Monday, August 8, 2022

Jadunath Sarkar’s History and the Truth About the Mughals

Jadunath Sarkar

In 1915, during his Presidential speech at a historical conference in Bengal, Jadunath Sarkar talked about his approach to writing history: 

“I would not care whether truth is pleasant or unpleasant, and in consonance with or opposed to current views. I would not mind in the least whether truth is, or is not, a blow to the glory of my country. If necessary, I shall bear in patience the ridicule and slander of friends and society for the sake of preaching truth. But still I shall seek truth, understand truth, and accept truth. This should be the firm resolve of a historian.” (Quoted in The History and Culture of the Indian People, Vol. 7, by R.C. Majumdar)

Prominent Indian historians like Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib have tried to whitewash the Mughal period. They have presented the Mughal dynasty as a series of good kings. Sarkar’s attitude towards history is different—in his books, he takes an objective look at the Mughals. He does not try to whitewash the intolerance, decadence, sadism, and religious fundamentalism of the Mughals. He has produced some of the most balanced and informative books on the Mughals. 

In his 1917 book Anecdotes of Aurangzeb and Historical Essays (page 12), Sarkar writes: 

“On 2nd April, 1679, the jazia or polltax on non-Muslims was revived. The poor people who appealed to the Emperor and blocked a road abjectly crying for its remission, were trampled down by elephants at his order and dispersed. By another ordinance (March, 1695), all Hindus except Rajputs were forbidden to carry arms or ride elephants, palkis, or Arab and Persian horses. With one stroke of his pen he dismissed all the Hindu clerks from office. Custom duties were abolished on the Muslims and doubled on the Hindus.”

Sarkar informs his readers about Aurangzeb’s attacks on Hindu faith. On page 11 of his book, he reveals that in April 1669, Aurangzeb had ordered his provincial governors to “destroy the temples and schools of the Brahmans… and to utterly put down the teachings and religious practices of the infidels.” Sarkar talks about several major Hindu temples, including the Vishwanath temple at Benares and the Kesav Rai's temple at Mathura, that were pulled down on Aurangzeb’s orders. 

In the books of most historians the information regarding Mughal atrocities is suppressed—those who have not read historians like Sarkar would not know the truth about the Mughals. In the 1940s, Sarkar could see that Bengal was hurtling towards a communal disaster. In a letter to Dr. G. S. Sardesai, Sarkar expressed his pessimism. He wrote: “The administration is hopelessly inefficient and dishonest and as no improvement can be expected in the course of things, the future of the Hindus here (Calcutta or Bengal) is unspeakably dark.”

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