A Summary of India’s Real History
And the Numerous Attempts to Destroy its Vedic Culture
During the last years, many people in India and outside India have become aware of the need to establish the truth about the real history of India. Historical and archeological research has progressed greatly, and the debate in academic circles has become extremely interesting. Some books have been published, and websites are being developed. Due to the limited scope and size of this publication, we cannot include a complete history of India, but for the completeness of our discussion, we want to present some information found missing in the biased history that is taught in schools at present.
It is said that history is written by those who win the wars and hold the power. The other party is given no chance to leave their version of the story, because that would undermine the position of the conqueror or the establishment. It would not be “politically correct”.
Certainly this has been happening for the last 5,000 years, under the influence of Kali-yuga, but it does not need to continue like that. Let’s just give truth a chance.
The entire planet is undergoing a change. The ideas of human rights and ethical principles in society, academics and politics, that started to develop in western countries in the 1700s with the French revolution, have seeped into the conscience of many and are now offering a golden opportunity to establish truthfulness and justice. Let us not be intimidated by those who are afraid of truth.
The Vedic period of India is the time when our “golden heritage” was built. The crumbs of that civilization have made India famous all over the world for the last 2,000 years, and inspired great philosophers along history, from Socrates and Pythagoras to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. What do we know about the Vedic period, apart the descriptions found in the Vedas themselves?
Indian archeology had its first important finding in 1922, when a Buddhist monk informed Rakhaldas Banerjee, superintendent of West Circle of Archaeological Survey of India, that in Larkana (district of old Sindh, now Pakistan) there were some ancient remains. The monks supposed that they were from Buddhist period, so they wanted the site to be investigated and protected.
However, the two sites, called Mohenjodaro and Harappa, were dated at least 1500 years BCE (Before Current Era), about 1000 years before the birth of Buddha, creating a sensation in academic circles and posing a difficult problem to mainstream archeology and history. Especially because the archeologists had found an area, at a short distance from the city, where a large deposit of clay had been vitrified as if by a nuclear explosion – the date of which could not be before 1500 BCE according to the instruments of the researchers.
In the following years many more sites were discovered, and what was once called “Indus valley civilization” appears now to have been existing in all northern India, down to the Narmada River in Maharastra, and in the ancient basin of the now disappeared river Sarasvati. It is also very likely that such advanced civilization was also present in the entire subcontinent, because we must keep in mind that for thousands of years until the 20th century, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma and Sri Lanka were all part of Bharata Varsha.
It is very interesting to note that these cities, built over 5000 years ago, were extremely modern. The streets were 12 to 30 feet wide, designed according to a perfect city planning, where the main streets were all oriented from North to South and the lanes from East to West at right angles with each other, in order to keep the city free from air pollution by the action of the wind. All the streets had rounded corners to facilitate the passage and turning of big vehicles and heavy traffic, they were paved with cooked bricks under which the sewage drains ran, and had a complex system of lighting posts to illuminate the city during the night. All industries were kept outside the town to control pollution and keep a good quality of life in the residential areas.
Every house had a private well, toilet and bathroom with a perfect hydraulic system and drainage soak pits. The external drainage system connecting the various houses had manholes at regular intervals for inspection. The houses were generally two storied, with big stairways and a pleasant environment.
The city of Harappa had a public swimming pool 55 by 35 meters, 2.4 meters deep, with walls made of cooked bricks, mortar and bitumen, and a drainage system for periodic cleaning. Inside the building of the public swimming pool there was a veranda with various rooms and galleries, very similar to a modern “commercial and service center”.
The city had also a big assembly hall 25 x 25 meters, with 20 big pillars made of bricks. Another city on the coast, Lothal, also had a large naval dockyard.
The script of this civilization was an alphabetical script consisting of 62 basic signs, which means that their language was very complex and refined. It was directly connected to Sanskrit, which has 13 vowels and 33 consonants, plus a great number of possible graphic variations (“complex consonants”) and a number of signs (anusvara, visarga, etc.). Usually, the more advanced is a civilization, the more complex is its language and script.
Harappa and Mohenjodaro contained a wealth of artifacts: bronze artwork and sculptures, jewels, toys and more than 2000 seals made of steatite, terracotta and copper. The decorations of the houses and objects found by the archeologists show that the inhabitants of those cities loved to play music, sing and dance, were fond of games and happy life. They used cosmetics like lipstick and kajal, and were a rich and civilized people. Their religion was centered on Shiva and the Mother Goddess, and they performed fire yajnas (rituals). They traveled a lot and were in contact with foreign countries; Harappan seals and other articles were found in Mesopotamia, Akkadia and Sumer. The findings in many more areas confirm that the “Indus-Sarasvati” civilization actually spread all over India, with consistent evidence of Vedic civilization.
Why did these rich and civilized people disappear from their cities? And where did they go?
The old theory of the colonialists said that some foreign invaders, the Aryan nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes coming from Central Northern Asia, conquered the pacific civilization of Dravidians, killed them by the thousands (although no evidence is showing such a massacre), made many slaves of them and drove the rest to South India. However, no finding has ever shown human remains of the Dravidian race in Harappan areas; rather the skeletons found have the same racial features of the modern inhabitants of Sindh and Gujarat.
Today, according to the most recent discoveries, it seems more likely that the people of that civilization had to move away gradually because of some natural climatic changes that dried up the Sarasvati River, which was the actual support of those people. The dried bed of the Sarasvati has recently been located on the basis of photos from satellites: it runs from the Sivalik mountains near Simla up to the Rann of Kutch, and most of the one thousand sites of Harappan civilization were located on both the banks of the dried river bed. The river served as a natural transportation route over long distances. The Rig Veda mentions Sarasvati as the largest river of the land, and for a long time before the discovery of her dried bed, scholars believed it was a mythological river.
These Vedic peoples just moved east and south towards the Ganga and the Yamuna, and joined the cities of Hastinapura (Delhi), Kashi (Benares), Prayag (Allahabad), Mathura, Ayodhya, and others mentioned in Vedic literature as very ancient settlements. These cities existed also during Vedic times, but their buildings had been renovated and substituted because they continued to be inhabited.
Central and South India had also civilized people for a very long time; some of these sites continued to be inhabited, others were abandoned. On 8 September, 2003, anthropologist S. Chakraborty from Kolkata (Calcutta) found evidence of the oldest human habitation in India, dating to 2 million years, on the banks of the Subarnarekha River. The 30-mile stretch between Ghatshila in the province of Jharkhand and Mayurbhanj in Orissa has reportedly yielded tools with evidence of human habitation without a break from 2 million years ago to 5,000 BCE. Other important findings of “pre-historic” times were in the Narmada basin in Madhya Pradesh and the Velamadurai-Pallavaram rectangle in Tamil Nadu.
The misconception around the term Aryan has created the greatest problems to Hinduism and India.
According to mainstream history, India was invaded around 1500 BCE by Aryan tribes coming from the Caucasus; such nomadic and war-mongering tribes were of the Aryan race, or white complexioned, blond hair and blue eyes, tall and strong. Supposedly, they brought Sanskrit and the Vedas to India, “civilizing” the pacific but primitive Dravidian tribes that lived there and turning them into slaves (the sudras).
To properly understand how this theory of the Aryan invasion has been given so much credit in the past, we must examine the situation in which it was first formulated by European scholars in the 19th century during the time of the British empire.
It is important to note that the need of those times was the justification of the slavery and the colonization of the “non-white” people, who had to be considered “inferior”.
Cultures other than the White Christian had to be presented as inferior and backward, primitive and savage. European “colonizers” massacred the aboriginals of the Americas, Africa and Australia, where civilizations were relatively simple, or had already declined past the peak of their glory. The peoples they met were innocent and trusting, and their philosophical and theological systems were simple and direct, they had practically no literature and history. They had never come in contact with Europe before, and it was easy to pass them off as “savages” in the eyes of the world.
India was something else. Fabulous stories about India’s wisdom, science, architecture, wealth and “magicians” had been circulating in Europe from the times of Alexander the Great, who considered the Vedic texts as an essential part of the huge library he founded at Alexandria of Egypt and employed a team of translators for their Greek version.
Anyone could see that Sanskrit was a very complex and precise language: certainly not a primitive language of a primitive people. The quantity and quality of the philosophical and scientific literature of India was overwhelming. How to reconcile these evident facts with the need to affirm Indians’ cultural inferiority?
The theory of the “White Man’s Burden” claimed that God had given the white Europeans better capabilities than other peoples and he had asked them, or expected them, to rule the other races and “look after them”. This applied all the more on the cultural and religious level, because Christians were the “chosen people” and they had the religious and moral duty to “convert the heathens”. In India, where religion is so strictly connected with philosophy and knowledge, the whole structure of culture had to be systematically dismantled.
It may be surprising to learn that the first pioneer in Indology was the 12th Century Pope, Onorius IV, who encouraged the learning of oriental languages in order to preach Christianity amongst the pagans. Soon after this in 1312, the Ecumenical Council of the Vatican decided that “The Holy Church should have an abundant number of Catholics well versed in the languages, especially in those of the infidels, so as to be able to instruct them in the sacred doctrine.”
William Carey (1761-1834) was the pioneer of the modern missionary enterprise in India, and of western (missionary) scholarship in oriental studies. Carey was an English oriental scholar and the founder of the Baptist Missionary Society. From 1801 onward, as Professor of Oriental Languages, he composed numerous philosophical works, consisting of grammars and dictionaries in the Marathi, Sanskrit, Punjabi, Telugu, Bengali, and Bhatanta languages. He printed over 200,000 Bibles and Christian literature volumes in about 40 different languages and dialects at the Serampore press.
Carey and his colleagues experimented with what came to be known as Church Sanskrit. He wanted to train a group of “Christian Pandits” who would probe “these mysterious sacred nothings” and expose them as worthless. He was distressed that this “golden casket (of Sanskrit) exquisitely wrought” had remained “filled with nothing but pebbles and trash.” He was determined to fill it with the “riches beyond all price” i.e. the doctrine of Christianity. In fact, Carey smuggled himself into India and caused so much trouble that the British government labeled him as a political danger. After confiscating a batch of Bengali pamphlets printed by Carey, the Governor General Lord Minto described them as “Scurrilous invective…Without arguments of any kind, they were filled with hell fire and still hotter fire, denounced against a whole race of men merely for believing the religion they were taught by their fathers.” Reverend A. H. Bowman wrote that Hinduism was a “…great philosophy… the last and the most subtle and powerful foe of Christianity.”
The famous Colonel Boden established in 1811 the prestigious “Boden Chair for Sanskrit” at the Oxford University to promote the translation of Christian Scriptures in Sanskrit to proceed to the conversion of the natives of India to the Christian religion.
Richard Temple said in an 1883 speech to a London missionary society: “India presents the greatest of all fields of missionary exertion… India is a country which of all others we are bound to enlighten with external truth… But what is most important to you friends of missions, is this that there is a large population of aborigines, a people who are outside caste…. If they are attached, as they rapidly may be, to Christianity, they will form a nucleus round which British power and influence may gather.”
He addressed a mission in New York in bolder terms: “Thus India is like a mighty bastion which is being battered by heavy artillery. We have given blow after blow, and thud after thud, and the effect is not at first very remarkable; but at last with a crash the mighty structure will come toppling down, and it is our hope that some day the heathen religions of India will in like manner succumb.”
Macaulay, who formulated the Indian education policy in the 1830s, wrote in 1836 a letter to his father: “…It is my belief that if our plans of education are followed up, there would not be a single idolater among the respectable classes in Bengal within the span of thirty years… And this will be effected without any efforts to proselytize, without the smallest interference with religious liberty, by natural operation of knowledge and reflection. I heartily rejoice in the project.” He planned to use the strength of the educated Indians against Hinduism by creating a class that would be “Indian in blood and color but English in taste, in opinion, in morals, in intellect.” He firmly believed that, “No Hindu who has received an English education ever remains sincerely attached to his religion.”
A French Christian abbot, the Abbé Dubois, who lived in India from 1792 to 1823, alleged that India had been inhabited very soon after the Deluge, by the descendents of Noah’s son Japhet. According to his theory, these descendents of Japhet reached India from the north, coming from their first abode in the Caucasus (northern Germany, Scandinavia, southern Russia, Pamir, etc.). Those people were supposedly semi nomadic warriors and cattle breeders like the other peoples who were still living in that area in the 1700s. Dubois said that their king was called Indra and their gods were cruel destroyers like Shiva. The theory said these nomadic marauders enslaved the black Dravidian people, establishing the caste system on racial basis. The secret of their victory was the domestication of horses on which they rode, and the use of iron weapons because the “pre-Aryan” people were very primitive people who had never seen horses nor iron implements and weapons, which were considered a “sign of cultural advancement”. Today we know that such a theory was completely wrong. In the “pre-Aryan invasion” cities of Mehergarh, Harappa, Dvaraka and other places of Indus-Sarasvati civilization the inhabitants already used horses and iron implements and weapons and were extremely civilized.
