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Re-Visiting Medieval Indian History

Meena Bhargava

As a practitioner of the discipline of history and particularly medieval Indian history, the role of the state in the recent past and the educational ethos that it has created, worries me. Tampering with school curriculum and the writing and rewriting of textbooks especially history textbooks is a sinister game begun by the previous NDA government to suit their political requirements and ideology. It is perhaps taken for granted that history is a malleable subject that can be created or recreated to meet a particular vision or a political circumstance.   History, on the other hand, is a rational discourse, a scientific application of facts based on original, primary sources. Primary sources, written hundreds of years ago, cannot be mutilated for the sake of politics. In the political game, the loser is both the discipline of history and its students. Consequently, the serious pedagogical issues that need to be discussed are often ignored. Therefore, I suggest, that instead of burning the effigies of historians and violently protesting against their writings, we concentrate on understanding the needs of a student – a seeker of wisdom and knowledge with a sensitive mind.   Let me begin by discussing certain misnomers about medieval Indian history, which need to be removed. The term ‘Muslim India’ used by imperialist historians continues to be associated with medieval India. There is no doubt that the personal religion of the Sultans of Delhi and the Mughal Emperors was Islam but there is no evidence to suggest that they imposed their religion on the people or the state. Understanding the needs of the Indian state of their times and that the majority of whom they governed were non-Muslims, they made zawabit or state laws, not based on shariat, for governance. The unnecessary focus on the personal religion of the medieval rulers has ignored the understanding of the socio-political and economic changes. For instance, there is rarely a discussion on the institution of millat or umma or community, which encouraged the concept of social equality and was the basic and predominant idea of Islam. In fact, to understand the concept of sovereignty or kingship in medieval India, it is necessary to question why, how and what led to the evolution of absolute monarchy or the strengthening of monarchies and growth of the governing class from the thirteenth century onwards in India and in Central Asia after the decline of the Abbasid Khilafat. Such ...

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