Thursday, March 30, 2017

US scholar's book argues Aurangzeb wasn't a Hindu-despising Islamic fanatic, gets hatemails "almost hourly"

By Our Representative
A new book by senior American scholar Audrey Truschke, “Aurangzeb: The Man and the Myth”, has stirred a major controversy, as it seeks to contest the strongly-held view across India that last of the six great kings of the powerful Mughal dynasty was a Hindu-despising Islamist fanatic.
Assistant Professor at Rutgers University, Newark, Truschke has complained that she has been getting a lot of hatemails ever since the book was published. According to her, these days she is “bombarded almost hourly”, adding, “My Twitter account is a nightmare right now. It hasn’t been fun.”
Reporting on the book and the aftermath, Rutgers University’s news section, which provides information on “faculty publications, history, India, arts and science”, calls Truschke a “leading scholar of South Asian cultural and intellectual history.”
Introducing Aurangzeb as “one of the most hated figures in Indian history”, whose empire “stretched across the Indian subcontinent during the heyday of Muslim rule in the region from the 16th to 18th centuries”, the report states, ever since this year’s publication of the book, “Truschke has been targeted by Hindu-nationalists supporting the ruling BJP and by other groups, whose current anti-Muslim sentiment traces back to medieval times, when Muslims started expanding into the region.”
“The popular view in today’s India is that, like other Mughal kings who were hostile to Indian languages, religions and culture, Aurangzeb was a Hindu-despising Islamist fanatic who destroyed Hindu and Jain temples and imposed a military tax on most non-Muslims”, the report claims.
“But Truschke, one of the few living scholars who reads pre-modern Persian, Sanskrit and Hindi, had in a prior book argued that the Mughal courts were deeply interested in Indian thinkers and ideas, with elites and intellectuals engaging across cultures”, the report says.
Thus, while researching the monograph, “Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court” (2016), says the report, Truschke became “the first scholar to study texts in Sanskrit and Persian in exploring the courtly life of the Mughals.”
Going a step further, according to the report, in her latest work, Truschke “paints a much more nuanced picture of Aurangzeb, showing how he also protected most Hindu and Jain temples and increased the Hindu share in the Mughal nobility.”
The report adds, “Rather than hatred of Hindus driving his decisions, Truschke says, more likely Aurangzeb was guided by political reprisals and other practical considerations of rule, along with morality concerns, and a thirst for power and expansion.”
Pointing out that this interpretation hasn’t “sat well with some factions in India”, the report quotes Truschke as arguing that “as an academic historian, her project wasn’t to play political football with Aurangzeb to satisfy current agendas. It was to recapture the world of the sixth Mughal king, which operated according to quite different norms and ideas.”
“My book looks at Aurangzeb as part of an Indian dynasty in all its complexities and nuances. I don’t ask if he was good or bad; that’s not an interesting historical question,” says Truschke. “I look at him with a purely empirical view, and that has been widely read by Hindu-nationalists as an apology for his Muslim atrocities.”
Truschke further says that “the current ethno-religious tensions in India were stoked during the British colonial period, when Britain benefitted by pitting Hindus and Muslims against each another while portraying themselves as neutral saviors who could keep ancient religious conflicts at bay.”
Contending that the Hindu-right “largely ignore the colonial history and see their history through an Indo-Islamic lens only”, Truschke believes, this is one reason why to contradict a narrative or make it more nuanced and complex “is a problem, since their current position in the Indian cultural and political landscape rests on their reading of the past.”
She insists, “Aurangzeb was a complex king who had a profound impact on the political landscape of 17th- and 18th-century India. As historians, we need to avoid this persistent stance and look at the evidence before us.”

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