On his biblical belief that the creation of the whole world had taken place only in 4004 BCE, Max Muller fixed the date of the Aryan “invasion” in India in 1500 BCE, the compilation of Rig Veda in 1200 BCE, the other Vedas in 1000 BC, the Vedanta Sutra in 800 BCE, and the Upanishads in 600 BCE. Today such dates are considered very dubious by scholars. Dr. A. C. Das states that Vedic civilization, expressed in Sanskrit language, was already there at least 25,000 years ago, especially in South India. One Harappan site at Mehergarh, near Bolan Pass in Beluchistan, shows the city was abandoned in 8000 BCE.
To justify the wonderful, advanced and rich culture that had been present in India many centuries before the arrival of the Europeans, it was necessary to formulate a suitable theory. Thus, the Aryans were described as a race of white people, coming from Central and Eastern Europe (Germany, England, Russia), who had invaded India through the Himalayas and civilized it by bringing Sanskrit, the Vedas, and what was described as the caste system. Similarly, the new invaders, the British, had all rights to “civilize” India on “racial basis” again as their forefathers had already done.
So the basis of the racist theory of European scholars was:
1) Aryans invaded India and destroyed her primitive indigenous civilization massacring the population, then settled there. Aryans were fair-skinned and handsome (that is to say, had “European” tracts).
2) Aryans drove Dravidians to the south and captured north India. Aryans and Dravidians are two different civilizations and two different nations.
3) India became one country and one nation only after the British took control over it.
4) The rigid caste system based on racial considerations was the basis of Vedic civilization.
Opposed to these points, these old theories are being brilliantly defeated by the new generation of Indian archaeologists and by the advancement of archaeology in the West:
1) Humanity cannot be divided into a small number of well divided races. Above all, the color of the skin and the somatic traits have nothing to do with intelligence and ethics.
It is unscientific to state that the individuals of white race have mental and moral qualities superior to those found in other races.
2) The term “Aryan” has been in use in Indian culture since ancient times and it has always meant anything or anybody that is good. It has never meant a race, but rather a behavior that respects certain civilized and ethical rules of conduct.
3) The original Vedic civilization of Sanskrit language that called Aryans its members was the Indus-Sarasvati civilization, identical to the civilization of the Ganges-Yamuna area. Simply, the Sarasvati River dried up and those cities were abandoned.
4) The Indus-Sarasvati civilization was destroyed not by Aryan invasion but by natural calamities connected to the drying of the great river.
5) In spite of various linguistic, physical and behavioral differences, India has been a cultural unit since Vedic times. There is a definite continuity between the Indian culture described in the Vedas and the one found in Indus-Sarasvati civilization.
The theory of the Aryan invasion of white complexioned people who defeated, enslaved and chased away a black complexioned indigenous population of Dravidians was also intended to create hostility and separation between the various ethnic groups in India, especially between north and south India. The European colonizers needed to manipulate the sentiments of northern Indians, already weakened by the centuries of submission to the Muslim invaders and rulers, against the south Indians who had been fiercely opposing the Muslim invasions and still largely maintained Vedic civilization and knowledge. As we may remember, during the Middle Ages most of the great teachers of Vedic knowledge came from South India: Adi Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhva.
THE “HISTORICAL” PERIOD
Historical records, according to western academics, cannot contain concepts about divine consciousness, poetic expressions and presentation of moral, religious or ethical teachings, which are considered characteristics of myth and epics. Since Vedic civilization is strongly based on divine consciousness, loves poetic expressions in all aspects of life, and always strives to improve the character of people through teachings in its literature, the enormous wealth of historical recordings contained in Vedic texts is not accepted as “real history” by mainstream academics.
Thus, the Mahabharata and Ramayana, as well as Homer’s famous books, Iliad and Odyssey, have been classified by academics as “epics” and “mythology” while Herodotus’ stories have been classified as history. The Greek Herodotus is considered the first historian of mankind, and history texts in the planet’s schools teach about ancient civilizations according to his word. He speaks mainly of Egyptians, Persians and Greeks, so school books consider “historical” the period starting with India’s documented contact with Persians and Greeks, confirmed in Greek records. Meghasthenes, Greek ambassador to the court of Chandragupta Maurya, wrote the Indika reports.
Also the Chinese Buddhists Fahien and H’uen Tsang left diaries of their travels through India. The Chinese people were also deeply influenced by Indian culture for at least 2,000 years.
According to mainstream history, the Persians were the first foreign invaders of India (518 BCE). However, the Persian emperor Darius did not dare to cross the Sindh and just annexed the western part of the Punjab. The Persians or Parsis seem to have deeply respected and shared India’s culture in many ways. For example, the governors of the provinces of their kingdoms were called Satraps, from the Sanskrit word Kshetra-pa, “protector of the land”. They worshiped the Sun (under the name of Mitra).
Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia, arrived in India in 326 BCE in his campaign to conquer the world (he had already annexed Greece, Persia, Egypt, Afghanistan and surrounding territories). However, he was pushed back by the Indian kshatriyas in the Ganges valley.
Western history books say that Alexander’s army was “tired from the long war and feared the unknown territories”, so their leader just turned back. It is possible that such decision was simply dictated by the fact that Alexander’s army was composed by foot infantry and horsemen, while the Hindu warriors had elephants and chariots. However, there are also some documents with stories told by his soldiers that include “magic wonders” like fire-weapons, flying missiles, and other war devices that Greeks had never seen before. They could not fight against such superior technology, so they refused the battle.
However, Greeks were strongly impressed by the contact with India. Greek philosophers, like Anaxarchus and Pyrrho, had been in the train of Alexander and had mixed with the Indian gymnosophists or “naked philosophers”. Even the more ancient Pythagoreans were influenced by Indian ideas – vegetarianism, communal property and the “transmigration of souls” (which they called metempsychosis). For Greeks, psyche meant “soul”.
At those times, India was teeming with culture and science. In 700 BCE the university of Takshashila had more than 10,500 students from all over the world, studying over 60 subjects. The University of Nalanda was built in the 4th century BCE. The sciences studied algebra, trigonometry and calculus. Medicine and surgery were also extremely advanced. In 600 BCE Sushruta recorded complicated surgeries like cesareans, cataract, artificial limbs, fractures, urinary stones and even plastic surgery and brain surgery. Usage of anesthesia was well known in ancient India. Over 125 surgical instruments were used. Deep knowledge of anatomy, physiology, etiology, embryology, digestion, metabolism, genetics and immunity is also found in many texts.
The Bactrian (Afghan) Greeks or Seleucids also came in contact with India, and reached Punjab. However, they were strongly influenced by Indian culture. One of their kings, Menander or Milinda, was defeated by king Pusyamitra and he converted to Buddhism.
Heliodorus, ambassador of king Antialkidas, became a Vaishnava (and erected the famous Garuda pillar at Basenagar, the modern Bhopal). [This Heliodorus Column is found in the town of Vidisha. It states that he had become a Vaishnava, and this proved that the Vaishnava tradition pre-dated Christianity by at least 200 years.]
The Romans never even considered the possibility to embark in the conquest of India, and contented themselves by greedily purchasing her goods.
The Sakas (Scythians) who came to India from the 1st century BCE belonged to cultures that had been strongly influenced by Vedic knowledge, if not originally Vedic. They settled in Gandhara, Taxila, Mathura, Maharastra and Ujjain, but they did not oppose Vedic culture in any way.
The Parthians or Pahalavas could also be considered as belonging to Vedic culture, although they are said to have came from the Caspian Sea region. They were accepted as Vedic peoples because they spoke Sanskrit and honored Vedic knowledge.
The next famous “foreign” kingdom, the Kushanas headed by Kanishka, was a Buddhist state (around 110 CE). The capital city of Kanishka was Purushapura (Peshwar), from which we can easily understand that he also spoke Sanskrit. Under his patronage, the Sanskrit scholar Asvaghosa (author of Buddha Charita and Sutralankara) and the physician Charaka (author of Charaka Samhita) prospered. Other famous scholars at the court of Kanishka were Vasumitra (author of Mahavibhasha Sastra, an encyclopedia of Buddhist philosophy) and Nagarjuna (author of Madhyamika Sutra, a treatise on philosophy).
THE HINDU KINGDOMS
North India, where already the Indus-Sarasvati civilization flourished, the kingdoms tended to expand and create empires.
The sixteen main kingdoms of the north were (Maha jana padas) were known as Kashi (Benares), Anga (Bhagalpur), Videha (north Bihar), Chedi (Bundelkhand), Kuru (Delhi), Matsya (Jaipur), Avanti (Malwa), Surasena (Mathura), Kosala (Awadh), Magadha (Patna and Gaya), Malla (Gorakhpur), Vatsa (Kaushambi), Panchala (Bareilly), Asmaka (Godavari valley), Gandhara (north west province), and Kamboja (Afghanistan).
In the south, the dynasties of Cholas, Pandyas and Cheras remained peacefully settled in their territories. After these, the Vakatakas, Chalukyas, Pallavas and Pandyas became prominent. The history of South India is full of prosperous and beautiful kingdoms that loved peace and order. It is said that peaceful and prosperous times are very pleasurable for those who live in that period, but make scarcely interesting history. Specifically, South India was spared, for a long time, many of the problems that north India had to face, such as the invasions of hostile peoples who came generally from north-west.
The contacts of the Hindu kingdoms of South India with foreign lands were mostly with the cultural colonies in south east Asia, such as Sri Lanka, Singapore (Simhapur), Java (Yavadvip), Cambodia (where the Hindu temple of Angkor Vat still stands), Bali, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam, and Malaysia. When Buddhism was spread by Ashoka, monks traveled to China, Korea and Japan where Buddhism had great success.
The kingdom of Magadha is documented from 542 BCE with records about Bimbisara, Ajatasatru and the Nandas.
Ajatasatru reigned from 495 to 463 BCE and defeated king Prasenajit, the king of Kosala, who then offered him his daughter in marriage. Ajatasatru also defeated the rulers of Vaisali after 16 years of competition and built a fort at Pataliputra, at the confluence between the Ganga and the Sona. His last successor, Kalasoka, was killed by Mahapadma Nanda in 362. Mahapadma died in 346, and his kingdom was divided into 8 smaller kingdoms by his sons. In this period Darius the Persian and then Alexander came in contact with India.
In 321 BCE Chandragupta Maurya defeated the Nandas and started the Maurya dynasty. He was famous also because of his advisor Chanakya Pandit. Chandragupta had regular diplomatic relationships with the Greeks and also started to have commercial relationships with the Roman Empire.
The son of Chandragupta, Bindusara, became king in 297 BCE and Bindusara’s son, Ashoka, became king in 273 BCE.
Ashoka is famous as the emperor who converted to Buddhism, transforming it from a small movement into the state religion of his empire. He ruled from Pataliputra (modern Bihar), and in the effort to expand his kingdom he descended to south to conquer Orissa. He found a very strong resistance, and the battle of Kalinga, just outside the present day Bhubaneswar, cost the lives of many thousands of people. The river became tainted with the blood of the warriors, and Ashoka fully realized the tragedy of violence. He became a Buddhist and in the same place (Dhauli) he declared the famous edicts for his government. He established hospitals for human beings and animals, built roads and rest houses for travelers, planted shady trees and bore wells for the prosperity of all his subjects.
The empire of Ashoka included a vast area of the Greeks’ eastern empire established a century earlier. After Alexander, the Seleucides ruled the Greek empire east of the Euphrates. A century later they had taken over the kingdom of Antigonus in Syria and Asia Minor but had lost control of Parthia, Bactria and the Indus valley. The edict of Ashoka reads: “Now it is conquest by Dhamma that Beloved-of-the-Gods considers to be the best conquest …And conquest by Dhamma has been won here, on the borders, even six hundred yojanas away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule … Here in the king’s domain among the Greeks, the Kambojas, the Nabhakas … everywhere people are following Beloved-of-the-Gods’ instructions in Dhamma. Even where ‘Beloved-of-the-Gods’ envoys have not been, these people too, having heard of the practice of Dhamma and the ordinances and instructions in Dhamma given by Beloved-of-the-Gods, are following it and will continue to do so …This conquest has been won everywhere, and it gives great joy – the joy which only conquest by Dhamma can give. But even this joy is of little consequence. Beloved-of-the-Gods considerd the great fruit to be experienced in the next world to be more important. I have had this Dhamma edict written so that my sons and great-grandsons … consider making conquest by Dhamma only, for that bears fruit in this world and the next.”
In 185 BCE the last Mauryan king, descendent of Ashoka, was killed and the empire declined. Pushyamitra founded a new dynasty, called Shungas, with its capital at Pataliputra. Pushyamitra ruled from 185 to 158 BCE. Several texts circulated in his period, such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Panini’s grammar, and the Manu Smriti.
The last king of the dynasty, Devabhumbi, was succeeded by his minister Vasudeva Kanva who founded his own dynasty and reigned for 46 years. In 28 BCE the last king of his dynasty was succeeded by king Susarman of Andhra, starting the Andhra dynasty.
In the first century CE the Shakas and Kushanas came in contact with India, as we have already mentioned.
