than 50,000 defenders lost their lives. His attacks on India were an attempt to fulfil his ambition to make Ghazni the formidable power in the politics of Central Asia. Mahmud’s raids into India were only to acquire the famous wealth of India.“
In Satish Chandra’s book – The Ghurid invasions and Mohammad’s legendary battle against Prithviraj Chauhan finds considerable space given to it. The analysis is neutral and doesn’t get into speculations beyond a point. The other exploits of Mohammad and Qutubuddin Aibak are explained in some detail. The author makes no claims of iconoclasm except in the case of Bakhtiyar Khalji in Bihar and Bengal. About Khalji he writes “he destroyed some of the great Buddhist monasteries at Nalanda and Vikramshila“. Additionally, he notes “Neither was really concerned with Islam, though neither scrupled over the use of Islam to justify their plunder of Indian cities and temples“
In Romila Thapar’s Medieval history – she also focusses on the Battle of Tarrain and appears neutral towards Mohammad Ghori and the Ghurids in general.
NIOS book also gives a neutral and brief analysis of Ghurid invasions and capture of North India.
Romila Thapar’s Medieval History is meant for 7th standard and hence doesn’t have the details seen in Satish Chandra’s 11th standard history book. Satish Chandra’s book captured a lot of facets of these invasions including religious. Reading these chapters, it is fair to conclude that none of these books glorify these early Muslim Ghazis. It can be fairly argued from Hindutva point of view, that Islam’s role in these conquests is understated (especially in Thapar’s Medieval History). But that book is meant for 12-year-old kids.
On the broader reading of history, I guess Islam is necessary but not sufficient in explaining the Turko-Afghan invasions of India in the 11th and 12 centuries.
Unless you are living under a rock, you will have noticed the Babri demolition conspiracy verdict. All 32 accused including the firebrand Ashok Singhal and Uma Bharti were acquitted of the conspiracy charge. A conspiracy charge is notoriously difficult to prove in Indian court even with Political will, in this case from an objective perspective, the charge was unlikely to stick owing the excessive burden of proof required to prove conspiracy.
I came across this interview of Advani with Prannoy Roy from 2000.
After six years of Modi Shah, Advani appears like a fresh of breath air (to my liberal ears). Notwithstanding his role as the prime mover of the Ram Janmabhooni movement which left trails of blood across the country, Advani appears significantly liberal to my eyes in 2020. The willingness to talk to the enemy (as seen in a range of interviews given to aggressive media), comparatively more respect to democratic ethos and institutions, and an overall soft spoken-ness.
However, the interview leaves us with the question – Is Advani telling the truth?
There seem to be three potential chain of events which led to the culmination of the demolition of Babri Masjid.
The aim of the Rath Yatra by Advani was always to demolish the mosque and the previous years were spent in raising support for the demolition of the mosque. This was the narrative the most far left and far right in India believe. In other words, the whole movement was a conspiracy under a facade of Rath Yatra.
The leadership of the movement – namely Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, and to a lesser extent Vajpayee under the umbrella of RSS (this included the current Prime minister) never really planned to break the mosque. Their aim was to mobilize the Hindu over and above their caste boundaries. The mobilization has political benefits as well as social benefits in response to Islam. However, during the movement, a small group actually conspired to break the mosque. That means if there was a conspiracy, either the top leadership was kept in dark or the top leadership turned a blind eye towards it. This seems to the claim made by Advani and Vajpayee where both of them on record called the demolition of the mosque as the saddest day of their life.
The mass movement got carried away in hubris. After years of chest thumbing, for the karsevaks – this was the moment to go down in the history and they did.
If either of 2 and 3 is true, it is fair to say the BJP and Sangha Parivar leaders were playing with fire and when the fire got out of control it burned every one to a certain extent. Though today even if the fire was unintended, the fruits of the fire continue to be reaped.
Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, Apple, Spotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!
You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. This website isn’t about shaking the cup, but I have noticed that the number of patrons plateaued a long time ago.
This episode features Akshar and Mukunda talking to Cliff Smith and Sam Westrop of the Middle East Forum. We get into topics surrounding the relevance of the Deobandi movement, how Islamism percolates between South Asia and the West, and the political ramifications of Islamism in the US and the UK.
