(Shefali Vaidya, is quite a presence on Social Media and is known to call a spade a spade. Here she is in conversation with Meenakshi Jain, a sterling historian whose truthful accounts often leaves the Left-Liberal cabal red-faced. The conversation has been transcribed and condensed by @_BhumikaArora to suit the print format.)
Shefali Vaidya: Your monumental work in three volumes called “The India they saw” which is based on the foreign travellers’ accounts, covering a huge span from the 8th to 19th century. What was India to them?
Meenakshi Jain: It was unanimity among all these travellers who came from China, some from Japan, one from Korea. And then, in the Middle Ages, the early travellers were fArabs. Then, of course, Europeans. So they were unanimous that they were coming to India because it had a unique place in the world. It was a land of the system. The Arabs had the term Hikmah (means wisdom) and they wrote that Hikmah came from India. Besides, of course India had a great economic window to offer.
The first account that we have of a foreigner coming to India is in the ancient period and this is an ambassador who comes to the court of one of the Indian kings and he says that my king wants you to send peacock feathers ivory and Indian philosophers so the Indian King says that you know I will gladly send you peacock feathers and ivory but I philosophers are not for sale.
When Alexander came and he wants to meet these philosophers, he sends a couple of his men to ask them to come and sing. But philosophers are not keen to meet Alexander. So Alexander himself goes to meet them. The first question them is why have you undertaken such a long journey.
I cannot think of any other civilization which had this reputation and this aura about it…And I think that is something that you should really cherish.
Shefali Vaidya: How come that we have been fed this lie? Consistent lie which some people are still parroting today that there was no India before the British.
Meenakshi Jain: Actually, who’s parroting it. It is a group of historians. They are echoing what was first advanced by colonial scholars. In Arthashastra, Kautilya says that India from the Himalayas to the seas should have one ruler to be called Chakravarti.
What was it that kept us United? It was a shared culture, a shade of spiritual tradition, shared mythology, a shared epics Purans everything.
So if you look at architecture from the north to the south you will find that all the temples depict scenes from this common corpus so if I am from the north and I am going to see the pool of temples at Mahabalipuram I will be able to at least at once identify okay this is Arjun’s penance, this is Draupadi’s rath. It was the shared cultural unity.
Shefali Vaidya: We are told that position of women was always secondary…
Meenakshi Jain: There is this Italian nobleman Pietro Della Valle, he comes to India in the medieval period in the 16th century. He comes to the South and finds the matrilineal system, women in positions of power.
He writes about he comes to a group of villages and wants to meet the person in charge. He is told she’s a woman. He goes to her house but is told that she’s in the field supervising the construction of a ditch. As he headed for her, and she is returning, he is struck by her ordinariness, walking barefoot. When he starts talking to her, he was struck she sounded as philosophical as the Shah of Iran whom he had interviewed a few months ago.
It only means that the ideas that sustain this culture and civilization had percolated down to the lowest strata of society.
Shefali Vaidya: For his coronation, Shivaji Maharaj called British people from Surat as well as some Dutch, Italians too.
Meenakshi Jain: Yeah.
One more thing that they said this was the sense of community in every village at the village entry point you know boiled rice water would be kept for people who are coming and would be offered to them free of cost because that rice water has a lot of nutritious properties. Such kind of qualities kept the society together even when we didn’t have political power for such long periods.
Why did our society not collapse because they were certain inherent features, certain inherent qualities that had percolated toward the lowest level.
Shefali Vaidya: But how did Indians perceive themselves?
Meenakshi Jain: We found our own solutions to the problems. We struggled, we evolved. But we were not a closed society. We were open to ideas. We were attacked by the Persians, the Greeks but it’s they who Indianized themselves—did we take any aspect of their civilization?
We were so abundant in everything that our concerns were of philosophy, religion, spirituality. There was no part of India which did not produce great thinkers.
Shefali Vaidya: They’re merely echoing the British propaganda that India was just a fragmented collection of people and we sort of brought them together.
