The popular perception goes that Islam spread in the Indian subcontinent because of the discriminatory caste system in India. This very perception has been taken head-on by the writer KS LAL based on chronicles of Muslim ulemas and the tribal folk songs. In the first chapter INTRODUCTION, he identifies the problem in the theory that the lower castes and tribes are the “indigenous” Indians. He asserts that the upper caste Hindus are as much indigenous as lower castes.
AL Beruni, eleventh century, talks about the four-fold classification in India and eight sections of the antyajs (untouchable). Before the advent of Islam the Greeks, the Parthians, The Sakas or Scynthiyans, the Kushans, the Huns, etc invaded and assimilated in the cultural mainstream Hinduism.
In successive Censuses, the British termed the tribals as Aboriginals (1881), Animists (1891-1911) and the adherent of tribal religion ( 1921-1931).
People involved in the same occupation generally belong to the same caste and people having a common clan said to belong to the same tribe.
The writer forwards the thesis about how the higher caste people drifted from the state of higher position to the state of SCs and STs-
- Peasants and Zamindars fought and defeated by the invaders, worked on land became the schedule caste.
- Many who fled in the inaccessible jungle to get rid of oppressive taxes and humiliation. Became the tribes.
The second chapter: Tribes and Caste all staunch Hindus.
The writer enlists the castes and tribes found in India. In Eastern India, the Ahoms willingly accepted Hinduism and celebrated festivals like rath yatras, Holi, Janmashtmi, Bihu. The Koch prefer themselves as “Rajbanshis”. Manipuris and Tipperas are Hindus while Chakma and Maghs are Buddhists. The tribes of Bengal, Bihar, Orrisa are Hindus while tribes of Gaya were counted as “Semi Hindus” by the British. The invaders and immigration from the sides of Assam, Tibet, Burma were not confirmed Hindus.
Central India is the home of a range of tribes. Gondwana is the home of Gonds who are the Raj Gonds, the aristocrats, and the dhur Gonds, the commoners. They don sacred thread and inheritors of great cultural and political history.
The Yadavs dynasty ruled Devgiri, present-day Daulatabd, ousted by Khalji in 1318.
THE WESTERN INDIA: Bhils are the most numerous, they always remained Hindus and some reckoned as Rajputs.
NORTHERN INDIA: Of the Chamars, Ahairs, Rajputs, Koris, Kurmis, Brahmins, the Bhars, etc Chamars are the most numerous. The writer debunks the notion that Chamars were easy converts to Islam than the upper caste. In the 1901 census, the numbers of Muslim Rajputs and the Hindu Rajputs were same in Muzaffarnagar and there was no such thing as Muslim Chamar. There are incidents of rulers submitting to Islam without giving a fight like those of Raja Har Dutt of Baran who converted to Islam along with his army when Ghaznavi invaded but no Muslim chronicle mention of lower caste accepting Islam voluntarily.
The women rights were not alien to tribes of Santhals, Oran or Gonds. They did not carry female infanticide.
Third Chapter: Conflict of Indian Tribes with Muslim Invader
The Muslim chroniclers affirm that when Mohammad Bin Qasim Sakifi attacked Sindh in 712 CE. He was joined by the Jats and the Meds as they were humiliated for their low caste under the reign of Raja Dahir. The writer questions this version as the “account of Al Kufi and AL Biladuri are full of contradistinction”. Jats who sent firewood to the royal kitchens and were guides of the king on highways. They were loyal to the king. The basic cause of the invasion of Sindh was the inability of Raja Dahir to protect the ships of Hajjaj Bin Yusuf Sakifi as it was raided by pirates who were the Meds.
The Jats who joined Arabs would have certainly disenchanted later when they witnessed the large scale killings and pillage of temples. Jats rebelled and did guerilla warfare. They were crushed brutally, enslaved, sold. Some even migrated to places as far as “Europe”. Jats remained rebel throughout even severely harassing the armies of Ghaznavi when it was returning after the looting the Somnath temple.
