For millennia, war has been dictated by certain rules, treatises and much honour, and to conflate the cruelty displayed upon one’s own citizens instead of on an enemy kingdom in the name of personal religion is what set the Mughals apart in Indian history. To constantly set our humanity aside and claim that a Turkic-Mongol king was a poet or had courtiers of different religions ignores the victims absolutely, and is a rather horrifying narrative, taking the agency away from these dead sultans who have definitely claimed to affect their cruelty on the basis of their religion. Was realpolitik employed? Did the dependence on organized religion offer Babur the edge lacked by prior Mongol invasions into the subcontinent? Quite possibly. Organized religion was a commonly employed tool of war in medieval times and created stronger alliances than those of marriage, especially for travelling invaders such as the Mongols.
The worst part is that the constant roundabout historic perspectives that choose to ignore even first-hand historic accounts tend to identify today’s Indian Muslim to the then sultans. Compare this to trying to correlate today’s Germans with the Nazi party, which, by the way, arrived much after the Mongols. No normal German would ever want to, despite the German occupational expansion in Hitler’s time. While it may be argued that this is because of their loss in the second World War to the Allied Powers, can we forget that Bahadur Shah Zafar was a pensioner of the British and the sultanate was also a defeated power at the hands of the Marathas and then the British?
For decades now, the extolling of Aurangzeb, Akbar and even Tipu Sultan by a left-led academic circle has hardly been tempered by stories of Amir Khusrau, Sant Kabir, the more poetic Bahadur Shah Zafar, the cunning Mir Jafar or the actually secular Dara Shikoh. The Adil Shahi Empire, one of the largest Indian empires, goes unnoticed in Indian history textbooks, despite excellent measures employed by them to expand trade and economy as well as administrative measures such as the building of trade-routes and water supply.
A few books, no cinema, and some token articles or history lessons that allow India’s Muslims to identify with forces non-tyrannical towards other faiths are present today. Is this a conspiracy, or mere naïve misunderstanding collaborated by British colonial historians? Perhaps it is a bit of both. The forces that gave the Ulema the power over the common Muslim victims of war helped create a sense of grandeur around the grotesque cruelties of Tipu Sultan and Aurangzeb, helping later Muslims proudly execute massacres such as the Noakhali Massacre in Bengal and the Moplah Massacre in the Malabar region. As soon as some political factions have been able to misuse these narratives, new ones are quickly construed painting the perpetrators as victims, creating confusion and insecurity.
It is time that we evolved to understand that the basis of Islam for the regular Indian Muslim has not been cruelty, but the more we encourage the false myths as the only true word on the Mongol kings, the more absolute will be the damage done to the Muslims who grow up with some crisis of identity, and strangely, a mentality of woke victimhood and whataboutery, where mass pillaging, rape and torturous murder is done away with the bare-faced lie of “Hindus oppressed Muslims too” and “what about the caste system” or mere ad hominem attacks such like “bhakt” or “sanghi” merely due to the unavailability of the alternate Islamic representatives as well as the rhetoric around the existing narrative. The academic counter-narrative needs to be created quickly and strongly, with regard for actual history and an objective understanding of how the methods and the men of then shaped society.
Jodha Akbar was a 4-hour long bore, but one that had the optics to validate the common schoolchild’s idea of the inter-faith romance and alliance marred merely by superficial debates of where would the new queen pray and would she wear sindoor. The least discussed part of such stories are the women and the sexist discarding of their truths falls into the male default narrative of most history. Representation often defines reality, and the less we represent the devout and the faithful culture created by Muslims other than of the sultanate, the longer we allow false representations to define identity politics in the country.