Going through my photo archives for a photo blog I plan to start, I remembered a thing which had struck me as weird during my travels in Kenya. Being interested in travel and wildlife, I have stayed a lot across hotels and resorts in India. Outside India I have been to Singapore, Bhutan and Kenya. But only in the resorts in Kenya did I find religious books in hotel rooms. I found the Bibles/Quran placed in the top drawers of the bedside table extremely funny, surprising and slightly unpalatable. I did some reading – here here and was surprised to find this being a norm in United states. I still cant understand the reasoning behind placing religious books in hotels – especially wildlife resorts like Serene Lodge in Maasai Mara (which had Quran as well as Bible I guess).
Funnily the top drawer often reserved for these religious books (based on my experience in Kenya) is the best place for keeping your condoms IMO (next to the books which are clearly anti contraceptive). Apart from that why would holidayers who cant spend a day without their scriptures travel without them? I suppose for people who are this religious, there would also be an emotional connection to one’s one set of scriptures and they wont feel the same way about some other copy (my presumption). In India most you find in Indian resorts are religious symbols like Om and Shree and even they are extremely rare (non existent in nature and wildlife resorts). Finding copies of Vedas or Bhagwat Gita in hotel rooms seems incredibly funny almost unimaginable to me. Even in the pretty catholic goa, none of hotels I have stayed in (even in Portuguese Goa) had bibles in rooms. Why would someone going to the top wildlife destination in the world spend time reading scriptures instead of enjoying the resort is something beyond my humble irreligious (and Indian) mind to fathom. I don’t necessarily put the blame of this practice on the evangelical zeal as many hotels claim to provide most popular religious scriptures.
This brings me to a larger point about lack of understanding of other cultures and histories (which Razib likes to point) in Indians (as well as all other cultures). If understanding of different cultures is so poor even in the internet age, during the age of exploration there would have been a far greater gap which is clearly visible in most colonial literature. This makes the criticism faced today by sincere western scholars like Asko Parpola and Sheldon Pollock (who do have understanding of the Indian culture) inevitable. Example of similar things are even visible when English speaking journalists from India make televised journeys into the hinterlands. Here I come to some questions for the readers.
How should people foreign to cultures they’re studying, view them? and Is the criticism of them as ignorant of culture and hence partial in their scholarship fair? (Despite them being scholars of lets say Sanskrit and History in Indian context)
What could be a logical explanation for the practice of keeping religious books in hotels (apart from evangelical zeal) ? Some people have made argument of loneliness and suicide but I find those extremely tenuous.
What are some of the other practices prevalent in foreign cultures that can be unfathomable to an outsider ?
A comment Eaton makes offhand several times is that the conflict between Turks and Indians should not be understood in confessional terms. This is a commonly asserted, and on some level, it reflects elements of the truth. Hindu Rajputs served under Muslims, and Turkic soldiers served under Hindus. You can’t reduce everything to confession.
But, it is clear that confession and civilizational identity did exist, and it was robust. Going from the specific to the general.
A great deal of text given over to Man Singh’s glorification of his conquests as an Indian warrior, and his patronage of Indian religion, in particular Vaishnavism.
Eaton highlights the rapid Indianization of practices and hegemonic motifs present among the Turks and Afghans who were born and raised in India. And yet despite the syncretistic tendencies which occurred, ultimately these ashraf elites remained identified as Muslims and often were pulled back to world-normative Islam over the generations.
Vijayanagara persisted as a Hindu polity for three centuries. The cross-cultural analysis shows that recalcitrant pagan powers always convert to the religion of their enemies eventually. The leader of the pagan resistance in Saxony became a Christian. Pagan resistance to Christianity in Sweden, Lithuania, and ancient Rome were only temporary, as resistant lineages eventually were assimilated into the new order. Resistance to Buddhism in Japan and Tibet was initially violent, but futile. In iterative games, paganism is the eternal ‘beatable’ strategy.
The only point to posting this is that there is a common assertion that Hinduism as a religion or identity only emerged in the 19th century. I am now convinced that this confuses the name of the phenomenon for the phenomenon. The Indian religion of the Hindus was clearly bundled together in a way that allowed for their elite deployment as a meta-ethnic identity that separated them from the Turks and Afghans who ruled them. Similarly, the Islam of the Turks and Afghans (and variegated Ethiopians, Arabs, and Persians), separated them from the Indians whom they conquered to prevent full assimilation as an Indian elite with popular roots in early modernity.
