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The Condition of Hindus under Muslim Rule

The Condition of Hindus under Muslim Rule

Author: Dr. Jadunath Sarkar
Publication: The Hindusthan Standard, Calcutta

What was the condition of the Hindus under Muslim rule in India? This is a very natural question, and in the present situation of the country the inquiry has a significance of the deepest practical importance. Every tree is judged by its fruit; and the ideal Muslim Government of India, namely, a theocracy administered for Allah by His agents, showed its unmistakable practical consequences in the moral, intellectual and economic condition of the people of this vast sub-continent when Muslim rule ended and British administration began. When Wellesley and the Marquis of Hastings established British paramountcy after overthrowing the six-century old Muslim domination, what Indian does not blush as he reads in the history of that conquest, how hopelessly weak our country was in defence, how abjectly degraded in spirit and education our people were, and how inefficient and corrupt the public administration, conducted entirely by 'natives' had become?

True, our Hindu rulers had shown a similar bankruptcy of capacity at the end of the Hindu period, when youthful Islam first attacked India. But in that age the Hindu intellect was still active and it continued to produce gems of thought and heroes of action even during he early stage of the expansion of Islamic political sway over the country. But in the age of Wellesley and Hastings, 1798-1818, Muslim rule had turned India into a sort of "Darkest Affica" as regards culture, thought and character, and we had to take our inspiration for a new birth of the spirit only by turning to Europe in the 19th century.

The poison lay in the very core of Islamic theocracy. Under it there can be only one faith, one people, and one all overriding authority. The state is a religious trust administered solely by His people (the Faithful) acting in obedience to the Commander of the Faithful, who was in theory and very often in practice too, the supreme General of the Army of militant Islam (janud). Every Muslim sovereign claimed to be the Khalif of the Age, and as such the "Commander of the Faithful" and shadow (representative) of God - the true sovereign. There could be no place for non-believers, not even for the heretical sub-divisions of Islam (such as the Shias in a Sunni state like that of the Sultans and Padishahs of Delhi) in its administration. Even Jews and Christians could not be full citizens of it, though they somewhat approached the Muslims by reason of their being "People of the Book" - or believers in the Bible, which the Prophet of Islam accepted as revealed, though insufficient for salvation, unless supplemented by his Quran. The Muslim attitude to these Ahal-i-Kitab is well expressed in the following verses quoted by AI Badayieni, an orthodox literary champion of Islam and enemy of the liberal philosophers Abul FazI and Faizi:

"The water touched by a jew is impure:
But it will do to wash the corpse of a Christian"


As for the Hindus and Zoroastrians, they had no place in such a political system. If their existence was tolerated it was only to use them as hewers of wood and drawers of water, as tax-payers "Khiraj-guzar" for the benefit of the dominant sect of the Faithful. They were called Zimmis or people under a contract of protection by the Muslim state on condition of certain services to be rendered by them and certain political and civil disabilities to be borne by them to prevent them from growing strong. The very term zimmi is an insulting title like "the Protected Princes" of British India. It connotes political inferiority and helplessness like the status of a minor proprietor perpetually under a guardian; such protected people could not claim equality with the citizens of the Muslim theocracy. Could the late Gaikwar Sayaji Rao, as he trembled and hobbled before George V at the Delhi Darbar of 1912, be called a ruler bound in equal alliance with the British King, or even possessed of the same rights as a British peer?

Thus by the basic conception of the Muslim state all non-Muslims are its enemies and it is the interest of the state to curb their growth in number and power. The ideal aim was to exterminate them totally, as Hindus, Zoroastrians and Christian nationals have been liquidated (sometimes totally, sometimes leaving a negligible remnant behind) in Afghanistan, Persia and the Near East. The last remnants of the descendants of Alexander's soldiers, settled in north-eastern Afghanistan, were ground down to accept Islam and their province's name changed from Kafiristan to Nuristan (province luminious with Islam) in our own lifetime.

Whatever tended to strengthen the Hindus would ipso facto constitute a menace to Islamic predominance. The same was seen in the late lamented British Indian Empire, when a Bengali who learnt military science in Mexico or France immediately became a political suspect and was ever afterwards shadowed by the CID as a potential traitor. But the British, while curbing the martial spirit of our educated classes, did not try to crush the Hindu mind at its source: they did not forbid the study of Hindu philosophy and the practice of the Hindu religion, rather encouraged them and opened the gates of the Temple of Western Science to us. Not so, the orthodox Muslim rulers of India.

