Rajput History in the Theatre of Post-Truth Narratives

Originally Published on The Arch-Rebel By Aeshvarya Thakur

It’s appalling how the recent controversy around state-sponsored-purge of Mughal court history from the syllabi has been grabbed by the traditionalists and progressives, alike, to vent the much-peddled mudslinging campaign against the Rajputs, yet again. How this binary of Mughal vs Rajput came into question, I wonder! What’s fueling this uncalled for Paranoia that the Rajput history will replace The Mughal history from now on? Who is setting up the historiography chessboard with Rajputs & Mughal pawns, infighting for retrospective supremacy? Who is enjoying this proxy-war as a viewer with a tub of buttery salted popcorn? I see Right, I see Left, I see Centre. Wait, this gladiatorial arena has viewers of all inclinations and ideologies, throwing in their weight of narratives, for a bloody murderous spectacle of history.

The Rajputs: Tossed Between ‘Appropriation’ & ‘Alienation’

Isn’t this interesting while the Rightwing goes out to appropriate the ‘Rajputs’ as ‘Hindu Kings’; the left, liberal and centrist voices fall into the same trap and start bashing the Rajputs by pitching the Rajputs against the Mughals to establish and justify Mughal administrative superiority?! In this tug-of-war, two sides are selectively pitted against each other, while interestingly, there were other sides too, who fought against (like Ahoms, Sikhs) or aligned with (Jyotishs of Benaras, the Seths, the Court Munshis, the Sufis, Jats jagirdards, Marathas who later reconciled) the Mughals for their convenience. But clearly, none of these parties feature in academic write-ups & articles. But predictably, the Rajputs are casually dragged in these arguments by columnists & historians (like Manimugdha Sharma, Girish Shahane, Ruchika Sharma), who unabashedly and categorically write insulting pieces against the Rajputs exclusively. At the same time, Rightwing pages like Opindia are swift enough to grab this opportunity in appropriating ‘Rajputs’ as ‘Hindus’ and fueling a divisive narrative from behind the armour of the Rajputs. Believe it or not, this structural alienation and appropriation of the Rajput history, especially by Historians, needs a thorough dissection.

Dominance of Elite Culture in Historiography

Elite cultures have dominated discourse,” says eminent historian Romila Thapar. And to a large extent, this phenomenon is visible when it comes to the treatment of historiography. The tendency to look down upon the native primary sources of oral history & bardic accounts as ‘paeans’ while the travelogues and court chronicles of foreign commentators like Firdausi or Manucci are taken as credible proofs. To elaborate this practice further, we see how the Royal accounts of the Rajput Rulers written by native Bhats, Charans, Harbolas are downplayed & cancelled by the armchair critics by repeatedly calling them a ‘myth’, ‘exaggeration’ & ‘sponsored writing’; contrarily, similar accounts of the Mughal & Sultanate Empire by travelers & courtly chroniclers like Abul Fazal, Amir Khusro, Manucci & Firdausi are lauded & accepted as unflinching truth. Scholar Dalpat Singh Rajpurohit elaborates the roots of this elitist bias in his book ‘Sundar Ke Swapn’, where he quotes that the collection of oral traditions of Colonel James Tod and the work of George Grierson gave Ramchandra Shukla a strong basis for the periodization of Hindi literature and divided it into two periods (branches) of Bhaktikaal and Ritikaal; later Bhakti was attributed to the folk and Ritikaal was associated with the feudal system.
After having been linked to the feudal system, literature of the Ritikal was considered of ‘low status’. Ramvilas Sharma even called Riti Kavya as feudal or court poetry, thereby denying the respectable recognition to Riti-poetry. This speaks how the ‘high culture’ against the ‘low brow bardic traditions’ are seen through the selectivist & elitist lens of the intellectuals & academicians.

Queen Padmavati: The Classic Case of Academic Gaslighting

Activist Edward Snowden once quoted, “The whole system revolves around the idea that the majority can be made to believe anything, so long as it is repeated loudly and often.”

We encounter Historians wailing about non-historians writing history nowadays but I wonder why doesn’t anyone complain about partisan historians or those bestselling authors of ‘historical fiction’, who arm-twist the history with their imaginary conjectures ? Historical fiction remains one of the most ludicrous genres of literature because it gives one the liberty to fictionalize history and historicize fiction while remaining free of the responsibility of being questioned on the touchstone of credibility! I recently bumped into a new ‘historical fiction’ by Tripti Pandey on ‘Raskapoor’. Everyone is going gaga over this story, citing it as authentic as a courtesan woman, wronged by royalty. But in the same breath, the same people will go on proclaiming that the character of Queen Padmavati was ‘fictional’ and there was hardly any truth in that ‘fable’. Isn’t this unsettling how a queen Padmavati is denounced as a myth while another character from Rajput history is acknowledged as an authentic victim as it suits the moth-eaten stereotype of ‘spoils of royalty’.