There is a major issue where our conception of religion qua religion is conditioned on an intellectual revolution rooted in the Second Reformation of the Calvinists. But, I think it is important not to get carried away with this construct, and assert that Calvinist religion is qualitatively different from pre-Calvinist religion. I don’t think it is. Rather, it simply shifts some of the parameter values within the model. Similarly, the identity of a coherent Hindu Rashtra with a post-caste socio-religious identity is an invention of modernity, but its roots are ancient and indigenous, and not postcolonial fictions.
I finally completed Dr Ambedkar’s fascinating book on Pakistan after reading it on and off for years. Though he comes across as an essentialist in some of his arguments, many fault-lines Dr. Ambedkar points out hold true even 70 years after the publication of the book.
(I plan to write about that book sometime later – but especially for those who don’t identify with Hindutva I will highly recommend that book)
Dr. Ambedkar says the following in this book PAKISTAN OR THE PARTITION OF INDIA during his polemic against Purdah.
The evil consequences of purdah are not confined to the Muslim community only. It is responsible for the social segregation of Hindus from Muslims which is the bane of public life in India. This argument may appear far fetched and one is inclined to attribute this segregation to the unsociability of the Hindus rather than to purdah among the Muslims. But the Hindus are right when they say that it is not possible to establish social contact between Hindus and Muslims because such contact can only mean contact between women from one side and men from the other
This is the core motivation that has lead to the popularization of term Love-Jihad. The anxieties of Hindus are not motivated largely by the fear that “Muslims will abduct their daughters and sisters and forcibly convert them”. That exists largely in the straw-man.
This is first in the series of blogposts I plan to write about my worries with Hindutva.
Every year on Onam, social media witnesses flame wars between Hindutva and Anti Hindutva forces. The point of contention often is the Hindutva assertion that Onam is Vamana Jayanti and the counter to that is Onam is a secular harvest festival of Kerala. BJP handles have been tweeting their versions of Onam ever since they have been active on internet. The level to which both sides are unwilling to compromise on occasions of festivals – which ought to reflect human community celebrations, is petty. This year Arvind Kejriwal, flush with his success as modeling himself as a Hindu (or Soft Hindutva), took to twitter with this. It was met with a reply from Shashi Tharoor which in turn was countered by ever growing internet Hindutva – including the widely popular TrueIndology. One cant expect these flame wars to subside anytime soon, given the interest people have been taking in history & hindutva these days.
For decades, liberals have critiqued the Hindutva project as exclusionary. The Hindutva response is – wrt Abhrahamic faiths – if that only these people (religions) connected with the culture on ground and accepted native customs along with their own customs, we wouldn’t protest. For the Hindutvavadis, the said project was always Indianize (not Hinduize they claim) these monotheistic faiths, so that these faiths are more integrated in the larger Indian society. By that train of logic the Hindutvavadis should be happy if Keralites Christians & Muslims celebrate Onam as a Secular festival. Couldn’t this be held as a beacon of syncretic Keralite culture which the country should follow ? For most times, festivals evolve and change with times, their origins though not irrelevant, tend to become less salient as time goes on. The origins of Christmas are testament to the fluid nature of festivals. Onam in Kerala is a truly spectacular festival full of dances, food, music, boat racing and many things, not unlike Diwali. Across the world, harvest seasons have festivals and religious significance because of the underlying material importance. Do contested origins of festivals matter or the human community experience of festivals matters? Nowruz (whether that is an Iranian mirror of Holi is something that interests me) celebrated by the broader Iranian people, after a millennium of Islam is a testament to the longevity festivals rooted in culture. The insistence of always getting sole ownership of the Onam story comes of as toxic chauvinism & deliberately exclusionary IMO. Yet every year, there are the same debates around Onam with Keralite Christians and Muslims abused for trying to own Onam in a way they have come to define it. (Ricebags and other demeaning words are often used).
The apparently ironic way the Hindutva movement is becoming very much like its primary enemy is not really unprecedented. VD Savarkar, the foremost and most intellectual ideologue of Hindutva was critical of Muslims and Christians putting their religion above the country. Sadly during the negotiations of princely states, Savarkar himself campaigned for independent Hindu Travancore against the plans of Sardar Patel. It can be alleged he put Hindutva before the country at that moment – exactly what he accused Muslims of for all those years. Yet Hindutvavadis have no qualms putting Patel and Savarkar in the same tent – while claiming Patel and Nehru had irreconcilable differences.