Khokhers of the salt ranges, stretches from Jhelum to the east to the Indus to the west, did same to Ghauri what Jats did to Ghaznavi. Khokhers were later brutally slaughtered and plundered at the hands of Sultan Balban. For two and a half centuries they defied Muslim invasion, retained their tribal culture till Bahlol Lodhi made peace with them in 1451 BC.
Forests were a great boon for the defeated kings and inhabitants as they escaped the plunder and conversion. There is a specific instance from Ghaznavi’s time when Chand Rai chief of Saraswa or the inhabitants of Kannauj escaped into the jungle. Meos of Mewat used the forest tracts to harass sultan Balban and Alauddin Khalji. Alauddin Khalji made a tower of skulls of 30000 Meos to dissuade the latter from carrying on the insurgency.
Fourth chapter: Growth of Tribes and Caste Under Muslim rules.
In this chapter, the writer emphasizes the condition of the masses under the rules of different rules during the sultanate period.
Under the Turks the greatest period was under sultan Alauddin Khalji (1296-1316). To maintain the grand army and all the government expenses the peasants were extracted fifty percent of the wealth and jizyah and thus they were humiliated and impoverished which often resulted in the escape in the jungles as mentioned by Amir Khusrau, Baranu, Ibn Batuta.
Under the Afghans (1451 to 1526.): The rule spanned across Delhi, Punjab, Sindh, Uttar Pradesh but “no region was quite submissive”. The tax collectors were more of a ‘’robber band’’ than officials. Mewatis rebelled repeatedly. Rai Sumer’s son Deva Rai defended his town of Etawah in 1423. Sultan Sikander Lodi launched a campaign against Baghelkhand. Sultan ravaged the countryside to the extent that he was forced to retreat because of his own destruction. Inhabitants fled to the wilds of Chota Nagpur but Baghelkhand remained independent with the crippled strength and prosperity. Gwalior under the Tomars emerged as the finest centre of culture but the Lodi sultans and the Babur after persistent exertion of 30 years managed to destroy it, the inhabitants took the refuge in ravines of Morena, Chamble, Bhindh as dreaded “robbers” as written by Abul Fazl. Although Sher Shah introduced some reforms for road safety and peasantry, his officials “prosper(ed)” as the expense of “zamindars and peasants”
UNDER THE MUGHALS: the greatest empire in the contemporary world was no relief for the peasantry. “Akbar carried out many reforms“ but the conditions became intolerable by the time of Shah Jahan and Jehangir.Peasantry armed themselves to defend against the tax collectors. Armed peasants provided contingent to the Baheliyas, the Bhadauriyas, the Bachgotis, the Mandahars, the Tomars in the earlier period and the Jats, Maratha, and the Sikhs in the later.
Chapter V: Direct Confrontation With the Low Caste :
Barwaris capture of Delhi for more than four months but later invaded and stamped out by Giyasuddin Tuglaq. Hasan, who was enslaved and converted rose to a high rank of wazir in the reign of Qutubuddin Mubarak Khalji. He rebelled and took over the throne. Some forty thousands barwaris were in Delhi at the time of resurrection.
The legend of Rani Durgawati of Gondwana is a classic example of tribal resistance against the Mughals. Her bravery, courage, and valor were no less than Nur Jahan. Her kingdom was civilized as per the medieval standards. She had great contests with Baj Bahadur of Malwa and the Miana Afghans between 1555 and 1560 where she was always victorious. Kingdom of “Garha Katanga”( today’s Jabalpur ) was invaded and destroyed by Akbar just to show off his strength. Later the predominance passed in the hands of chiefs of Deogarh and Chanda. Devgarh royal family embraced Islam to retain their land in 1670. Still “Muslim gond rajas resisted Mughal intrusion with the help of Chatrasal Bundela and the Marathas”.
