Author: Meenakashi Lekhi
Publication: The Week
Date: March 12, 2017
India is home to people of different cultures and religions right from the ancient times. People of different races and creeds have been part of the Indian cultural fabric and have contributed to making it what it is today. However, in the past, India has also witnessed the rule of tyrants, zealots and bigoted invaders who threatened the beliefs, culture, religion and value system of those times. There are several examples of such rulers in history.
The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, for instance, was a religious fanatic who mandated obedience and wished to force his subjects to follow his notions of religion. He imprisoned his father, emperor Shah Jahan, and killed his brothers to become the emperor. Under his rule, a large number of Rajput and Maratha kings and subjects were tortured and killed in the most brutal manner for disagreeing with him. He persecuted not only Hindus but also Muslims who did not agree with his conception of Islam. Temples were vandalised and destroyed during his tyrannical reign. His actions could have destroyed India’s cultural fabric. India, as we know it today, would never have existed.
Another example is Timur, a 14th century Turkic king, who invaded Delhi in 1398. He, too, was a religious fanatic who had his eyes on India’s immense wealth. He massacred the people of Delhi and plundered its wealth.
In the present day, some people have made attempts to humanise such tyrants by justifying the thought behind their acts of zealotry. They do so without understanding the enormity of the atrocities committed by the tyrants. Celebrating savagery and intolerance is unacceptable to the idea of India. Modern world is witnessing the crude brutality of ISIS, but India has witnessed similar savagery for centuries.
By humanising the tyrants, such people are doing injustice to historical figures who have contributed to preserving our country’s culture. Take Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Shah Jahan, for instance. An intellectual who put in a lot of effort to promote discourse, peace and concord between Hindus and Muslims, Dara Shikoh authored many books, and encouraged debates and discussions between pundits and maulvis on religion. He encouraged the celebration of Hindu festivals, and participated in them himself. He passionately promoted unity and universal brotherhood.
In a battle for the throne, Aurangzeb defeated and captured Dara Shikoh and executed him after publicly shaming him. Had Dara Shikoh become king instead of Aurangzeb, the persecution committed during Aurangzeb’s reign could have been avoided. Dara Shikoh has not received the glory that he deserves because too much emphasis is laid on Aurangzeb’s rule.
Today, there are several places that are named after tyrants. The city of Aurangabad is named after Aurangzeb. Until recently, a road in Delhi was named after him. It is abhorrent to continue to allow a road to be named after a tyrant. The people who have argued that the renaming of Aurangzeb Road is a distortion of history must realise that naming something after a person signifies a mark of respect and honouring such tyrants would be a blunder.
I am not surprised when in spite of mixed backgrounds, some people don’t wish to name their sons Ram, but why can’t they pick names like Dara Shikoh, Rahim or Kabir? Our culture of tolerance and universal values needs to be respected and certainly not challenged by celebrating savages and brutes.