A pattern seems to have emerged over the past decade or so in the US. Each time any U.S-based Hindu organization(s) hosts a fairly well-attended event, alarm bells sound off from the expected quarters. These expected quarters wake up and emit a major stink about the–yawn–dreaded Hindu communalism/fascism/quest for revenge… The yarn is the same, only the hues are different. And so it is with this latest piece de disgrace (requires free registration to read) by Vijay Prashad, a well-known Hindu baiter, and rabid Marxism-retching machine stationed in the US. He is also a co-founder of a rather aptly named organization called FOIL (Forum of Indian Leftists). Frankly, I’m not as charitable as Rajiv Malhotra who engaged him in a debate in
Loutlook Outlook India in 2004. It’s pointless to debate with avowed Marxists becuase you already know their “methods” of analysis and “mode” of reasoning.
The current occasion that rudely shook him awake concerns a fund-raising event in the US to build a Hindu Holocaust museum in Pune. That a whopping $50000 was collected in these recessionary times probably added to Prashad’s fear-ridden angst.
The Hindu Holocaust museum is a project pioneered by Francois Gautier who has written about it on several occasions. Gautier wrote some of the initial pieces on the subject some six years ago. However, Vijay Prashad wakes up only now.
Given his ideological propensities, Vijay Prashad naturally feels:
- There was no Hindu Holocaust–or the largescale massacre of Hindus is exaggerated
- Islam didn’t spread in India through violence
- Hindus (Kings) were equally if not more violent than Muslim conquerors
- Hindus and Muslims regarded each other as brothers
Pretty much what we can expect from his ilk. But it’s one thing to state these misleading assertions in casual conversation and another to actually present it as truth in face of a mountain of evidence against it. Let’s examine Vijay Prashad’s assertions first and then his “evidence.”
Viraat Hindu Sabha (VHS).. claim that over the past thousand years, millions of Hindus were killed, with the intention to wipe Hindus off the map.
The numbers are vague, as one might expect, but the culprit is precisely defined: Islam. The VHS uses the phrase “Islamic genocide of Hindus” to make its case. To me this is remarkable stuff. It reduces the complexity of the subcontinent’s rich history into a simple morality play that has only two characters: the Hindu and the Muslim. The latter is the invader who has come and killed the former. Nothing else matters. The idea of the Hindu Holocaust casts the Hindu as history’s victim, who should now become history’s aggressor to avenge the past.
The numbers are definitely vague but not quite how Vijay Prashad puts it: when millions are killed, it is humanly impossible to get an exact body count. Does Vijay Prashad really expect historians to give us a figure like 2634581 instead of saying 2 million? I’ll recount what I had quoted in an earlier opinion piece on the same subject:
In his Growth of Muslim Population in India, Prof KS Lal estimates that the Hindu population decreased by 80 million between 1000 AD and 1525 AD, an extermination unparalleled in world history…The conquest of Afghanistan in 1000 AD saw the annihilation of its entire Hindu population. Even today, this region is known as the “Hindu Kush,” which literally means “Hindu slaughter,” named after that massacre. In 1399, Taimur killed 1,00,000 Hindus in a single day, and the Bahamani Sultans made it a sacred duty to kill 1,00,000 Hindus every year.
A standard cloak behind which every Leftist/secularist hides is the “complexity of the subcontinent’s history.” In other words: I will not tell the truth much less accept that any such thing could have ever happened. Additionally, the reductionism that Prashad talks about is actually his fellow-travellers’ work: by cleverly diverting any attempt to critically examine Islam’s history in India into the Hindu vs Muslim “morality play” he refers to. Much of serious scholarly work on Islam’s history rightly places the critical lens on Islam’s foundational doctrines rather than on Muslims as a people.
To set the record straight, Hindus were, and continue to be victims of Islamic aggression. Every single contemporary history written by court hagiographers of various Sultans repeatedly refer to cleansing the land of infidels, breaking their false (idols) Gods, converting the “idol-temples into Masjids,” wiping out the religion of darkness, in exalted language. Vijay Prashad can supply us with the appropriate phraseology to describe the plight of the people who were thus cleansed, their beliefs violated, their lands usurped, and their way of life chopped off: victims seems a sensible word to me.
The idea, as Prashad says, is not to become aggressors or avenge past wrongs. A whole load of very good revival work is done simultaneously in many areas of human study to recover the wealth of knowledge contained in the Hindu past: archeology, metallurgy, architecture, and polity. The idea also, of the Holocaust Museum is to show what is possible under fanatical regimes and rulers like Aurangzeb. None of these efforts can be remotely called aggression.
But all of this is just the beginning.
Historical (non) Evidence
The actual story unfolds when Vijay Prashad embarks on an Islamic whitewashing spree.
If you read the historical records carefully, you will find that many Hindus participated in the slaughter of other Hindus, and that the Hindu Buddhist battles of the ancient world were perhaps more bloody than anything that comes afterward. Or indeed, that the systematic violence against dalits and other subordinate castes should hold our attention far more than it does.
