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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 38 New Delhi September 10, 2016

History is not for Revenge

Friday 9 September 2016, by Bharat Dogra


A study of history of various communities and their relationships can be very helpful for building further on their friendship as well as for removing any suspicions that may exist. Unfortunately a different approach based on revenge has been taken up in some parts of the world. In South Asia this approach has found several followers in narrow-minded religious bigots who promote their own brand of ‘scholar-ship’ to spread hatred between communities.

When historical incidents (or mythical incidents covered up as historical incidents) are used for spreading hatred, then an important question needs to be raised as to whether these unjust or cruel acts had come in the way of re-establishing friendships with a ‘forget and forgive’ approach in the past. If this is so, and if our ancestors had themselves forgiven these wrongs, then what justification can be provided after so many generations have passed to re-assert these enmities on the basis of these old incidents.

For example, let us look at the long-drawn- out war between Akbar and Rana Pratap which continued till long after the important but indecisive battle of Haldighati. Whatever bitter-ness may have accumulated in the course of this war during which the Rana’s family suffered in the wilderness for several years, the fact remains that in the next generation the Rana’s son, Amar Singh, established a friendship on honourable terms with Akbar’s son, Jehangir. Jehangir made absolutely no efforts to humiliate him in any way, and in fact showed him the utmost respect. Subsequently the scions of the Rana’s family fought on the side of the Mughal kings and princes on several occasions. Prince Karan, the son of Rana Amar Singh, was accorded the rank of 5000, which had been earlier accorded to the rulers of Jodhpur, Bikaner and Amber. He was to serve the Mughal emperor with a contingent of 1500. All the territories of Mewar were restored.

None suffered as much at the hands of Mughal rulers and their chieftains as the Sikh Gurus, and yet they revealed their greatness by adopting the attitude of forgiveness and establishing friendship. It is important to note that a few years after the cruelty shown by Aurangzeb to him and their family, Guru Govind Singh did reach a friendly agreement with Aurangzeb’s successor, Bahadurshah I. If the Guru was so great as to forget and forgive even at that time, when the wounds were still raw, how can there be any justification to reopen them hundreds of years later and to spread hatred on that basis?

At Haldighati Hakim Sur and his Afghan soldiers had fought valiantly on the side of Rana Pratap. On the Mughal side there were a large number of Rajput soldiers led by Raja Man Singh. Still earlier at the battle of Khanwa, Mahmood Lodi and Hasan Khan Mewati had fought on the side of Rana Sanga against the army of Babar.

When the (Hindu) King of Bikaner was defeated by the King of Marwar, his family sought refuge in the court of Shershah Suri. When Humayun was defeated by Shershah Suri, he sought refuge with the (Hindu) King of Amarkot. Akbar was born there.

It is clear from the above examples that the history of Mughal India is not a history of fights between Hindus and Muslims. Kings fought each other time and again, but generally there were mixed armies on both sides. Further, heroes and villains did not exist in any one religion. On some occasions the persons who showed great valour and large-heartedness happened to be Hindus, on some other occasions they happened to be Muslims. In fact the biggest heroes of this age were those who rose above sectarian considerations to spread the message of universal love and brotherhood—persons like Sant Kabir and Guru Nanak.

In fact there are even instances when Muslim fundamentalists had ganged up against Muslim rulers, and the Mughal ruler then sent an army under the leadership of Hindu Rajas to quell such rebellions!

Describing such an episode Prof Satish Chandra writes: “The rebellion kept the empire districted for almost two years (1580-81) and Akbar was faced with a very difficult and delicate situation. Due to the mishandling of the situation by local officials, Bengal and almost the whole of Bihar passed into the hands of the rebels who proclaimed Mirza Hakim as their ruler. They even got a religious divine to issue a fatwa, calling on the faithful to take the field against Akbar. Akbar did not lose his nerve. He dispatched a force under Todar Mal against Bihar and Bengal, and another under Raja Man Singh to check the expected attack by Mirza Hakim.”

Shivaji, a courageous, kind and able statesman of medieval India, is one of the most fascinating personalities of Indian history. His manifold achievements have made him a folk hero. It is extremely tragic, however, that the name of this remarkable king has been used in recent times to spread hostility against a community. A person who is a symbol of national integration has been used in exactly the opposite way to spread discord.

It is important therefore to emphasise the historical fact that Shivaji had the highest respect for the Islam religion, and enjoyed the affection and respect of a large number of Muslims in his own time. He assigned major responsibilities to Muslims who occupied important positions in his Army. He built a mosque in front of his palace. He paid his respects to several Muslim saints and saw to it that the Muslim population of his kingdom lived without any sense of discrimination or discontent.

V.B. Kulkarni writes in his book, Shivaji—ThePortrait of a Patriot: “Shivaji’s veneration for other faiths was as profound as for his own. He showed the highest respect for the holy men of Islam and of Christianity. He looked upon Baba Yakut of Kelsi as his honoured friend and benefactor, while a number of Muslim shrines received liberal endowments from his govern-ment. He showed similar respect and consideration for Father Ambrose when he met him at Surat. Like the temple and the Gita, the mosque and the Holy Koran won his highest respect. During his military operations, he made it his invariable practice to give the Koran to a Muslim divine when the sacred book fell into his hands.”

It was due to his large-heartedness with respect to other religions that Shivaji was able to gather around him a strong and loyal force.

Kulkarni writes: “Men of all classes and creeds enthusiastically took part in the great enterprise of building a new order in the country. The Pathan from the wilds of the North-West Frontier fought shoulder to shoulder with his Hindu comrade-in-arms in sustaining and strengthening the new creation. The sea-faring Muslim from the Konkan was received with open arms in the Maratha navy and given positions of trust and responsibility without the slightest suspicion or fear that the ties of religion would triumph over his sense of loyalty and obligation.”

Similar views have been expressed by another historian, G.S. Sardesai, in his book New History of the Marathas, Vol I: “He (Shivaji) never undertook a serious task without first consulting his gurus. Shivaji made no distinction in this respect between a Hindu and a Muslim saint. He honoured all with equal respect. At his capital Raigad he erected a special mosque for Muslim devotees in front of his palace in the same way that he built there the temple of Jagadishwer for his own worship.”

Further, Surdesai writes: “One thing is quite clear that in defending the Hindu religion, Shivaji was in no way actuated by any hatred towards the Muslims as a sect or towards their religion. Full religious liberty for all was his ideal and the practice in his State. He revered Muslim saints like Baba Yakut of Kelsi to whose shrine he made a grant which is still being enjoyed. He had many devoted Muslim servants and followers who wholeheartedly cooperated with him. His chief Naval Commanders were Muslims—Daulat Khan and Siddi Misri; Madari Mehtar, a farrash (chamberlain) was a servant near his person, who helped him in his flight from Agra. Shivaji’s confidential foreign secretary (munshi) was one Mulla Haidar. A considerable portion of the population under Shivaji’s rule was Muslim, but it all lived as contented and free as his Hindu subjects.”

Shivaji was thus a tremendous symbol of national integration. But in recent times the name of the same Shivaji has been used by communal fanatics for propaganda against a minority community, namely, the Muslims. Shivaji would have been shocked at such efforts of misusing his name and personality.

Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.

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