Why post-colonial lords have a colonial hangover

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William Dalrymple
Airbrushing the past British historian William Dalrymple. Photo: Tehelka Archives

Holocaust deniers in the West are banished to the fringes of academia and society. In India, they strut around like peacocks and get invited to society parties. Joining the long list of Hindu-phobic holocaust deniers is William Dalrymple, who runs the Jaipur Literature Festival. On 30 October, the Scotsman tweeted: “The Hindu Kush – the Tears of the Hindus – named after the Delhi craftsmen forcibly transported to Samarkand by Timur.” These are the words of a man who describes himself as a historian and Indophile.

First up, Hindu Kush does not mean tears of the Hindus. It means Hindu-killer, and is named so because of the numerous Hindu men, women and children who perished while crossing these mountains when they were being hauled off to the slave markets of Central Asia by Muslim invaders. Their numbers run into the millions going by the accounts of Muslim chroniclers who accompanied these invaders, in particular Mahmud Ghazni and Muhammad Ghori.

Let’s hear it from the experts. Koenraad Elst, a leading Indologist from the University of Leuven in Belgium, quotes Arabic-French translation of Ibn Batuta’s travels. In Voyages d’Ibn Battuta, the Moroccan traveller says: “Another motive for our journey was fear of the snow, for in the middle of this route there is a mountain called Hindu Kush, meaning ‘Hindu-killer’, because many of the male and female slaves transported from India die in these mountains because of the violent cold and the quantity of snow.”

Elst writes: “Yes, Ibn Battuta testifies that Hindu Kush means ‘Hindu-killer’, and he records it as an already existing name. He also testifies the name was occasioned by a Muslim mistreatment of Hindus, viz. their massive abduction as slaves to Central Asia. In his account, the name does not refer to one particular incident of slaughter, but to the frequent phenomenon of caravans of Hindu slaves crossing the mountain range and losing part of their cargo to the frost.”

Secondly, Dalrymple throws in Timur to back up his argument. Here’s what Elst has to say: “While we are at it, we may lay to rest another misconception concerning the name Hindu Kush. It is sometimes claimed that the term refers to the occasion when the Uzbek invader Timur transported a mass of Hindu slaves and a hundred thousand of them died in one unexpectedly cold night on this mountain. This is a case of confusion with another incident, where indeed a hundred thousand Hindus died (were killed) in one night by Timur’s hand. That was in 1399, when Timur, fearing an uprising of his Hindu prisoners to coincide with the battle he was planning for the next days, ordered his men to kill all their Hindu slaves immediately, totalling a hundred thousand killed that very night.

“Ibn Battuta lived a few generations earlier, and he mentions ‘Hindu Kush’ as an already well-established usage. In his understanding, the reference was not to one spectacular occasion of slaughter, nor of mass death by frost, but of a recur- ring phenomenon of slaves on transport dying there. The number of casualties would not amount to a hundred thousand in a single night, but over centuries of Hindu slave transports by Muslim conquerors, the death toll must have totalled a far greater number.” If Dalrymple’s got it all wrong — as he has on several occasions — then he needs to take a crash course in history. But coming shortly after the religious clashes in Delhi, his timing looks suspicious.

The problem with the British is that even seven decades after they ceased to be a global power, they continue to suffer from a colonial hangover. Former prime minister IK Gujral illustrated it perfectly while rejecting British foreign secretary Robin Cook’s offer to mediate on the Kashmir issue: “Britain is a third-rate power nursing delusions of grandeur of its colonial past. It created Kashmir when it divided India. And now it wants to give us a solution.”

Throughout the colonial era, especially at Partition in 1947, and later during the 1971 India-Pakistan War and during the years of Khalistani terrorism, Britain backed forces that were hostile to India.

Take the Gates of Somnath incident of 1842 when governor-general Edward Law, the First Earl of Ellenborough, removed the wooden gates of a mosque in Ghazni, Afghanistan, and brought them to India. He claimed the British had got back the gates of Somnath looted by Ghazni in 1024. The governor general then displayed the gates around the country, and proclaimed that the British had avenged an insult 800 years back.

But the gates were anything but Indian, and were proven to be of Afghan origin. They are currently stored in the Agra Fort, with an Archaeological Society of India plaque saying: “It is lying here either as a war trophy of the British campaign of 1842 or as a sad reminder of the historic lies of the East India Company.”

Colonialists and carpetbaggers — whose only interest was to kill Indians and siphon wealth back to Britain — were pretty much the norm during the 200 years of British rule. The irony is that 67 years after the British retreat from India, people like Dalrymple are allowed to peddle snake oil here. While outwardly claiming to be friends of India, they play the divide-and-enjoy game perfectly, knowing full well that there are many Macaulayites — a class of people Indian in looks and English in outlook — who will pay good money for their concoctions.