Bhils support to Rana Pratap against Akbar: The Bhils are small, dark but well built. Because of them, the chiefs of Mewar was never short of manpower. As Rana Pratap was not prepared to be humbled by Akbar. He, therefore, transformed Mewar in the union of “nobly born lords and the low born bhils”. The state emblem is the “testimony” of “equal status given to the bhils”.
Five thousand Satnamis, followers of Ravidas confronted Aurangzeb’s Army in march 1672 as “a war of Hindu liberation from the persecution of Aurangzeb”. In 1669 Jat peasantry , under the leadership of Gokul , zamidar of Tilpat rose to rebel against the faujdar of Mathura, who built the mosque on the ruins of the ancient temple. Guru Gobind Singh made the Khalsa army in response to the Mughal atrocities. Most of his recruits were Jats. Jat Leaders like Raja Ram and later his nephew Churaman organized themselves and plundered the royal revenue sent from Provinces to the capital. Churaman descendants ruled Bharatpur till 1947. ‘’Suraj Mal ……..spearheaded the freedom struggle in Agra and Mathura region ”.Shivaji was a Kunbi but accepted all over India as Chattrapati.
Jani Shikar is an interesting festival of Oraons where women dress like men.”….Mughals attacked the Oraons in Rohtas, women had to take up the arm as their menfolk were too drunk”. In 1195 CE the Mehr tribe of Ajmer rose in revolt against the Muslims and the Chalukyas of Gujarat came to their rescue. Inscriptions dated AD1345 describes how Reddis defended the “cows and Brahmins” after the kshatriyas were eliminated. An inscription of Singya Nayaka, 1368 CE, clearly proclaims pride in belonging to the low caste.
Chapter VI Contribution of Backward Castes to Hindu Society
The writer describes the character of the caste or tribes as ‘All tribes and caste are thus like mini religious groups comprising the corpus of Hinduism. They have remained attached to their caste or ‘tribal religion’ with as much zeal as has been done by Buddhists, Jain and even Muslims and Christians ……..tribes and caste are the religion of unwritten rules’.
“All those who ate beef or allied foods like meat, fish, poultry, and pork, began to be treated as outcastes and Untouchables”. The Muslims were referred to as ‘mlecchas’ and the Europeans “farangs”.
Although the generally and popularly held thesis is that upper caste always treated lower caste with contempt. But the writer could not find any evidence in medieval chroniclers. Even after the struggle between two castes the victor would not treat the defeated cruelly. The Minas who held good part of modern-day Jaipur dispossessed by the Kachhwaha Rajput in the twelfth century but it ended in the honorable custom for “the mina to mark the teeka on the forehead of new chief of Amber”. Similar tradition goes for the Jats with Bikaner Rajput chief. “It was necessary for the recognition of Rajput chiefs in Mewar, Dungarpur, Banswara till the fifteenth century that they should be marked on the brow with a Bhil’s blood.”
The lower caste saint had been revered all across the Hindu society and the bhakti movement was a kind of protestant movement where all caste whether high or low played an equally important role. Dhanna, Raidas are a prime example. After the severe suppression of the Satnamis, the Kshtraiyas like Jagjivandas reorganized them.
Citing Francois Bernier the writer attributes the reason for the poverty of the lower caste to Muslim nobility as the “artisans were not paid their due wage”, “agriculturists seek shelter with Hindu rajas…”. The hundred years of Mughal rule from Akbar to Jhahjahan (1556-1658) supposed to be the best period in the whole epoch of Muslim rule in India. …..the condition was most deplorable”, this oppression has been testified by several foreign travellers. Moreover, the cadre of Churha or Bhangi was encouraged, if not introduced, by the Muslims because of the purdah system in women and there is no recorded evidence of “Hindu town planning and social customs in ancient India..(which) suggest the existence of dry latrines”.
Social Mobility of Backward castes: “Anyone who was poor or was reduced to poverty became a Shudra, a shudra who gained economic, social, or political status used to become kshatriya”. Examples are Jats and Marathas. Tharu tribe in Tarai of Indo-Nepal border trace their linage to Somvanshi Rajputs.
