Listen to this article:
At the time of writing this article, the video had over 2.3 lakh views and its one-minute version on Twitter had over 1.8 million views.
He presents his own version of history in this video, particularly with regard to the Mughals. In this article of limited length, I do not have any intention of indulging in an academic debate over history, myths and falsified history.
Double standards in historical criticism
However, I must point out the double standards, which are, under the obvious pressure of an imperious majority, being adopted in this country.
Manoj calls Humayun, Akbar and Jahangir ‘glorified dacoits’. Well, strictly speaking, he is at liberty to write his own history and interpret history in any way. I do not have any problems with his criticising or abusing Mughals, the British or whoever. The problem arises when others criticise Hindu kings or support Muslim kings, even for academic purposes, they are physically attacked and implicated under false cases usually for promoting enmity between different groups.
History is something for which we cannot have an ‘absolute’ or ‘official’ version to the exclusion of all other versions. Why should historical criticism lead to violence and registration of cases, then?
An American scholar, James Laine, had written a book titled, Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India published by Oxford University Press. What followed was both amusing and alarming. Over 150 people claiming to belong to a hitherto little-known organisation called ‘Sambhaji Brigade’, affiliated to the Maratha Seva Sangh, ransacked the renowned Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI), inflicting considerable damage to the holdings of that important cultural repository, including irreplaceable and unique objects of historical and literary importance.
Professor Laine had done some of the research for his book at BORI, and thanked the institute and some scholars affiliated with it in his acknowledgment. That was enough for those angered by the book to target the institute and attack the employees there.
A little over a week later, the Maharashtra government responded by registering a case against Laine and the publisher OUP under sections 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot) and 153A (promoting enmity between different groups) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) besides banning the book. All this happened because Maratha organisations saw the book as a Brahmanical conspiracy to challenge Maratha dominance, as the book had vague references connecting Shivaji’s biological origin with Kondadeo.
Out of the 72 persons who were arrested for the attack, 68 of them were acquitted in 2017 after a 13-year long trial when (quite expectedly) the prosecution failed to establish the role of the members of Sambhaji Brigade in the attack.
The remaining four had died during the trial. It needs no explanation that the police had deliberately weakened the case and left loopholes in the investigation to pander to the powerful majority. On the other hand, the OUP was obliged to withdraw the book and the publisher and author had to apologise.
Historian Audrey Truschke was severely criticised for her views on Aurangzeb in her book, Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India’s Most Controversial King. Her research, in her own words, did not match the prevailing belief in India that he was “Hitler and ISIS rolled into one with a single objective: to eradicate Hindus and Hinduism”.
The legal position notwithstanding
Any view against the prevalent majoritarian narrative is being treated as an offence in spite of a catena of judgments of the Supreme Court and high courts against cases on historical works including Gopal Vinayak Godse (1971), M/s Varsha Publications Pvt. Ltd. (1983), Anand Chintamani Dighe (2001), and Sujato Bhadra (2005), etc.
In Lalai Singh Yadav (1977), Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer had famously stated, “The compulsions of history and geography and the assault of modern science on the retreating forces of medieval ways — a mosaic like tapestry of lovely and unlovely strands — have made large and liberal tolerance of mutual criticism, even though expressed in intemperate diction, a necessity of life. Governments, we are confident, will not act in hubris, but will weigh these hard facts of our society while putting into operation the harsh directives for forfeiture.”
Persecution for not conforming to majoritarian narrative is imperious
In effect, it means that if someone calls the Mughals ‘glorified dacoits’, it is very much okay with the majority and is lauded. However, if you mention anything critical about a Hindu king or support a Muslim king, you invite legal trouble and physical violence.
There is a clear attempt in the country to impose majoritarian views down the throats of anyone who refuses to conform. Manoj Muntashir regrets in his video that some Muslims regard criticism of Mughals and Turks as criticism of Islam. Fact is, this is precisely what the majority does whenever Hindu kings are criticised in academic debates, and the criticism is regarded as ‘hurting the sentiments of the Hindus’.