Meenakshi Jain: Can you tell me any period in history from any part of India where we did not align ourselves to the great idea of India? There is a dynasty in Andhra that said we are from the family of Ram.
Shefali Vaidya: How the left historians led by Irfan Habib and Romila Thapar have lied…
Meenakshi Jain: You know this whole controversy about Ayodhya, there is a lesson for all of us to learn. There were actually less than one dozen determined scholars of historians united in their contempt for Indian civilization and heritage through their control of the print and electronic media. They could block the other side from expressing or presenting its case.
Shefali Vaidya: (Ayodhya) did the Muslim population ever feel let’s give this place to Hindus as it’s very important to them?
Meenakshi Jain: According to archaeologist KK Mohammad, in 1989 when the dispute actually was joined, there was a section of Muslim community who said this place is not important to us and let’s give it to the Hindus. It was Left historians Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib etc who said you have a very strong case, don’t surrender.
See the Mandir was demolished in 1528 so for the next 300 years the Masjid party was not able to produce one iota of evidence that they were present over there. For 300 years they are not able to prove. So possibly Babur came, smashed, occupied that site but there was not enough local Muslim population to sustain that place.
Shefali Vaidya: You have mentioned in the book that even in the Persian records consistently even Muslims themselves have referred to the place as Janamasthan,,,
Meenakshi Jain: Absolutely. The first time after 1528, that is in 1858, more than 300 years later, the superintendent of Babri Masjid is writing to the British judiciary that people have entered Masjid-e-Janamsthan. It was an acknowledgement on their part. What could be more telling than this?
Shefali Vaidya: I don’t understand one thing why do we call Irfan Habib a Left historian, he’s an Islamist for all practical purposes that’s exactly what he has done
Meenakshi Jain: I don’t know whether you’re aware of his greatest deceitful act.
In 1992 when the Masjid was demolished, an inscription fell from that Masjid, the walls of Masjid, it was 5 feet by 2 feet that means it’s a big inscription and that inscription was in perfect condition because it was embedded in the wall between two walls and it gave the history of the temple who built it when it was built who was the temple for the person who destroyed, etc all that is given.
Now this was clinching proof that it was a temple site and Irfan Habib has to mention this because this role is so, you know painful he said that this inscription was planted there in 1992! Now inscription was not some book that you put in your pocket and plant it. How was it planted? He doesn’t explain that. He doesn’t explain where did this inscription come from. He said it was in some private collection. So we said can we have the name of the private collector? You can’t keep a five feet-by-two-feet inscription in the basement of your house. He said it was actually stolen from the Lucknow Musuem. But the inscription is still with Lucknow Museum. He has not apologised and we haven’t asked for it either. It’s just to indicate to what extent a section of historians went to deny the Hindus their due.
Shefali Vaidya: I know Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib, DN Jha and RS Sharma and Mandal. Not one of them had the intellectual integrity to say that we were wrong and we lied?
Meenakshi Jain: None of them and the interesting thing is that their strategy was very carefully planned. They said that we ourselves will not go to court and we will send our students. Students mean not 18 years 20 years old but those students who have become professors also. So the people they sent concurred with their deceit and they lied in court and the court passed strictures. The court in some cases said you were sent to assist us but you are trying to mislead us so the court was as strict as it could be as harsh as it could be and when they tried to perpetuate the same mischief in the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court said these are your opinions, not facts so the courts have snubbed them. But the point is that publicly they have not apologized they have not said we were wrong; there is no public accountability or admission.
Shefali Vaidya: The book Rama and Ayodhya, it’s a monumental service that you have done to Dharma to India, and towards the truth you’ve read 5,000 pages of the judgment. Unbelievable.
Meenakshi Jain: That is when I realized how strong the Hindu case is because justice Sudhir Aggarwal put all the evidence there and that is when I decided that it has to be investigated. Justice jAggarwal’s judgment was what goaded me to study the matter further. Till this controversy, there was no break in our connection with the heritage. It was universal. Everyone knew. But somehow the way they have written and taught history after independence is when there has been a big rupture.
