1,200 years of servitude: PM Modi offers food for thought

New Delhi: "Barah sau saal ki gulami ki maansikta humein pareshan kar rahi hai. Bahut baar humse thoda ooncha vyakti mile, to sar ooncha karke baat karne ki humari taaqat nahin hoti hai (The slave mentality of 1,200 years is troubling us. Often, when we meet a person of high stature, we fail to muster strength to speak up).

Those were some seminal words in the speech of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Lok Sabha on Wednesday. He was speaking as part of the Motion of Thanks to the President’s address to the joint session of the Parliament on 9 June. The key phrase was – "1,200 years of slave mentality".

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

For years, India has grown up on the hard fact of "slavery of 200 years", that refers to the period that the country was under the British rule. By expanding it to 1,200 years—by including the millennium in which major rulers of the country were Muslims—is PM Modi trying to bring about a paradigm change in the way we perceive our history?

However, this is not the first time he has used this phrase in his speech – he has referred to "1,200 years of slavery" in quite a few of his addresses in previous years. The phrase assumes significance now as he is the prime minister of the country.

Scholars are divided on their assessment of this new usage in the context of Indian history. Makkhan Lal, historian and former ICHR Council member, says, "The prime minister has stated historical facts. He was not asserting to political correctness. Whether Ghoris, Ghaznavis, or the rulers of the Sultanate or the Mughal period, they were all foreigners originally. They didn't belong to the culture of the land then. They came from outside, waged wars against the local rulers, took them captive and in many cases, plundered the resources and ruled the land by enslaving the locals."

The question, it seems, is not about foreign rule or local rule, but about 'slavery' or subservience to a foreign power that gave birth to slave mentality. Lal elaborates, "Had the British not left India in 1947, and stayed on and become one among the Indians, they too would have begun to be considered as non-foreign."

Social scientist Shiv Visvanathan throws more light on the subject when he says, "The PM has clearly gone beyond the colonial rule but it is not about British rule or Muslim rule. He is probably referring to the perception a particular rule left on the minds of the people, periods that gave birth to a certain kind of dependency, slavery, sycophancy, whether during the Muslim period or the British rule."

After all, it was not just Hindu rulers that the invading Muslims fought against. In later period, often, the locals challenging the invading Muslim armies were Muslim themselves. Says Rajeev Kumar Srivastav of Banaras Hindu University, "Most of the foreign Muslim rulers of India between 1206-1256 paid obeisance to the Khalifa and not to an Indian authority, which clearly points to their foreign character. Even local Muslims were at loggerheads with the Muslim rulers, which is clearly referred to in the book Tarikh-i-Firoz Shahi, by Zia-ud-din Barni and Shams-i-Siraj Afifi written during Muhammad bin Tughlaq and Firuz Shah's reign.”

As expected, the repositioning of the period of 'slavery' in Indian history is bound to incite academic attack. Mushirul Hasan, historian and former vice chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia, says, "It is complete falsification of history. Several historians have refuted this fact but if the government wants to revisit it, they are free to do so, just as we are free to contest. The British didn't make India their home, whereas Muslims who came here, settled in India and contributed to the country’s culture. That gave birth to the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb (syncretic culture)."

Lal, currently a senior fellow at Vivekananda International Foundation appeals to not lend communal colour to the phrase. He reiterates, "History should be based on straight facts and not to appease as has been the case in the past. The phrase "1,200 years of slavery" is neither saffronisation nor colourisation of history but only a reference to the deep conditioning of slave mentality that Indians have undergone over the centuries".


Published Date: Jun 13, 2014 09:07 am | Updated Date: Jun 13, 2014 09:13 am

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