In 320 Srigupta conquered Magadha. His successors were Ghatotkacha, Chandragupta I, Samudragupta (who expanded the empire from ocean to ocean, but leaving the kingdoms to the previous rulers, contenting himself with the payment of tributes), Chandragupta II Vikramaditya (who defeated the Saka satraps of Malwa, Gujarat, Konkan and established his capital in Ujjain). At the court of Vikramaditya there were nine great scholars, among those the poet Kalidas. The next kings in the dynasty were Kumaragupta and Skandagupta.
The Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Fa Hien started his travels from China in 399 and remained in India from 405 to 411, writing a detailed account of the Gupta period. He returned to China in 414. He writes that the government in India was very good. The taxes were low, the roads safe, with a very good discipline among the people. There were no criminals or bribery: corruption among government officers was punished by the king with the amputation of the hands. The people obtained medicines free of charge, and there were free rest houses for travelers. The entire population was vegetarian. Their religion was Hinduism, Buddhism, or Jainism.
In this period the universities developed. The famous Taxila grew with many students, and other universities were founded at Nalanda, Sarnath, and Vallabhi. Some of the most famous scholars of these learning centers were: in astronomy, Aryabhatta (who affirmed the heliocentric cosmology) and Varahmihira, in mathematics Brahmagupta, and in medicine Vriddha Vagbhatta.
In 550, the Gupta empire became weaker after the invasions of the Huns, who at some point controlled Malwa, Punjab, Kashmir, Sindh, Gujarat, Bengal, and Assam.
Around 600, two new powers emerged, the Vardhanas of Thaneswar (near Kurukshetra in Haryana) and the Maukharis of Kanauj. Prabhakar Vardhana was the first Vardhana ruler. In 606 his son Rajya Vardhana was killed in a war against Deva Gupta and his ally Sasank (ruler of Bengal). The brother of his wife Rajya Sri, Harshavardhana, became king. He united the two kingdoms of Thaneswar and Kanauji, shifting the capital to Kanauji, gathered a large army (50,000 infantry, 20,000 cavalry, 5,000 elephants) and in 619 he conquered Bengal avenging his brother-in-law. He also allied with Bhaskar Varma of Assam to get local support. Harshavardhana then defeated Dhruvsena of Vallabhi (Gujarat), included Magadha, Prayag, and Orissa, and expanded his territories in the south until he was stopped by Pulakeshin II Chalukya.
The Chinese traveler Hieun Tsang reports that his government was very good and he cared for his people like a father. His kingdom was strictly vegetarian and slaughter of animals was forbidden.
The religious worship was centered on Shiva and Surya, then Buddhism became more prominent. Religious assemblies lasting 23 days were held every 5 years; about 4,000 Buddhist monks and 3,000 brahmanas participated. In 643 the assembly moved from Kanauji to Prayag.
Harshavardhana himself wrote two Sanskrit plays, Ratnavali and Priyadarsika. His friend Bana Bhatta wrote the Harsha charita and the Kadambari. One fourth of the tax income was spent on education and patronage of culture and arts. The universities continue to prosper, free of charge (even boarding and lodging were financed by the government).
The empire was divided in provinces, called Bhuktis, in turn divided into districts called Visyas, divided into smaller areas called Pathakas. Pathakas included various villages or Gramyas.
THE MUSLIM INVASIONS
While the previous contacts of India with foreign peoples “on the other side of the Sindhu” did not harm the Vedic civilization but rather contributed to make it famous and honored in all the ancient world, the Muslims were determined to destroy it. They were “the only chosen people”, destined to be the absolute masters of all other people, and their duty was to convert everybody to Islam or turn them into slaves.
Arabs were a very hardened people, living in deserts, from where they raided neighboring people for slaves, cattle, food, and wealth. They were divided in tribes, fighting against each other constantly to establish supremacy. Even within the tribe and the family, the only logic was violence and oppression. Their society was strongly male dominated, so much that women were considered simply slaves, segregated in harems, sold and purchased or killed at will: mere property of men.
In 610 CE Mohammed started preaching Islam in Mecca, adapting for the Arab people the teachings of the Bible he had studied from Jews and Christians. However, a fierce opposition against his preaching of moderate reforms forced him to flee to Medina in 622. There he gathered followers and went back to fight the tribes who opposed him and conquered Mecca in 630.
His successors, the Caliphs, continued to fight against the tribes that did not submit to Islam, and even the “rebel” Muslims who did not accept their authority, like the Shiites. In fact the succession to Mohammed at the head of Islam was difficult and characterized by quarrel, conspiracy and assassination. Several groups claimed the right to succession, and they continued to fight each other.
Simultaneously, they immediately started to look outside Arabia to conquer new territories: the Byzantine Empire, Persia, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt fell one after the other under the Muslim assaults, within 642 CE. In spite of internal fights and divisions, the Muslims continued to conquer North Africa, and in 711 they reached India on one side and Spain (Europe) on the opposite side of their world. They conquered the Sindh in 712 but they were stopped there. Also, after conquering Spain, the Muslims were stopped by the Franks in 732 at Poitiers, France. For a period, they suspended their invasions to consolidate their power in their new lands and make some money by selling the booty to those peoples they had been unable to conquer. They also used their wealth to develop trade. During this time, their frequent contacts with India in their trade business enabled them to acquire a great knowledge of Indian sciences, which they spread in their lands and in the lands of the people with whom they were trading. They also observed the Indian society and mentality, studying their weak points, and made careful plans for the future.
The next Muslim wave of invasion was led in 1000 CE by Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, famous as a ruthless destroyer and plunderer of temples. He raided India 17 times, destroying Nagorkot (Kangra), Thaneswar, Mathura, Somnath, and innumerable other holy places of Vedic civilization.
From the accounts of Arikh-i-Yamini of Utbi, the secretary of Mahmud Gaznavi, we read that at Somnath, “The Muslims paid no regard to the booty till they had satiated themselves with the slaughter of the infidels and worshipers of sun and fire…. The number of infidels killed exceeded 50,000.” At Mathura, “The infidels…deserted the fort and tried to cross the foaming river…but many of them were slain, taken or drowned… Nearly fifty thousand men were killed.” At Thaneshwar, “The blood of the infidels flowed so copiously at Thanesar that the stream was discolored, not withstanding its purity, and people were unable to drink it. The Sultan returned with plunder which is impossible to count. Praise be to Allah for the honor he bestows on Islam and Muslims.”
The violence and ruthlessness of the invaders, and their knowledge of the Indians’ weak points, caught Indian kshatriyas unprepared and divided. Their strength had already been weakened by the decline of Vedic knowledge due to the Kali-yuga: frustrated by the unqualified brahmanas who misinterpreted the scriptures and monopolized religion for their materialistic profit, many princes and kingdoms had turned to the extreme non-violence, tolerance and peacefulness of Buddhism and Jainism.
The others were distracted by the materialistic interpretations of the scriptures that weakened their people, had lost the original knowledge of kshatriya principles and the science of warfare, and had fallen into endless rivalry and political conspiracies aimed at getting more material power by taking it from others.
The Muslim marauders attacked and plundered the Hindu temples, and they completely destroyed all Buddhist monasteries and universities. For them, the Hindus were simple “idolaters”, but the Buddhists were declared “atheists” and therefore “enemies of God”.
While until around 1000 CE Buddhism had become the most important religious movement in India, after the terrorist attacks of Mahmud of Ghazni and his successors, all the Buddhists of India were either slaughtered or fled outside India, east and south. They settled in Indonesia, China, Japan, Tibet, Lanka, and prospered there.
The Turkish Muhammad Ghori invaded India in 1191 CE. This time he would not content himself of plundering raids: he was determined to remain in India as the ruler. At first he was defeated by Prithviraj Rajputan, but he managed to procure local alliances against the Hindu king, and in the second battle of Tarain (1192) Prithviraj was defeated, captured and killed. Thus, Muhammad Ghori captured Ajmer and Delhi, and the Turkish conquest expanded later in the same way to Bengal and Bihar, Malwa and Gujarat. The great city of Nadia, the capital city of Bengal under king Lakshmanasena, was captured and completely destroyed. In fact, nothing today shows that it used to be the rich and powerful capital of Bengal. The same fate had already happened to Mathura.
From Hasan Nizami’s Taj-ul-Maasir, we read this account of the activities of Mahmud of Ghori. In Kol (Modern Aligarh), “Those of the horizon who were wise and acute were converted to Islam, but those who stood by their ancestral faith were slain with the sword… Three bastions were raised as high as heaven with their heads, and their carcasses became food for the beasts of prey… 20,000 prisoners were taken and made slaves.”
The Kamil-ut-Tawarikh of Ibn Asir records the destruction of Kashi (Benares): “The slaughter of Hindus (at Varanasi) was immense; none were spared except women and children (who were taken into slavery) and the carnage of men went on until the earth was weary.”
By imposing terror with their unprecedented cruelty and ruthlessness, by treason and conspiracy, and especially by exploiting the divisions and weakness of the small local kingdoms, and the greed and foolishness of their unqualified rulers, Muslims gradually defeated all the Hindu kings and created a powerful empire. They destroyed everything on their way and carefully arranged the rules of their government in such a way that Hindus could not re-organize and revolt. For example, by exploiting the degraded caste system they forcibly “polluted” important, intelligent or capable Hindus, who were then ousted by their own community. How could they “pollute” a Hindu, causing him to irrevocably “lose his caste” and “religion” in the eyes of his community? Simply by throwing some water at him from their cup. Such an easy and childish trick guaranteed that all of the victim’s family and descendents were also ousted by the Hindu community forever.
Qutbuddin Aibek, a former slave (Mamluk) of Muhammad Ghori, was the first ruler of the Sultanate of Delhi, the major power in India from 1192 to 1526, although under different dynasties. In order to control the higher classes of Hindus and prevent alliances among them, all marriages among the nobles had to be approved by the Sultan himself. In 1324 the territories of the Delhi Sultanate reached up to Madurai, but from 1334 to 1336 the Hindu Pandyan dynasties of Madurai and Warangal took advantage of an epidemic of bubonic plague that had decimated the Sultan’s army, and created a space for themselves. Harihara Pandya founded the empire of Vijayanagar, thus creating an oasis of Vedic civilization in south India, where many Hindus, especially scholars, fled from the north. In Vijayanagara’s kingdom women were highly honored and had prominent positions also in religious life. The administration and defense of the kingdom was supported by many local military chiefs called Nayaks. The kingdom lasted until 1565, when it was crushed by the combined armies of the Deccan Sultanates.
During their domination, Muslims imposed their customs on the Hindus all over India, especially the purdah system (the systematic segregation, dress code and oppression of women) and the use of Arabic script in Indian languages (which led to the creation of the new language, Urdu). The use of Devanagari script was prohibited.
Dance, arts and literature were strongly modified, losing much of their freedom of expression. Temple worship and rituals were greatly restricted or forbidden altogether.
Muslims also systematically destroyed Hindu temples and built mosques on the most important holy places of the Hindus, such as Ayodhya (the birthplace of Rama), Mathura (the birthplace of Krishna) and many others.
They imposed a heavy tax on all those who did not accept to become Muslims, and cut them out from any government job and gave Muslim names to cities and people. This practice is currently ongoing in Indonesia. All along, they built mosques everywhere and their priests thundered against idolatry, polytheism, the backward superstitions, and indecent customs of the Hindus. At the same time, they offered great benefits to all those who accepted to convert to Islam, guaranteeing jobs, financial benefits, social respect, and power. In this way, they multiplied their numbers creating enemies for Hindus from the same cultural and ethnic groups. The greatest number of converts came from the lower castes of Hinduism, who had a long standing social resentment against the higher castes. In order to convince their masters of the genuineness of their conversion, the new Indian Muslims were often more fanatical and oppressive against Hindus than the invaders themselves.
To try to soften the Muslims’ attitude towards Hindus, Guru Nanak started his movement, known as Sikhism. Sikhism is nothing but Hinduism presented in a language and form that can be more easily acceptable by Muslims. This protected the Sikhs from the persecution of the Muslims and gave them the possibility to survive, become better organized, and eventually fight for freedom.
The Sikhs were later organized in a military and political organization by Guru Gobind Singh (born in 1666 in Patna, Bihar, and killed in 1708 at Nandar, Deccan), who became Guru of the Sikhs at the age of nine, when the previous Guru Tegh Bahadur was murdered in Delhi. He introduced the Sikh baptism for his disciples and the symbols of their belonging to the faith as the 5 Ks, or Kesh, Kanga, Kara, Kirpan, Kachcha: namely unshorn hair, a comb, a steel bangle, a sword, and short underwear. He declared that after him, the Grantha (book) of the Sikhs would become their Guru. Two of his sons were killed in battle against the Mogul, and the other two were buried alive by a Mogul governor.
The Muslim mystics called Sufis, too, absorbed many Hindu practices thus making them more acceptable to the mainstream Muslims. Sufis insisted on love of God (bhakti), gentleness towards all living entities, non-violence (and vegetarianism), charity, renunciation of material power, acceptance of the spiritual guidance of a self-realized saint (guru). They also started monasteries to take care of the needs of pilgrims and travelers (the equivalent of Hindu dharmashalas). Their preaching gave more importance to the merciful aspect of God and the compassionate teachings of Mohammed, who had reformed Arab society by abolishing many cruel customs.