Part II

Temple Destruction

The temples of the Hindus often served as seats of learning besides being scenes of religious worship. The late Sister Nivedita never wearied in her praise of the vast temples of South India as exactly like the Cathedral closes of medieval England. Here in, the many cloisters running along the inside of the boundary walls, the young students lived and studied and they joined in the arati in the evening. To strike at the great temples was to strike at the roots of Hindu learning through Sanskrit, then the only vehicle of higher education. Instances are on record of Hindu teachers and preachers being put to death by Firuz Shah, Aurangzib and other pious Muslim sovereigns - who are still extolled as model rulers of the theocracy. In addition, a slow but sure policy was adopted for removing all temples from the face of India. Aurangzib at the very beginning of reign (1658) wrote in his Benares Farman, "According to our Holy Law, long standing temples should not be demolished, but no new temple should be allowed to be built." But he himself did not follow even this limited restraint of the Shariat. In his letters collected by his "disciple" and "secretary" Inayetullah Khan, we find one that states: "The temple of Somnath was demolished early in my reign and idol-worship there put down. It is not known what the state of things there is at present. If the idolaters have again taken to the worship of images, then destroy the temple in such a way that no trace of the building may be left." On 9th April 1669, he issued a general order to the governors of all the provinces of his Empire to demolish the schools and temples of the infidels and to put down strongly their teaching and religious practices. (His official history, Maasir-i-Alamgiri, Persian text, p. 81). How this order was everywhere carried out throughout his reign of half a century, can be read in detail with dates in my History of Aurangzib, Vol. Ill, chapter 34, appendix V. At the very end of his life, a new temple built near Murshidabad was demolished under strict official orders. The letter translated from Persian is given in my introduction to Bankim Chandra's Sitaram, Bangiya Sahitya Parishad edition.

It has been urged by this pious Emperor's ignorant admirers that temples were destroyed only when they were strongholds of rebels and centres of plots hatched by his political enemies. A Persian report, written from Delhi and preserved among the state records of Jaipur, tells us that Aurangzib had sent an order to the ever-loyal Raja of Jaipur to demolish a large number of temples in his dominions, and when His Majesty read the Muhtasib's report that the order had been faithfully carried out, he cried out in admiration, "Ah, he (i.e. Raja Ram Singh Kachhwa) is a khanazad, i.e., a hereditary loyal slave."

So much for his modem apologists. Even in our own days, Osman Ali Khan, ninety per cent of whose, subjects are Hindus, rejoiced thus in a ghazal of his own composition which was published in the periodical Rahbar-I-Daccan (25, February 1939):

Band naqus hua sunke nara-e-takbir
Zalzala a ho gaya rishta-e-zunnar poi bho.

It means: The pealing of conches and the ringing of bells have been stopped on hearing the shout Allah-o-Akbar. An earthquake is shaking the sacred threads (worn by Hindus).

What reaction this policy naturally provoked among the Marathas, Sikhs, Jats and Bundelas when the brute force of the Muslim Government declined in the 18th century is a well-known tale of Indian History.

Economic Repression

The Emperor Aurangzib (reign 1658-1707) was an orthodox Hanafi Sunni sovereign and the political exemplar of Muhammadan writers, past and present. Every regulation of his Government was determined like that of Firuz Tughlaq and Sikandar Lodi - by the letter of the Quranic law. He reimposed the jaziya or tax per head on the Hindus. The Quran (IX, 29) calls upon the Muslims "to fight those who do not profess the true faith, till they pay jaziya with the hand in humility (ham sagkhirun)." This was a poll-tax payable by Hindus (and also Christians) for permission to live in their ancestral homes under a Muslim sovereign. The object of Aurangzib in imposing it (by a decree operating from 2nd April, 1679), was "to spread Islam and depress the infidel faith" as his own Secretary words it. The Italian traveller Nicholo Manucci at the very time noted this fact: he writes, "Many Hindus, who were unable to pay turned Muslim to obtain relief from the insults of the tax-collectors, Aurangzib rejoices that by such exactions these Hindus will be forced into embracing the Muhammadan faith."

It has been pleaded in our times that the jaziya was a fair tax paid by the Hindus for exemption from compulsory military service. But it was only as late as May 10, 1855, when English and French sympathy had to be secured by the Sultan of Turkey for the war against Russia that a decree was issued, replacing the jaziya as a tax on the free exercise of religion by a tax for exemption from military service in European Turkey. (See Encyclopaedia of Islam, i, 1052). We should not forget that every Muslim was exempt from the payment of jaziya even when he did not serve in the army, nor was called up as a conscript; and those Muslims who did serve received full wages for the work.

