In early June 2018, members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a far right Hindu nationalist group under the patronage of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), vandalized the gates of one of the seven wonders of the world — the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. This was only one of the several offences made by the Hindutva right against the Taj Mahal, which was built by a Muslim emperor Shah Jehan in the 17th century to bury his Muslim wife at a time when the usual practice among Hindus was suttee (burning the widow to death on the funeral of her husband). Senior members of the ruling party, Bhartiya Janta Party had suggested converting the mausoleum into a Hindu temple with the chief minister of the Uttar Pradesh (UP) even proclaiming openly that he would desire to oversee it being proclaimed as Ram Mahal; an exclusive Hindu only place of worship. Months later, the renowned city of Allahabad in the same province was renamed Prayagraj in October. Recently, efforts were put into place to begin the movement for renaming all cities and towns comprising Muslim names with Hindu ones including Hyderabad, the former seat of the Muslim Nizams of Deccan. Then there was the call by senior members of the BJP to remove all Urdu words from Hindi. Even the famous Urdu bazaar was renamed Hindi bazaar. This tactic of hijacking another civilization’s cultural legacy, however unjustified has been reported to be very useful in rallying the common Hindu masses into the vote banks of the BJP ever since it began with the Hindutva sponsored demolition of the famous Babri Masjid in 1992. Why, one ponders would such a primitive and medieval approach to history and culture be so appealing to the masses of one of the largest economies of the 21st century? The answer is deeply rooted in the history of India and the psychology of the modern Indian political elite. First, I shall address the former and then the latter reasons for the understanding of the concept for the reader.
Parts of India and at times, all of it have been ruled by Muslims since 711 A. D when Muhammad Bin Qasim first expanded the Ummayad Caliphate by annexing Sindh and parts of Rajasthan until the Nizam of Hyderabad Deccan, Osman Ali Khan was ousted from power in 1948 under operation Polo which claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Muslims. Between this, several dynasties the likes of the Ghaznavids, Mughals, Lodhis ruled India. That’s more than 1,200 years of Islamic imperial presence in modern day India (excluding Pakistan & Bangladesh). During this age, Hindus were pushed to the lower hierarchies of governments as Muslim empires sprang up all over the Indian sub-continent apart from a few regions where Hindu dominated sultanates held on. Being deprived of political power and military power most of this time, Hindu elites were not able to assert their culture at par with the pace at which the Islamic one was, leading to nearly a millennia of Muslim culture prevailing universally throughout India from architecture to language sowing the seeds of resentment that are today unleashed repeatedly in expressions of hateful rhetoric to anything with Islamic origins. Contrary to popular belief, this was the most splendid age of India. Islamic contribution to India accounted for much more than the Taj Mahal, Red Fort, Chowmahalla Palace, Char Minar, Qutb Minar, a 100 splendid mausoleums comprising the graves of Muslim aristocracy, Mughal gardens, splendid Turkish baths, palaces from Karnataka to Delhi and scores of libraries, the first hospitals of India e.t.c that attract billions of tourist dollars every year. Muslims were also the engine that drove much of the reforms needed for Indian society to step out of the dark ages. It was Muslims who appointed the first female ruler of India, Empress Razia Sultana. Before Islam, the caste system prevailed unchallenged throughout India with a class of people known as ‘untouchables’ who were to be executed by law if they ever rode a horse or married a woman of another so called ‘superior’ caste. When the Islamic emperor, Muhammad of Ghor nominated his slave, Qutb ud din Aibak as his successor to the throne of Delhi, they purposely defied the Hindu caste system wholly by stressing the idea that the yardstick for measuring the worth of a man or woman should his or her abilities and not the caste they were born into. Even today, members of the ‘lower castes’ are subjected to severe torture or even death if they ride a horse as or sometimes even grow a certain type of mustache as was seen in the case of Pradeep Rathod, who was tortured to death by upper caste members for simply owning a horse in March 2018. The Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb banned ‘suttee’ or widow burning setting a harsh penalty if it was still carried out. Furthermore, in cuisine, Biryani, Curry, samosas, jalebi, palao, kebabs e.t.c were all introduced by Muslim rulers which