A queen called Padmavati that existed, whose remnants lie scattered all over Chittaur, whose descendants are still present to testify, is cancelled repeatedly by terming her as a ‘myth’ or ‘fictional’; just because Amir Khusro doesn’t mention her in one of his chronicles! Historian William Dalrymple says that in actual fact, none of the Mughal descriptions of the Peacock Throne mention the Kohinoor, because the Mughals preferred red stones of light, they liked spinels and rubies, and those are what the Mughal chroniclers describe. Not one of them mentions the Kohinoor. But then, can a casual conclusion be drawn on this basis that Kohinoor was never in India or rather, never in the Mughal possesion? Can we simplistically assume that anything that is ‘not mentioned’ in contemporary chronicles was ‘non-existent’?

Ali, M. Athar mentions in his work ‘Mughal India: Studies in Polity, Ideas, Society and Culture’ that the theory of Dīn-i Ilāhī being a new religion was a ‘misconception’ which arose because of erroneous translations of Abu’l-Fazl’s work by later British historians. As per the statement of the renowned historian Mubarak Ali, the word ‘Din-I-Ilahi’ was not used during the period of Mughal emperor Akbar. So, does this lead us to believe that the very notion of a secular sect called ‘Din-i-Ilaahi’ being conceived by Akbar was nothing but a ‘figment of imagination’ of the Orientalist historians, who misconstrued & yet circulated it?

It is engrossing how few characters from history are cherrypicked to be mounted as authentic to propel a specific narrative in public discourse while some other character is cancelled or diminished in size to fuel another politico-academic agenda. More so, while the historicity of Padmavati is repeatedly cancelled, terming her as ‘fictional character’, at the same time, a fictional character like Jodha as Rajput wife of Akbar is peddled as ‘history’, to justify the rhetoric of liberal sectarian accommodation during the Mughal era.

As a matter of fact, there is no reference to Akbar’s wife by the name Jodha Bai in any Mughal records, be it in Akbar’s biography Akbarnama or Jahangir’s autobiography Tuzk-e-Jahangiri. Interestingly, Goa-based author Luis de Assis Correia claimed to the extent that Jodha Bai, believed to be the Rajput princess who allegedly married Mughal emperor Akbar, was actually a Portuguese woman named Dona Maria Mascarenhas, in his book “Portuguese India and Mughal Relations 1510-1735. So going by the same analogy, one can deduce firmly that since no Mughal chronicles mention a Hindu Rajput wife of Akbar called Jodha, she ‘never existed’ at all. But do the historians care to correct this popular misconception with their academic authority, the way they paint Padmavati as ‘mythical’? No, because then it would deflate the ballyhoo of syncretism during Mughal ages, which is oft highlighted with fervor.

To top it all, a fictional ‘Rajputana Seccesionist Movement’ shown in a movie like ‘Gulaal’ (2009) is attested to be true even by some historians. Historians, academicians, writers or filmmakers can have their ideological or political leanings but its unnerving how history is handpicked based by few as per their tastes and suitabilities!

The Pilot Project of Demonization

In an article for ThePrint.in, scholar Hilal Ahmed writes, “There is an Aurangzeb ‘industry’ that claims to produce a “fact-based scientifically correct history” of 17th century India to show the richness of the Mughal era.” On the same lines, I believe there is an elaborate lobby engaged in the pilot project to demonize the Rajputs through academic work, media and cinema.

This goes without saying that this happened in Cinema, because the Rajputs had no large investments in
Bollywood, unlike other dwija castes like Brahmins, Banias, Kayasthas, Khatris and few liberal Muslims. Prof Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd elucidates the same in an article published in TheWire.in where he categorically points out how Brahmins, Banias, Kayasthas and Khatris remained the
hegemonic communities within the film industry. Right from the beginning. The Hindi film industry was quite regressive at its core, even if had pretensions of modernity, which was a good marketability factor. The trend of projecting the Rajputs as the ‘quintessential filmy villain’ started during the 60’s, saw a peak during the 70’s and 80’s when an ‘angry young man’s rebellion was justified with juxtapositioning of an archetypical bad-man, sporting moustache, gunmen and a palace with a Thakur title. Movies like Kranti (1981), Kacche Dhaage (1973), Rajput (1982), Ghulami (1985) are just a handful to name in this systematic project of cinematic demonization of
the Rajputs

A series of articles published by independent media portals also reverberate with condescending tone for the Rajput history. As a matter of fact, if over glorification is wrong, so is insinuation. What is problematic in such articles about Rajput history is author’s own perception of medieval age practices like Jauhar-Saka and seeing them through a 21st century lens; attaching value judgment and modern sensibilities to the events that happened in that era. Our modern feminist ideals cannot be applied retrospectively.