Chapter VII: Muslim army and the backward Class
The principle of war between the invading army and the defending army had a stark contrast. The war waged by the Muslim invaders was no ordinary war. It was a jihad for the cause of Islam, converting people to the “true faith”, maiming, raping, casting terror in the hearts of the infidel. Hindus waged the war according to the dharma sutras where warrior should fight the equals without harming the children, women, elderly. Field, temples were left unmolested. All these have been testified by the Magesthenes.
The inflow of foreign soldiers and enslaved kids were the potential recruits for the invading armies. Recruitment seems to be based on merit ”after hard and gruelling tests”. “Good quality of war horses were responsible for the success of Ghazanvids and Ghaurids in Northern India. Individual Hindu Kings cavalry were no match with the central Delhi sultanate. From the construction technique of the forts of the Hindu kings, it seems that their armies were not cavalry oriented. Prime importance was given to the elephants and the infantry. Although the “efficacy of elephants in medieval warfare is controversial”. Indian bow, made of cane, was short range compared to mountain bows wholly made of horn. Indian blades and sword were, no doubt, good if not better than their counterparts. Rajputs were good in close combat with swords but they did not war engines like arrada , gargach , haqqaha, etc. Muslim invaders who have detailed treatise on administration and on military matters in particular “hardly any works on military science of Rajputs can be found”. Turks had developed a magnificent strategy of war which had come down on Indian sultans as a legacy from central Asia.
Categorically declaring Hindu army to be inferior “may not be fair”. If Ghauri won the second battle of Tarori, Prithviraj Chauhan won the first. Arabs twice suffered defeat at the hands of kings of Sindh before the success of Muhammad bin Qasim.
India is one country which saved itself from being Islamic in the medieval period, this could be possible because of sacrifices of all section of society.
GROWTH OF SCHEDULED TRIBES AND CASTES IN MEDIEVAL INDIA
From the magnum opus like ‘Wonder that was India’ to the classic text book on Ancient India by Ram Saran Sharma the theory which repeatedly echos is the ‘Aryan–Dravidian theory’ .The hordes of pastoralist men of Aryan race invaded the Indian subcontinet . They defeated the ‘aborginals’ who were dark skinned and made them their slaves ‘dasas’. The aborigines were suppressed or pushed deep into the wild. To avoid the intermixing of blood strict rules of marriage was introduced through the caste system.
While foreign character of turks, afgan, mughals are ignored as they made India there homes unlike the British colonisers whereas the Aryans were foreigners who subdued the natives are considered real villains of history . The caste based discrimination is often viewed from the lens of modern standards of human rights whereas the Islamic destruction is ignored as common medieval practice . Islam, which believes in equality,is rather projected as a succour to the low caste people, victims of hindu social hierarchy .Rather its believed that Islam brought architecture , culnirary and civilization called “ganga-jamuni tehzeeb”.
K S Lal accentuate the loopholes in the theory of upper caste pushing the lower caste into the wild as the medieval chroniclers documents several incidents of inhabitants escaping in the mountains and forests .Had the upper caste , actually pushed the tribes in the wild the folk lore would have testified but the folklore of tribal festival of Jani Shikhar nararates the ‘attacker’ as the ‘muslims’. Another classic example is the epic defense of the gonds under the leadership of Rani Durgawati against the mughals . In the south of India where Dravid nationalism has swept the minds of academics , politics alike it is really hard to ignore an inscription of 1345 which eulogises the Reddis who defended the cows and brahmins against the “Mlechchas“ kings after the kashtriyas were eliminated .