Shefali Vaidya: So has it been from 1947 since the times of Nehru or as S. L. Bhyrappa told me that it was during Indira Gandhi’s time when CPI supported it?
Meenakshi Jain: Absolutely he is right. In the time of Nehru I don’t think much attention was given to this because what we call nationalist historians were still very dominant like RC Majumdar. Now what happened was that when the Congress government and Indira Gandhi became a minority government she needed some support to stay in power and that is when the CPI said we will support you but we only want one ministry and that is the Education Ministry and from then the assault…let me put it, assault on Indian culture, Indian civilization began in a very systematic (manner) and that assault, unfortunately, continues till today.
Shefali Vaidya: Let’s move to your next book, a monumental work on Sati. Why it’s coming from Bengal which didn’t really have the tradition of Sati. It should’ve come from Rajasthan and to some extent in Maharashtra. Why Bengal?
Meenakshi Jain: Why Bengal? The British first entered India through Bengal and Bengal was the first area that they controlled and they were very clear that they are a trading company they have come here to make money. They have not come here to reform Hindu society and in fact the early Englishmen were full of admiration for Hindu society and Hindu civilization. In fact, if you wanted to find Warren Hastings the first governor-general over the weekend you would not find it because he had gone pundit hunting to Banaras. The early Englishmen were in awe of the Hindu civilization. They tried to understand it, to learn it they learnt the languages. They translated text. They try to promote it and learn it whichever way they could.
Now what happened was that the evangelical movement was born in England. They wanted to Christianize the world. They said India is a place where we are in power. So we must go there. The East India Company had a rule that no missionary would be allowed in their territory and if you boarded a ship from England to India and you said on the ship that you’re a missionary you were offloaded there and then. So if you came by stealth then you were sent back.
Now in Bengal, there was a small Danish colony Shrirampur or Seerampur so that place allowed anyone to come. Now the missionaries said in Parliament that India is a land of evil and we have to go there and spread Christianity. Parliament rejected their case and they said no you are not needed over there but finally, they said to be able to build a case so they came quietly to Calcutta and immediately went to Shrirampur.
Can you imagine these missionaries when they come here they commissioned a private survey of how many Satis are taking place in Calcutta and around Calcutta because they were in Bengal and as you said the center of sati and johar was always Rajasthan never Bengal. Then they started writing reports home exaggerating in every report they would increase the number of people who were immolating and that is why under their pressure, Parliament finally allowed the missionary the right to operate in India but you will be surprised to know that even after Parliament passed this law, several senior British officials who were governors of Bombay and Madras Presidency, for example, they said this is exaggeration they’re hardly a few dozens Sati that happen in the last 20 30 years and this is all missionary propaganda.
Their own people and in fact and I also want to quote over here Abbé Dubois. He was a French Jesuit and he said in the last 30 years I don’t think I have been able to make two conversions and he said that these British Baptist missionaries are spreading falsehood and he wrote a series of letters home which are available letters on the state of Christianity in India and he has debunked this whole missionary effort and he said it’s all lies.
If you start looking for the actual instances of Sati, not just hearsay, the first instance is at the time of Alexander. When he was going back home, he has an Indian contingent, the Indian general dies and the shocked Greek soldiers saw that two of his widows are fighting amongst themselves who will immolate herself. Next recorded instance is in Madhya Pradesh in 580 AD. So there is an interval of 800 years.
I am not saying that Sati was not a custom but it was rare. Because a woman who committed it required superhuman courage.
Interestingly, nobody talks about the women being burnt as witches in Europe!
During this period, millions and millions were dying of famine in British India. How come this was never debated by the missionaries or any British official in India?
Shefali Vaidya: You have paid for this honesty. How did you find publishers? How did you handle this isolation?