By stressing the fact that God is one only, father of all human beings and creator of all living entities, the Sufi saints convinced the Muslims that Hindus, too, were worshiping the same God although in different ways. Simultaneously, they offered an example of transcendent spirituality and asceticism to the Hindu society that was already being reformed by the followers of Adi Shankara, Ramanuja, and Madhva. These great Hindu teachers did not deny the value of traditional Vedic rituals and Deity worship, but they gave great importance to philosophy, theology and mysticism already contained in the Vedas that enabled Hinduism to resist the cultural invasion. Previously, the cultivation of philosophy, theology, and mysticism, called Bhakti, was practiced by a small elite of renunciants or priests, while the majority of the population relied on external rituals and social religiosity.
The Muslim oppression forced Hindus to change their attitude and rethink their approach to religion. The Bhakti movement was strongly favored because it could be compared, in the eyes of the Muslim rulers and population, to the Sufi movement that had developed in Islam from the contact with Hinduism, and therefore it was more acceptable than the traditional Vedic ritualistic approach. Simultaneously, the worship of the Mother Goddess, with its philosophical and social implications, became secret (the Tantric tradition), leaving the front line to the worship of Vishnu, who was more easily understandable and acceptable by the Muslims, equating him with their Allah.
For example, saint Kabir, a Muslim born in 1440 CE and equally honored by Muslims and Hindus, preached that Allah and Rama are both names of the same God, and all human beings are equal to God because they have been created by him.
On the Hindu side, Bhakti flourished with Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in Bengal and Orissa, Ramananda (disciple of Ramanuja) in north India, and the Rajput queen Mirabai in west India. Surdas, Tukaram, Namdeva, and Ekanam became famous in Maharastra.
All these saints accepted both Hindus and Muslims as their disciples and favored the personal relationship with God and the congregational glorification of God against the social and ritualistic aspects of temple worship. In fact, such practices as the chanting of God’s names, cultivation of exclusive devotion for the Supreme God (very similar to the Muslim theological concept) and renunciation to worldly life in favor of asceticism and transcendence, non-violence, and tolerance, were more easily allowed by the Muslim rulers, who did not consider them dangerous for their government.
In 1398 the Sultanate of Delhi was weakened by the invasion of the Mongol Tamerlane (Talmur), a relative of Gengis Khan (who terrorized north Asia and Europe by killing 4 million people there). The Sultanate finally ended in 1526 when the Mogul (Mongol) Babur, descendent of Tamerlane, killed Ibrahim Lodhi, the last Sultan of Delhi, on the battlefield. Lodhi was the only Sultan who died in battle in all India’s history.
The weakening of the Delhi Sultanate allowed some space for other kingdoms to rebuild their power: in western India Malwa and Gujarat, in eastern India Jaunpur and Bengal, in northern India Kashmir, and in southern India Vijayanagar and Bahamani. Some of these kingdoms were Hindu, some were Muslim. Subsequently, they were absorbed by the Mogul empire.
The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, witnessed first hand the atrocities Babur committed on Hindus: “Having attacked Khuraasaan, Babar terrified Hindustan… There was so much slaughter that the people screamed.” About the treatment of Hindu women: “Those heads adorned with braided hair, with their parts painted with vermillion – those heads were shaved with scissors… They lived in palatial mansions, but now… ropes were put around their necks, and their strings of pearls were broken. Their wealth and youthful beauty, which gave them so much pleasure, have now become their enemies. The order was given to the soldiers, who dishonored them and carried them away.”
We also have descriptions written by the Muslims themselves, for example from the Insha-i-Mahry by Amud Din Abdullah bin Mahru. In Delhi, regarding the Sultan Tarikh-i-Firuz Shahi: “A report was brought to the Sultan than there was in Delhi an old Brahman who persisted in publicly performing the worship of idols in his house and that people of the city, both Muslims and Hindus used to resort to his house to worship the idol. The Brahman had constructed a wooden tablet which was covered within and without with paintings of demons and other objects. An order was accordingly given to the Brahman and was brought before Sultan. The true faith was declared to the Brahman and the right course pointed out, but he refused to accept it. A pile was risen on which the Kaffir with his hands and legs tied was thrown into and the wooden tablet on the top. The pile was lit at two places his head and his feet. The fire first reached him in the feet and drew from him a cry and then fire completely enveloped him. Behold Sultan for his strict adherence to law and rectitude.”
After Hindus paid the “religious toleration tax” (zar-i zimmiya) and poll-tax (jizya) they believed they had the permission to build their temples, but it was not so. “Under divine guidance I (Sultan) destroyed these temples and I killed the leaders of these infidelity and others I subjected to stripes (flogging) and chastisement.”
In Gohana (Haryana), “Some Hindus had erected a new idol-temple in the village of Kohana and the idolaters used to assemble there and perform their idolatrous rites. These people were seized and brought before me. I ordered that the perverse conduct of these leaders of this wickedness be punished publicly and that they should be put to death before the gate of the palace.”
The objectives of the expedition of the Sultan to Jajnagar, Orissa, as stated in Ainn-ul-Mulk, were, in order, massacring the unbelievers, demolishing their temples, hunting the elephants and getting a glimpse of their enchanting country. The Sirat-i-Firoz Shahi records the expedition: “Nearly 100,000 men of Jajnagar had taken refuge with their women, children, kinsmen and relations The swordsmen of Islam turned the island into a basin of blood by the massacre of the unbelievers. Women with babies and pregnant ladies were haltered, manacled, fettered and enchained, and pressed as slaves into service in the house of every soldier.”
These are only a few of the numerous accounts of similar expeditions and jihad (“holy” war) campaigns of the Muslims against the Hindus.
From 1338 to 1339 the Muslim rulers of Bengal, who had been subject to the Delhi Sultanate, developed a strong desire to form their own Sultanate. In 1342 Mubarak Shah was deposed and murdered by one of his officers, Haji Iliyas, who declared himself the independent master and Sultan of Bengal with the title of Shamsuddhin Iliyas Shah.
Then he proceeded to completely subdue Bihar, invaded Assam and Nepal and plundered Orissa. A Hindu kshatriya of Bengal, named Raja Ganesh, succeeded to take the power away from the Muslims for about 32 years, and his government was so much better than the previous Muslim governments that at his death both Muslims and Hindus mourned him. Unfortunately, the power soon returned in the hands of the Muslims, with the Habsi kings (Abyssinian slave rulers) whose tyranny disgusted even their Muslim subjects. These revolted and chose Hussain Shah for the throne (1493-1519), who invaded Assam and offered government jobs to Hindus who were willing to merely change their names and dress. Several Hindus accepted, such as Dabir Khas and Sakar Mallick.
The successors of the Delhi Sultanate were the Mughals or Moguls, also Muslims. As already mentioned, in 1526 the Mongol Babur, a descendent of Tamerlane who had conquered vast territories, including Kabul in Afghanistan, came and defeated the last Sultan of Delhi. The Mogul rule was constantly threatened by the Afghan Sultans, who had become very powerful in the region of Bengal and Bihar and wanted revenge.
Babur’s son Humayun succeeded him. Humayun’s son Akbar ascended the throne in 1556 and he immediately started to conquer new territories to expand his empire. He defeated the Hindu queen Rani Durgabati of Gondwana who died on the battlefield, then attacked the Rajput states, Gujarat and Bengal, then South India.
At the time of Akbar’s death the Mogul empire extended from the Himalayas to the Godavari, from the Hindukush to the Brahmaputra. However, he was fiercely opposed by the Rajputs, and especially the kingdom of Mewar, led by Rana Pratap and his son Amar Singh.
Akbar observed that the wave of conversions of Hindus to Islam had stopped. He tried to take advantage of the growing Bhakti movements by instituting a “Hall of Prayer” open to all religions in 1578, but apparently the idea didn’t work according to his plans, because he decided to close it indefinitely in 1582.
Akbar’s son, Salim called Jahangir, succeeded to conquer the kingdom of Mewar and the Rajputs. He pushed back the Portuguese who had tried to take hold of Bengal, by killing 4,000 of them. However, he maintained friendly relationships with the English traders who seemed to be rivals to the Portuguese.
Jahangir’s son Khurram or Shahjahan deposed his father and ascended the throne.
In 1632 Shahjahan ordered that all Hindu temples recently erected or in the course of construction should be razed to the ground. In Benares alone seventy-six temples were destroyed. He had ten thousand inhabitants at Agra and Lahore executed by being ‘blown up with powder, drowned in water or burnt by fire”. Four thousand were taken captive to Agra where they were tortured to try to convert them to Islam. Those who refused to do so were trampled to death by elephants, except for the younger women who went to harems. Under Shahjahan, peasants were compelled to sell their women and children to meet their revenue requirements. The peasants were carried off to various markets and fairs to be sold with their poor unhappy wives carrying their small children crying and lamenting. According to Qaznivi, Shahjahan had decreed they should be sold to Muslims.
To increase his personal prestige, Shahjahan created the famous Peacock Throne and the Red Fort in Delhi. He remodeled a famous Shiva temple in Agra, called Tejo Mahila, turning it into the tomb of one of his wives, with the name Taj Mahal. Soon after that, he became ill and his four sons started to fight among them for the succession. He appointed Dara Sirok, but Shuja and Murad independently crowned themselves. Aurangzeb, the fourth son, was more clever and chose to build alliances first: he offered his support to Murad and together they defeated the imperial army led by Dara Sirok. After the victory, Aurangzeb imprisoned Murad in Gwalior, then entered Agra where the old emperor Shahjahan was recovering from his illness, and imprisoned him, too. In 1658 Aurangzeb ascended the throne, captured Dara Sirok by treason and put him to death the following year, then defeated Shuja, who was also killed while escaping. Then Aurangzeb dedicated his full attention to suppress rebellions throughout his reign and expanding its limits, destroying temples and persecuting Hindus until his death in 1707. Aurangzeb considered himself “The Scourge of the Kafirs” (non-believers) and closed all Hindu schools and libraries. In his lifetime he destroyed more than 10,000 Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain temples and often erected mosques in their stead. In 1672 several thousand revolting Hindus were slaughtered in Mewat.
From Maasi-i-Alamgiri we read, “Issued general order to destroy all centers of Hindu learning including Varnasi and destroyed the temple at Mathura and renamed it as Islamabad.” In Khandela (Rajastan) he killed 300 Hindus in one day because they resisted the destruction of their temple. In Udaipur all Hindus of the town were killed as they vowed to defend the temple of Udaipur from destruction, 172 temples were destroyed in Udaipur and 66 temples were pulled down in Amber. In Pandhapur, Maharashtra the Emperor destroyed the temple and ordered the butchering of cows in it. In Punjab Muslim governors killed hundreds of Sikh children and made Sikh men and women eat the flesh of their own killed children. Any Muslim bringing the head of a dead Sikh was also awarded money.
Aurangzeb’s tyranny was successfully opposed for some time by the Hindu kingdom of the Marathas from west India, led by Shivaji.
SHIVAJI AND THE MARATHAS
The Marathas are a proud warrior race that had resisted the conquest of emperor Harsha in the 7th century. The Maratha dynasties of the ancient (pre-Muslim) period are the Chalukyas (500 CE to 750 CE), the Rastrakutas (750 to 978) and the Yadavas or Jadhavs (1175 to 1318). They opposed the Muslim invasion in 1314 under the last Yadava king, but they were defeated and became vassals and mercenaries (Sardars or generals) of the Muslim rulers, collecting revenue for them.
Shivaji’s mother, Jijabai, was a direct descendent of the Yadava royal family of Devagiri, and deeply influenced her son, together with his teacher Dadaji Kondeo and great saints like Jnanesvara and Tukaram.
In 1645, at the age of 17, at the cave temple of Shiva Rairesvar in the Sayhadris, Shivaji and his friends took a blood oath to establish a free Hindu state, called “Hindavi Svaraja”.
In the course of time, it became the strongest power in India, its territories stretching from Attock in present Pakistan to Cuttack in Orissa.
Shivaji started by capturing the fortress of Torana from the Muslim ruler at Bijapur. The Sultan of Bijapur, Adil Shah, sent his most powerful general Afzal Khan to punish Shivaji. His plan was to get Shivaji down from the Sahyadri hills by destroying Hindu temples in the plains at Tuljapur, Pandharpur and Shikhar Shenganapur. Shivaji sent Afzal Khan a letter inviting him to come up the hills to meet him with a few select soldiers for a duel, and Afzal Khan accepted. Arrived at Pratapgad on 10th November 1659, Afzal Khan tried to stab the apparently unarmed Shivaji while embracing him, but Shivaji was wearing a coat of armor under his heavy silk robes, and hiding two small weapons, too: a Wagh Nakh, a sharp blade resembling tiger’s claws, and a Bicchwa, a small curved dagger. Afzal Khan was killed. The Khan’s army waiting in the valley was defeated by the Marathas who jumped out from the jungles around Pratapgad fort.
