In India, the Secular-Leftists who authored NCERT textbooks for over forty years reasoned that iconoclastic motivations for conquest would seem far more negative and insulting to the Hindus of India than an economic analysis.
Historiography and hagiography are frequently interchangeable in the Pakistani social studies curriculum that juxtaposes the contributions of the young Arab general, Muhammad bin Qasim, who was the first Muslim to set foot on Pakistani soil, and Sultan Mahmud, the Turkish speaking military leader from the Ghaznavi dynasty in eastern Afghanistan. Mahmud Ghaznavi’s multiple iconoclastic incursions into the Subcontinent began in Peshawar in 1001 culminating with the infamous sacking of the Somnath Temple in 1025.
These two prominent figures are placed on pedestals used as stepping-stones towards the inevitable unfolding of the “Ideology of Pakistan” coming to closure with the near deification of the father of the nation, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The standard Pakistan studies textbook contracts the three centuries between Muhammad bin Qasim and Mahmud Ghaznavi, the great-grandfathers of the Pakistan Movement. Muhammad Ghori’s exploits, especially his defeat of Prithviraj Chauhan in 1192 are included, and thereafter the tale is taken up again only when Babur defeats Ibrahim Lodi at the Battle of Panipat in 1526, dismissing three hundred years with the turn of the page.
Pakistani historiography begins with renewed enthusiasm with the reign of Aurangzeb in the late seventeenth century. This guided version of Pakistani history moves quickly to the rebellion of 1857, which British historians refer to as the “Sepoy Mutiny” but Indians and Pakistanis call the “First War of Liberation”. Hindu-Muslim conflicts during Aurangzeb’s era, 1658-1707, brief mention of the military victories against the British by Tipu Sultan who ruled Mysore from 1782-1799. However the violent uprising in 1857 is implicated as the underlying inspiration for the growth of the Pakistan Movement that came to fruition in 1939. Besides references to the establishment of Aligarh Muslim University in 1875, the rest is apparently superfluous as far as Muslim identity constructs are concerned. The narration of the Freedom Movement focuses mostly on betrayals by the Hindus and double-dealings by various British delegations.
In most Pakistani textbooks the Delhi Sultanate is almost disregarded and nearly five hundred years between Mahmud Ghaznavi’s multiple invasions and the establishment of Babur’s Moguls dynasty in 1526 are collapsed. Muhammad bin Qasim is lauded as a kind-hearted young prince and beneficent warrior, welcomed and beloved by the Brahmin-weary Sindhis. Mahmud Ghaznavi is defended and promoted in Pakistani textbooks as a crusader for the true religion.
Pakistani historians are often critical of Euro-American and Indian social scientists who generally discuss Mahmud Ghaznavi in terms of plunder, explaining his numerous expeditions into India were motivated by economic considerations rather than religion. In contrast, most Pakistan Studies textbooks describe Mahmud as a warrior with a religious mission whose main objective was to bring the “light of Islam” to the pagans of the Subcontinent by waging a “holy jihad”.
There was a temple in India during those times, Somnath. The biggest idol/statue in that temple was also called Somnath. This temple had so much treasure in it that no royal treasure could even come near it. All the Hindu kings used to get together in this temple and think about ways to fight the Muslims. After covering the desert of Rajputana, Mahmud came right in front of Somnath temple and conquered it. The priests begged him not to destroy the Somnath idol but he said that he wanted to be remembered as Mahmud who destroyed the idol. He blew the idol into pieces. This success was a source of happiness for the whole Muslim world (Our World, for Class IV).
Jane Hussain, in her Oxford University Press textbook, an Illustrated History of Pakistan, used in elite schools, deals with the Ghaznavi incursions from a less ideological perspective than is usually found in government textbooks. She discusses economic imperatives for Mahmud’s plundering of temples, but concludes that he “left the greatest monument of all: the gift of Islam.”
As such defensive postures in Pakistan suggest, the tendency in Indian textbooks is to treat Mahmud Ghaznavi as a plunderer, dismissing his religious motivations. Satish Chandra, and Indian Historian states that Mahmud’s “love of plunder went side by side with the defence of Islam.” In the following passage from Romila Thapar, Mahmud’s religious motivations are considered, though only by coincidence.
[Mahmud] had heard that there was much gold and jewelry kept in the big temples in India, so he destroyed the temples and took away the gold and jewelry… He could claim, as he did, that he had obtained religious merit by destroying images.
These oppositional viewpoints regarding Mahmud Ghaznavi are characterised by ironic motivations. In India, textbooks published between the mid-sixties an the late nineties by the National Centre for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) were intended to be culturally neutral, guided by the Nehruvian school of secular socialism. As such, they were reticent to give too much weight to “jihad” and the religiously inspired perspective since many Indians are quite sensitive concerning the legacy of forced conversions. In 1989, the West Bengal Secondary Board under a Marxist Government issued a circular dated April 28, 1989, (number “Syl/89/1) which recommended the deletion of most discussions about the Medieval Period because it was too controversial. They included in the circular a column of politically correct perspectives that promoted the perspective that “Muslim rule should never attract any criticism. Destruction of temples by Muslim rulers and invaders should not be mentioned.”
The communal writing of history in Pakistan, where the mandate is to produce patriotic Pakistanis who are also practising orthodox Islam, is in sharp opposition with the textbooks published by the NCERT in New Delhi, where the stated goal of social studies education is national integration promoted through pluralism and democracy. Textbooks in India, published by NCERT, tries to follow their
mandate to include Muslim sentiments in their
Dr. Arjun Dev, Department Head of Social Studies at NCERT for many years, explained to me, “We are very careful not to write anything that could be construed as defamatory against Islam or any religion”. It is obvious that “the ‘Pakistan Ideology’, on the one hand, and post-Independence resolutions to eradicate communalism from India, on the other, have shaped the preoccupations, and sometimes the logic, of textbook writers in both countries”.
In India, the secular-leftists who authored NCERT textbooks for over forty years reasoned that iconoclastic motivations for conquest would seem far more negative and insulting to the Hindus of India than an economic analysis, which was considered more palatable to their sensitivities.
An economic interpretation that discounts the jihad perspective is also repugnant to the more Hindu-centric historians. These Hindu nationalist scholars assert that the “Marxist inspired” NCERT textbooks “whitewash the violence of the Medieval Period” and thereby cause resentment on the part of the majority Hindu population and denial on the part of the Muslim minority because the facts have been decontextualised. These nationalist historians argue that “Muslims in India should be encouraged to be patriotic citizens”. They should disown the “temple desecrations that were perpetrated by Islamic invaders and distance themselves philosophically and politically from historical atrocities committed by their ancestors.”
As nation-states evolve and adapt to changing circumstances, they often struggle to explain dynamic cultural influences by identifying and embracing new social variables as well as changing international realities, then narrating these within the expanding perimeters of their official histories. History by committee or consensus is not easy to write, history by decree is another matter.
The need to give voice to all groups of citizens brings us back to the question of who determines, whose voices are given agency? This dilemma was highlighted in the 1990 British National Curriculum reforms, which like the US History Standards of 1995, were criticised as too multi-cultural. The British curriculum tried to deal with this problem by attempting to “impart knowledge of the diversity of cultures within Britain, “and teach South Asia Studies “from their own perspective”. However, it is impossible to identify a collective South Asian “perspective”. A history curriculum that is, reflective of multiple strands of historiography in the Subcontinent, is a highly unlikely, and at best, would be a polarised and multi-perspectival complicated compilation.
Yvette C Rosser
(The writer also known as Ram Rani is an American Scholar who writes on Hinduism)