This is a classic.
The louder scholars like Prashad stress on reading historical records, the more our suspicion tends in the opposite direction. Hindu kings did slaughter other Hindus but in this context, it conceals a very vital point that Prashad wants to sweep away. The motive for infighting among Hindu kings was not religious conquest or domination. The Hindu-Buddhist “battles” were mostly fought in scholars’ assemblies and not on real battlefields. Whatever the actual, physical battles that occurred can hardly qualify for something as severe as “more bloody than anything that comes afterward.” At the least, Vijay Prashad should provide one shred of evidence to back this up. Equally, the “systematic violence” against dalits is largely exaggerated and terminologically incorrect. First, there was no “caste” or group of people called “dalits” in the period Prashad refers to. Shudras were the “lowest” caste. Besides, we have numerous examples of Shudras who later became kings. Prashad would have us believe that “systematic” violence is the same as what Islamic kings did to the native Hindu population. The good professor of South Asian History should not be reminded of basic principles of logic.
Let’s see what he says about how Islam came into India.
When Islam enters the subcontinent, it does not come in the saddlebags of the Ghaznis or the Ghouris, but amongst the rumble of goods brought by traders. Early conversions are not by the sword but by the merchants.
Prashad very conveniently refuses to put even an approximate timeline to “when Islam enters the subcontinent.” Instead he talks about Ghaznis and Ghouris. I hate to disappoint him but this particular morsel of history dates farther back than Ghaznis and Ghoris. As early as CE 664, Abdur Rahman, an Arab invader took Kabul (then part of India). However, it took at least two centuries for Mohammad Bin Qasim–an Arab again–to successfully occupy parts of Sindh around CE 711-712. Subuktgin and his prodigious son, Mohammad of Ghazni, and then Mohammad Ghori were all Turks. I leave it to the reader’s intelligence to deduce from this piece of historical evidence that Qasim, Subuktigin, and the two Mohammads were merchants.
What comes next is even better.
There was killing, but that was as much for reasons of warfare and plunder as for reasons of God and tradition. An interested reader might want to look at the distinguished historian Romila Thapar’s superb book “Somnatha: The Many Voices of a History” (Penguin, 2005). There, Professor Thapar shows us that Mahmud Ghazni’s destruction of the Shiva temple in 1026 was driven not so much by a fanatical religious belief but because his father, Subuktigin, needed money to sustain his faltering kingdom in Central Asia. Now it is certainly true, as historian Mohammed Habib put it, that there was “wanton destruction of temples that followed in the wake of the Ghaznavid army.
Let’s look at what these early gentlemen, “merchants” of Islam did, in order of their time in history.
- Abdur Rahman: Forcibly converted a few thousand people to Islam (Tarikh-i-Ferishtah, Persian text, Nawal Kishore Press, Lucknow 1865, Vol.1, p.16.)
- Mohammad Bin Qasim: He established mosques, appointed Muslim governors, and propagated Islam in cities and towns like Alor, Nirun, Debul and Multan. In Debul, he enslaved and converted women and children, and left a 4000-strong Muhammadan garrison at the place. In Multan about 6000 persons were forcibly converted to Islam. Al Biladuri’s narrative points to large-scale conversions in Sawandari, Basmad, Kiraj, and Alor (Chachnama, Futuh-ul-Buldan).
- Mohammad Ghazni: Starting with his first attack around 1000 CE, this darling of secular historians has left behind a wealth of Hindu skulls and converts in the general region of Peshawar to Kanauj (in the East) and to Anhilwara (in the South). In terms of numbers, all inhabitants of the populous town of Bhera (whose ruler, Maharaja Jayapala and his 15 chiefs were taken captivej and either killed or converted), and some 10000 people in Baran (Bulandshehar) were forcibly converted to Islam (those who refused were killed). For city-wise conversion statistics, see Utbi’s Kitab-i-Yamini.
- Mohammad Ghori: His massacre of Hindus at Kol (today’s Aligarh), Kalingar and Varanasi is one of the unparalleled achievements of Islamic invaders of India. He slaughtered some 20000 Hindu prisoners and offered their heads to crows. He also holds the distinction of destroying Buddhist stupas, shrines, and monks on an industrial scale. Equally notable is his victory over Prithviraj Chauhan and the sack of Delhi, which he reduced to ashes and killed around a lakh people (Taj-ul-Maasir and Takikh-i Fakhrud-din).
I’ve purposely not included other luminaries like Allah-ud-din Khilji, Qutub-ud-din Aibak, the Bahamani Sultans, and the vandals of the Mughal empire in the interest of adhering to Prashad’s timeline.
