In what manner and to what extent has religious disparity affected the conflict (ongoing and past) in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir?
The question arose and was decided so for three reasons.
1) The quantity and quality of information, from diverse sources:
Religion was the most controversial issue during Partition and remains so in related historical debates. Most historians of the Hindutva faction refer to religious ‘evidence’ or at the very least to religious matters as legitimate sources, repudiated by the secular historians.
2) The importance in relation to the conflict:
The issues most often debated are Muslim mosque and Hindu temple destruction, the legality and socio-economic ramifications of partition and territorial claims based on the notion of cultural and religious unity (Bharatavarsha). Even legal claims are heavily influenced by religious matters. I endeavoured to present this divisive issue as the central point upon which the debate rests by devoting the majority of my attention to it, relating it not to Jammu and Kashmir in particular, but to the broader Hindu-Muslim struggle as a whole (in order to demonstrate façade of politicking placed over what is, essentially, a conflict of ideologies in which both sides seek vengeance).
3) The intricacy and purpose of the debate:
The writeup below is of markedly higher quality and is spoken with more authority than mine. I do take exception to some of the so-called 'critiques' as they have little or no bearing on what I have written, but if you must believe one or the other in any case, I am not vouching for my own work.
As noted, there is a certain polarisation of stances within the debate into Hindutva and secular Marxist parties which naturally engenders a great deal of controversy. Moreover, with political backing in the form of the BJP (its policies less than favourable to the monotheistic and secular viewpoints the Marxist historians revere and/or defend) the issue acquires another dimension quite beyond the legitimacy of sources and narrative of individual perspectives. Indeed, this division into mutually hostile schools of thought is highly conducive to discussion of historical trends, which have their basis in either secularism or Hinduism - hence, the divergence. I have endeavoured to cover the politicisation of history with reference to the emergence of national ideals from colonialism, then Marxism and communalism from their respective predecessors (especially the reactionary communalist movement’s coincidence with the rise of the BJP and what that has engendered in terms of the re-interpretation of history.
JAMMU AND KASHMIR: HISTORIOGRAPHICAL ANALYSIS
When Britain hastily withdrew from India, some 580 Princedoms (mostly run by local Rajas within British India) were obliged to cede their lands to either party. The Maharaja Hari Singh Bahadur, ruler of Jammu and Kashmir (significantly a Hindu in a Muslim-majority region) elected to join India as a result of West Pakistani incursions and disputes over the legitimacy of his action thus arose. One of the pivotal questions relating to Partition, the legitimacy of legal claims to Jammu and Kashmir and the very formation of distinct Indian and Pakistani states is religion; moreover, it is imperative to view Jammu and Kashmir as being merely symptomatic of a broader ideological conflict which permeates all records and folds the local into the national (1). There is, therefore, a distinct bias in the work of all historians who chronicle the unfolding events.
Indian history today owes much to a nationalist ideal which developed before independence which held that (in direct opposition to the colonial British historiography histories) existing native evidence was admissible for critical examination and could thus be legitimised. Within nationalist historiography, there developed in time the Marxist trend which now defends itself against the rising tide of communalism, which is inherently hostile to its secular predecessor by virtue of its extreme (and often dubiously reputable) use of religious generalisations, further detailed below. On both sides of the debate the conflict is portrayed as the product of directly opposed beliefs, most prominently polytheistic Hinduism (known academically as ‘Hindutva’/‘Hindu principles’ (2) and atheistic Marxism (by circumstance enmeshed with monotheistic Islam and Christianity) and the history of conflict between them. One particularly volatile issue in which both Marxist and Hindutva parties have become embroiled is the firm hold which Marxist historians have held over many organs of public education such as the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), the National Council of Educational Research Training (NCERT), large parts of Indian academia, and much of the English-media newspapers and publishing houses. The progressive erosion of this grasp in light of the changing political tide now sees a distinctly religion-oriented approach to history under the auspices of patriotic revisionism, which is anathema to the endeavour to remove bias so highly regarded by the Marxist historians. Rather characteristically of Indian history, much debate and most accusations relate to the use of ambiguous and embellished accounts.