Later, Adil Shah sent another general, Siddhi Jouhar, who besieged Shivaji’s fortress in Panhalgad for some months, but Shivaji managed to escape to Vishalgad. Then the Bijapur ruler dropped the idea of fighting against the Marathas and Shivaji turned his attention to the Mogul empire.
Aurangzeb was furious about Shivaji’s attacks and sent his uncle Shaista Khan with a big army who destroyed temples, forts, towns, villages and fields on its path. Shaista established his camp in Shivaji’s home, the Lal Mahal in Pune, and put up his harem in Shivaji’s Devghar (prayer room). Finally, in April 1663, Shivaji sneaked into the Lal Mahal at night time and attacked the Khan cutting his fingers while he was trying to escape from the window. He spared the Khan’s life on the request of the Khan’s wife, and this gave the Khan the opportunity to call his troops. Shivaj escaped. The Khan returned to Delhi and Aurangzeb sent another general, Mirza Raja Jai Singh from the Suryavanshi Kachhawaha, a Hindu general at the service of the Muslim. This Hindu dynasty had submitted to the Muslims by giving their daughters in marriage to the Mogul Padishah. Mirza and his general Diler Khan laid siege to Purandar and systematically destroyed rural Maharastra.
The Maratha fort commander at Purandar, Murar Baji, stormed out of the fort and pushed back the Moguls to Diler Khan’s camp in the plains. Diler Khan tried to bribe Murar Baji by offering him the post of general in his army, but Murar Baji refused the proposal and was killed during his visit in the Mogul camp.
Shivaji signed a treaty with Mirza Raja Jai Singh, and as a part of the conditions he went with him to Agra to meet Aurangzeb. There he was imprisoned in Mirza’s house. While he was waiting to be shifted to the Mogul dungeons, he escaped with his son Sambaji hiding in two large baskets of fruits and sweetmeats that were to be sent from the house as gifts to brahmanas. Shivaji’s general Netaji Palkar, also captured, was forced to convert to Islam and change his name to Quli Mohammed Khan, serving as a Mogul soldier in Afghanistan, but he managed to escape and return to Shivaji and to his Hindu faith. Some of his other friends were tortured to death.
After escaping from Agra, Shivaji regrouped his army and recaptured all the forts that he had been forced to surrender to the Moguls with the treaty of Purandar, including the fort of Kondana, a strategic position near Pune, in the center of a line including Rajgad, Purandar, and Torna. The conquest of Kondana was made possible by the bravery of Tanaji who died in the fight, so the fort was renamed as “Singhagad” in honor of their “lion” warrior.
Then Shivaji was crowned as the king of the Marathas by Ganga Bhatt, a brahmana from Benares. The coronation took place at Raigad on 6th June, 1674.
In the days after the coronation, a Maratha Sardar (general) abducted the daughter in law of the Muslim Subahadar of Kalyan near Mumbai, to offer her as a Nazarana (tribute) to the new king. To his surprise, Shivaji returned the girl to her family with all respect, and rebuked the general warning that any Maratha general who committed a similar offense to women would be punished with the amputation of his hands. It is said that the girl then called him “an angel” and prayed the Lord to bless him with all success. Later, Shivaji launched his campaign in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu up to Thanjavur. From 1674 to Shivaji’s death in 1680, his kingdom was relatively peaceful because the Moguls had given up trying to molest the Marathas. The kingdom of Shivaji, like the kingdom of Mewad, was bold enough to issue their own coinage with Sanskrit inscriptions in gold and copper. After Shivaji’s death, Aurangzeb ordered all these coins to be collected and melted.
Shivaji’s son Sambaji became the next king, but he was not as qualified as his father. He was finally captured by the Moguls and tortured to death. His step brother Rajaram was then crowned king, but he was also weak and fled Raigad when the fort was about to be besieged by Aurangzeb, leaving behind his wife and son who were taken captive by the Moguls. He spent the rest of his life fleeing around, while his generals like Santaji Ghorpade and Dhanaji Jadhav fought a guerrilla war against the Muslims. In 1700, Rajaram fell ill and died, and his wife Tarabai reigned from 1700 to 1707, with the support of the two generals.
In 1707 Aurangzeb died and his son Azamshah proclaimed himself emperor. In order to win the Marathas to his side, Azamshah freed Rajaram’s son Shahu, who had been a prisoner from 1689 to 1707, and Shahu claimed the throne against Tarabai. He fought the Maratha army and he installed himself as the Chatrapati (king of the Marathas). However, he had to rely heavily on his assistant, who became Prime Minister (Peshwa) and the actual ruler. From that time, the Prime Ministers became more powerful than the king.
The Maratha forces led by the first Peshwa, Balaji Vishvanath, defeated the Mogul army in Delhi, in an alliance with the Syed brothers against the Mogul emperor Farrukhsiyyar. This was the beginning of the Maratha’s influence on Delhi that lasted until 1803, when they were supplanted by the British. In 1740, about 80 years after Shivaji, the Marathas fought against the invasion of the Afghan Nadir Shah and his general Ahmed Shah Durrani (Abdali) who had attacked north India taking advantage of the decline of the Mogul empire. Another ambitious general, Najib Khan, wanted to crown himself emperor and ruler of India by capturing Delhi: he allied with Ahmed Shah but they were both defeated by the Marathas lead by Srimant Raghunatha Rao and Malhar Rao Holkar. The Marathas pursued the Afghans into Punjab up to Khyber Pass on Afghan border. Najib Khan convinced Malhar Rao Holkar to release him, but as soon as he was released he organized the killing of Dattaji Shinde, the eldest brother of Mahadji Shinde, and again encouraged Ahmed Shah to invade India.
The continuous court intrigues at Pune gradually weakened the Marathas and divided them. The ensuing war against the Afghans had a long stand off of one year from January 1760 to January 1761, in spite of the Marathas’ conquest of Delhi and Kunjapura (the treasury and armory of the Afghans). In the final battle at Panipat 100,000 Maratha troops were killed in 8 hours but the Afghans, who had also suffered heavy losses, decided to retreat back to Afghanistan, never to return to India again. Later, the Sikhs united under Maharaja Ranjit Singh and completed the task of the Marathas, invading Abdali’s kingdom and capturing his capital city Kabul. Between 1761 and 1790 Mahadji Shinde, Nana Phadnavis and Shrimant Madhav Rao Peshwa fought against the growing power of the British in the three Anglo-Maratha wars. Finally they succumbed in the third war of 1817.
THE ARRIVAL OF THE PORTUGUESE
In 1498 the Catholic Portuguese sailor Vasco de Gama had opened the sea route to India that enabled the Christian ships to avoid the need of crossing the Muslim occupied territories in order to reach India and China for trade. In 1510 Alfonso de Albuquerque captured the island of Goa on the west coast of India from the Sultan of Bijapur and made it the capital of the Portuguese colonial dominion in India.
The militaristic and imperialistic attitude of the Catholic Church was very similar to the Muslim “holy war” to conquer the world. The Church of Rome had established itself in Europe as the absolute and supreme political power, controlling kings and emperors with intolerable tyranny. By the 1500s, the Protestant reform, supported by the kingdoms of north and west Europe, left the pope with two servants only: Spain and Portugal. To rebuild the power of the Church, the pope decided to launch both of them into a world conquest “blessed by God” for a renewed power of the Church.
In 1417, with the bulla Rex Regnum, Pope Martin V gave to the king of Portugal the “right of crusade and conquest” over the Atlantic coast of Africa. At Sagres (Portugal) the Church created a great center of nautical studies, military arsenal and shipyard, and a naval base at Lagos (Portugal). From there the naval army of Portugal conquered almost all the eastern part of Africa.
Spain had also reclaimed the territories it had lost to the Muslims since the 700s (with the fall of Grenada, in 1491), converted or killed all the Muslims and Jews who lived there, and made the pope’s Inquisition the absolute and unquestionable power in the police and judiciary systems. Besides, in 1492 Columbus (financed by Spain) had “discovered” the immense territories of the Americas and claimed rights on them.
The pope wanted to keep his two servants from wasting energies in fighting each other for supremacy, so in 1494 with the treaty of Tordesillas pope Alexander VI (Ferdinando Borgia born in Jativa, Valencia, Spain, who was pope from 1492 to 1503) officially and “legally” divided the property of the entire planet between Spain and Portugal.
A line was drawn on geographical maps and the pope ordered the two kings, by “God’s authority”, to conquer all the new territories by any means, make them Christian and take away all their wealth. Portugal was allotted India and the eastern territories, while Spain retained the Americas (the “west Indies”). Both armies were accompanied by the priests of the Inquisition, who were in charge of the forced conversion to Christianity of the new territories.
Whoever refused to become a Christian was either killed or made a slave. When Columbus landed in Cuba, America, in 1492, the island had 8 million inhabitants, while 4 years later 50% of the entire population had already been massacred and the Spaniards were forced to import slaves from other islands in the Caribbean. America was called “west Indies” (as opposed to the “east Indies”, i.e. India proper), and since the Spanish conquerors of South America spoke Spanish, the native Americans in those areas (Maya, Inca, Aztec, Toltec, etc) came to be known as “indios”, the Spanish equivalent of the English “Indian”. In 1520 Mexico had 25 million inhabitants, while in 1592 the number was 1.5 million: 95% of the inhabitants had been killed. Those who remained in the subsequent centuries were a mixed breed and completely Christianized. Their original languages and customs practically lost forever.
A large part of the non-white populations of South America, besides the mixed Spanish-Indio breed, are black people or mixed breed of African origin (Spanish+African or African+Indio), because Spaniards and Portuguese carried many more slaves from Africa (who were physically stronger than Americans) to cultivate the sugar, tobacco, coffee, and cocoa fields in their new territories.
The only native populations who survived in those areas were very small numbers of nomadic and “uncivilized” tribes hiding in the deepest Amazon forests. Altogether, at the beginning of 1500s, the native populations of the entire Americas (both south and north) were estimated at about 80 million, and in the mid 1600s the number was 10 million, in a time when the entire population of the world was less than 400 million people.
The Portuguese had the same philosophy of life of the Spaniards, because they were servants of the Catholic Church, but in India the situation was more difficult than in America. They had to face the Muslim rulers, who were at least as ruthless and powerful as they were, and ready to fight back any Christian attempt at eating away their territories. An attempt of establishing a Portuguese base in Bengal was quickly stopped by the local Sultan who killed 4,000 Portuguese at one time. Then they tried on the west coast of India, establishing themselves on the island of Goa and surrounding territories. Immediately they destroyed all the Hindu temples in the area and stopped all Hindu worship and even the popular traditions that were not directly connected with the religion. All Hindu rituals, including marriages, were prohibited, and all Hindu priests were banned from the Portuguese territories. The Hindus were denied jobs while Christians were preferred, and all Hindus were obliged to assemble periodically in churches to be lectured by the priests about the inferiority of their religion.
The laws enforced by the Inquisition in 1560 prohibited the use of Indian musical instruments and Indian songs during marriage ceremonies, the use of betel and pan, and the distribution of food to poor people in honor of some deceased person. Other prohibitions concerned the harvest festivals, cooking rice without salt, fasting on Ekadasi, the holydays on Wednesdays, full moon and new moon, bathing before entering the kitchen for preparing the meals, wearing of dhoti for men and choli for women.
They also ordered all the coconut trees and Tulasi plants to be uprooted from all gardens.
All those who disobeyed the orders of the Inquisition were subject to horrible punishments. More than 2,000 people were burned alive.
Paul William Roberts, in Empire of the Soul, Some Journeys in India, writes about the methods of the Portuguese Inquisition: “Children were flogged and slowly dismembered in front of their parents whose eyelids had been sliced off to make sure they missed nothing. Extremities were amputated carefully, so that a person could remain conscious even when all that remained was a torso and a head… Those subjected to other diabolical tortures could also be counted in the thousands and the abominations continued until a brief respite in 1774… The evil resumed, continuing, almost incredibly, until June 16, 1812. At that point, British pressure put an end to terror (with) the presence of British troops stationed in Goa.”
The main preacher of Christianity in India, the Portuguese priest Xavier who was made a saint by the Church for his activities, boasted of having destroyed “hundreds of Hindu temples” by himself and “miraculously” converted people by the thousands. M. D. David, author of Western Colonialism in Asia and Christianity, writes: “…A particularly grave abuse was practiced in Goa in the form of ‘mass baptism’ and what went before it. The practice was begun by the Jesuits and was initiated by the Franciscans also. The Jesuits staged an annual mass baptism on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (January 25), and in order to secure as many neophytes as possible, a few days before the ceremony the Jesuits would go through the streets of the Hindu quarter in pairs, accompanied by their Negro slaves, whom they would urge to seize the Hindus. When the blacks caught up a fugitive, they would smear his lips with a piece of beef, making him an ‘untouchable’ among his people. Conversion to Christianity was then his only option.”
Others found conversion politically useful, like the fishermen of Tamil Nadu who sold their souls to Christian priests in exchange of the protection of the Portuguese army against their Muslim neighbors. However, the deal was not completely voluntary. Those fishermen who refused to convert were attacked on the Malabar coast by the Portuguese navy. Entire fishing boats were set ablaze, as their women and children helplessly watched from the shores. Those fishermen who jumped into the water to save their lives, were either bayonetted or shot dead.