Besides, the true nature of the jaziya can be clearly seen from the Quranic commentary on the method of collecting the tax; it is laid down that the zimmi must pay the tax personally; if he sends the money by the hand of an agent, it is to be refused; the taxed person must come on foot and pay the money standing, while the receiver should be seated, etc. This explains the Quranic direction, ham sagkhirun, i.e. "with marks of humiliation." That these rules were enforced in India is illustrated by many examples cited in the Persian manuscript records, Akhbarat.

In addition to the obligation to pay this poll-tax, the Hindu was subjected to many disabilities by the very constitution of the Muslim theocracy. He must distinguish himself from the Muslims by wearing a humble dress, and sometimes adding a label of a certain colour to his coat. He must not ride on horse-back or carry arms - though wearing the sword was a necessary part of the dress of every gentleman of that age. He must show a generally respectful attitude towards Muslims - "Natives must salam every sahib they meet on the road." The Hindu was also under certain legal disabilities in giving testimony in law courts, protection under the criminal law, and in marriage. Finally, in the exercise of his religion he must avoid any publicity that may rouse the wrath of the followers of the Prophet.

Can this "depressed" sect be called citizens of the Muslim state? No, answers that most authoritative work, the Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. I, pp. 958-959.

Under the Canon Law, as followed in Islamic countries, a man who converts a Muslim to some other faith is liable to death at the hands of any private Muslim, and so also is the apostate from Islam. A Muslim murdering a Hindu on private grounds was not subjected to the choice between payment of "the price of blood" and death at the hands of the heir of the murdered man - which was the legal right of Musalmans aggrieved in such conditions.

So much for the political and legal equality of all sects in the Islamic theocracy.

Part III
Women's Fate

What most wounded the hearts of the non-Muslims - Christians and Jews, as much as Hindus - was the lot of non-Muslim women under Muslim sway. Whatever may have been the theory, in practice everywhere it amounted to this that conversion of the victim to Islam sanctified the seduction or abduction of non-Muslim women. Kinglake in his Eothen gives an illustration of it from Turkey as late as 1830-40: In the city of Nablous, a Muslim Shaikh of great wealth and local influence had accidentally seen a beautiful young Christian girl, recently married to a Christian youth, and plotted to "gratify his passion by inducing her to embrace his own creed: if he could get her to take this step, her marriage with the Christian would be dissolved, and then there would be nothing to prevent him from making her his own wife... The Shaikh was a practical man;... he sent no tracts, not even a copy of the holy Quran. An old woman acted as missionary. She brought her a whole basket, full of arguments - jewels, and shawls and scarves. Poor Mariam (the Christian bride)! She put on the jewels and took a calm view of the Mahomedan Religion in a little hand-mirror - she could not be deaf to such eloquent earrings, and the great truths of Islam came home to her young bosom in the delicate folds of the Cashmere (shawl); she was ready to abandon her faith." (Chapter 25).

Similar cases were known in Mughal India and have been tried in British law courts too, owing to the convenient doctrine that conversion to Islam dissolves a woman's previous lawful marriage.

Of the forcible abduction of Hindu women by powerful grandees and even by Nawabs, which went unpunished and was not even treated as "cognisable" by the then police and judiciary, examples are frequent in the histories and travel-reports of that time. It will be enough to say here that the French Chief of Chandemagore, M. Jean Law, who came to fight the English for Siraj-ud-daula, but arrived too late (after Plassey had been fought), tells in his Memoire that the young nawab used to ride to any village where his servants reported the existence of a beautiful young woman, and then get her abducted and placed in his harem. This was in 1757.

About the same time Shuja-ud-daula, the Nawab Wazir of Lucknow, took a fancy on a young Khatri virgin whom he had seen during his ride, and after getting her abducted by his servile tools and ruining her turned her out of his harem. The story is told without any blush by the historian of his house, Sayyid Ghulam Ali Naqavi in his Imad-us-Sadat.

The parda system was introduced among the free Arab women after the incident of Zainab. It has become a rigid institution among Hindus and Muslims in Northern India, where Muslim rule was most extensive and lasted longest. The fact that parda is not observed among the Hindus of Madras, Maharashtra, Kerala and the Mongoloid fringe (except among a few rich families that pretend to be Rajputs) clearly indicates how it originated in North India during Muslim rule.

Seduction or abduction sanctified by the recital of the Kalima was only one among the various devices practised for increasing the number of Muslims by hook or crook. Public service except of the lowest kind was denied to the Hindus who were vastly in the majority and usually superior in capacity. It is recorded by Abul Fazi that the Muslims of his time called Akbar an apostate from Islam, a kafir chiefly because he had sought to unite the nation by granting toleration to all religions (Sulh-i-kul, peace to all) and by including highly competent Hindus among his umara or upper nobility of office. Conversely Aurangzib is admired by many even today, for having "by one stroke of pen" dismissed all the Hindu clerks and imposed discriminating custom duties on the Hindus merchants, while allowing the goods of his co-religionists to pass free.