The self-declared communalist Sita Ram Goel writes that monotheistic faiths such as Islam are inherently geared to repress others; he also condemns those who note that India has long been the domain of warring tribes and clans in saying that “if they look a little deeper, they will soon discover a type of unity which far surpasses mere political unity and which has proved more permanent. This is the cultural unity of Bharatavarsha.” (3) He continues in asserting that this claim is more credible than that of all others because this nationalistic concept predates all disputants’ claims or – in the case of Muslim Pakistan - their existence, if indeed the concept existed since the beginning of the Vedic Age of Indian civilisation as he believes. Sita Ram Goel was born in 1921 in a poor family (though belonging to the merchant Agrawal caste) in Haryana and quickly became familiar with the major trends in contemporary Hinduism (especially Arya Samaj and Ghandism) and was a Ghandian activist during his tutelage at Delhi University, where he took an MA in History. During the proliferation of Indian socialism in the 1930s and 40s, Goel adopted the ideal of Marxism and had finally resolved to join the Communist Party of India in 1948 (having vocally refuted the policy of endorsing a religion-based Pakistani state, it conflicting with his view of one Hindu Indian state) when the government of West Bengal outlawed the CPI due to its involvement in armed dissent. In an interview, Goel outlined how he was then “cured of communism” (4) by the late Ram Swarup, a fellow Ghandist and fervent anti-communist. Goel further stated that he perceives the writing he produces to be merely a product of Swarup’s teachings, which increasingly rooted his own in Hindu spirituality and so can be seen to have adopted an essentially reactionary stance. Indeed, the nationalistic tradition he cites as evidence is widely credited as having developed after partition and he establishes no demonstrable link between India’s beginnings and the modern state, save ambiguous religious similarities.
Goel also draws very heavily from the work of Shri H.V. Seshadri, which claims that Bharatavarsha (India) possesses – and from the very moment it attained a national identity possessed – legitimate sovereignty over all land to which it now lays claim on the basis that “…many were the seers and sages, poets and prophets – right from the Vedic age up to the modern times – who had fostered in the nation’s breast the integrated and whole picture of Bharat as the Divine Mother” and that “in the past one thousand years… the nation had never compromised, in principle, its sovereignty over any part of the motherland (3).” It is Goel’s policy to refute any claims which dispute Hindu ideology and supremacy, having referred to it as the ‘highest’ culture in human history, largely on the basis of its age and (supposedly consequent) venerability. Integral to his argument of a single, consistently united Hindu nation, he refutes the notion that the Islamic presence in India was ever more than a guise for Islam to proselytize. This pathological contempt of other religions invariably discredits the conclusions he draws - it is a vitriolic style which he himself acknowledges as being offensive.
To the contrary, though, there is a group of authors and columnists (Romila Thapar, Satish Chandra, K.M. Shrimali, K.M. Pannikkar, R.S. Sharma, D.N. Jha, Irfan Habib and Gyanendra Pandey) who operate under the auspices of the title of ‘Eminent Historians’ (acquired during the Ayodhya controversy, wherein a mosque built on a destroyed temple site was itself razed and the action dismissed by the Bharatiya Janata government, with the statement that “a mosque built on a destroyed temple is not a legitimate mosque” (5)). This group asserts that far from possessing a national identity and (as implied by the juxtaposition of Hindu and Muslim territorial disputations made by their opponents), India has indeed lacked cohesion and has previously submitted, in the main, to foreign rule, with few exceptions such as Jammu and Kashmir. Discovering (or, in their view, maintaining) assurance of this perspective is cental to the secular argument, as the Hindutva tradition holds that an ancestral unity is significant enough to constitute a valid claim. Also introduced here is the other primary point of contention: much controversy has hinged on the question of Muslim destruction of Hindu temples, broadly held to have been widespread before the dominance of Islam in India by the secular historians (6) as a second central argument is that Hinduism is overly revered and sympathised-with as being the universal victim in all circumstances.
