What makes Akbar ‘liberal, secular’ and Aurangzeb ‘fanatical’?

Prof Anirudha Ray

Medieval India

When we speak of the Medieval Age we unconsciously refer to the "Muslim invasion of India." We must be very careful in the use of such terminology; the invasion was Turkish not Muslim.
Some important questions need to be asked when we read or interpret history relating to this critical period. We need to ask ourselves:

> Was there a large scale massacre of Hindus during the Medieval period?
> Was there a forced conversion of Hindus after invasions, did persecutions take place?
> Why was there no popular resistance to "Muslim" medieval rule?

Some of the answers to these questions are very surprising. There is one concrete example of a large scale massacre by Allauddin Khilji near Delhi. Who were the victims? Neo-Muslims (newly converted Muslims) and according to the historical source Ziauddin Barani thousands of people were killed.
There were some specific occasions during the Medieval period when the state participated in conversion. This was only when the monarchs were faced with a rebellion. The reasons and motives behind these conversions were not religious but a question of ensuring subjugation and loyalty.
An underlying feature of the Medieval age — and this was the primary motto of every king of that period anywhere in the world–was that he never forgave a rebel. That was why, in the Indian context, conversion was thrust on a rebel only after he had shown disloyalty.
Or else, how can any historian explain how there was no conversion, nor any attempt in that direction to convert the Rajputs?
One of the major problems in the communal approach to history is when we make the cardinal error of characterizing an age through the character of a king. This is particularly evident when we speak, or describe, or teach the Medieval Age of Indian history. Except for Pakistani scholars, we are told by both Hindu and Muslim scholars that the reign of Akbar was a golden one, he is described as Akbar the Great and furthermore as liberal and secular.
I have no personal problem with labelling him "Great" because that is a purely personal assessment. But to embellish him with labels like liberal and secular — both modern and not medieval terms — is to commit grave injustice in our understanding of the Medieval Age as a whole.
What else is being achieved by classifying 50 out of 500 years of Medieval rule as liberal and secular? Don't we immediately, by implication and comparison, classify the rest of the period as "dark"?
Aurangzeb has suffered most at the hands of such stereotyping. Professor Athar Ali's book also informs us that while under Akbar's reign there were 21.5 per cent of Hindus in the Moghul administration, during the last 20 years of Aurangzeb's rule (when due to the imposition of jaziya tax he has been dubbed a Hindu-hater), the Moghul ruler employed as many as 31.5 per cent of Hindus in his administration.
Ironically, under Aurangzeb, the percentage of Rajput nobles reduced but the share of Maratha nobility within the Moghul administration grew considerably.
Besides, we also know that the same Aurangzeb who has cruelly been labelled a temple-breaker also gave enormous grants to temples.
— Prof. Anirudha Ray
Calcutta University

In 1997, Khoj education for a plural India programme held a workshop that enabled interaction between in India's leading historians and school teachers in Mumbai. This article is the edited transcript of the lecture by professor Anirudha Ray. 
Archived from Communalism Combat, March 1997 – Cover Story



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