Referring to the title of Zill-e-Ilahi (a shadow of God) of Muslim kings in the context of their alleged atrocities, Manoj says ‘Ye kaun sa Khuda hai jiski parchhaiin itni kali hai?’ (‘Who is that God whose shadow is so black?’).
I need not explain that had a similar reference would have been made with reference to any Hindu king, who also swore by his religion, there would have been a flurry of cases against the person.
Leave aside academic research in history — the intolerance in the country has reached a level where people take law into their hands even for fictional depictions. In the well-known controversy over the film Padmavat, FIR was registered even before the Censor Board had issued a certification and the film was released! While in the judgment in Sanjay Leela Bhansali (2018) the filmmaker got relief from the depredations of the Rajput organisation Karni Sena, it came with a rider. Citing Prakash Jha (2011), the court said that it was the duty and obligation of the state to maintain law and order and the censor Board must keep that in mind. The Jat community had also protested against the film Panipat over the portrayal of the Jat king Surajmal.
Recently, mentioning the mass violence which took place against Muslims of Jammu during partition cost senior journalist Karan Thapar his fortnightly column ‘As I see It’ in The Asian Age. The management feared a backlash to this well-documented chapter of history that eventually led to the mass displacement of the community from the region.
The real agenda behind falsifying history
Of late, the WhatsApp University aka WhatsApp Factory of a particular party has been bombarding people with scores of messages every day, which attempt to falsify history. The general thrust of all such messages is that India had already achieved the pinnacle of technical, scientific, intellectual and cultural development before the ‘foreign invaders’ came, conquered the land and destroyed our glorious heritage. How we lost to ‘barbarians’ wielding rusted swords, our great technical developments notwithstanding, they never bother to explain.
The general allegation of the WhatsApp Factory is that hitherto the history of India was written by those Leftist or Islamist scholars who had transnational loyalties (if not outright anti-national) and hence they wanted to run the Hindus down in their love for the ‘foreigners’ and systematically brainwashed generations.
The Telegraph reported that the University Grants Commission (UGC) has drafted a history syllabus for undergraduates that focuses more on Hindu mythology and religious texts and diminishes the importance of Muslim rule. Among the readings suggested for papers, works by prominent historians such as R.S. Sharma’s book on ancient India and Irfan Habib’s book on medieval India have reportedly been dropped. The intention must be obvious.
There is a grand design behind such falsification of history. They are aware that accusing the present-day Muslims of being ‘inherently atrocious in character’ might land them in legal trouble. But, by demonising Muslim rulers and their alleged atrocities, they indirectly imply that the present-day Muslims, claimed to be ‘inheritors of the character and values of those invaders’ are similarly demoniacal in character. This serves the purpose of deepening the communal divide and achieve the desired degree of communal polarisation for electoral benefits as well as ‘dehumanising’ of Muslims.
The demonisation of the present-day Muslim community is sought to be ‘justified’ from the falsified tales of what their ancestors had supposedly done in the medieval age. They have been floating gory stories on the internet and WhatsApp that portray Muslims throughout medieval India and during the partition riots as compulsive sex fiends. They also cite the works of known ideologues like Koenraad Elst, V.D. Savarkar and K. S. Lal et al to lend credence to their portrayal of the ‘Muslim rapist’. A right-wing propaganda portal Postcard News linked Muslims to 96% of rapes in India and this has been repeated ad nauseam by the WhatsApp Factory in spite of the fact that it was debunked by India Today in 2018.
The video posted by Manoj Muntashir is shallow on facts and, under normal circumstances, could be ignored. However, its immense viewership shows that they have realised the great impact of theatrical delivery and powerful words in spreading venom. Even as the messages of the WhatsApp Factory were doing their job, they were desperate for someone who had a way with words and could connect instantly with the target audience with his dramatised Josh. A lyricist fits the bill well. Watch out for some more poets of the Veer Ras (martial spirit) to join their ranks.
N.C. Asthana, a retired IPS officer, has been DGP Kerala. His 49th book is titled ‘State Persecution of Minorities and Underprivileged in India’. He tweets @NcAsthana.