OVER A COFFEE : Postcard for Orya Maqbool Jan — Dr Haider Shah
OMJ, calling liberal scholars Abu Jehl (Father of ignorance), used many historical references to contend that Indian Muslim rulers were not neglectful of education
On Eid-ul-Azha, sending and
receiving greeting cards is a part of our good traditions. Today, with profound love and regards, I am writing a special postcard on behalf of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan (RSOP) to our friend Orya Maqbool Jan (OMJ), with the hope that it will be received with reciprocating feelings of warmth and goodwill.
The members of RSOP, with specialisations in various physical and social sciences, have helped turn the organisation into a think tank where claims of all sorts are critically examined. From the water-kit run cars to media-sponsored mystics and from conspiracy theories to mythical cures of political messiahs, every claim is passed through the filter of rationality. This time one of our members shared OMJ’s Urdu column in which the worthy author severely criticised a TV channel for championing the ‘education’ campaign. OMJ seemed aggrieved that in the public service message of the TV, neglect of education by our emperors was contrasted with the establishment of Oxford and Cambridge type universities in Britain. OMJ, calling liberal scholars Abu Jehl (Father of ignorance), used many historical references to contend that Indian Muslim rulers were not neglectful of education. My analysis benefits from the input of our RSOP members, especially Nadeem Ahmed and Ahmed Waqass, who carried out a verification of the quotes used by OMJ.
The conclusion of our analysis is that OMJ cites various historical sources in a sweeping way to substantiate his argument. Known as what is called ‘cherry picking’ in research, he selectively picked up sentences from a number of sources to create an impression for an unwary reader that India had an elaborate scheme of education under the Muslim rulers and that the British in a very cunning way destroyed all institutions as part of some deep-rooted conspiracy. Due to paucity of space, it is not possible to discuss all the references OMJ quoted in his piece. I would restrict it to only one main source to illustrate that intellectual honesty was wanting in his piece of writing.
For sake of clarity a full paragraph from Will Durant’s voluminous Story of Civilization is reproduced here from which OMJ picked up a quotation: “Writing continued, even to the nineteenth century, to play a very small part in Indian education. Perhaps it was not to the interest of the priests that the sacred or scholastic texts should become an open secret to all. As far as we can trace Indian history, we find a system of education, always in the hands of the clergy, open at first only to the sons of Brahmans, then spreading its privileges from caste to caste until in our time it excludes only the Untouchables. Every Hindu village had its schoolmaster, supported out of the public funds; in Bengal alone, before the coming of the British, there were some 80,000 native schools — one to every four hundred population. The percentage of literacy under Ashoka was apparently higher than in India today.” Will Durant in this section was discussing the education system in ancient India but OMJ picked up a Bengal-related sentence and forcibly linked it with the Mughal period to create a misleading impression.
Intellectual honesty demanded that OMJ should have also told his readers what Will Durant wrote in the same book about the Muslim rulers in India. For instance, Durant writes about our hero idol-smasher: “Each winter Mahmud descended into India, filled his treasure chest with spoils, and amused his men with full freedom to pillage and kill; each spring he returned to his capital richer than before.” We are told that the idol breaker would sometimes spare the population of the ravaged cities and “took them home to be sold as slaves; but so great was the number of such captives that after some years no one could be found to offer more than a few shillings for a slave.” Similarly referring to other rulers of the pre-Mughal era, Durant writes, “There was constantly in front of his royal pavilion and his Civil Court a mound of dead bodies and a heap of corpses, while the sweepers and executioners were wearied out by their work of dragging the victims and putting them to death in crowds.” OMJ fondly mentions Firoz Shah about whom Durant writes, “Firoz Shah invaded Bengal, offered a reward for every Hindu head, paid for 180,000 of them, raided Hindu villages for slaves.” Similarly, Sultan Ahmad Shah is said to have feasted for three days whenever the number of defenceless Hindus slain in his territories in one day reached 20,000. Based on such numerous examples, Durant says, “The Mohammedan Conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilisation is a precarious thing, whose delicate complex of order and liberty, culture and peace may at any time be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within.” Durant in his work appreciates the art and sculpture of India. However, he laments, “We shall never be able to do justice to Indian art, for ignorance and fanaticism have destroyed its greatest achievements, and have half ruined the rest.”
OMJ in his concluding lines makes a passing reference to Lord Cornwallis, accusing him of establishing a religious seminary in 1781 to destroy educational system of Muslim rulers. Interestingly, in 1781, Major General Cornwallis was in America with a mixed record against rebel colonists culminating in the capitulation of his force at Yorktown and came to India in 1786. Cornwallis, however, is credited with establishing an institution that OMJ never found detestable: the Indian Civil Service. Hope our former deputy commissioner would be more careful with both dates and facts of history.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org