It is unsurprising that he refers us to the 4000-Rupee lunch historian, Romila Thapar’s book, which issues the requisite character certificates for these invaders. I hate to shatter Prashad’s heroine worship, but the Expensive Lunch Professor’s Somanatha book has already been
ripped to shreds critiqued very competently by Meenakshi Jain. Which is why, Vijay Prashad’s parroting hurts the ear:
When one looks at the sources contemporaneous with the Ghaznavid attacks, one finds that they mention these but only as a series among many. There was nothing about them that merits the term “Holocaust,” even as they were certainly destructive of the temples and of the people who worshipped there. What Thapar points to is that this was not all done by the Central Asia marauders.
We’re talking about at least 800 years of Islamic rule in India, not just the Ghaznavid period, Mr. Professor. It that combined period Gautier talks about in the context of Hindu Holocaust. This does not include the 1-3 million Hindus killed by the Pakistan Army in the 1971 massacre of (the then) East Bengal. Nandan Vyas, in his Hindu Genocide in East Pakistan (Young India, Jan 1995) pegs the figure at 2.4 million Hindus. This figure is alone enough to call it a Hindu Holocaust but perhaps the good Professor won’t be satisfied unless he sees heaps of millions of slaughtered Hindus to grant us the usage of this term.
Actually Vijay Prashad’s intentions are quite noble. He wants to stop communalism in its tracks at all costs. And so he slips yet another serpent out of the Marxist bag.
Indeed, there is little evidence of animus between Hindus and Muslims in the few hundred years after the entry of Ghazni. In the 13th century, a local raja, Sri Chada, granted a merchant from Hormuz the right to build a mosque on temple land. He also provided the mosque with a disbursement for teachers and preachers, for the daily reading of the Quran and for the celebration of festivals.
Hormuz is a straight import from Romila Thapar’s textbook on Somanatha, which as I’ve noted earlier, presents some problems.
Thapar makes much of a land grant by the Hindus of Somanatha to a trader from Hormuz for constructing a mosque some two centuries after Mahmud’s raid. Yet this Hindu gesture only reinforces the opposing perspectives of the two sides. While the Arab trader wished Somanatha might come to Islam, his Hindu hosts showed no desire to convert him, and facilitated the construction of a mosque so he could properly adhere to his faith. Thapar’s shoddy insistence that the gesture was dictated by the greed of Hindu traders for a share of the Arab trade is typical Marxist drivel.
For a more detailed (and tragic in the end) history of the Hormuz affair, see this, which Prashad naturally doesn’t tell us because whitewashing of Islamic atrocities prohibits mixing any other colour. Negationism in other words. Negationism also takes the garb of presents a phony history where Hindus and Muslims had nothing but brotherly love for one another. Ordinary Hindus were little better than slaves–dhimmis, under a Muslim king whereas Hindu kings allowed their Muslim subjects to build Mosques and generally let them be. Elst explains this quite well:
Note that attempts are made to deny this history. In Indian schoolbooks and the media, an idyllic picture of Hindu-Muslim harmony in the pre-British period is propagated in outright contradiction with the testimony of the primary sources. Like Holocaust denial, this propaganda can be called negationism. The really daring negationists don’t just deny the crimes against Hindus, they invert the picture and blame the Hindus themselves. Thus, it is routinely alleged that Hindus persecuted and destroyed Buddhism; in reality, Buddhist monasteries and universities flourished under Hindu rule, but their thousands of monks were killed by Ghori and his lieutenants.
Note Elst’s mention of primary sources. We have “historians” like Romila Thapar who write ancient Indian history with zero knowledge of Sanskrit, and medieval Indian history omitting histories/sources that quote from primary sources. And we have Vijay Prashad.
Vijay Prashad is quite expectedly, derisive of the likes of Gautier and Elst. He does nothing to conceal it.
Gautier came to India from France about 30 years ago, and settled in Pondicherry. He has written a few tracts and writes occasionally for the newspapers. His work reads like another European apologist for extreme Hindutva, Koenraad Elst. Both went to strict Catholic schools and now hold a deep animus against Christian missionaries, but seem to take their venom out mainly against Islam. Gautier and Elst want to make plain the “Muslim genocide against Hindus.” But neither is a serious student of history, with little idea of how to read historical texts. They draw more from a misplaced passion than from a real, sober scientific exploration of the facts.
There are a few factors at work here. One of them is along these lines: how dare these Westerners come here and examine the primary sources instead of relying on the native “interpreters” of India to the West? The attack of obvious choice: label them as Hindutva apologist. I suspect the learned Professor Prashad has even read what Elst has written: he doesn’t take his “venom out” only against Islam but against all Prophetic religions. And then the condescending: not-a-serious-student-of-history, etcetra line as if it’s somehow enough to discredit all their work. But in a way, Prashad is right. They have little idea of how to read historical texts: by reading what’s not there, inserting what is “required,” or by omitting what doesn’t “fit,” a la secular historian.
But the eminent professor should answer how he expects us to believe his assertions galore, without a shred of evidence to back them up. Or at least tell us what his definition of “scientific exploration” is. Faith in him?
His designation reads: George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies.