When the Denial Hurts more than the Destruction

June 13, 2022

Rohit Dhankar

My long article in The New Leam, published on 13th June 2022. On temple destruction, whitewash history and possible way forward.

Part 1

In some rural areas of Rajasthan there is a saying, a rough Hindi rendering of which is: “zabra maare bhii aur rone bhi naa de.” (The one who is powerful beats you and does not even allow to cry out in pain.) This rustic saying poignantly captures the brutality of raw power. When the powerful hurts you, and there is no remedy to counter or stop him, the only recourse you have is to make the pain and humiliation bearable by crying, wailing, weeping. But the brutality of power comes into final play when it does not allow you even to cry, wail, weep your pain out. The pain then simmers inside you and gives rise to psychological scares which, those who have not gone through this experience cannot even begin to understand. The outsider focuses on the physical hurt of beating; the mental torture and humiliation is considered secondary and of lesser consequence. Such outsider investigators or analysts of the beating received by the weak become knowing (often) or unknowing accomplices of the perpetrator of an atrocity. This analysis becomes the second psychological ‘beating’, and in case the one who has been beaten does not even have the intellectual and epistemic resources to counter this psychological beating, the original atrocity plays out all over again for him, this time at the level of the mind and emotions. This is amply reflected by another saying in the aforementioned rustic area: “tan ka ghaav to bhar jaaye, man ka naa bhare”. (A wound on the body heals, but the one inflicted on the mind/heart does not.)

This, in a nutshell, is how a section of Hindu population1 feels about their temple destruction. The section of Hindu population who feel this way was always there, but too minuscule in size, this section is now growing with leaps and bounds. The Muslim invaders came and destroyed temples in thousands. The Hindus were powerless, and therefore, could not stop this bigoted barbarity. Back then they might have wailed in pain, but the political power which perpetrated this atrocity would perhaps have enjoyed rather than addressed this pain. So, the tears dried up. The wound went deep into the heart and stayed there. After Independence, a theory of historiography was adopted which used a rich repertoire of strategies to blame all ills on Hindus and whitewashed the crimes of Muslim kings relentlessly. The old wound, not yet healed, was deepened by this blatant intellectual atrocity. The reins of education, political power and media narrative were all in the hands of people who believed that recognition of Muslim kings’ atrocities will create animosity between the two most populous religious communities in India, the Hindus and Muslims. A much more painful wound was inflicted in the form of Partition, this time, not by Muslim kings but the common Muslim population. This was raw, and the political and intellectual leaders thought that official recognition of past atrocities will make this wound fester for all times. Thus, whitewashing of history and obfuscation of the real cause of partition became a necessity in their project of building a unified nation, characterized by ‘unity in diversity’. They, perhaps, acted in good faith, but their strategy was wrong. They should have been wiser, and known that unity or harmony built on falsehood is like building a massive fort without foundation on a sand-dune. A simple gust of wind may expose its foundations and make it crumble.

According to the afore mentioned section of Hindu population this is precisely what happened. Irked by continuous vilification of Hindu-dharma and denial of historical atrocities, some Hindus refused to submit to the strictly controlled intellectual and academic order that the politically, economically and intellectually powerful elite had created in the form of control on education and the media. They started digging historical evidence and challenging the whitewash project on the basis of documented history. Any false narrative requires selective use of evidence and specious theories of interpretation. The theories are artifacts made of ideas, and they can grow into a yarn of interpretation to a large extent but still, they necessarily do require some credible facts at pivotal points. The historians built several such strategies to bolster the whitewash project.

And then the Information Technology (IT) hit them between the eyes. The whitewash narrative was sustained on an academic technique and some well-conceived strategies. To understand the academic technique, let us suppose that you read an historian Z claiming that Aurangzeb was a great respecter of Hindu temples, and he protected more temples than he destroyed. The historian Z will give reference, in true academic tradition, of the source as the writings of Y. The historian Y in turn will give a reference to X, and so on. Now imagine a common person with reasonable intellect and independent thinking. This person would like to make up her own mind rather than going by the authority of Z. She will look for the writings of Y, then of X, and so on. But this commonsense person is not part of the elite club to which the libraries and archival material is readily available, and also has other cares in life. Therefore, at some stage she will get tired and stop somewhere in the chain. The narrative created by Z will thus stand even if it creates unease in some inquisitive and independent minds. That is where the IT bomb exploded.

These westerners, with substantial help from Indians as well, put a lot of archival material and books, pirated and/or legal, on the internet. Most of this growing corpus became freely available. Some became available for buying at reasonable price. Now our inquisitive commoner with an independent mind could trace the references all the way from Z to A and decide for herself. Of course, it is painstaking, tedious and time consuming. But it can be done. May be for one or two missing links one has to request a friend to whom the costly archives are available. These common people started digging for references and found that many of these move in circles without ever reaching primary credible sources. This dented the narrative but did not cause it to collapse. Some of this turned out to be cherry picking: the historian under investigation might have taken what supported his narrative and left out what went against it, in the same source, nay, often on the same page of the same source! This seriously discredited the narrative. As said above, specious theories used as strategies can support the narrative only if they also have some anchor or pivot in terms of deemed facts supported by a primary source. If you hit at these pivotal points, then it is like a bull’s eye. It hurts. Now suppose a narrative stands on hundred such pivots. One does not need to dismantle all those hundred pivots – may be a dozen carefully chosen ones will cause it to collapse. This is precisely what happened to the whitewash narrative, and now it has collapsed.

Let me use another rustic saying here: “samundar sookhata hai to bhii keechad to bachataa hii hai”. (Even when an ocean dries up, it leaves behind sludge.) As mentioned above, a narrative requires theories as well. A thick obfuscating hangover of the theories remains as ‘sludge’ even when the pivots of facts are seriously damaged. And the whitewashers keep on using it, if not to convince, at the very least to obfuscate and confuse their opponents and the masses. At present, we are at this stage in our public discourse. Therefore, let us have a critical look at some of the prominent strategies used in this false narrative.

The strategies

The most prominent strategies used in the current discourse for denial of atrocities by Muslim rulers can be listed as follows:

S1: Selective use of Persian and Arabic sources

S2: Attributing destruction of temples primarily to political motives

S3: Claiming protection or support for temples by Muslim rulers

S4: Claiming destruction of places of worship as a non-Islamic tradition in Indian history

S1: Selective use and interpretation of Persian and Arabic sources

This is a very potent strategy. To understand it fully, we need to first ascertain the character of the primary Persian and Arabic sources in terms of their language and feelings expressed. Therefore, I will start with a long quote from ‘Maasir-i-Alamgiri: A History of the Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir’ authored by Saqi Mustad Khan (https://www.indianculture.gov.in/ebooks/maasir-i-alamgiri-history-emperor-aurangzib-alamgir-reign-1658-1707-ad ). Be patient in reading and pay attention to the emphases added by me:

“During this month of Ramzan abounding in miracles, the Emperor as the promoter of justice and overthrower of mischief, as a knower of truth and destroyer of oppression, as the zephyr2 of the garden of victory and the reviver of the faith of the Prophet, issued orders for the demolition of the temple situated in Mathura, famous as the Dehra of Kesho Rai. In a short time by the great exertions of his officers, the destruction of this strong foundation of infidelity was accomplished, and in its site a lofty mosque was built at the expenditure of a large sum. This temple of folly was built by that gross idiot Birsingh Deo Bundela. Before his accession to the throne, the Emperor Jahangir was displeased with Shaikh Abul Fazl. This infidel became a royal favorite by slaying him, and after Jahangir’s accession was rewarded for this service with the permission to build the temple, which he did at an expense of thirty-three lakhs of rupees.

Praised be the august God of the faith of Islam, that in the auspicious reign of this destroyer of infidelity and turbulence, such a wonderful and seemingly impossible work was successfully accomplished. On seeing this instance of the strength of the Emperor’s faith and the grandeur of his devotion to God, the proud Rajas were stifled, and in amazement they stood like images facing the wall. The idols, large and small, set with costly jewels, which had been set up in the temple, were brought to Agra, and buried under the steps of the mosque of the Begam Sahib, in order to be continually trodden upon. The name of Mathura was changed. to Islamabad.”3

This narration gives us the fact of the matter that the Mathura temple was destroyed by the orders of Aurangzeb, a mosque was erected in its place, the idols were buried under steps of a mosque, etc. But it also expresses feelings of disdain for temples (‘temple of folly’), Hindu faith (‘infidelity’), desire to eradicate the Hindu faith and to insult it. Also, pride in Islam and the emperor as the destroyer of infidelity and reviver of the Islamic faith.

What our historians do with such narrations is (i) usually, but not always, accept the fact of destruction, but (ii) discount the bigotry and call it formulaic or exaggeration. We will return to it after quoting one more passage.

There is a Shiva temple near Sikar in Rajasthan, locally known as Harshnath Temple, according to local belief this quote also relates to its destruction along with several other temples.

“Darab Khan who had been sent with a strong force to punish the Rajputs of Khandela and to demolish the great temple of the place, attacked the place on the 8th March / 5th Safar, and slew the three hundred and odd men who had made a bold defence, not one of them escaping alive. The temples of Khandela and Sanula and all other temples in the neighborhood were demolished.” (ibid, page 107)

In this kind of narration, our historians will say that (iii) “all other temples in the neighborhood were demolished” is an exaggeration. Thus, the Persian and Arabic sources are used selectively, and their bigotry, religious zeal and the number of temples destroyed are called exaggeration to soften the impact. But this strategy raises a few questions, answers to which I have not come across (I may be ignorant of them and will consider them when known to me). The primary questions are: (i) Why did the court or contemporary historian bring in the religious motive so prominently, if it was not there? (ii) Why did he bring in hatred for Hindus and Hindu-dharma? And (iii) why did he exaggerate the numbers? We will leave these questions for the moment and will consider them with the second strategy.

S2: Attributing destruction of temples to political motives and exorcising the act of religious bigotry

Most of our prominent historians argue that ‘there might have been some religious angle’ but the primary reasons for the destruction of temples were loot (in the case of Ghazni) and punishing political opponents or rebels. Richard Eaton writes in detail on this, and most others seem to echo him. His contention is that temple destruction was mostly on the frontiers of Muslim conquests, and some in the interior after power was established. The interior is supposed to be motivated to punish the opponents or rebels. Eaton gives a theory that the legitimacy of the Hindu kings was associated with the deity of their kingdom. The real source of power was supposed to be the deity and the king was only a representative of the deity, and had the deity’s protection and ‘ashirvad’. The destruction of the temple of the deity was a symbolic act to communicate that your deity is not capable of protecting you or has abandoned you and not willing to protect. The theory sounds plausible, and may have some grain of truth in it. But this theory makes it even harder to answer the three questions listed above – that is, why bring in the religious motive on the part of the Muslim kings, hatred for Hindus and exaggeration?

Let us now try to imagine some logical answers to these questions. One possibility is that the historians writing in Persian and Arabic were themselves religious bigots and brought in these elements to satisfy their own fantasies. But many of them were courtiers and Islamic scholars with huge influence on policies and governance. This will imply that the rule of the Muslim kings was guided by unjust and bigoted courtiers and scholars, and thereby reflect badly on the character of Islam rule. Therefore, our historians are unwilling to admit this. The second possibility is that the rulers themselves were bigoted and were also motivated by religious sentiments. This will reflect badly on the kings, and we will therefore not be able to prove them to be just rulers. The third possibility that it was done to please the Islamic ummah in the Middle East and the Khalifas of the time. In such a case, the charter of Islam will be proved to be very intolerant, and so, this possibility too cannot be accepted in most cases; though in the case of Mahmud Ghazani this is accepted. The fourth possibility is that it was to please other courtiers in high and powerful positions in the court. But this again will be proof that the rule was unjust and in the hands of religious zealots. The final possibility could be that it was to please the Muslim population. But this would be the worst of all, for this would mean that the common Muslim of those times was a religiously motivated Hindu-hater. This one obviously is the worst. Therefore, none of these possibilities seem to be acceptable to our historians in their whitewash project. But one of these possibilities must be true, otherwise the religious hatred expressed in these narrations remains unexplained. Perhaps, the truth is a complex mixture of all these possible motives.

But let us, for the sake of argument, accept that temple destruction was for the political reasons, and not motivated by religious feelings. Does it in any way make it better and less painful for the victims? This would mean that one subject’s religion is being degraded and attacked for his political activities while another is punished only politically, without involving religion. Does this make the king any less cruel and bigoted? To my mind it does not. Thus, the hatred for Hindus, intolerance for Hindu-dharma and disrespect for temples cannot be wished away. The reports may be exaggerated but the sentiment and core facts remain. This strategy can work only for the gullible.

S3: Claiming protection or support for temples by Muslim rulers

Recently one so-called historian of Aurangzeb claimed that he protected more temples than destroyed. There are also claims that Tipu Sultan and other Muslim rulers supported Hindu temples. It might be true; I think it is true. But one must see the extent of this support – the question is, how many? One also has to compare this number with the numbers involved in the destruction of temples. This strategy cannot be used to prove the goodwill – or even tolerance – of the rulers in question towards Hindus because if political motives are used to exorcise the act of destruction based on bigotry, then the claim of benevolence also goes out of the window. But the bigger problem with this strategy is that the list of temples supported or protected is either not provided, and only unsubstantiated claims are made, or the list falls too short in comparison with the list of temples’ destruction. The issue with protection to temple also begs the question: protected from whom? Their own Muslim officials? Can a king claim credit for protecting his subjects’ honour and places of worship from his own officials and courtiers?

Part 2

S4: Claiming destruction of places of worship as a non-Islamic tradition in Indian history

To my mind this is the most obnoxious of all the four strategies. Eaton states “Therefore, when Indo-Muslim commanders or rulers looted the consecrated images of defeated opponents and carried them off to their own capitals as war trophies, they were in a sense conforming to customary rules of Indian politics.”4 This is the kind of historians we respect! Does this also explain the Islamic practice of destroying others’ places of worship from Kaba to Hagia Sofia to the Mosque of Job? But we can leave that aside and concentrate on the Indian temples.

On what evidence does Eaton make such a claim? Eaton gives a long list of temple desecration and carrying off with them the images of the deity by the victorious kings, as a symbol of the deity leaving the defeated king. However, there is a difference – the Hindu kings, almost always, either consecrated or placed the idols with respect in their own temples, as a sign of the deity now favoring the victorious king. This is actually an implementation of Eaton’s above-mentioned theory that the deity is the real sovereign and the king’s sovereignty is just a reflection of the deity. But this does not involve insult to the deity, to Hindus and to Hindu faith. Nor does it involve gloating over the fact that the infidelity is destroyed. Nor trampling of the idols under foot. Eaton’s own accepted fact that the Muslim kings invariably destroyed the idols, insulted them by placing under the steps of mosques, and the Hindu kings though looted the idols but consecrated or placed with respect in their own temples, gives a lie to his explanation. The motive in one is deliberate insult to the people and their religion, in the other is it a political act of declaring that the protection of the deity is not enjoyed by the new victorious king, without insulting either the deity or the people’s faith.

But Eaton also gives at the least one example of destruction of an image of a deity by Hindu troops. The example is of the destruction of an image ‘supposed to be’ of “Vishnu Vaikuntha, the state-deity of Lalitaditya’s kingdom in Kashmir” by “Bengali troops”. Eaton gives no clear reference, but since all his list seems to be based on Richard Davis, it is reasonable to assume that this example of image destruction is also based on the same source. Davis gives the story based on Kalhan’s Rajataringiti. It is an interesting story. The part of the story concerned with my argument goes as follows: “Once, after making a promise of safe conduct to the king of Gauda (Bengal), and offering as surety (madhyastha, literally, “intermediary”) on his pledge the image of Visnu Parihasakesava, Lalitaditya treacherously ordered the ruler assassinated. Such a brazen act clearly departed from all standards of proper royal conduct, and called for revenge. As we might expect by now, the reprisal was directed not at the perpetrator of the deed but at its intermediary. A troop of the murdered king’s dedicated attendants snuck into Kashmir, posing as pilgrims…”.5 Here the deity was pledged as surety and intermediary, and the king who worshiped that deity acted treacherously. And it was an act of specific revenge. Also, it was an act of the loyal troops of the assassinated king. All other looting of images is to respectfully reinstate them in temples in the capital cities of the victorious kings. They all were motivated by politics, and it was the kingdom under attack, not the religion or deity. In destruction of temples by Muslim rulers it was also the religion of infidels and their idols, as shown by the two quotes above. A historian who does not understand this difference is not worth his/her salt. And a historian who understands this but hides the fact and makes false parallels is not honest, and is playing mischief.

Another hole in Eaton’s thesis is the number of temples destroyed. The quote about Khandela, a small village in Sikar district in Rajasthan, shows destruction of all the temples in the neighborhood. All the temples in the neighborhood were unlikely to be politically significant. The Khandela Rajputs themselves were small fry who could muster only 300 villagers to defend their temples – they were no sovereigns. This attack seems to have happened in Bahadur Singh’s6 reign, who was dropped even from the list of mansabdars. Their legitimacy actually depended on the emperor’s own recognition. This was clearly an act of vengeance taken out on their religion for the maximum hurt psychologically.

Another part of this thesis is that the Hindu kings (the one mentioned the most often is Pushyamitra Shung), also destroyed Buddhist and Jain temples. In a recent article, Prof. Yogendra Yadav7 claims, “There are umpteen examples of the destruction of Hindu temples by Hindu invaders and of Jain temples and Buddhist viharas by Hindu kings.” This is said too often. But no one gives a list and primary sources to prove the claim – one is supposed to take the claim as true on face value. The only name that surfaces again and again is Pushyamitra Shung, on the authority of Ashokavdana. It is worth quoting at length from Professor Romila Thapar on this issue.

“The idea of Puṣyamitra being violently anti-Buddhist has often been stated, but archaeological evidence suggests the contrary. Buddhist literature relates that Puṣyamitra wishing to gain notoriety decided that even a wicked action could be excused provided it made him well known. When questioning people as to why Aśoka gained fame, he was told that it was due to Aśoka having built 84,000 stūpas for Buddhism. Whereupon Puṣyamitra decided that he would gain fame by destroying these 84,000 stūpas. Yet, an archaeological study of the stūpa at Sanchi proves that it was enlarged and encased in its present covering during the Suṅga period. The Aśokan pillar near it appears to have been wilfully destroyed, but this event may have occurred at a much later date. It is more than likely that the Aśokāvadāna legend is a Buddhist version of Puṣyamitra’s attack on the Mauryas, and reflects the fact that, with the declining influence of Buddhism at the imperial court, Buddhist monuments and institutions would naturally receive less royal attention. Moreover the source itself in this instance being Buddhist, it would naturally exaggerate the wickedness of anti-Buddhists.”8

Thus, this claim can hardly be supported on the basis of this source. In addition, there are many more historians who think this claim is false. Also, Ashokavadana repeats similar stories for Ashoka and Pushyamitra regarding killing of Ajivikas in the case of Ashoka and Buddhists in the case of Pushyamitra. The format of the stories, offering a dinar for a head of the Ajivika (Ashoka) and Buddhist (Shunga) etc. is identical. This is highly unlikely.

If the analysis above is of any worth, then these four strategies may be good enough for obfuscation and browbeating the gullible, but hardly epistemically worthwhile historiography tools. But our historians never tire of using them and are still throwing such challenges to others. This is all the more true particularly of their ‘chelas’ who bring up these strategies whenever one talks about Muslim rulers’ destruction of Hindu and Jain temples.

Tan ka ghaav to bhar jaye, par man ka naa bhare

These are the people who have kept this man ka ghav festering for the last seventy five years. As I said above, this intellectual browbeating and obfuscation becomes a standard intellectual example of ‘zabra mare bhi, aur rone bhi naa de’, because if you mention these atrocities as a Hindu you are immediately dubbed as communal, immediately labeled rather than attempting to understand the substantive part of the argument, and finding a solution.

But can there be a solution? I believe yes, there can be. And I don’t think that the solution is reclaiming the mosques as temples. It seems to me that mosques should remain mosques. Prof. Yadav says a similar thing, but his reasons for preferring to arrive at an agreement are to my mind wrong and outright insulting. Before I come to my reasons for the same, I first would like to comment on Prof. Yadav’s flimsy and insulting reasons.

In the above-mentioned article in The Print he accepts that temples were destroyed for religious reasons by Muslim rulers, and that historical wrongs should be addressed but thinks that the case for the restoration of temples should further meet four conditions. He writes that it would make a good case for restoration “provided four additional conditions are met. One, this is the only major historical wrong that we need to address today. Two, there is a clear identifiable successor or inheritor of the victim and the perpetrator present before us. Three, the harm caused by the historical wrong continues to put the ‘victim’ community at a disadvantage, and four, the proposed action — restoration of temples in this instance — would redress historically inherited injustice and help society bring closure to that memory.” And then comes to the conclusion that “The case for temple restoration fails all these four tests.”

I believe he is wrong in all four cases. He dismisses the first by saying that: 1. “There are umpteen examples of the destruction of Hindu temples by Hindu invaders and of Jain temples and Buddhist viharas by Hindu kings”. This is an unproven claim. There is no case of as clear evidence as we have in the case of hundreds of Hindu temples destroyed by Muslim kings. As argued above, this is nothing but whataboutry. 2. “Besides, a number of mosques were demolished during Partition in India, just as temples were demolished across the border.” These are two very different cases, one was destruction of temples by a political power, the other in a situation of riots. The mosques destroyed or turned into temples were mostly abandoned ones.

His reason for dismissal of the second condition is summarised in the tag line of the article “By what logic do we see Muslims of today as the Mughals’ descendants?” I cannot resist the temptation of some rhetorical fun on this: “Well, we do not see the Muslims of today as Mughals’ or other Muslim rulers’ descendants. But then Prof. Yadav, by what logic do the Muslims of today claim ownership of Gyanvapi Mosque and umpteen other mosques which are built on the destroyed temples?” But more seriously, Prof. Yadav himself accused the present day BJP and RSS people of what he considered lapses on the part of RSS in the 1930s and 40s in one of his videos. Regarding the nationalism of BJP and RSS he says “राष्ट्रवाद में तो इनका, एक कतरा खून भी इन लोगों ने कभी नहीं दिया। अंग्रेजों की दलाली इनमें से कई लोगों जो इनके वारिस हैं, उनमें से कई लोगों ने की.” (To nationalism they did not contribute even a single drop of blood. Many people whose inheritance they carry were touts/brokers of the Britishers.) By what logic Prof. Yadav accuses the present-day BJP-RSS people for imagined or real treachery of the RSS people in 1940s? Are they biological descendants of those people? Well, we do understand that the communities of ideological and religious lineage are not formed on a biological basis but by adherence to institutions, ideas and principles. The communities of the present day Hindus and Muslims are also formed in the same way. If the Hindus of today feel that the destruction of temples was a civilisational attack on them, and have proof of the economic, psychological and cultural damage, then they have to be listened to. If the Muslims inherit the ownership to these converted Mosques, which are symbols of bigotry, and are hurt even by the idea of parting with them in the face of clear evidence; then, well, even if it hurts, they are also condoning the barbarity and bigotry. You cannot enjoy the fruits of barbarity and bigotry and at the same time claim to be completely distanced from it.

The third condition he dismisses with a cavalier attitude saying “Third, it would stretch credulity to claim that the destruction of temples placed the entire Hindu community in a relationship of enduring disadvantage vis-à-vis the whole Muslim community, a disadvantage that persists even after some 500 years.” Why is it necessary for the entire Hindu community to be disadvantaged with respect to the whole Muslim community? Is the disadvantage only economic and political? As I have argued above, how do you calculate the psychological damage to a civilisation due to a festering wound? What about every Hindu visitor, if s/he is a religious one, to Qutub complex seeing pillars of a Hindu temple supporting the dome of a Mosque deliberately named “Might of Islam”? That become hoodwinking when the wrongdoing is not even accepted.

The path to settlement

First, I would like to quote Dr. Ambedkar on the difference between ‘settlement’ and ‘appeasement’. “It seems to me that the Congress has failed to realize two things. The first thing which the Congress has failed to realize is that there is a difference between appeasement and settlement, and that the difference is an essential one. Appeasement means buying off the aggressor by conniving at his acts of murder, rape, arson and loot against innocent persons who happen for the moment to be the victims of his displeasure. On the other hand, settlement means laying down the bounds which neither party to it can transgress. Appeasement sets no limits to the demands and aspirations of the aggressor. Settlement does. The second thing the Congress has failed to realize is that the policy of concession has increased Muslim aggressiveness, and what is worse, Muslims interpret these concessions as a sign of defeatism on the part of the Hindus and the absence of the will to resist.”9

The quote is from an era when riots were rife and Muslim crowds were two steps ahead of Hindus in “murder, rape, arson and loot”. When reading it today we have to leave these words out and focus on “On the other hand, settlement means laying down the bounds which neither party to it can transgress. Appeasement sets no limits to the demands and aspirations of the aggressor. Settlement does.” Today, Hindus and Muslims perhaps both want appeasement. Thus, we need a settlement which sets “limits to the demands and aspirations”.

Therefore, the first step for me is to appeal to Hindus to decide clearly on their demands and aspirations in this regard. I am focusing on the Temple-Mosque issues alone. I do not think Hindus should demand restoration of destroyed and converted temples. My reasons are entirely different from Prof. Yadav’s reasons. And many would disagree with me on this count – the liberals will call me biased, if not outright a Hindu fundamentalist. But I will go ahead in listing them.

My fundamental principles and guide in this thinking:

  1. I believe that the Hindus are smarting more under the psychological pain of the denial of recognition of the attack on their religion and civilization, through destruction of temples and converting them into mosques. Their pain of actual physical destruction and loss is a lesser pain compared to this psychological hurt.
  2. I believe that the paramount concern is a democracy with equal rights to all citizens which cherishes diversity. This obviously implies peaceful cooperative living together of all religious and other communities.

The second above is the aim to my mind. But one cannot properly achieve this aim without first addressing and resolving this issue and healing the psychological part of the Hindu hurt. Therefore, this healing becomes a necessary first step. I am aware that there are other pains in society – for example, the treatment of Dalits within the Hindu fold, aggressive conversion drive by Christians, and so on. But as I said, this particular article is focused only on one issue.