Meenakshi Jain: See the personal price that I had to pay really doesn’t bother me because I was not doing Hindu society a favour or anyone a favour. It was my own desire to understand and find the truth that first led me to these topics it was to educate me first and then from that education I realized as a different story and I thought I should put it on record.
What was really painful and hurtful, shocking was the absolute difficulty in finding a publisher. This book Rama and Ayodhya was the first major work on the subject. I had put in so much effort. I felt a foolish person, I thought I had written a bestseller. That publishers will line up at my doorstep. My experience was just the opposite.
There was this publisher who was supposedly sympathetic to the Hindu point of view. I never got a response from that publisher for four months. I was taking a class, I would never forget it, my mobile was on my desk and suddenly I saw a message flash that we regret we cannot use it and it is being returned to you. I can never forget the difficulty I had in finishing that lecture. I rushed out of my class when the talk was over. Just didn’t know how to compose myself. And this was a publisher sympathetic to Hindu point of view.
The personal isolation did not bother me at all because I had seen when I was a small person, I had seen my father being ostracized and he was such a high-profile person so that was something that I had seen firsthand. You know him going through that phase which was very uncharacteristic because he used to occupy the centre stage. The way he was isolated in his profession. I didn’t consider myself in that league.
(Meenakshi Jain’s father Girilal Jain was once editor of Times of India and one of India’s most respected journalist ever).
Shefali Vaidya: How important an influence was he in your life? He’s done tremendous amount of work..and people turned against him.
Meenakshi Jain: According to him, the temple movement was not against anyone. It was a movement for the revitalization of Hindu culture and civilization and to bring it back to the center stage of Indian polity. He has been a very, very formidable influence in my life because I saw every inch of the struggle. He was a self-made person; he never had any patron though people were influenced by him impressed by him but every inch of that struggle was a personal struggle and he never took any shortcuts.He attracted people by his sheer intellect.
Shefali Vaidya: So-called left historian, I will call them distortions, have been propagating primarily led by Romila Thapar that A) the Muslims did not demolish Hindu temples or at least if they did they were just one or two stray incidents, it was not widespread practice B) Lie that they have been telling us that those like Ghazni and they didn’t do it because of the Islamic dogma and iconoclasm or destroying murtis but they did it because they wanted money ?
Meenakshi Jain: First of all the resistance to the Arab and Turkish invasions has been documented by a large number of people who led that resistance and I would like to begin by quoting two inscriptions.
The first is the Kavi plate inscription dated 736 A.D and and three years later the Navsari Copper plate inscription. Both these inscriptions are by people who led that struggle and they regarded their struggle so important that they actually had it recorded. Around the same time there’s a fragment of an inscription that has been found which also talks about a local ruler how he has stopped an Arab invasion. The point is that we do not come across such detailed documentation of resistance of any other invader before this.
There was something about these invasions which begin in the medieval period which left a deep impression on the mind of the people. Temples, by the time the invasions began, had become huge structures. It was very difficult or impossible to protect them. The extent of devastation in the entire North India…there is no temple that’s before the 18th century. All are post 18th century.
The whole of sacred cities like Banaras were rebuilt by the Marathas in the 18th century. The contribution of the Marathas to the resurrection of our sacred spaces is something we should remember and acknowledge with gratitude.
In the Sun temple in Multan, the image of the Sun was made of gold so that did not survive but the commitment of the people, they produced a wooden image. They were not willing to give up the worship. So when there was another attack, they would run away with the image, when the attack was over, they would come back. This kind of stories we find all over India.
Now Kashi Vishwanath the temple was first destroyed in the time of Qutb al-Din Aibak. (The devotees made a small replacement). They built Razi Mosque. If you go you will see a small temple that doesn’t look like temple. They did so for if it appeared temple, it would be attacked again.
Now in the 16th century there was a very towering Hindu intellect Narayan Bhatta and he writes a Tristhali Setu and what does he say in that work he tells the devotees that you come to this place and you find the Shivling not there don’t be disheartened you put kusha grass and you do your parikrama and everything pretending that the Ling is there. That place, that sthal is important.