Now, the term “friend of India” takes on an Orwellian turn when it comes from the British. To illustrate, in January 2012, frustrated at the loss of a multi-billion dollar fighter contract to archrival France, the British launched a tirade against India. While the usual India-baiters such as the British media talked about India’s “ingratitude” (for daring to question the benefits of colonialism?), it was the reaction of the so-called liberals that was an eye-opener. The Labour Party’s Barry Gardiner, a self-styled friend of India, called for “downgrading” of India-UK trade relations.

Dalrymple is no different — he is no friend of India either. He just likes to play the gora (white) sahib to his many Indian followers or sepoys (Indian soldiers who facilitated the rapid expansion of the British Empire). The Jaipur Lit Festival, for instance, has become the watering hole where Indian leftists, liberals and anti-national elements congregate under the auspices of their gora master. Indeed, sepoys of a feather flock together.

The Scotsman is clearly upset at the rise of the nationalists because anti-national forces are losing traction. Dalrymple’s neat little racket is in danger of coming unstuck. Perhaps he’s not getting any sleep and in his sleep-deprived state is prone to make nonsensical statements.

In an April 2005 article in the New York Review of Books, he is all over the place, trashing Indian history and abusing Hindu nationalists, and just stops short of saying that India was better off under his ancestors. He comes up with this gem: “The Nehru-era school textbooks were the work of the greatest historians of their day, among them Romila Thapar and RS Sharma, who tended to come from the left-leaning elite.”

Thanks to the reach of social media, Indians know that Thapar and Sharma have peddled the worst lies about Indian history. They are set to slide into the proverbial dustbin. The twosome are Lenin’s ‘useful idiots’ — a Soviet-era term for people perceived as propagandists for a cause whose goals they are not fully aware of, and who are used cynically by the leaders of the cause.

At the same time, Dalrymple never talks about the massive wealth that his family has accumulated by plundering India. Arvind Kumar writes in Indiafacts that he suffers from an incurable colonial hangover: “Here is some information published in 1872 giving some clues about the size of this loot. William Dalrymple’s direct ancestor, John Warrender Dalrymple, was a judge who was paid a huge sum of 37,992 silver rupees per year when every ounce of silver was worth a sixteenth of an ounce of gold. That is a whopping 27.69 kg of gold per year since each silver rupee weighed 11.66 gm. This amount does not include bribes he may have received to rig lawsuits. This particular Dalrymple was in India for 30 years. That is just one Dalrymple. There were other looters in the family, including a Dalrymple in Madras whose job was to kill Indians. Given this background, William’s massive sense of entitlement should surprise no one.”

It is because of this sense of entitlement that when Englishmen and women set foot in India, something goes off in their brain and they start believing they can be some sort of interlocutors between Hindus and Muslims.

It is ironical that while Indians have for decades studied history concocted by European scholars to justify British rule in India, the modern-day British have airbrushed all colonial crimes from their history books. The likes of Dalrymple should, therefore, go back and reform their own country. They have no business being in India, which anyway has enough brown sahibs who can perform the same role — for a lot less.

(The views expressed are the author’s own)

2 COMMENTS

  1. When I read through the comments, NONE dare comment or challenge
    the accuracy of historical facts in this article.
    All the comments are merely “Hindu nationalists” or “tehelka stooped to low levels”
    That speaks a lot.

    Two further points that are relevant here.
    1. When the RamJanBhoomi verdict was out, all these (fake) historians ran and hid. The judgement exposed how little & quite ignorant the leftist historians were.
    Under no circumstances should history be left to raving lunatic sepoy zombies who parrot “personal abuse” at the slightest hint of discomfort.

    2. Jaipur lit fest had a tough time accomodating Salman Rushdie. So dont you ever speak about human rights, freedom of expression or Hindu fanatic B$. The left lost the moral right to be anywhere near history.

    Worse times await the fake historians like Darlympylekylemyle & Romila Thapar – both of them know NO Sanskrit but they are historians? What a monkey show this is ? And we have sepoys who defend them? HOw low & stupid must one be to serve as footsoldiers for the ignorant?

  2. Great and wonderful article!

    The Dalrymple kind of ilk have received patronage under a very anti-Indian,anti-Hindu patronage system. The goal of these people is to keep lying and trashing India,Hindus and culture to create an environment of self-doubt in generations of Indians. They kept this charade to get funds from western Govts. and agencies. The lies they keep spinning and coverage they get is enormous. Great that Modi is discarding this trash into dustbin of history.

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