Xavier’s new converts were immediately taught to fight against Hindus: “When all are baptized, I order them to destroy all the temples of their false gods and break to pieces all the idols. I can give you no idea of the joy I feel in seeing this done.” Even children “… show an ardent love for the Divine law, and an extraordinary zeal for learning our holy religion and imparting it to others. Their hatred for idolatry is marvelous. They get into feuds with the heathens about it, and whenever their own parents practice it, they reproach them and come off to tell me at once. Whenever I hear of any act of idolatrous worship, I go to the place with a large band of these children, who very soon load the devil with a greater amount of insult and abuse than he has lately received of honor and worship from their parents, relations, and acquaintances. The children run at the idols, upset them, dash them down, break them to pieces, spit on them, trample on them, kick them about, and in short heap on them every possible outrage.”
To fuel hatred of the newly converted Christians against the Hindus, the Portuguese spread many false stories. One referred to Thomas the apostle, who was said to have landed in India in 52 CE at Cranganore on the Malabar coast and established the first church later known as the Syrian Church. In 68 AD, St. Thomas was allegedly martyred near modern day Chennai (Madras) and a large cathedral there now houses a basement crypt containing the relics of St. Thomas. In the cathedral of St. Thomas at Chennai (San Thome Cathedral Basilica) there is also a painting that shows Thomas praying while he is being stabbed to death with a lance by a Ramanuja Vaishnava brahmana wearing Vishnu tilak. It is interesting to remember that the Shree Vaishnavas and their tilak did not come into history until the 11th century.
THE ARRIVAL OF THE BRITISH
Since the beginning of the colonial period, the kings of England and Holland (who had recently won its independence from Spain by the Protestant revolt) had organized pirate fleets to get some crumbs of the enormous pie of the “New World” that was greedily devoured by Spain and Portugal and transported by ships to Europe. South America was very rich in gold and silver and other new and special products, such as tobacco, cocoa, maize, potatoes, beans, tomatoes, pumpkins, etc. These foods became extremely popular in Europe. Those plants which could grow in Europe also became widely cultivated.
England and Holland were the natural adversaries of Spain and Portugal because they had become Protestant. A little later, with the French revolution against the monarchy supported by the priests, France became a fierce adversary of the Catholic Church, too, and also engaged in the colonial race.
The success of Sir Francis Drake in piracy encouraged the government of England to finance an expedition to North America, where the British “purchased” (for a very small price and bribery) or conquered (generally by a clever game of alliances, further dividing the tribes who had already some hostility against each other) vast and scarcely populated territories. These were then used by Britain to settle “colonies” of their unwanted citizens (including religious dissidents) and procure wealth in the form of taxes from agriculture and minerary activities supported by the labor of the slaves brought from Africa. The colonies produced cotton, coffee, sugar, and other semi-tropical and tropical products that could not be grown in Europe, large amounts of timber and furs from the north, and served as a base for the hunting of whales and seals. France and Holland had the same plans, but in a much smaller scale.
Asia presented a very different situation than North America: much more interesting because of the legendary wealth already present, but densely populated and controlled by strong political powers, such as the Muslim rulers. The emphasis was then laid on commerce and trade, especially of spices, indigo dye and tea, that had been marketed in Europe since the times of the Roman Empire. The British East Company, a commercial company, was established on 31 December 1600 for spice trading, and India was the center of its attention.
According to an agreement, the Dutch East India Company secured the monopoly over southeast Asia and Indonesia, while the more powerful British East Company obtained the rights on India.
In 1608 captain Hawkins landed at Surat and came to Jahangir’s court at Agra to obtain some trade concessions. Shahjahan was annoyed by the Portuguese and allowed the British to open a factory at Surat, hoping that British and Portuguese would weaken each other. In fact, the British troops finally defeated the Portuguese and established the factory in 1612. In 1633 the East India Company also established a factory at Hariharpur (under Bengal) on the delta of the Mahanadi River. In 1640 Fort St. George was built at Madras, then the British started to acquire Bombay. In 1690 Job Charnock started a factory on the Hoogly River, not far from a Hindu holy place in the forest, called Kali Ghat. In 1695 Sobha Singh’s rebellion led the British to build Fort William there. At that time the three villages of Kali ghat (Calcutta), Sutanati and Govindapur were assigned by the Moguls to the British on lease at the annual rent of 12,000 rupees. Later, the East India Company was granted right to free trade in Bengal with an annual tax of 3,000 rupees. The British were also permitted to settle and acquire land anywhere in Calcutta.
By the middle of the 18th century, the British East India Company had established centers in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, and the east coast. French traders arrived in India around 1668, and they also established factories and centers. By 1720 Pondicherry and Chandernagar were the two main centers. Between 1720 and 1740 the volume of French trade was 10 times larger than the British. British and French then started to fight against each other for supremacy until 1763 with the three Carnatic wars, involving also local princes and politicians who sided with either party. Finally the French were defeated.
After the battle of Plassey, in 1757, the British obtained from the Moguls the right to collect revenue from these areas in return for an annual tribute and for keeping order and peace by using the army of the local Nawabs. Then the Company defeated Tipu Sultan of Mysore in 1792 and the Marathas in 1819, Nepal in 1814-16, Sindh in 1843, Punjab in 1848-49 and Burma in 1886. The idea of commercial enterprise for Europeans was amply supported by the use of force.
Although Britain had rejected some of the most heinous methods of the Catholic Church (like the Inquisition), still they were Christians and believed that white Christians had the right to become the masters of the world. British traders secured their business by openly battling against the local rulers who opposed their presence and activities. In their military force Europeans were a small minority of officers, while the majority of the soldiers were Indians, either Hindus or Muslims, previously employed by the local Nawabs. The mutiny of the Indian army against the British traders started at Barrackpore in 1857 about the grease used for rifle cartridges that required biting before loading the weapon (the grease was said to be made from cow and pig fat) and spread on vast areas in Delhi, Lucknow, Kanpur, Jhansi, Arrah (Bihar) etc. On 10 May 1857 the sepoys of Meerut marched on Delhi and proclaimed Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor, as the Emperor of India, hoping that he would oppose the British.
Among the participants to the revolt, there were Tantia Topi, Rani Lakshmi Bai, Kunwar Singh, Bahadur Shah II, Nana Saheb, the Wahabis in Patna, and the Hindu community in Benares. However, other powerful leaders like Holkar, Sindhia, the Nawab of Bhopal and others actively opposed the revolt and helped the British to suppress it.
The British Crown, worried about the situation, officially took over the administration of the Company in 1858. The presence of the British in India ceased to be a simple matter of trade and became a war for the imposition of British rule on the entire territory.
Britain appointed a Secretary of State for India, a member of the British cabinet responsible to the Parliament, and divided India into three presidencies: Bengal, Madras and Bombay. The Hindu or Muslim princely states that accepted subordination to the British government were allowed some independence, but in 1876 Queen Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India claiming the supreme power.
The main characteristic of British rule in India was the “divide and rule” policy, aimed at creating hostility among Indians – northern and southern, northern and eastern, rich and poor, high castes and lower castes, Hindus and Muslims, Hindus and Jains, and even among the various groups of Hindus like Shaivites and Vaishnavas. They created Christian schools everywhere and imposed the Christian “morals” on society, justice, and culture. However, they did not destroy Hindu temples or persecute Hindu priests, so under their rule several temples were rebuilt by wealthy Hindus.
In India the British introduced railways, machineries, telegraph, postal system, newspapers, and imposed the use of English on the entire territory. Although they did so for their own advantage and tried to control them strictly, these innovations became very useful instruments for the organization of a nation-wide Swaraj movement. Furthermore, by facilitating communication and traveling, they helped Indians to discover a greater spirit of unity and to learn to cooperate at national level. Even the introduction of English helped because it was a common language that helped communication among Indians of different areas and cultures.
The British also built roads and improved communications, also at International level. Many Indians went to England to get an education – from Madanlal Dhingra, Aurobindo Ghose, Vir Savarkar, to Gandhi. By moving around in England, they came in contact with the liberal movements there and learned how to organize people in a democratic way. They saw how rallies and marches were held in Europe by the developing movement of civil rights, and how the labor unions had started to organize workers in the factories to oppose oppression of the capitalists. They studied British and International law and found ways to create associations and political groups, many became lawyers.
Some English born liberals, such as Annie Besant, also came to India to help the cause of civil rights, freedom, and self-determination.
In the beginning, the self-determination movement (Swaraj) did not question the British sovereignty over India, they simply wanted more civil freedom and a better government.
Among the first protagonists of the Independence struggle, the Sanskrit scholar and astronomer Bal Gangadhar Tilak was the leader of the Indian Freedom Movement until his death in 1920 before Gandhi. Like all the other leaders of the Freedom Movement, he was jailed by the British government for several years, but while in jail he wrote a commentary to Bhagavad Gita.
Tilak was convinced that the educational system was a very important weapon: schools controlled by the British taught children blind submission to the political authority and the intrinsic inferiority of Hindu culture and religion compared to Christianity. Therefore he started a school based on Hindu values, and later founded the Deccan Education Society to inspire other people to open more schools. He also started a newspaper (Kesari) in 1881 to educate people in general.
The other important factor that had to be tackled was economic exploitation: the British sent raw materials from India and brought back finished goods from their industrial factories in England, such as textiles, glass, paper, etc., to sell in India. Since the industrial products were cheaper and the texture was smoother and finer, Indian people started to purchase them instead of the local production. The local self sufficiency and prosperity of rural India was practically destroyed, and many people became destitute.
Tilak preached four “mantras”: 1. boycott British goods, 2. create an Indian system of schools, 3. self determination in local government, 4. economic self sufficiency, with the production of necessities at the local level.
After his jail term in Burma where he had been deported, Tilak returned to India and actively organized the Khadi movement (hand woven cloth), also picketing against alcoholism and against imported goods.
In 1883 the Indian Association (Bharat Sabha) organized an International exhibition in Calcutta, together a political conference on all-India basis, with discussions about reforms and a list of requests to be presented to the British government. The second conference was held in 1885 for the foundation of the Indian National Congress. The convenor of the first session of the INC was Allan Octavian Hume, a retired employee of the British government, with the presidency of an eminent Bengali lawyer, WC Bonnerjee.
Something extraordinary was happening. People were starting to unite and cooperate: Indian peasants, lawyers, students, scholars, writers, teachers, women and even British civil rights fighters. The Indian people had found leaders, had started to understand the nature of their enslavement, and could see there was an opportunity to become free from bondages.
The most profitable trade for the British Crown was probably the indigo dye. In Bengal, farmers were forced to grow indigo plants as monocultures instead of the variety of foods that allowed them to live and prosper in a self-sufficient way. The money they received for their produce was very little, and they had to pay heavy taxes that forced them to get indebted with the money lenders or to sell their lands to the British enterprises. These used also other methods to drive peasants out of their lands – torching villages, abducting women, for example. The farmers went on strike and refused to cultivate indigo any more, and the middle class intelligentsia of Bengal came to their help by joining their protest through newspapers and other literature; a popular drama about the plight of the farmers was also translated in English and published by James Long.
Bengal became the heart of the Freedom Movement, with such a great success that the British government started to worry. In 1905, in order to weaken the spirit of the movement, Lord Curzon was appointed to organize the partition of Bengal, with the prime purpose of creating hostility between Muslims and Hindus.
West Bengal, of Hindu majority, was to include Bihar and Orissa, while east Bengal, with a Hindu minority, had Assam, Malda, and Tripura. The anti-partition protest movement blazed everywhere with shop strikes, picketing in support of the boycott of British goods, and religious ceremonies, such as bathing in the Ganga River and performing rakhi-bandhana (tying a red string around each other’s wrists) to signify the bond of brotherhood among the protesters.
Together with the boycott of British goods, Indians started their own local enterprises of textile mills and weaving industries producing the coarse Swadeshi cloth, as well as sugar mills, match and soap industries, to offer the “fair trade” alternative to the local market.
College and university students joined the movement by denouncing the bias of the British educational institutions, “houses for manufacturing slaves”, and dropped out of school in protest. In 1902 they started the “Dawn Society”, then the National Council of Education in 1905, to create Bengali medium schools with Indian teachers. Clandestine newspapers mushroomed in support of the freedom movement. The word spread all over India and the example was followed in many other areas. Many also took to guerrilla action against the British, especially in Bengal, Maharastra, Punjab, and Madras.
Groups like the Anushilan Samiti were formed to fight against western culture.
The heritage of Paramahamsa Ramakrishna, who died in 1886, was carried on by his disciple Vivekananda with more than a touch of nationalistic pride: Vivekananda traveled abroad to affirm the values of Indian culture and spirituality, winning much sympathy at the international level. Rabindranath Tagore founded his university at Shanti Niketan, and became famous at international levels: he was awarded knighthood by the queen of Britain.
