Unjustified place of Aurangzeb in history

January 5, 2017

By Muhammad Amir Saleem

Is really history a complex? Or! Is it a victim of self-inclined disposition? As a matter of fact, it is cruel – granting immense power to historians of portraying a character or event a shape of their liking: ‘Demon or Saint’.   History, thereby, never be called as impartial- out of the influence of personal tendency or political affiliation.  The power of demonizing unimaginably inflicted much dent to the personality of some characters in past that they became highly controversial and even despised by all, such as, ‘Aurangzeb Alamgir’. Indeed, he made some mistakes during his rule extended over 49 years in India. However, if these policies or mistakes are examined and compared in the context of the course of entire history of mankind since the time immemorial to the present day, this may stir the thinking of readers to establish inference on their own­- whether a person was a real evil or a true saint.   Most of the historians attempted to instill their thinking into the minds of readers; very few endeavored to highlight both sides of views or arguments.

Aurangzeb is blamed for religious intolerance by the most of European and Hindus writers. Even, the decline of Mughal Empire is entirely linked with his religious policies, for instance, the demolishing of Hindu temples; execution of Guru Teg Bhadur Singh- 9th Guru of Sikh community; and imposing Islamic laws or imposing religious restrictions on non-Muslims. But, what factors compelled him to take such extreme measures against non-Muslims, never be analyzed in depth by those who vividly leveled allegations against him.

Religion is a sensitive matter which can trigger widespread turbulent ripples in the tiers of a specific community. If it is meddled, it can cause huge uproar against the one who tries to interfere. Why did not ‘European historians’ present Saladin as religious fanatic? In the battle of Hattin, he not only seized ‘True Cross’- the most scared remnant of Christianity- never recovered despite endless efforts of following crusaders, but also he ordered the execution of over two hundred Knights Hospitaller, Templar Knightly Orders; and Reginald of Châtillon,  the enemy of Saladin whom he personally killed.  Ironically!  After all of this, his personality was fantasized and given him the title of ‘the most Benevolent’, ‘the most Righteous’ or ‘Virtuous Pagan’ by westerners.

Unlike Saladin, Aurangzeb’s religious policies never brought him good name. His efforts to restore peace and integration of empire were given religious colouring; therefore, he remained victim of the allegation of religious bigotry. For instance, his temple policy brought immense criticism, in particular, from Hindus. He is blamed to have destroyed numerous Hindu temples. However, according to some historians, he followed the Islamic jurisdiction while dealing worship places of Hindus, more so the Ulemas and Qazis of his time of different areas forced him to demolish certain temples. A tale of French merchant of East India Company during 1668/1669 in Surat shed a clear light on this matter. According to him, Qazi of Surat flattened a Hindu Temple on false accusation of anti-Islam activities, the Hindu merchants left Surat in protest and lodged complaint against Qazi before Aurangzeb who, after investigation, found Qazi guilty and immediately transferred him from the area.

After 1670, the transformation of Aurangzeb into more orthodox could be attributed to the campaigns against Rajputs and Marathas. Under these punitive and offensive campaigns against anti-state elements compelled Aurangzeb to demolish temples under punishment policies. In addition to this, the Islamic jurisprudence also endorses that if Dhimmis or Zimmis (non-Muslims) remains loyal to Islamic or Muslim rule, they are allowed to perform their religious duties freely and their worship places are not done any harm either.  Why not Hindu writers demonize BJP leadership of 1992 upon the instigating and leading the campaign against Babari Mosque, despite Muslims living peacefully and complying with the rules and laws of the land!

Most of the European historians portray Genghis Khan as a fierce warrior of all time, ignoring the major barbaric aspect of his military campaigns. According to some historians, under the helm of his military expeditions more than 4 million people brutally massacred. At his funeral, 40 virgin girls were scarified to pay homage and perform funeral rituals. When alive! He took lives of countless humans to create his ascendancy across the globe, but his death also took lives of the frail innocent females! His sheer savage and cold blooded slitting of humans’ throats is ascribed as war strategy through which he tried to create awe and fear among opponents. In comparison to him, Aurangzeb did not commit such gruesome war crimes in establishing and expanding his rule in India. The scale of violence and bloodshed unleashed by Genghis Khan was far greater than that of Aurangzeb. Then, why do history’s scribers exaggerate unnecessarily and unfairly about the acts taken to stabilize empire by Aurangzeb?

Reintroduction of Jizya Tax, in 1670, is another cause of criticism on Aurangzeb by a few numbers of chroniclers especially Europeans and Hindus. First time in India, this tax was introduced by Muhammad Bin Qasim in 712 on conquering Sindh. Later, early Mughal emperors continued it, but Akbar, in 1564, abolished it. Though this was of religious nature, it did not create a religious hatred among Hindus or non-Muslims who did not have any opposition to pay it. The real cause of concern or opposition surfaced when ameens/tax collectors adopted highly inappropriate attitude; humiliation and abusive language while collecting taxes from Hindus or non-Muslims. This actually offended Hindus; otherwise they did not have any objection in paying it. In 1702, it was abolished from Deccan. Later, in 1712, discontinued in northern Indian and finally, it was completed lifted in 1722.

Seasoned administrative staff plays important role in providing efficient services to people and also contributes in strengthening the rule over a land. This was the reason why Aurangzeb always believed in diligent and capable officials irrespective of their religious affinity. This pragmatic approach reflected by the induction of Hindu Mansabdars or officials (around 31.6%) in his administration, the all time high, as compared to 22.6% during Akbar rule.  Hence, the blame of being biased or prejudiced towards Hindus seems distant, if facts are taken into consideration.

To keep public safe and to check public morale are the prime responsibilities of all government. In the modern world, there are free smoking or drinking zones in the major cities or towns across the world. The level of liquor or alcohol should be in a certain limit while driving in Europe, USA or India, in case of violation a tough punishment is given.  Why not these countries allow free use of it because if it is ignored the public safety could seriously be jeopardized! If Aurangzeb appointed Mutasibs/officials to check public morale in routine life, what harm it made to people? Why this step is contemplated in a paradigm of religion? In this present age, the Mutasibs’ duties are performed by the police of Islamic world e.g. in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.  It is the responsibility of police to ensure public safety and if any immoral activity taking place in park, on road side or in markets, it is then and there checked. Even, it is not confined to only in Islamic countries; this aspect is also given much importance in western world. Now question comes: ‘was appointing Mutasibs meant to convert all non-Muslims into Islam?’ The answer is simply ‘NO’, because these Mutasibs did not focus only on checking general public morale under Sharia, but their duties encircled the checking weights of products, prices of commodities in markets; condition of walls of city, bridges and roads as well.

Aurangzeb was not very bad as he is depicted by some writers. Whatever steps he took, were in the best interest of his subject. A country of great ethnical or religious divide such as India, where numerous religions, languages, cultures and social values existed, was difficult to administer. One single policy could not technically address all communities; it could be either in favour of Muslims, Hindus or other communities. If Akbar took some liberal policies to please his non-Muslim population, he became so much controversial in the eyes of Muslims. Similarly, the policies of Aurangzeb tended towards Muslims alienated the Hindus. British also faced this problem, sending one commission to another or making one reforms to another, but all in vain, at last this vast country of multi-cultures was divided to solve its perpetual differences.

The writer is a teacher of Pakistan Studies and can be reached at email: pak2059@yahoo.com