These flames wars were merely part of twitter for a few years but now they’re penetrating larger audiences via whatsapp. While this may be a symptom of taking trivial social media more seriously than it deserves, the point I am arguing is beyond the flame wars of twitter. There is a deliberate and uncompromising framing of Hindutva underway – which covers a variety of tropes from calling Jains/Sikhs Hindus to soft diktats against celebrating Christman/Eid. I consider these manifestations of the nascent ideological moorings, troubling. In a weird way at times, I hope Hindutva remains REACTIONARY and resists ideological framing, for I am more wary of deep ideological movements than mere reactionary ones.
While its not my argument that their might not be any deliberate maneuvering by the liberals in framing of the Onam as a secular festival – I dont know and I dont care enough to investigate. If the world Hindu is defined as broadly as some do, everything east of the Sindhu will be Hindu & most festivals will have some connection to traditional Hinduism/native religions. At end of the day what matters is Onam is a harvest festival for Keralites.
I personally have tried to indulge in the so-called Dharmic/Indic arguments for India (Harsh Madhusudan& Rajeev Mantri are publishing a book i am looking forward too), put they also indulge in unnecessary labeling IMO. I find the use of these labels – Dharmic/Indic – churlish at times.
I listened with interest to Brown Pundits’ recent podcasts with Gaurav and Tony on the current state of Indian politics. I could relate to some of their agonies and predicaments, although I profoundly disagree with some aspects of Tony’s worldview. Slapstik’s recent post Indian woke wears saffron also contains some good insights on the nature and roots of the current Hindutva movement. In this post, I have picked on three strands of Slapstik’s argument: the comparison between Hindutva and woke culture, the genesis of the Bhakti movement and the nature of the leadership of the Indian National Congress both before and after independence.
While I share Slapstik’s assessment of the importance of the Bhakti movement, I do not regard the Bhakti movement as a radical rupture from the pre-Islamic Dharmic traditions. I also argue that by only highlighting the role and influence of the liberal modernist elements of the Indian political leadership in the colonial and early post-colonial periods, Slapstik overlooks the equally if not more salient part of the leadership that sought its inspiration from the country’s indigenous Indic heritage. In doing so, I seek to highlight the deep and abiding roots of India’s Dharmic consciousness that is characterised by cultural continuity.
Since the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, which culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, nothing has polarized Indian politics and society as much the Citizenship Amendment Act. On its own, its fair to assume that CAA is not a particularly insidious piece of legislature, but when it gets combined with National Register of Citizens (NRC) as explained by Amit Shah below, it becomes some to be vary of.
As Amit Shah stated, CAB(A) will be applied before carrying out the process of NRC. In his own words, the refugees(non Muslim migrants) will be granted citizenship and the infiltrators (Muslim migrants – he also referred to them as termitesat one instance) will be thrown out or prosecuted (there was some talk of throwing them into the Bay of Bengal).
Its clear to conclude that by refugees – he means Bangladeshi Muslims who reside illegally in India as almost no Muslims from Pakistan and Afghanistan come to India illegally with an intention a better life. (When they do cross the LOC illegally, they’re treated as enemy combatants or terrorists)
The instrumental part of the act reads
any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014 and who has been exempted by the Central Government by or under clause (c) of sub-section (2) of section 3 of the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 or from the application of the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 or any rule or order made thereunder, shall not be treated as illegal migrant for the purposes of this Act
While this amendment to the ACT is seen as problematic, one must point out that large portions of the existing ACT are also extremely problematic – most of which were added after 1955 under various governments at various times. In particular the 1986 amendment (under Rajiv Gandhi) – which meant children born to both illegal immigrants wouldn’t get citizenship. This is seen as a contradiction with the Birthright naturalization (Jus soli ) principle of the Constitution. The 2003 amendment (under Vajpayee) further restricted citizenship to children, when either of their parents is an illegal immigrant.
The 2003 amendment also prevented illegal immigrants from claiming naturalization by some other legal means. So in short with the CAA 2019, this particular amendment (2003) has been annulled for Non Muslims who have come to Indian sovereign land from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In other words, the CAA facilitates the imagination of India as the natural homeland of subcontinental Non-Muslims (but not a Hindu Rashtra or Hindu State).