In September 2000, eminent Pakistani historian Mubarak Ali wrote an article, “How Many Qasims, Ghaznavis, and Ghoris Do We Need?” analyzing the valorization of Arabs and Turks who ravished the land that is now Pakistan, in school textbooks. Ali observed that Muhammad bin Qasim, Mahmud of Ghazni and Shihabuddin Ghori emerged as powerful symbols in Muslim politics in the context of the 1930s’ communal atmosphere in India, but their continued aggrandizement had disastrous consequences for Pakistan. This was because, in imitation of the conquerors, the rulers treated the land as conquered territory and plundered its wealth; whereas previously the loot was deposited in the state treasuries of Damascus, Baghdad, and Ghazni, it now made its way to Swiss banks or other Western havens.
Clearly, Pakistanis discuss history far more candidly than Indians. The Lahore newsweekly, The Friday Times, published an article “Murdering history amounts to state-sponsored terrorism,” which said Pakistani social studies textbooks “would not be out of place in any madrassah preparing the young for an early grave… The Pakistan Army and its ‘three decisive victories’ over India are mentioned liberally and are an example of how institutional attempt has been made to rewrite history…” (4 April 2003).
These examples have been cited by Dr. Yvette Rosser (University of Austin, Texas, USA), who has extensively researched history textbooks in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. In an article published by the Observer Research Foundation, “The Islamization of Pakistani Social Studies,” she examined several textbooks and found they glorified violent manifestations of “jihad.” Curiously, Rosser discovered that in India, the old Marxist-influenced NCERT textbooks mirrored the Pakistani pattern of glorifying Islamic invaders (“Medieval India Revisited and Revised: Reviled or Rectified?”).
Pakistani textbooks of the medieval era resonate with the heroic exploits of Islamic invaders such as Arabs, Central Asians, Turks, Persians and Afghans who mercilessly plundered Peshawar, Lahore, Multan and Sind for centuries. Even today, Baluchi and Pakhtun nationalist historians acknowledge the fierce opposition to Islam. Yet Rosser found that this heroic resistance by the Hindu and Buddhist peoples of Afghanistan and the North West Frontier Province (the frontiers of al-Hind) stood expunged in Pakistani and old NCERT narratives. Yet, it took hundreds of years of violent conflict to convert these peoples to Islam.
The few Hindu kings mentioned in Pakistani textbooks, such as Raja Dahir, who trounced the Arabs more than a dozen times, have received unequal treatment. His numerous successes have been purged and only his defeat by Muhammad bin Qasim in Sind in 712 AD recorded. Raja Dahir and other Hindu rulers who figure in Pakistani chronicles of the past are portrayed as disorganized cowards whose victimized subjects were bitterly divided along caste lines.
Rosser derides Pakistani narratives for depicting the local Sindhi response to Islam “as if there was a welcoming committee up and down the Indus corridor.” Pakistani textbooks proudly proclaim that bin Qasim’s army ground several cities to dust and massacred all the inhabitants, but do not say “if the locals were killed for waving at the Arab army or resisting the invasion.” Both the Pakistani and old NCERT textbooks fail to mention that Arab forays into Gujarat and Rajasthan were successfully repelled for decades by martial groups like the Pratiharas. Indeed, the Arabs in Sind failed to make headway east of the Indus for hundreds of years. The exclusion of this resistance from Pakistani textbooks is understandable, but its deletion from an Indian narrative for Indian students is difficult to explain or condone.
Discerning readers would have realized that the current hysteria by Indian Marxists over history textbooks is precisely to cover up and perpetuate these distortions, which have been exposed by the NDA Government’s exercise to update the syllabus and content of schoolbooks. India is the only society in the world where over three-fourths of the population remained true to its native faith despite centuries of Islamic rule and coercion through the sword and economic pressure (jaziya). This unique civilizational resilience of the Hindu people deserves historical recognition.
The kid-glove treatment of Islam in old NCERT textbooks goes to absurd lengths. Arjun Dev’s Story of Civilization discusses Prophet Muhammad and the first three Khalifas, but does not mention the Sunni-Shia schism and the violent death of the Prophet’s son-in-law. Yet while writing about the Bhakti movement, he emphasizes the so-called divisions in Hindu society. Both Satish Chandra (Medieval India for Class XI) and Arjun Dev glorify Islam as an egalitarian, scientific, beneficent civilization and carefully avoid mentioning jihad and the extremely violent nature of Arab expansion, which even Pakistani intellectuals call “Arab imperialism.” This conscious falsification of facts has naturally given rise to controversies over the old books.
Arjun Dev does not even mention the Arab invasion of Sind. This is honourably treated in the new NCERT Medieval India for Class XI and tallies, says Rosser, with the oral accounts of Sindhi nationalists. The new textbook details seven decades of Arab failure on both land and sea, until finally Muhammad bin Qasim makes a breakthrough in 712 AD. This account asserts that even after the defeat of the last Hindu king, Raja Dahir, his widow and later his son continued the resistance. In contrast, Arjun Dev claims there was no local resistance to the invaders who were welcomed with open arms, while Satish Chandra declares that Islam brought a peaceful and egalitarian social system that unified India. Ironically, Muslim converts today claim discrimination by elite Muslims and demand reservation benefits.
A truthful narration of historical events in India, Rosser observes, is quickly branded as “communalization.” NCERT’s new Medieval India textbook mentions the 220–year unproductive aggression by the Arab armies, until the Turks intervened and overcame Afghan resistance. But in India, any depiction of Hindu bravery and success in thwarting the Islamic invaders is labelled communal; “secularism” demands showing Hindus as welcoming Muslim rule.
Thus, regarding Mahmud of Ghazni’s forays into India, Satish Chandra states that Anandapala’s father was routed several times by the raider. Ignoring the heroism of native defenders, he praises Mahmud’s courage. Personally, I felt nauseated by Chandra’s sycophantic assertion: “Mahmud marched across Rajputana in order to raid the fabulously rich temple at Somnath without encountering any serious resistance on the way”.
Actually, fifty thousand civilians died defending the city and Mahmud was so delighted after destroying the temple and its principal icon that he assumed the title “butshikan” (destroyer of images). Yet Chandra defends Mahmud in precisely the same way as the Pakistani textbooks and pompously declares: “It is not correct to dismiss Mahmud as just a raider and plunderer.” Actually, those of us who are fighting for a true history of India have no desire to “dismiss” Mahmud. Our struggle is to explicitly “admit” him at the Bar of History as raider, plunderer, iconoclast, et al.
Dhimmitude as a doctrine impacted severely upon India as her vast majority remained Hindu despite Islamic rule. Yet, Rosser notes with amazement, even though the concept of dhimmi (non-Muslims entitled to protection in lieu of jaziya) was critical to the administrative structure of Muslim-ruled states, it was completely omitted by both Satish Chandra and Arjun Dev. An old Arab once extolled the Hindu virtue of undying loyalty: “no moth burns itself on a flame that is dead, except in Hindustan.”
(Note: This article was first published in The Pioneer dated 10 August 2004 and is being republished with the permission of the author)