In Western Rajputana there is a sect called Bishnois who are a branch of the Vishnu-worshippers, but have many nonconformist tenets and practices and do not honour the Brahmans as priests. Aurangzib wrote to his local governor there to prevent them from amalgamating with the orthodox or regular Hindus, but to try every means of bringing them over to Islam by inducing them to drop their remaining Hindu rites and beliefs. His orders to this effect have been preserved among the Persian records of the Jaipur State. Thus under Islamic theocracy, religion ceased to be a concern of the human soul in its quest for the Creator but degenerated into a mere instrument of political gerrymandering.

The strict theory of the Shariat, however, did not always and everywhere prevail in Muslim India; such uniformity of pressure was impossible in this vast continent of a country. In practice, the Hindus were left to toleration of a sort and freedom in business in villages and remote corners, where the mullas did not penetrate and even in cities when the ulema slept under a just Sultan. The two creeds touched each other at the very top and at the very bottom only. As T. W. Arnold remarks: "In mysticism they found a common basis for religious thought. In Kashmir a Muhammadan ziarat frequently marks the site of a Hindu Tirtha; it is then stated to be the tomb of a saint (Pir)... Such survivals from Hinduism are more marked in villages and country districts remote from the influence of the Ulema. Here the Muslims still continue to worship the tutelary godlings of the village and join the Hindu festivals."

In addition, some mixed sects were formed, which attempted to bring about a reconciliation between Muslims and Hindus; but they were dissenting bodies, and stood clearly removed - like outcasts - from the vast orthodox bodies of the two sects. The worst mischief done by the dominance of Islam in the state was its reaction in brutalising the Hindu character. Hinduism in many places lost its liberal tolerant character, which sees God in every being and admits that every religion, if sincerely practised, will lead to salvation. "Just as the water of the Ganges, flowing through a hundred mouths, all enters the ocean, so the different paths of salvation prescribed by the different scriptures of the world all lead to God." (Kalidas). Hindus now learnt to retaliate and pay the ruling bigots in their own coins. The Jaipur Raja (bout 1660-100) reconverted some former Hindus from Islam by Suddhi. Shivaji's general Netaji Balkar had been forced by Aurangzib in 1646 to embrace Islam as Muhammad QuIi, but in 1676 the great Maratha king "made him Hindu again by Prayashchitta." When the pealing of conches in Hindu temples was obstructed, a Rajput raja forbade the chanting of the Azan or the Muslim call to prayer. One jaziya-collector's beard were plucked in Berar, another of these harsh officers was beaten to death in Rutlam. The Sikhs retaliated for the desecration of their temple by the Muslims and the slaying of cows in Amritsar (1762): when they returned in full force they compelled their Muslim prisoners to work in chains under the lash and cleanse the temple and wash the ground with hog's blood. The mere murder of an infidel (such as a Hindu or European Christian officer) is considered a pious deed by the Pathan ghazis of the North-West Frontier Province (like the murder of Lord Mayo). By a most deplorable reaction, whenever such a murderer was convicted and hanged by the British courts, for some years a tuft of dry grass used to be placed on the navel of the corpse and set fire to, before it was buried, to ensure that his soul "went to hell by way of fire". In the late 18th century a body of Sikh horsemen came to Delhi and demolished a mosque in Rikabganj as an act of vengeance. In Lord Robers' Afghan Campaign the Gurkhas (and Sikhs?) treated the Pathan dead in the same way till stopped by British orders. (See Ashe's Afghan War.)

Such was the condition to which the Hindus were reduced by Islamic theocracy. Did the dominant sect profit by this policy? What was the moral and intellectual condition of the faithful at the end of Muslim rule in India? They were even more unhappy and helpless than the Hindus to face the moving modern world. Look outside for the reason of it.

Palestine, the holy land of the Jews, Christians and Islamites, had been turned into a desert haunted by ignorant poor diseased vermin rather than by human beings, as the result of six centuries of Muslim rule. (See Kinglake's graphic description). Today Jewish rule has made this desert bloom into a garden, miles of sandy waste have been turned into smiling orchards of orange and citron, the chemical resources of the Dead Sea are being extracted and sold, and all the amenities of the modern civilised life have been made available in this little Oriental country. Wise Arabs are eager to go there from the countries ruled by the Shariat. This is the lesson for the living history.

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