The 1901 census in which the number of Hindu Rajputs and the Muslim Rajputs were equal and there was no single person called “muslim chamar” puts serious question mark over the assumption that schedule caste were easy converts to Islam on the contrary Raja Har Dutt of modern day bundelkhand accepted Islam without giving a fight to save his kingdom from Ghaznavi . Lower caste have rebelled continuously throughout the medieval history . “Meos were addicted to rebellion”. The resurrection 40000 Barwaris in Delhi is a prime example when Barwaris capture of Delhi for more than four months under the leadership of Hasan ,a hindu converted to Islam who rose up to the rank of Wazir in the reign of Qutubuddin Tuqlaq.
The kingdom of Gwalior was a centre of high culture but it was destroyed by repeated invasion of Afgans and later babur. The country of ‘garha katanga’ was civilised as per the medieval standards but was invaded and destroyed by Akbar. Jats, who rebelled repeatedly since the advent of Mohammad bin Qasim, rebelled again when Mughal faujdar built a mosque over the temple ruins in Mathura in 1661-62. Development of “ganga-jamuni tehzeeb” and language of urdu at the expense of the destruction of ancient centre of learning in Kashmir, Ayodhya, Kashi etc lakhs of temple (as per survey of SR Goyal ) is too big price to pay.
On one hand the writer meticulously underlines the fanatic zeal of Islamic invader and on the other hand he gives a walkover to the inherent weaknesses of the caste system.‘’Give a to the chamars choice to become brahmins they will not do so , give a brahmans the option to become vasihyas or shudra they will not” .Here the writer over generalised the whole scenario, Brahmins have played the role of kshatriyas like Pushyamitra Shung, Chitpawan Brahmins who ruled as Peshwas , Mohyals. Although Sociologist like Pannikar were of the opinion that shudra who gained wealth and power became kshatriya but getting the social acceptability as a kshatriya is a daunting task. As mentioned by the writer that Shivaji inspite of being a kunbi was accepted as Chattrapati. The journey of his ‘rajya-abhishek’ was not an easy one. When he decided to assert his kinghood Brahmins questioned his caste notwithstanding his ‘karma’ of giving new lease of life to hindus . Thankfully Gaga Bhatt of Banaras defeated everyone in debate to establish him as kashtriya so that he finally became Chatrapati.
The upword mobility of a caste to relatively higher position ,through the process of Sanskritization as described by MN srinivas is a painstakingly slow process which involves strict self regulation of food habits, giving up commensality with equivalent caste or rather ritually treating them lower for a generation or two. All these sacrifices may give them relatively higher subcaste status.
The writers explains that “those who ate beef or allied foods like meat, fish, poultry began to be treated as outcasts and untouchables’’ . This statement is not wholly true as non vegetarian diet is staple for kashmiri pundits and bengali are know for their love for fish.Dishes like Lal Mas , Safed mas , Hara mas are trademark of Rajputs. As Swami Vivekanad said that Cow has been the animal of reverence in whole hindu society but it cannot be said for other meat, say pork. The khalsa army of Guru Gobind Singh had a proper code of killing an animal called “jhatka maryada” . Gurkha even to this day sacrifice buffalo.
Temple entry have been an emotive issue for the dalits but the writer has underplayed it by reducing the probability of discrimination as “one in a million”. Although they are legally allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum of the temple but the priest usually avoid presiding over their pooja inside however they conduct the rituals outside the sanctum sanctorum.
There is a famous anecdote when Swami Vivekanand called the kerala state “lunatic asylum” for its rigid caste rules.
Jadunath Sarkar ,In Shivaji and his times, writes “In the security , power and wealth engendered by their independence ,the marathas of the 18th century forgot the past record of muslim persecution;their social grades turned against each other. Brahmins living east of Sahyadri range despised those living west of it”
Dr.Meenakshi Jain in an interview with Rajiv Malhotra admits that Marxist historians of JNU and AMU ruled the academics and historians who did not conform with their ideologies were sidelined and even their careers affected. In these circumstances the works of KS LAL stands extraordinary. The theories of aryan invasion stands dwarf on the parameters of archeology and genetic science so the interpretation of migration of hindus into the deep forest to escape the fanaticism of muslim invader appears more logical.
Author : Anonymous Hindu