In Bengal the Brahmo movement (founded in 1857) and in Maharastra the Prarthana Samaj made a special effort to present Indian philosophy in terms that could be understood by the western mentality – both for the growing international support and for the westernized class of British educated “brown sahibs”. All of these points are still of primary importance today, in order to allow others to understand the value of Vedic culture.
The Brahmo movement was also at the origin of the first workers’ organizations. In 1870 a Brahmo leader, Sasipada Banerjee, founded the Sramajivi Samiti and the newspaper Bharat Sramajivi. The cotton mill workers in Bombay started an association in 1890. Later, however, the workers’ movements became influenced by the socialist and communist ideals that had been spread by the Russian revolution of 1917. This ideology was also supported by Jawaharlal Nehru.
Ram Mohan Roy in Bengal spearheaded a reform of Hinduism to eliminate the results of the social degradation of Indians, such as the mistreatment of women and the plight of the lower castes.
Swami Dayananda Sarasvati founded the Arya Samaj in 1875 for a rediscovery of the genuine spirit of Vedic culture, and encouraged the conversion of non-Hindus to Hinduism. Even today, the interest of non-Hindus in Hinduism and Vedic culture is a reason why Yoga is presently so prominent in the Western countries.
Aurobindo Ghose, who had studied in England, started his public life as an extremist activist in Bengal’s Jugantar dal, and was jailed for his first line participation to the movement. Later he developed a more spiritual approach, and became famous as a saint. He moved to Pondicherry and laid the spiritual foundations of the future Auroville. He cooperated first with Margaret Elizabeth Noble (known as Sister Nivedita) and then with Mirra Alfassa (known as Mère, “the Mother”).
The Muslims, however, felt they were losing too much ground to the Christian British on one side, and to the Hindus on the other side. They started a strategy of cooperation with the British against the Hindus, and at the same time they made some efforts to reform the social customs that did not sit well with the British morality, like the purdah (segregation of women), polygamy, and the talaq (easy divorce for men). Syed Ahmed Khan started a Muslim cultural center in Aligarh that later became a university.
In 1911 the British government gave in and annulled the partition of Bengal; the capital of the British Raj was also moved from Calcutta to Delhi. However, the police continued to suppress the guerrilla of the secret societies, and many of their members were forced to flee abroad, in London, Paris, Germany, United States, Canada, and various areas of Asia. From there, they collected money to send funds and weapons for the revolution back home, securing the help of Indian emigrates and foreign governments who were unfavorable to Britain.
World War I offered more opportunities to the Indian Freedom Movement: Madame Cama had already conducted a successful campaign in France, Germany, and the United States presenting the cause of India and unfurling the new Indian tricolor flag in Berlin (1905). She continued to campaign, revealing to the international press the enormous profits of the British Crown in the colonial business (35 million pounds every year) and asking that Indians should be given the political right to vote.
In 1915 the Jain lawyer Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi returned to India after a period in South Africa, where he had observed the effect of the racist apartheid government. He immediately started a non-violent protest movement, called Satyagraha, spreading it in Bihar, Ahmedabad, and Gujarat. The charisma of Gandhi encouraged moderate and extremist activists to join forces. Thousands of students, lawyers, and government employees left their occupations in protest against the government.
The British civil right activist Annie Besant cooperated with Bal Gangadhar Tilak starting the Home Rule League. Women also started to participate actively in the Movement.
Even the Muslims were attracted, and while previously they had tried to cooperate with the British, in 1913 they changed their course and started cooperating with the Indian National Congress.
In 1919 the British government decided to give some concessions, and appointed Montague and Chelmsford to concede a limited freedom in local self government, education, health, cooperatives, but retained full control of police, finance, and land revenue. On the other hand, with the Rowlatt Act, the British tightened the laws against “anarchical and revolutionary” activities to stop the political movement, ordering arrest and deportation for suspects, special tribunals, and prohibition of freedom propaganda. The protest continued, spearheaded by Gandhi, who was arrested. The suppression of the protest had the worst episode in Amritsar, where on 13 April 1919 General Reginald Dyer ordered to his 50 soldiers to open fire without warning on a peaceful crowd of about 10,000 people, men, women and children, gathered in Jallianwala Bagh, a public square, for the Baisakhi Fair. The place was surrounded by buildings and there was no escape; according to the official estimates about 400 people were killed, and another 1,200 were left wounded without medical attention. The casualties could have been higher, but the troops could not use machine guns because the armored vehicles on which they were mounted were too large to be brought in from the narrow lanes around the square, and the rifle ammunitions ended in about 15 (1,650 rounds).
The curfew was imposed and the governor of Punjab placed the entire province under martial law. The Viceroy Chelmsford considered the incident as a strategic mistake, and Secretary of State Montagu appointed a commission of inquiry. Dyer was relieved of his command. The protest against the massacre gained momentum in Amritsar and spread to Delhi, Ahmedabad, Calcutta, Amaravati, Nagpur, Ankola and Bombay. In protest, Rabindranath Tagore renounced his British knighthood. In some places the protest became violent, and Gandhi withdrew his Satyagraha movement to dissociate from the violence.
With the end of World War I, Turkey was defeated, and the Indian Muslims asked the British to respect the position and dignity of the Sultan of Turkey, who was the Caliph of all Muslims in the world. The Khilafat movement was supported by Gandhi, Motilal Nehru, Tilak and others with the hope of uniting Hindus and Muslims in the protest against the British rulers. However, in the end Kemal Pasha in Turkey abolished the post of Caliph and the Khilafat movement died out in 1921. This enraged the Indian Muslims who started clashing against the Hindus. The riots between 1922 and 1927 killed about 500 people. The possibility of an agreement between the movement, represented by Gandhi, and the British failed due to the Muslim opposition. Gandhi resumed his Satyagraha movement with Vallabhabhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru, Purushottamdas Tandon, and Subhash Chandra Bose. All of them were jailed because the British government declared the movement “illegal”.
In 1922 the Swaraj Party was founded, trying to unite the political movement that had already divided with the Hindu Mahasabha, the Sikh League and the Muslim League. At the same time, Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose were inspired by the Russian revolution and started to spread the ideas of socialism. In 1925 the All India Communist Party was founded, and the guerrilla in Bengal took a socialist hue with the Socialist Republican Association (1928). Women also started to participate in the communist movement that gathered many of those who were searching for a solution that was different from the hostility between Muslims and Hindus: rejecting all religions.
The British tried to relieve the situation by appointing the Simon commission in 1927 for constitutional reforms, but no Indians were included in the commission, and this did not satisfy the freedom movement. In 1928 an all-parties conference prepared a draft constitution for the commission: only the Indian National Congress approved it.
The Muslim League, lead by Jinnah, broke ties with the Congress, demanding 14 points to protect the interests of the Muslims, which included a federal India with autonomous provinces, with not less than 1/3 Muslims in the central government, a separate representation for religious groups on the same percentage basis (although the Muslims were a minority), no laws against the interests of religious minorities and full freedom to all religions, facilities for Muslim culture and education, Muslims in all local governments (at least 1/3), separate Sindh from Bombay, maintain Muslim majority in Bengal, Punjab and north-western states, and so on. His position was supported by many, including the poet Iqbal, who openly wanted a separate Muslim nation within India.
Not all Muslims agreed with the extremist position of Jinnah and his Muslim League; for example Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan and his social organization Khuda khid mudgar (“the red shirts”) in the north-west provinces wanted to cooperate with the Hindus.
However, the next year the Congress, too, decided to demand complete independence from the British. That was declared on 26 January, 1930. The movement regained momentum with the Salt March (Dandi march) of 320 km, performed by Gandhi and a large group of activists to go to the sea shore and collect salt directly from the sea, challenging a law on the salt monopoly by the government. Thousands of people followed his example. Lord Irwin invited Gandhi to London for talks in 1931.
In 1932 the British Prime Minister MacDonald announced the “Communal Award” Act by which the different religious groups could send their representatives separately to the provincial legislatures. The disadvantaged or “scheduled” castes of Hindus also had a separate provision. Gandhi asked the Hindus to stand united, and B. R. Ambedkar and the other representatives of the lower castes rejected the offer of the British government.
In 1933 Gandhi suspended the Satyagraha movement and devoted himself to the Harijans (the new name for the lower castes) only. Gandhi launched and withdrew the Satyagraha movement several times, hoping to educate the mass of people to non-violent protest only, but his attempts failed again and again. Finally in 1934 he terminated the Satyagraha movement and left the Congress, which turned to socialism.
In 1934 the British banned the communist party, and continued to negotiate with Gandhi and the Congress. In 1935 with the Government of India Act, the British introduced a federal structure offering to the native states (princely kingdoms) the option to participate or not. A Governor General would have 10 Ministers elected by local legislatures, and 2 chambers also elected locally. India was divided in 11 provinces with Governors, plus a number of special areas directly under the Governor General. However, the Governor maintained the power of veto over all decisions of local Governors, and could also make and enforce new laws without consulting them. It was not a very good deal, but the Congress accepted to run in the elections. It obtained the absolute majority in 5 provinces, and a majority in 2. The minority of the Muslim league demanded coalition ministries for all the provinces.
This government experience for the Congress was difficult because of the conflicting interests of Hindus and Muslims, landlords and peasants, businessmen and workers. Good work was done by helping negotiation between employers and workers, distribution of land to landless peasants, anti-usury laws, tenancy, education, and freedom of press.
Under the presidency of Subhash Chandra Bose (1938, 1939) the Congress became more and more oriented to socialism. When he became too extreme, he was forced to resign and he proceeded to found the Forward Block within the Congress. He was finally expelled by the Congress for his extremism. In the same year World War II started, and Britain declared that India was also participating to the war; all Indian ministers resigned in protest. Bose, kept in house confinement by the British, managed to escape in 1941 and he reached Russia through Kabul. From there he reached Germany, where he was welcomed by Ribbentrop and spoke to Indians from the German radio.
Bose convinced the Nazis to free a number of Indian prisoners of war and organized them as for the new “Independent India army”. There the slogan “Jai Hind” started. After about one year Bose was called to Japan by Rashbehari Bose, who had fled there already in 1915 to organize a conference of the Indian emigrates in Southeast Asia.
In the meantime, in India Gandhi launched a new Satyagraha campaign. In 1941-1942 Japan occupied Singapore and Burma. Britain tried to consolidate their position in India by sending a socialist member of the British government, Cripps, to propose a Dominion status with regional autonomy, but he could not convince anyone. Gandhi considered his proposal a “postdated cheque on a crashing bank” and observed that Japan was ready to invade India from Burma. He launched the “Quit India” campaign, which was adopted by the Congress. Almost all the members of the Congress were arrested by the British on the very next day. The people revolted in mass in the “August revolution”: peasants, students, and workers rallied, and local governments were formed. Among the other examples, there is the famous case of a 72 years old peasant widow, Matangini Harza who led a big crowd to occupy the Tamluk police station in Midnapore in support of the local government founded by the Freedom movement. However, the British suppressed the movement in 2 months.
In 1943, Subhash Chandra Bose became the president of the Indian Independent League in Singapore, declared a Free India Government, and declared war to Britain and America. His Indian National Army liberated the Andaman and Nicobar islands from the British and went with the Japanese up to Kohima, Nagaland. However, in the meantime the Japanese had to accept defeat after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Indians who were allied with them were taken prisoners by the British. Subhash Chandra Bose is said to have died in an air crash on 18 August, 1945 near Taipei while he was flying to Tokyo, but many think he survived the crash.
At the trial of the generals of the Free India Army (Azad Hind Fauz) at the Red Fort, the vast movement of protest of the population forced the acquittal. Strikes and rallies were held everywhere; in Calcutta the police killed 2 students, but revolts continued. Gandhi completely retired from politics to serve the Harijans (called Achhut, “untouchables”), and then he was killed on 30 January, 1948.
Jinnah continued to demand a separate nation for Muslims, called Pakistan, creating more riots. C. Rajagopalachari proposed to consider the idea after obtaining independence from Britain, a plebiscite in the regions that would be affected, and some kind of mutual agreement of cooperation. Jinnah refused. At the Simla conference in 1945, Lord Wavell also proposed an interim government with equal proportions of representatives of Muslims and Hindus, but Jinnah also rejected that proposal.
In 1946 even the Indian navy revolted; the mutiny started in Bombay and soon spread to all the ships in Calcutta, Madras, Karachi, and so on. The soldiers demanded the release of the INA generals, refused to go to war against Indonesian freedom fighters, and also complained about the quality of the food they were getting.
The revolt was soon joined by the air force and the army. The British Prime Minister Clement Atlee announced that Britain was ready to quit India. Elections were organized in 1946.
The fracture between the Congress and the Muslim League became irreversible, and the partition of Bengal and Punjab was inevitable. On 11 August, 1947 Jinnah became the president of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in Karachi. In 1971 East Pakistan declared its independence and became known as Bangladesh.
Jahawarlal Nehru was the first Prime Minister of India, from 1947 to 1964. Initially he was influenced by the British “Fabian” socialists, then he visited the Soviet Union in 1926-1927, where he was impressed with the atheistic philosophy of communism, that considered religion “the opiate for the people”. In fact Russia had been heavily subjugated by the Christian orthodox Church, consecrating the political power of the Czars and the oppressive feudal system, so the Bolshevik revolution, like the French revolution about 200 years earlier, had taken away all power from the priests, closed the churches and prohibited religion. In the enthusiasm of their early government, Russian Soviets had embraced communism as their religion, substituting the old faith and superstitions.