Keeping these two principles in mind I don’t think it would be good for democracy and peaceful cooperation between communities if Hindus insist on restoration of their lost temples. And here in my mind the fear is not that Muslims will resent and will continue the animosity. That is there, but the real issue in my mind is different. I consider the conversion and destruction of temples a barbaric and religiously bigoted act. Whatever the historians and pleaders for understanding those bigots in their own times and within their own culture may say, in today’s terms they were barbaric and bigoted. They lived in times and with a particular mindset where tolerance of the other as an equal was difficult. I have said above that the Muslim community today, by clinging to these converted mosques, simultaneously also approved of the bigotry of those kings. Similarly, if the Hindus take back these temples (it may not even be possible for all) against the wishes of Muslims, they will become bigoted and intolerant of the other. In spite of every one vilifying the majority community the world over, I believe democracy, civil liberties and secularism are sustained by the majority community, that is Hindus, in this country. If they become bigoted and intolerant—which seems to be the direction they are moving in today – this country cannot remain a secular democracy guaranteeing civil liberties and equal right to all. That is why Hindus have to restrain themselves willingly and with understanding. Once this much is settled, I would propose the following.

  1. The ownership of the mosques should remain as it is today. No handing over, or changing the character of the places of worship. We are no more barbarians even if some are pushing us to be.
  2. The Muslim community, and particularly the Islamists, have to learn not to throw these acts of bigotry in the face of their Hindu compatriots as heroic acts and stop taking pride in them. And in those who committed them.
  3. All such mosques should always remain under the supervision of the Archaeological Survey of India. Their ownership should remain with the Muslim community as it is today, but they should not be able to change these structures in a manner that the evidence of their history gets destroyed. Therefore, every change, addition, renovation, restoration should happen strictly in the supervision of ASI and with its clear written approval with maps and all.
  4. Every such property (mosques, idgahs etc.) should have a board prominently displayed in front of each gate of its premises giving a brief but clear history of the place. Who built the original structure, when, who changed/destroyed, when, in whose ownership it is today, et al.
  5. This should be done once and then the chapter closed.

A simpler way could be that once the historically ascertained facts about prominent temples and mosques are established and agreed upon, the leaders of both communities should sit together and come to an agreement that some of them which are considered of crucial importance may be peacefully handed over to the Hindus. But that kind of magnanimity does not seem to be possible in Islamic thought, as far as I understand it; even if many individual Muslims want such a solution, it perhaps will never materialize.

A rhetorical whataboutery is often raised whenever one talks about destruction of temples by Muslim kings: what about the Buddhist monasteries and stupas destroyed by Hindu kings? Well, if (1) we have sufficient evidence of particular monasteries and stupas which are in the possession of Hindus today, and (2) if there are Buddhist claimants to them, then (3) the Hindus should voluntarily and peacefully hand them over to Buddhists. If the Hindus are adamant and do not agree, then the same treatment should be meted out to them as well so far as the question of handing over mosques to them is concerned.


27th May 2022

Rohit Dhankar,

Professor, School of Education, Azim Premji University, Bangalore.

Secretary, Digantar, Jaipur.

Views expressed in the article are strictly personal and do not represent those of the organizations I am affiliated with.

1In this article wherever I say “Hindus” I mean a section of Hindu population which feels this way. I am aware all Hindus do not feel like this and do not have this opinion.

2 a gentle breeze

3 Maasir-I-Alamgiri of Saqi Mustad Khan, translated by Sir Jadu Nath Sarkar, published by Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1947, page 60.

4 Richard Eaton, Temple Desecration and Indo-Muslim States Part 2, Frontline, January 5, 2001. Page 76.

5 Davis, Richard H., Lives of Indian images, Princeton University Press, 1997, page 83.

6 Agarwal, B. D., Rajasthan District Gazetteers: Sikar, Directorate of District Gazetteers, Government of Rajasthan, Jaipir. 1978. Page 27.

7 https://theprint.in/opinion/heres-the-case-for-restoration-of-desecrated-hindu-temples-and-why-it-loses-the-debate/971596/

8 Romila Thapar, Ashoka and the decline of Mauryas, OUP, 1961, page 200

9 Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar WRITINGS AND SPEECHES VOL. 8, Ed Vasant Moon, Pub. Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, New Delhi. Page 270.