Brought to me the other day, by a Zoroastrian to whom it was given by a Christian in Switzerland, was a copy of an article entitled 'The Muslim Rule in India', written by a Muslim on the life and works of a Hindu scholar and historian. The common link between the Muslim writer, M H Faruqui, the Hindu historian, Bishambhar Nath Pande, my Zoroastrian friend and our mutual Christian friend is that all are men of goodwill, educated, rational and untouched by bigotry.
The article was first published in July 1998 in 'Impact International', based in London, which describes itself as 'a global Muslim newsmagazine', which started life in 1971 and is currently distributed in 85 countries. It is edited by M H Faruqui, a prolific writer on all matters pertaining to Islam, and has a readership of over 100,000.
Dr Bishambhar Nath Pande, author and editor and a senior member of the Congress party, disciple of Gandhi and friend of Nehru, was at the forefront of every non-cooperation movement against the British and was sent to jail eight times. He was first nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1976 and lastly in 1988.
He received an honorary doctorate from Soka University, Tokyo, in 1992, and the Khuda Bakhsh Award for his untiring work towards communal harmony in his country. Congress had in it a streak of Hindutva militancy which only really surfaced at the time of the Babri mosque incident, and it was this latent tendency that made Dr Pande's work all the more important. He authored ten books in English and fifteen in Hindi. He died in 1998 at the age of 92.
Pande was an extremely cautious historian, realizing that the history of India was largely compiled by the British for purposes of expediency, and thus were many myths created, as always happens when history is expediently distorted, amongst them exaggerations about the impact of the Muslim conquest and the Muslim rule over India and its Hindus. The Muslims were generally depicted, in history and in school textbooks, as murderous tyrants, intolerant of the Hindus and their mode of worship.
The educational policies dictated by various governors-general were aimed at strengthening the communal differences, playing off one community against the other, which the rulers deemed would be greatly to the advantage of the Raj. To use Pande's own words: "History was compiled by European writers whose main objective was to produce histories that would serve their policy of divide and rule."
Faruqui quotes from a lecture given by Pande in 1985, the Khuda Bakhsh Annual Lecture: 'Thus under a definite policy the Indian history books textbooks were so falsified and distorted as to give an impression that the medieval [i.e. Muslim] period of Indian history was full of atrocities committed by Muslim rulers on their Hindu subjects and the Hindus had to suffer terrible indignities under Muslim rule. And there were no common factors [between Hindus and Muslims] in social, political and economic life.'
He did not just talk; he acted. During the period Pande was governor of Orissa and thus chancellor of the state's five universities, he completely overturned the state curriculum, revised all the textbooks and set straight the historical record.
One of Pande's revelations of the truth and the overturning of an alleged historical incident concerned Tipu Sultan of Mysore, who, according to Indian textbooks, was responsible for the suicide of 3,000 Brahmins who objected to his forcibly trying to convert them to Islam. It transpired that the story emanated from a history of Mysore, written by a Victorian Englishman, and that no such incident had ever taken place. Tipu, whose own prime minister and commander-in-chief were Brahmins, far from indulging in forcible conversions, gave annual grants to 136 Hindu temples.
Pande, as relates Faruqui, has dispelled certain allegations against Emperor Aurangzeb who ruled over the Mughal Empire from 1658 to 1707, and who continues to be one of the most maligned of Muslim rulers, famed for his brutality, his bigotry, intolerance, murderous instincts and fanaticism - renowned as a 17th century 'fundo', Osama bin Laden and Mulla Omar rolled-into-one of his day.
The unravelling of this myth began in Allahabad, when Pande was chairman of the municipality and was dealing with a land dispute. One party had filed as evidence a bunch of 'farmans' in order to prove that Aurangzeb had not only gifted the disputed land for the construction of a Hindu temple but had also provided cash for its maintenance. Pande was sure that they were fake, bearing in mind Aurangzeb's reputation as a hater of Hindus, temples and statues of deities. So he showed the 'farmans' to a lawyer friend, a Brahmin and a scholar of Persian, who declared them to be genuine.
Pande believed firmly in the innate goodness of human nature, and remained to the end optimistic that India would eventually find its way out of its periodic bouts of communal violence, and that, with the setting right of the national curricula and a revision of all textbooks relating to subcontinental history, the heritage of communal discord and the distrust and hatred of one community for another would fade away into oblivion.
On the subject of the Muslim conquest and subsequent ruthlessness of the conquerors, one can do no better than turn to Hindu and Brahmin Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru - to his book 'The Discovery of India', and to what he had to say on the expansion of Islam and its arrival in India at the end of the 12th century:
".... frequent intercourse [trade and cultural relations] led to Indians getting to know the religion, Islam. Missionaries also came to spread the new faith and they were welcomed. Mosques were built. There was no objection raised either by the state or the people, nor were there any religious conflicts....
"Mahmud's raids are a big event in Indian history,.. Above all, they brought Islam, for the first time, to the accompaniment of ruthless military conquest. So far, for over 300 years, Islam had come peacefully as a religion and taken its place among the many religions of India without trouble or conflict... Yet when he [Mahmud] had established himself as a ruler... Hindus were appointed to high office in the army and the administration....
"It is thus wrong and misleading to think of a Moslem invasion of India or of the Moslem period in India, just as it would be wrong to refer to the coming of the British to India as a Christian invasion, or to call the British period in India a Christian period. Islam did not invade India; it had come to India some centuries earlier....
"As a warrior he [Akbar] conquered large parts of India, but his eyes were set on another and more enduring conquest, the conquest of the minds and hearts of the people... throughout his long reign of nearly fifty years from 1556 onwards he laboured to that end...."
Now, this is not what the Indian children are being taught. Their concept of Islam and its establishment in the subcontinent is as different as is the attitude of Pakistani youth towards the Hindus of India. All the so-called confidence-building missiles hurled from one side of the divide to the other will not bring friendship and tolerance to the two nations unless their children are taught the truth, are not misled by rulers and politicians who, as with the British, practise the 'divide and rule' policy for their own survival and their prolongation in the seats of power. What easier way is there to do this than to distort history, facts, the truth and the minds and hearts of the present and future generations?
The federal and provincial ministers of education of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan are neither educationists nor is the subject of education dear to their minds or to their hearts. It is doubtful whether any of them have either the will or the ability to completely revise the national curricula when it comes to this country's history, consign the present textbooks on the subject to the WPB (their rightful place) and produce a new set of textbooks that deal with the compulsory subject, 'Pakistan studies', which are not deliberately designed to cripple the minds of our children.