Other important socialist ideas that Nehru collected in Russia were the central role of the government in economy and the planning for industrial development in manufacturing and agriculture aimed at total industrialization of the country. This concept included the perpetuation of monocultures in agriculture, subject to the control of the government, with some form of protection for the farmers consisting in cooperativism.
However, around the mid 60s, India was still heavily depending on western aids, with a severe economic crisis.
The Chinese aggression of 1962 weakened Nehru’s position of peaceful co-existence and socialism. The concept of non-alignment had been affirmed in order to retain full independence for India; the example of the various countries of east Europe, who had come to be fully dominated by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was not very inspiring. However, the political and military pressure from China and Pakistan was mounting. In 1965 the first war with Pakistan pushed Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri (1964-1966) to officially ally with Russia, since in 1954 the US had granted military aid to Pakistan. The ties with Russia became stronger.
Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister from 1966 to 1977. In 1971 the Congress started to lose popularity, until the breaking point in 1977. Indira declared state of emergency. This move actually alienated the people, and from 1977 to 1980 the Prime Ministership went to Morarji Desai and Charan Singh. With the support of Russia, Indira Gandhi returned to power again in 1980 and tried to tackle the problems “the Russian way”, or in other words, by dictatorship and oppression of dissenters. In 1981 Indira decided to solve the “problem of the Sikhs” in Punjab by sending the army to attack the Golden temple in Amritsar, with the declared intention of arresting the “Sikh terrorists”. Needless to say, the move deeply alienated the people of Punjab, who were already in a very difficult position, pressurized by Pakistan that hoped to acquire Punjab to its territories by increasing the percentage of the Muslim population (by killing or scaring away the others). The Punjabi people already felt abandoned by the central government, and the violent repression of their discontent strengthened the separatists’ resolve.
In 1984 Indira Gandhi was killed in her garden by two Sikh body guards, and a pogrom was unleashed against Sikhs all over north India. Two regiments of Sikhs left the army.
Rajiv Gandhi, second son of Indira (the first, Sanjiv, had died in a plane crash), became Prime Minister from 1984 to 1989, on the wave of popular sentiments against the killing of his mother; he was also killed in Tamil Nadu in 1991 by a terrorist attack during an election campaign. Tamil Nadu, like Punjab, Assam, Tripura and other north-east states, is a hot spot of separatist movements. Nobody from the Gandhi family, considered by the masses as the natural successors to the Gandhi-Nehru leadership, was available for the post of Prime Ministership, and the Congress could not propose a convincing alternative. The Congress kept losing popular support, and had to rely more and more on alliances with other parties which kept forming. The central government was then formed by various coalitions under the Prime ministership of Visvanatha Pratap Singh, Chandra Shekhar, P.V. Narasimha Rao, and Deve Gowda, until 1998, when the coalition collapsed and new elections were called.
In the meantime, the Hindus had started to become organized politically, mainly with the Vishva Hindu Parishad and the Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh. The main point of the Hindu political activists was simple: with their electoral power, a majority of Hindus over the minorities of Muslims, Christians, secularists and communists could restore good dharmic Hindu rulers at the government, after so many centuries of oppression. The movement to reclaim the Hindu holy sites for Hindu worship grew. The Hindu movement had asked, among the thousands of holy places lost to forced Islamization and Christianization, the return of three sites: Ayodhya, Mathura and Somanath, respectively the birthplace of Rama, the birthplace of Krishna and a famous ancient Shiva temple.
Only Somanath had been obtained, while the holy sites in Ayodhya and Mathura were still covered by mosques that had no religious significance for the Muslim community, other than the satisfaction of preventing Hindus from worshiping in their ancient traditional holy ground. For many centuries Hindus had longed for the return of the Rama Rajya, the godly government that, in the words of Krishna in Gita, would protect the good people, annihilate the evil-doers and re-establish the principles of dharma.
The Maha Purna Kumbha Mela in Allahabad, during the month of December-January 1986, had seen over 22 million pilgrims during the peak weeks of the festival. People had come from all over the world to participate to the special event, and religious feelings were running high. Many wanted to go in pilgrimage to Ayodhya, a very important holy site near to the Kumbha Mela camp. In 1949 the Hindus had already installed the Deities of Sita-Rama in a small temple in Ayodhya and on 31 January 1986 they had obtained the authorization for opening the small temple to the public. However, the actual spot of the birthplace of Ramachandra, the Rama janma bhumi, was not open to Hindus as a mosque had been built about 300 years earlier over the site of the previous Hindu temple that was at least 2,000 years old, having being built by the Hindu emperor Vikramaditya. The ancient beautiful temple had been completely destroyed by the Muslim invaders who killed many Hindus in the process, and the mosque was built on the razed site, so that no Hindu could ever rebuild a Rama temple there.
Some of the participants to the Kumbha Mela felt they couldn’t wait any more to re-establish the Rama janma bhumi, and the Babri Masjid (Babri mosque) in Ayodhya was attacked on 17 February 1986. The agitation continued for many months and between 1992 and 1993, for two months, there were riots in Bombay between Hindus and Muslims. Bal Thakre’s organization, Shiva Sena, was blamed for the violence.
With the victory of the Bharata Janata Party on the wave of new hope from the Hindus, Sitaram Keshri resigned from the Congress’ presidency and Sonia Gandhi became the president of the Congress. Previously Mrs. Gandhi had always refused to take part in politics, also because of the open hostility of some of the leaders, who considered her just a foreigner and a woman.
The BJP obtained the power, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee became Prime Minister, working closely together with Lal Krishna Advani. However, the resurgence of the Hindu movement with its legitimate demands was not the only matter they had to deal with. The new government had many problems to face, both internally and externally.
Politics at home required alliances with strange partners, not always fit for the posts they had bargained for in the election deals. The border problems with Pakistan and Bangladesh were also intertwined with domestic problem, mainly Kashmir and the north-eastern states of India (bordering Bangladesh), where a strong pressure of Christians who were trying to win independence by indoctrinating the tribal populations of Nagaland (Naga), Mizoram (Mizo), Assam (Bodo), and Tripura with terrorism.
The connection between the Christian missionaries and the separatist terrorism in north-eastern states of India is amply known. When Nagmanlal Halam, secretary of the Noapara Baptist Church in Tripura, was arrested by the Tripura police, he had 50 gelatin sticks, 5 kg of potassium and 2 kg of sulphur and other ingredients for making explosives. Mr. Halam confessed that his activities for the saving the heathen souls involved buying and supplying explosives to the NLFT over the past two years. Another church official, Jatna Koloi, who was also arrested, admitted that he had received training in guerrilla warfare at an NLFT base last year.
The Baptist Church of Tripura was initially set up by proselytizers from New Zealand 60 years ago. Despite their efforts even until 1980 only a few thousand people in Tripura had converted to Christianity. The murder (following the open death threats issued by the NLFT) of inmates and workers of non-Chistian educational and social workers’ institutions among tribals already forced the closure of many institutions like schools and orphanages, set up by the slain religious leaders in various parts of Tripura. Armed NLFT militants torch and blow up villages, schools and social centers, kidnap people for ransom, ambush convoys, attack vehicles, buses, trucks, murdering several thousands of people and in general conduct all sorts of terrorist activities, hoping to push the central government to concede them their fully independent Christian “promised land” from where all the Hindus will be kicked out. The NLFT has been an active partner of the Baptist Church in winning converts to the Christian creed by terrorist attacks, also launching proclaims (with official communication to the press) prohibiting people from celebrating all Hindu festivals like Durga Puja and Makar Sankranti, and even listening to Indian music. Such proclaims also prohibit women from wearing bangles or bindis, etc.
The Kashmir valley had always had a Muslim majority, although before partition several Hindu Kashmiri pandits lived there. In 1941 the Muslim population was 61%, but it had gradually increased (due to the disappearance of Hindus) up to 95%. From 24 May to August 1999 there was a serious confrontation between India and Pakistan in the Kargil-Drass sector of Jammu and Kashmir, to push out Pakistani infiltrators.
Pakistan had been supporting terrorism in Kashmir in a low intensity war since partition, and there have been 3 “official” Indo-Pakistan wars. Previously, in 1948-1949 Nehru and Girija Shankal Bajpay had presented a complaint to the Security Council of the United Nations, which declared that the people of Kashmir should decide if they wanted to be part of India or Pakistan. However, from 1965 to 1998 the United Nations never mentioned the Kashmir problem once, although its gravity was no less than the Middle East problems, originated by the same dynamics (Muslim separatism).
In 1974 the first atomic tests were performed in India, following the general global trend and especially the armaments race of USA and Russia. However, from the 1970s onwards, and especially with the end of the cold war and the fall of the communist regime in Russia, the nuclear option had become more and more unpopular in the international public opinion, and both US and Russia had been forced to start disarming. The echo of global trends rarely reaches India’s public opinion, and the government had not been very open to consider the world’s public opinion. So when both India and Pakistan were the only nations to refuse to sign the CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) in 1997, considered a global necessity by the majority of the world countries, international criticism and concern about the political and military situation in the subcontinent became very serious.
Pakistan tested the Ghori missiles during the first week of May 1998, only a few months after the BJP was elected to power (February 1998). On 12 May of the same year the Indian Shakti missiles were tested at Pokhram, in Rajasthan.
In June the new defense budget of the Indian government was increased of 14%, and the nuclear budget was increased of 68%. Unfortunately neither India nor Pakistan realized that a nuclear war between two countries that lie so close together would destroy both countries even if only one of them was struck and the other had no time to retaliate. The gravity of the effects of nuclear weapons is totally ignored by the mass of people, and probably even by the government leaders. In western countries a popular movement of awareness about the nuclear dangers had brought the governments, under the pressure of the people, to give up nuclear power plants and nuclear armaments.
The traditional alliance with Russia against the United States (that traditionally supported Pakistan, aiming at their petrol) already had a severe blow when the communist regime fell, revealing a shattered economy and society that had been carefully kept hidden by the control of media and repression of dissenters. All over the world, the communist parties in various countries had either waned or changed their approach. Still, due to the lack of information and communication especially at international level, Indian communists still lived in an idealized past.
Mainstream communism has traditionally been strong in Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. Extremism had also been present all along, and with the economic crisis of the 1960s, extremists had lost all faith in the participation to the government. The Naxalites, a particular brand of communist extremist terrorists, originated in Naxalban, a subdivision of Darjeeling (West Bengal) in 1967, when the tribal cultivators rebelled against the tea plantation economy that had monopolized the land.
A similar movement had developed Andhra Pradesh in the late 1960s, when the “Girijans” forest tribals became restless because they were losing land to money lenders. Their economic situation was extremely precarious. In 1968 an organization was founded on a Maoist line, called Girijan Sangam, vowing the “annihilation of class enemies”. From 1969 to 1971 they occupied the Government’s wastelands, forest land and the farms of the big landlords. The army repressed the movement in 1971.
Apart the political problems posed by the Muslim community (supported by foreign Muslim countries), the separatist movements and terrorist activities, the communist pressure, the growing conversion campaigns and political pressure of Christian missionaries, the BJP government had to deal with other uncomfortable legacies.
In 1951 the literacy percentage of the population was 18%. In 1998 it had raised to 64%. However, literacy campaigns were often conducted for political purposes by Christians and communists (Kerala has a literacy rate of 100%), creating new problems while solving a previous one.
Another problem connected with literacy is the sad plight of women in India. In the 1990s, the percentage of illiteracy among women (national average) was still 75% in urban areas and 95% in rural areas. The difficulties women face in India start from inequality in education. When the purdah was imposed by Muslim rulers on Hindu society, women lost all influence on society and were denied education (even literacy). Even today, the results of the purdah are afflicting Indian society: generally women are discouraged from public careers, they have no right to choose their partner or divorce, or remarry if they become widows. The dowry and the exorbitant costs of marriages also puts a tremendous burden on the families, and this has caused huge percentages of female infanticide and abortions of female fetuses (the sex of the fetus can be detected by ultrasound). Malnutrition and mistreatment of women, especially in backward and illiterate groups of population who are already prey to ignorant beliefs and a bad quality of life, fatally brings to malnutrition and poor health in children and complications in childbirth and in the subsequent adult life.
Unfortunately, the problem of ignorance, lack of education, malnutrition and mistreatment of women is not limited to illiterate and destitute sections of society: it also affects wealthy and “educated” families who send boys to schools but believe that the only possible future of a girl is getting married. These are still various issues waiting to be corrected in modern India.
As we can see, India has grown tremendously through the years, and now that India is free from the controlling influence of major invaders and oppressive rulers, it is no surprise that it is again becoming a great nation, meaning a major power in the economic world. Still, there is much growth for it to do and many issues that it is resolving, but there is much hope for what India can show the world, if it can overcome the corruption in business and politics, and social discrepancies that divide instead of unite India as a society.