This session featuring an eminent scholar of Indian History, Sushil Pandit, aimed to discuss the brutal record of the Islamic period in India and its impact on Hindu culture and psyche. Here, we summarize the key points he made.
Sushil Pandit began by asserting that the phrase ‘Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb,’ epitomizing the thinking that Islam in India has been a civilizational enricher, is a fraud that has been perpetrated on successive generations of Indians. Walking through the centuries, he determined how Islam had been the opposite of this myth and provided reasons for that being given more credence than the truth.
He said even the date of the first invasion of Islam, as stated in history textbooks, was wrong. It commenced centuries earlier, in 711, with Mohammed bin Qasim fleeing intertribal battles in Arabia and landing in Sindh. That first battle was won because, unlike the local king, Raja Dahir, Qasim abided by no rules of engagement, attacking after dark and killing unarmed noncombatants.
Delhi and its surroundings were the nerve center of Indian civilization – Indraprastha and Hastinapur had existed here from the age of the Mahabharata. It fell to raiders from Afghanistan in 1192, the year that is commonly reported as the start of Islamic invasions.
Indian civilizational boundaries at the time, Pandit said, had extended to Afghanistan with the Hindu Shahi rulers holding sway in the region. The very word ‘Afghanistan’ is the distortion of the Sanskrit ‘Upa Gana Sthan.’ Upa Ganas referred to the subaltern people living on the borders; Sthan, denoting geography, a location.
All know that Mahmud of Ghazni and Muhammad of Ghor came from there and plundered India with regularity. Why, asked Pandit, have Indians not been told about the successful and heroic resistance they faced? From that first attack in 711 to the establishment of Islamic rule in 1192, the Indian civilization effectively staved off several Muslim incursions in those centuries. The defense period covered a far longer period than it took for the fall of the great Egyptian and Persian civilizations to the Islamic sword.
Historians don’t write much about it, Pandit said, but the successors of Ghazni tried to continue the raiding tradition but failed. Ghazni’s nephew Salah Massoud, in 1033, lost more than 30,000 men in Bahraich, in modern Uttar Pradesh, to Raja Suhaldev. Nobody talks of Kashmir’s Sangrama Raja giving Ghazni a bloody nose twice. Another time, the raja had helped Punjab’s ruler Trilochan Pal and chased Mahmud Ghazni all the way to his homeland.
When Marxist historians are not obliterating names like Suhaldev, they go about embroidering the story of the barbarians, he said. For example, they explain away the sacking of temples to the gold accumulated there as if it were the fault of Hindus. If this were the only motivation, Bakhtiyar Khilji would not have gone to Nalanda, which had only a library, students, and a few monks. That place was razed to the ground, creating a large pyramid of human skulls.
Pandit stated that they were out to destroy and humiliate and subjugate a civilization.
Indraprastha and Hastinapur have a 6,000-year-old history, yet not a single temple exists from even 100 years ago to show civilizational continuity. However, there is an 800-year-old mosque built by Ghori from the debris of the temples that he sacked. Pandit pointed out it was 800 years before the first temple, the Birla Mandir, was built in Delhi. Begun in 1934, it was completed in 1939.
Pandit spoke poignantly of Martanda, the Sun temple in Kashmir that stands in ruins thanks to Sikander Shah Miri but still grabs attention with its grandness and breathtaking beauty. He referred to the splendid Suraj Kund and the ASI plaque, which states that Islamic rulers had restored the water tank but fails to mention what befell the temple. In the South, the onslaught of Islam was felt at Hampi under the tyranny of Tipu Sultan, the Shahi kings, and the Nizam of Hyderabad.
He said that Mongols, Khiljis, Tughlaqs, or Mughals were just different names bearing the same antipathy towards India and Hindus.
Pandit pooh-poohed the notion of the invasion as a clash of civilizations, questioning the very existence of Arabic civilization. They were just tribes, he said, who hadn’t seen an evolution in terms of literature, music, and art and barely had a knowledge tradition. They only knew war and violence; their accounts of history and what inspired them as faith are centered around violence and riches, which is the antithesis of the Indian civilization.
The tragedy, he said, was the reluctance of Hindus to tell their story themselves. Others have better said the truth: American historian Will Durant has said the Islamic conquest of India is the bloodiest story in human history. Flemish author Koenraad Elst has said the Hindu victims of Islam far outnumber the Jewish Holocaust. Pandit argued that it was an ongoing, relentless, brutal genocide for over 1300 years. Still, the Romila Thapars and Bipan Chandras of the world, as well as successive Indian governments, have glossed over it.
History writing in independent India has been hostage to ideology. It was not an end in itself but a means to an end. He drew attention to successive education ministers in India, most had been Muslim, and all had political and ideological motives. They didn’t see the truth for what it was but for what could be deployed. More recently, he said none of those holding the office have even a nodding acquaintance with the subject of education. Another reason for skewed historical renderings was to be part of the power elite and reap its rewards. However, Pandit said, the biggest hurdle in writing history from the Hindu perspective lay within. The temperament of those in power is status quo because they are not sure about what the change will bring about.
He spoke of the repercussions of this, saying those who control their history have control over their future. When the narrative is ceded, it becomes another form of colonization. In this version, the object is not territory or political power but the destruction of identity. Rudderless, pride and confidence are dented, followed by subservience. In today’s world, servility affects trade and the economy. If complete information were made available, people would realize their rich identity and strive to achieve that glory again, something the new kind of colonialism does not want.
Turning his attention to the West, he said it had suffered too at the hands of Islam. Still, its nuanced response, he blamed on liberal democracies, which according to him, have the hypocrisy of ingrained political correctness. He said there had been exceptional and candid leaders like America’s Donald Trump, UK’s Boris Johnson, and Winston Churchill who had called out the barbarian streak from the Middle East. He said the actions of France’s Emmanuel Macron had opened the world’s eyes with all his recent actions. He said the West and its scholars were slowly discovering how much openness to deploy and how much honesty to use in fully describing what they see. He also felt 9/11 was a watershed with America raining its wrath on the perpetrators for 20 years. The world collectively learned from the entire episode. It is going to shape future perceptions and responses.
On the West’s criticism of Hindu activism, he was categorical: it is a good thing. Welcome the debate, he said, because Hindus have a far, far better story to tell. He pointed out that there was a time when no attention was being paid to Hindu voices.
Sushil Pandit is a well-known scholar on Islam and its effect on cultures and nations. A prominent activist, he’s the co-founder of the nonprofit Roots in Kashmir, an initiative launched to raise awareness of the plight of Kashmiri Pandits.