These claims have been met unfavourably by those who hold their historical practices to be primarily religiously-oriented and who believe fervently in a long-standing Indian national ideal, particularly by journalist Arun Shourie, who possesses a Ph.D. in Economics from Syracuse University and has served as the editor of The Indian Express and in consultancy roles to the World Bank and the Planning Commission. Most glaringly, he is currently a Minister in the BJP government. Shourie greatly admires his like-minded colleagues such as Goel, quoting and subsequently describing his work as a “meticulous and unimpeachable study.” (7) More than an effort at ingratiation, this comment demonstrates the unity forged by Hindutva historians and so too the polarisation of stances.
He employs a number of non-Indian sources to substantiate this line, perhaps in the endeavour to create the impression of a thorough research practice, one of which (8) states that “Aurangzeb was a cold, calculating politician, and a fanatical Moslem, who stripped Hindus of their rights. Between 1665 and 1669, he gave orders for Hindu temples to be destroyed and for mosques to be erected from their debris." This is particularly pertinent because the Mughal Empire encountered many difficulties in controlling the Sikh population in the Jammu and Kashmir region and adopted aggressive measures to compensate, which he denotes is characteristic of monotheistic and exclusive ideologies. Indeed, he rages that his opponents make a practice of “suppressing facts, inventing lies, perverting discourse, and derailing public policy" (7) with regard to what he sees as their efforts to portray Hindus as exploitative feudalists and Muslims as benevolent liberators. This echoes the views of the Eminent Historians (a term he repudiates at length for its implicitly western ties) which are abhorrent to his conviction in the CPI’s anti-national policies and foreign Christian (i.e. monotheist) covert activities in India. He wholeheartedly endorses the aforementioned political editing on the basis that Hinduism is an integral and indivisible part of India’s cultural heritage.
1998 saw a clash between Shourie and K.M. Shrimali (Professor of Ancient Indian History at Delhi University) during the television program ‘Your Court, You Judge’ wherein the first question put to Shrimali inquired as to whether Aurangzeb was a religious bigot. Shrimali noted that Aurangzeb's court had many Hindu nobles, which Shourie countered by highlighting that there were many Indians among the persons honoured by the British with titles despite religious and ethnic suppression (9), which Shrimali casually disregarded, despite Shourie pointing out that the passages Goel used to make the point were derived from publications of Aurangzeb’s court itself. Herein lies the primary issue with academic debate - neither Hindutva or secular factions hold the other in high regard and so more effort is spent on discrediting opponents than in constructing tenable arguments, a legacy of politically-sponsored approaches to history. It has, as aforementioned, been rather characteristic of the Eminent Historians to casually dismiss Goel’s work as being an intentionally destabilising assault upon the secular ideal of scientific history.
Romila Thapar, commonly regarded as the foremost of the ‘leading intellectuals’ as they are also known (and a rallying point for all others), is the Emeritus Professor of Ancient Indian History at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Dehli, has held a number of visiting posts in Europe, the United States and Japan and has recently been elected to a prestigious chair in the United States. Thapar wrote in response to Shourie’s allegations that "as regards the distortions of history, Shourie does not have the faintest idea about the technical side of history-writing…He is quite unaware that history is now a professional discipline and an untrained person like himself, or like the others he quotes, such as S.R. Goel, do not understand how to use historical sources. He writes that I have no evidence to say that Buddhists were persecuted by the Hindus. Shourie of course does not know Sanskrit nor presumably does S.R. Goel, otherwise they would look up my footnotes." (10) Ms. Thapar’s assertion that history is the exclusive province of those so educated has been a point of sore contention between the two diametrically opposed parties, one holding Ms. Thapar as a leader and the other holding Goel as an enlightened martyr. This formality is regarded as the product of westernised education, which introduces yet another sparring point.