today symbolize the richness of the Indian cuisine. Then there was the contribution to uplifting the standard of living in India. Sports such as Polo were introduced by the Turko-Persian Islamic elite and paintings and arts were refined by the introduction of Mughal miniature paintings, Persian textile designing and other innovations in the field. Then there were the famous writers and poets the likes of Ghalib, Bulleh Shah, Waris Shah, Allama Iqbal e.t.c whose works are still celebrated by all in India regardless of religion. Dresses such as Shalwar kameez, Pajama kurta, waist coats, and Turkish style turbans were all Islamic innovations which are now universally acknowledged as Indian national dresses for men. Under Islamic rule, India’s GDP accounted for more than 25% of the world’s GDP which was the main reason why Europeans fought each other to control the best trade routes with India. It was an India under the Muslim Pathan Lodhis that Christopher Columbus set out to find in an alternative route to in 1492 when he accidently discovered the Americas and not an India ruled by the Marathas or the Rajputs. Even in the post-independence era, it was the Muslim scientist and President Abdul Kalam who founded India’s nuclear and space programs. Moreover, Bollywood celebrities the likes of Salman Khan, Sharukh Khan, Amir Khan, Saif Ali Khan, Mohammad Rafi, A R Rehman, Madhubala and scores of other have been Muslims.
Yet today, Indian voters and government officials have shown their willingness to overlook this contribution by revealing an appetite for an intellectually regressive approach to history which deems most, if not all important Islamic heritage sites to be either built upon the sites of destroyed temples or being the very same temples or Hindu architectural sites that were ‘later converted’ into Muslim palaces or tombs or mosques etc. Though Indian judges at the top hierarchy and leading historians have all mutually dismissed such claims as nonsense, the masses still stick to believing such myths which were manufactured very recently. The reason is clear behind such events. The majority Hindu population had never accepted the Muslim population as equal citizens and still deem them ‘foreign’ even though most of them are ethnic Indian converts themselves. Especially after the war of Independence in 1857, the British assisted re birth of Hindu nationalism spear headed by the likes of V. D Savarakar and M. S Golvalkar propagated the idea of India being freed of all non-Hindu presence and for Muslims to be re converted or expelled. This concept of Hindutva gained a firm place in the conscious of the average Hindu. As a result, all arenas with some degree of Islamic footprint, however splendid they may be, have been seen as a blot on their pride by Indians. Though in some instances, mosques could be demolished (Babri Masjid) and Muslims lynched or cities renamed, other pillars of Islamic legacy were hard to suppress. Thus was born a deep-rooted resentment for the massive Islamic civilizational footprint on Indian soil and in this hatred, the Hindu far right exemplified by the BJP, RSS and other Hindutva groups instinctively resorted what psychoanalysis describes as ‘overcompensation’: they began to regard these architectural wonders and the rich cultural legacy as exclusively their own. If they could not destroy them, they could at least misinterpret their origins and assert their own ownership as a way to nourish their self-esteem. That way, they could redefine the image of Muslims in India as a community that has never produced any good for the nation and thus must be regarded as an enemy and therefore be subjected to lynching, deportations and forced conversions. This propaganda now appears to be gaining much appeal to the sentiments of India which with a population of more than 1.2 billion people, bred by poverty and social injustice evolve into more violent methods of persecution aimed at Muslims. Every day, the RSS bring new claims of Islamic monuments, particularly famous mosques built on the birth site of a certain Hindu god. More than 3 sites almost more than a hundred kilometers apart already have been stated to be the birth place of the same god, Ram. The Hindutva far right may be running out of gods but surely not out of excuses.
For any sensible person bestowed with any degree of intellectual or moral mental faculty, such acts appear to be totally absurd and socially regressive where religion is dragged everything including one of the Seven Wonders of the World to advance one’s political and sectarian aims. The international community must pay heed and stand up to such steps being taken in India before we witness a cultural genocide of epic proportions that deprives humanity of some of the greatest gifts it has received.
The author, AMEER SHAMYL AHMAD is a former summer scholar at the University of Oxford
and an alumni of Aitchison College Lahore. He is currently studying law and may be reached at