‘Inventing’ India 

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Muhammad Tahir

Mohammad-TahirIndia’s standard official claim to Kashmir is tied to the instrument of accession signed in October 1947 by the fleeing Hindu ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh. The argument is that since the ruler of Kashmir acceded to India, the region legally became its part. Another argument put forth by Indians on any discussion over Kashmir runs like this: Kashmir as the only Muslim ‘state’ within the Indian union symbolizes the secular character of the union. Both the arguments try to extend a claim to the pre-dominantly Muslim region within a secular frame. In case of the former argument it is less explicit while in the latter secularism is the raison d’être.

But if one takes a cursory look at the comments and opinions circulating on World Wide Web these days, such arguments are now least utilized by Indians while presenting a claim on Kashmir. What one finds is rather a historico-religious assertion that Kashmir was part of the Hindu domain that stretched from Afghanistan to Burma and hence Kashmir (because of its Hindu past) is part of India, a Hindu nation. This religiously-informed claim largely derives from the 12th century chronicle Rajtarangni (River of Kings) authored by a Sanskrit scholar Kalhana. In Rajtarangini Kalhana has mentioned about the rule of Hindu kings and kingdoms in Kashmir and also drawn a sketch of socio-political and cultural life of Kashmir in which Hinduism (Kashmiri Shivaism) features considerably. It is this strand of Kashmir’s Hindu past that ultra-nationalists in India have made their main point in their comments and opinions. The Indian right wing has been instrumental in propagating this notion through its dense and extensive network throughout India. And in the recent years, internet has further amplified and rather inculcated it deeply among the young Indians.

What such a notion essentially signifies is that most of the Indians believe in a primordial Indian nation. But the question is: has such an Indian nation existed historically? In his thought-provoking essay “Does India Exist?” Immanuel Wallerstein argues that India is the creation of British colonialism (1750-1850). His contention is that India was ‘invented’ within the capitalist world-system which is based on “political superstructure of sovereign states” interlinked in and drawing their legitimacy from interstate system.  What British colonialism did was to unify a vast area, administratively, of what was a South Asian subcontinent and France (a competitive colonial power to Britain) by recognizing its “juridical reality” legitimized its ‘stateness’.  Within this vast sub-continent (now under the British colonial rule) there existed disparate social and political structures. Some of its residents gave in to the British might, some collaborated and few others resisted. However, ultimately, India as a state came into existence because of these factors.

Within this new British India state some Hindu reformist groups like Arya Samaj came up with a new theory of Hindu origins based on European Sanskrit scholarship. Max Mueller’s History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature (1859) was instrumental in propagating this idea. The leading class of Brahmans had now a cultural repertoire available from which they wove a new narrative of cultural nationalism. But this culture drew its core content and orientation from Vedic tradition as imagined and propagated by European orientalist scholars and Hindu reformers. Veer Savarkar in his Essentials of Hindutva (1924) emphasized on the Vedic origins of the Indian ‘nation’, understanding its historical evolution in teleological terms. Gowalkar rallied for unity of ‘nation’ by espousing the cause of Hindu revival in terms of amplifying Hindu consciousness.  Muslim and European ‘Other’ was enemy of Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation) as they were perceived as responsible for debilitating its historical evolution. The biased Oriental works on Indian history like  History of India (1849) made the elite Brahmans believe that there existed a ‘Golden age’ of Hinduism followed by a Muslim period which was responsible for Hinduism’s decadence.

According to historian Richard Eaton, British colonial historians wanted to present the preceding Muslim reign in India as anti-Hindu and oppressive, Muslim Sultans as iconoclasts who destroyed Hindu temples and usurped Hindu kingdoms, so as to justify the British colonial rule as the harbinger of enlightenment and modernity, and also contain the anti-British sentiment and get the Hindu support.

A dispassionate historical account of Indian nation-state and its links with Kashmir is essential so that the people of the former do not turn the later into a site of ominous religious nationalism which once unleashed can have a devastating consequences.

Muhammad Tahir recently completed Masters in International Peace Studies from International University of Japan. Email:  mtahirfiraz@gmail.com

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