Ms. Thapar announced that Goel’s reactionary writing is part of a misguided right-wing resurgence (coinciding with the election of the so-called communalist Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party) and runs at cross purposes to history as a discipline, which is “not a shuttlecock that can be thrown back and forth in accordance with the views of governments.” (11) Most notably, the recent efforts at the deletion of a number of passages from Indian school textbooks in accordance with the BJP’s tenets election has brought the stigmatic label of “political abuse of history.” (11) Ms. Thapar inadvertently summarises the group’s position in stating that “When one talks about history, one talks about it at two levels. One is information which has to be accurate, and the other is interpretation of that information.” (11) This clinical approach to history is in stark opposition to the Hindutva tradition, one relying on the vague notion of a religious collective (“history is the philosophy of nations” (12)) and the other holding the establishment of facts and the use of evidence to be paramount; Gyanendra Pandey, for example, stresses ‘event’ and ‘interpretation’ as being integral to historical studies (1).
Koenraad Elst, a Dutch Indologist and author whose publications concern language policy issues and, most importantly, the current political situation in India, entered the fray with his deconstruction of Thapar’s criticism, accusing her of a medieval approach to history (13) – half bullying, half reliant upon formal authority. Indeed, it is and has long been characteristic of the Marxist historians to so patronise the Hindu resurgence, disparaging lack of qualification (which Goel actually possesses) and poor research methods. Born in Leuven in 1959, Elst grew up in the Catholic community in Belgium. He was active for some years in what is known as the New Age movement (which placed strong emphasis on religious patterns of thought), before studying at the famed Catholic University of Leuven, graduating in (amongst other things) Indo-Iranian Studies and Philosophy. He took courses in Indian philosophy at the Benares Hindu University, meeting many Indian thinkers and leaders during his stay (1988-1992). Without doubt it was this all-engulfing grounding in theological matters which lead him to his current perspective. Neither Hindu nor Muslim, he is a fervent supporter of the former, describing at length his sympathies for its plight and his admiration for its resilience in the face of what he perceives as a struggle between unequal contenders (14).
More pertinent to the matter, Elst defended Goel’s citation of sources which claim the destruction of some two thousand temples (9) (most numerously under the rule of Aurangzeb) and that no investigation has yet been undertaken by a secular Marxist historian. Moreover, he accuses, it has been the deliberate policy of the ‘Eminent Historians’ to refute Goel’s numerous works without reasonable bases: to “deny his existence by keeping him unmentioned” (13) and thereby contravene their own philosophy of thorough investigation. It is true that Goel is apportioned little attention for his efforts; Ms. Thapar’s dismissal is indeed reminiscent of the colonial perspective on native historical practices, but this is a product of formal education in and approach to the subject - Goel’s qualifications, such as they are, do not necessarily engender competence in arguing his perspective beyond an understanding of acknowledging sources and rudimentary essay skills.
The issue taken to Hindutva writing by secular historians is that so much of their work is based on presumption, whereas the former condemns the latter for stifling India’s national ideals. One party is religious itself or an advocate thereof, the other is not so. In essence, there is no issue but religion which afflicts the documentation of broader Indian - and so Kashmiri - history.
For simplicity’s sake, I repeated footnote numbering. It’s not technically a good referencing practice, but there’s enough to digest here already.
