Five hundred years ago,Francis Bacon wrote in his pithy way,”Revenge is a kind of wild justice.” Surely it gets wilder if you stretch your vendetta to a thousand years past.This is what we can conclude from what our External Affairs Minister said in a colloquiam to a fairly bland remark of Anthony Blinken,US secretary of state.
S.Jaishankar,who had been a veteran at the EAM before formally joining the BJP,and then getting appointment as the Minister of that department,seems to be using an argument that has become common enough in the West today.Teresa May who had served as the British Prime Minister before Boris Johnson had apologized for the massacre of Jalianwalabagh,Australian parliament made an elaborate show of respect for aboriginal culture recently.These did not cost much.But following the change of attitude of official America to native Americans
(the ‘savages’ of once highly popular film genre ‘Westerns’) various indigenous tribes of America have successfully sued the federal and state governments for cash compensation and restoration of some territory for wrongs inflicted on them in the past.Mass graves of indigenous children snatched away from their families have now been revealed provoking widespread outrage.There is similar tendering of apologies for slavery to descendants of slaves. Jaishankar had in the same vein replied to Blinken’s mild hint about offences against human rights with a sombre pledge to “correct historical wrongs”.
What kind of wrongs are implied here?Not to beat about the bush,these seem to be the plethora of allegations by the militant Hindu right against Muslim rulers,like destroying temples,butchering of holy cattle for beef, invading and occupying Hindu kingdoms,forced conversion of people to Islam,molesting and raping Hindu women, imposing the Jizya tax on Hindus and so on.Rulers apart even ordinary Muslims are said to have been complicit.
This is like saying that Norman invaders or their descendants must now pay for the injuries and oppression they had inflicted on Anglo-Saxons.Or that people of Greek origin in Turkey today must receive compensation today for conversion to Islam Unlike the descendants of African slaves in America,or native Americans,the Saxons and the Normans are now part of the British people.Indian Muslims do not quite fit into the scheme,but they are at least strikingly different from other Muslim nations of the world and a lot closer to Hindus in language,culture and manners by and large.So attempts to correct ‘historical wrongs’ or impose restitutions on Indian Muslims make no sense.(The quest of Pakistan to seek a pristine Muslim nationhood has foundered on this rock,and barely subsists on Islamic fanaticism.)
There are thousands of Hindu temples,some with undiminished grandeur, that stand tall and erect after the alleged ‘thousand years of bondage’.Hindus vastly outnumber Muslims in India.Most importantly,the Indian Muslims are in general in the bottom rungs of poverty and various deprivations. Those in government employment account for well below 10 p.c. of the total number.What kind of compensation can be extorted from them and what kind of penance be imposed on them for their supposed crimes centuries ago? Generally compensation and repentance are expected of races or nations who have gained from such historical wrongs.Indian Muslims do not appear to have gained much,if at all.
Rationally speaking those sections of Indians who do seem to have suffered from centuries of social oppression and cruel discriminations are the untouchables and certain scheduled castes.Atrocities on Dalits get reported by media from time to time even today. Aspiring meritorious Dalits like Rohith Vemula and Payal Tadvi have been driven to suicide.So if historical wrongs need urgent correction today,it is those of hoary vintage inflicted on Dalits.Very little is being done about it.The few measures of affirmative action directed by the constitution have come under a process of deliberate evisceration.
A major project is that of reconstructing history to salve the alleged Hindu wounds. Already Akbar the great has been given the boot from the Indian History syllabus,leaving a huge gap in the text and making subsequent periods less comprehensible.What is more,throughout the Mughal rule staunchly Hindu Rajput kings like Rajah Man Singh,Rajah Jai Singh and Raja Jaswant Singh had no compunction in serving them as ranking generals in their armies.Rana Pratap and Shivajee on the other hand Muslim generals of Pathan descent in their armies.Hence delivering justice via rewriting history turn out to be so messy as to reduce it to babble.
What the project will do however is to forever divide the nation against itself and kindle criminal offences petty and big to keep things for ever on the boil so as to render social peace untenable and pursuit of happiness a delusion.(During typing these articles on my android mobile I can often hear the telltale humming sound that indicates digital recording by the usual suspects.They actually need not bother as these are meant for circulation and publication.)
Hiren Gohain is a social scientist and literary critic