Now after Narayan had the temple built, he writes that you show the new ling as much reverence as you did for the old ling. Now this particular temple too was destroyed by Aurangzeb. The priest of the temple picks up the ling. He takes it to his hut which is behind the temple. He continues worshipping it. His family continues worshipping it.
When Ahilyabai Holkar builds the Kashi Vishwanath temple that is the ling that is reinstated but Kashi Vishwanath temple does not have the ling at the center of the temple that is where the priests had kept it in his hut.
Shefali Vaidya: I mean actually there’s another lie that we have been fed often which is basically saying that so what if the Islamic invaders destroyed temples and murti the hindu rulers have done the same. They have also destroyed buddhist images or whatever that’s the narrative that they have been trying to tell us so is this true?
Meenakshi Jain: It is an absolute big fat lie and all the evidence that we have of Hindu Kings barring one or two in the entire thousands of years of our history it shows how Hindu Kings revered the images that were under worship in rival kingdoms.
I just want to give the first instance that we have it’s of the second century before Christ that is before the Common Era and that is recorded in an inscription. So the Nanda king attacks and takes away an image of Tirthankara from Kalinga and he goes to that palace of the Nanda king and invades that palace and brings back that image and he records because he finds it such a great thing that he has done that he has it recorded.
so all the evidence that we have they were Kings who attacked and brought back images but like Krishnadevaraya he attacked and he brought back a Krishna image and he had it it stated in a grand Krishna temple in his capital city of Hampi.
So there is at most one or two people in the entire history who can be accused of desecrating an image and in their cases also we have to examine the story behind it and we find the reality is different.
Now this myth that certain historians have created I have discussed those instances in my book and everywhere. I’ve shown how the Hindu Kings revered the images. In fact there is a text that was written in the medieval period and it says that when a king is going to declare war; and another King he has to make sure that the women, the aged the cattle everyone is protected and he says it is his duty to bring back the image to his kingdom so there is no disruption in the worship; and it is the duty of the defeated King to try to bring back that image within three years to his own kingdom. The images that were mainly taken away were Durga images because Durga was deity of war. She was going to give protection to the king.
How Hindus recorded what they experienced of iconoclasm is a totally neglected area of study. You’ll be surprised the first account that we have of a person and the images that were move mainly taken away with Durga images because durga was deity of war. She was going to give protection to the king so that was and the other thing that is not really discussed in these narratives is how Hindus recorded what they experienced of iconoclasm that is a totally neglected area of study.
You’ll be surprised to know the first account that we have is of a person who was minister in the court of an Indian ruler. He was an eyewitness when Mahmud Ghazni attacked Somnath and he recorded that in a book which is still available. The interesting thing in common is they all say that power of the sword was not enough to defeat our deity. This is the narrative, this is the evidence which people should bring forward.
Shefali Vaidya: So this was a contemporary account of Mahmud of Ghazni, the destruction of the Somnath temple and yet the revered, venerable Romila Thapar in her book on Somnath, she didn’t make any mention of it
Meenakshi Jain: I want to tell you something more interesting. In Somnath, after the temple had been destroyed, twice or thrice, an Arab trader comes and he wants to build a masjid over there. People of Somnath helped him acquire land to build that Masjid. That Masjid he had an inscription placed which said that I am the one who has got this Masjid built and very interesting he says that from whatever money is left from the endowment that I am giving to the Masjid, it should be sent for the welfare of people in Mecca and Medina. DC Sircar the very eminent epigraph, who translated that inscription, he adds a comment that it did not occur to him to give that money to the welfare of the people in this land who had given him and he’s thinking of sending that money for the welfare of people in Mecca and Medina.
The fear of iconoclasm was so deeply ingrained in the Hindu mind that in the 18th century, when Ahilyabai Holkar rebuilds that Somnath temple, that is when Mughal power was in decline, even in that Somnath temple she keeps the Shivling in the basement because she is still afraid that you know anyone can come and destroy it. These are truths that we should also examine.