During the partition, in a Sikh dominated village Toha Khalsa in Rawalpindi, over 93 Sikh women committed mass suicide by jumping into well to save themselves from violations of the mobs. Do we hear such incidents being broad brushed as ‘Tame Surrender and Cowardice of the Sikh women” ? No, we don’t. But such generalization is applied to the Rajput History selectively. Baburnama mentions the hordes of Gujjars and Jats being ruffian looters during that era, which attacked the travelers in groups. But does that give anybody the liberty to typecast the Jats & Gujjars are the ‘community of looters’ today? No, we don’t do that. The Marathas wrecked the Entire Bengal during their raids in the past but are they labeled as ‘Plunderers’ in popular media today? Certainly not. But Shahahe & his likes are casual enough in labeling the Rajputs as ‘defeat specialists’ and then it is asked, how are the Rajputs ‘insulted’? Actually, they’re not insulated, they’re stigmatized by using media, the same way the Britishers stigmatized the (now De)Notified Tribes of India by terming them as ‘Born Criminals’. Attaching and repetitively using labels to typecast a community and its history amounts to the same stigmatization.

But books and articles pronouncing Rajput period to be the ‘dark ages of India’, Rajputs being a ‘bunch of non-intelligent losers’ without tales of bravery, Rajputs being ‘defeat specialists’, Jauhars being tame surrenders, their famed valor being ‘fictional’, their history and identity being a ‘myth’ reflect that this is not just a part of a demonization project but a project of moral and historical diminution & socio-political decimation of the Rajputs.

Systemic Tweaking & Usurping of Rajput History

The RSS claims to knit all caste groups and communities in a single thread of Hindutva but behind this idea lies a devious scheme of institutional ‘Rajputisation’, where the depressed caste groups are distributed the identity of a Kshatriya (Rajput warrior class). In this farcical attempt, the Rightwing has even engaged historians & filmmakers to cook up a broth that has an adulterated mix of history & concoctions.  Movies like ‘Samrat Prithviraj’ revolves around assigning a Hindutva-waadi identity to Rajput icons like Prithviraj Chauhan, while political patronage to controversies over icons like Mihirbhoj Pratihar & Maharaja Suheldev has fanned social disharmony amongst the traditionally allied caste groups.

While assigning Rajput identity to depressed caste groups was not enough, the Bahujan leadership and intelligentia has also jumped into the bandwagon of claiming the Rajputs figures as their own. The tussel over Rana Punja being a Bhil to the claims of Alha-Udal’s identity showcase how the Rajputisation process has now been coupled with usurping Rajput history. Ironically, the apparently ‘oppressed’ caste groups claim to be ‘Rajputs’ (Descendents of the Rulers) but also claim to be ‘historically oppressed’ in the same breath. This dubious monkey business sustains in a country like India alone, where votebank politics can make a tamasha of social history at whim.

In an article by India Today, a prominent Left leader, speaking on condition of anonymity, insists that alleged ‘lower castes’ are doing the right thing by demolishing Rajput ‘monopoly’ over the Rajput icons. This strips bare the agenda that Rajput history is systematically being usurped and divided amongst different groups in connivance with historians and political strategists to scaffold their social engineering agenda. But this trend of disenfranchising Rajputs of their legacy is coupled with a well-charted course of demonizing the Rajputs as well; so that not only a community is discredited but also demoralized at social and political level & they do not seek accountability about the distortion & tweaking of their history.

Nuance is All

While historiography has been corrupted by propaganda tools like Whatsapp forwards, paid trolls & motivated portals, what stings is how even historians have fallen into the trap of adulation or demonization of certain parts & characters of history. In a recent interview, Historian William Dalrymple said that there’s a tendency in Indian history to have everyone as either a demon or an angel. The ideal approach should be to step out of these black and white binaries of insinuation and glorification and embrace history through its primary sources, survey reports, geneological sources, oral accounts, travelogues, bardic traditions with due research. Judgmental labeling or subjective treatment of historical characters and events by historians, writers or filmmakers robs away the element of nuance, which is everything in historiography. History bears an onus to remain unaffected from the changing political scenarios, tectonic shifting of dominant ideologies and not be pervious to historian’s personal biases.

क्षत्रिय सामाजिक, राजनीतिक और धार्मिक चेतना मंच।

Jai Ramdev ji | Jai Tejaji |JaiGogaji |Jai Jambho ji| Jai Dulla Bhati | Jai Banda Bahadur |

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