1. Gyanendra Pandey, Remembering Partition: Violence, Nationalism and History in India, p.21-44
3. Shri H.V. Seshadri, the Tragic Story of Partition (2nd edition) , p.82.
6. Romila Thapar, Communalism in the Writing of Indian History, p.15-16.
7. Arun Shourie, Eminent Historians: Their Policy, Their Line, Their Fraud, ch: “the Policy of Broad Toleration!”
8. K. Antonova, G. Bongard-levin, and G. Kotovsky, A History of India, p.189.
9. Sita Ram Goel, Hindu Temples: What Happened to them, the Islamic Evidence, p.107.
10. Romila Thapar, letter to Manish Tayal (UK) of 7-2-1999
11. Romila Thapar, ‘Communalism and History.’
14. Koenraad Elst - Ayodhya and after: Issues before Hindu society (foreword)
• http://www.ayodhya.com/ (Author unknown, 2002, ‘Welcome to Ayodhya.com,’ Ayodhya Institute)
• http://www.bharatvani.org (Author unknown, last update unknown, ‘Homepage of Bharatvani Institute,’ Bharatvani Institute)
• http://www.freeindiamedia.com/current_affairs/ (Ajay Sharma, last update unknown, ‘Aligarh Historian Society,’ institutional base unknown)
• http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/52a/index-i.htmls (Various authors, last update unknown, ‘World History Archives: the History of India’, Hartford Web Publishing)
• http://www.hindutva.org (Various authors, last update unknown, Hindutva Series: Hindu History - a Search for Our Present in History, Nation of Hindutva)
• http://www.hvk.org/articles/0202/174.html (N.S. Rajaram, February 2002, Sita Ram Goel, Bhartiya Pragna)
• http://koenraadelst.bharatvani.org/articles/bjpretreat1.html (Koenraad Elst, December 6 1996, ‘BJP Retreat from Ayodhya,’ institutional base unknown)
• http://www.loc.gov/today/pr/2003/03-068.html (Author unknown, April 17, 2003, Romila Thapar Named as First Holder of the Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the South at Library of Congress, the Library of Congress)
• http://www.sabrang.com/news/spaper.htm (Author unknown, last update unknown, Sabrang Alternative News Network, ‘Sabrang Communications & Publishing Pvt. Ltd.’)
• http://www.swordoftruth.com/swordoftruth/archives/byauthor/koenraadelst/hokahi.html (Koenraad Elst, 2001, ‘Harsha of Kashmir - a Hindu Iconoclast?’, Sword of Truth)
• Antonova, K., Bongard-levin, G., and Kotovsky, G. (1979), A History of India, Moscow: Progress Publications.
• Danielou, Alain (1971), Histoire de l’Inde, Paris: Fayard.
• Durant, Will (1935), the Story of Civilisation: Our Oriental Heritage, New York: Simon and Schuster.
• Elst, Koenraad (1991), Ayodhya and after: Issues before Hindu society, New Delhi: Voice of India.
• Elst, Koenraad (1992), Negationism in India: Concealing the Record of Islam, New Delhi: Voice of India.
• Goel, Sita Ram (1987), Muslim Separatism: Causes and Consequences, New Delhi: Voice of India.
• Goel, Sita Ram, (1993), Hindu Temples: What Happened to them, the Islamic Evidence, New Delhi: Voice of India.
• Pandey, Gyanendra (2001), Remembering Partition: Violence, Nationalism and History in India, Cambridge University Press.
• Rajaram, N.S. (2000), Collapsing Pakistan, New Delhi: Voice of India.
• Rajaram, N.S. (2000), Nationalism and Distortions In Indian History, New Delhi: Voice of India.
• Seshadri, Shri H.V. (1984), The Tragic Story of Partition (2nd edition) , New Delhi: Jagaran Publications.
• Shourie, Arun (1993), Eminent Historians: Their Policy, Their Line, Their Fraud, New Delhi: Voice of India.
• Swarup, Ram (1957), On Hinduism: Reviews and Reflections, New Delhi: Voice of India.
• Thapar, Romila , Communalism in the Writing of Indian History.
• Joshua, Anita (2001), ‘Excising the truth’, The Hindu, 2 December.
• Thapar, Romila, letter to Manish Tayal (UK) of 7-2-1999.
• Thapar, Romila (2002), ‘In Defence of History’, Thiruvananthapuram Lecture, 2 March.
• Thapar, Romila (year unknown), ‘Communalism and History’, South Asia Citizen, (date unknown).
• Thapar, Romila (1999), ‘the Rediff Interview,’ South Asia Citizen, 4 February.