A Book About Hindu Masjids

- by Bibek Debroy in The Financial Express

The world-view presented suppresses the truth and projects intolerance

    I may not agree with what you say, but I'll defend to death your right to say it. "This quote is mistakenly and commonly attributed to Voltaire. Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing under the pseudonym of Stephen G Tallentyre, published a book titled The Friends of Voltaire in 1906. The mistakenly attributed quote was Hall's interpretation of Voltaire's attitude, especially in reaction to Helvetius (1715-1771).

    The closest Voltaire actually came to saying what he is supposed to have said, was in a February 1770 letter written to M le Riche. This stated, "Monsieur l'abbi, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write." I am no Voltaire. But I was reminded of this quote when I read Prafull Goradia's recent book on Hindu Masjids, published by himself in 2002.

    This book is purportedly on Hindu temples that were desecrated and converted into mosques. The word "purportedly" needs qualification and I will come to that later. On desecration and conversion, has Mr Goradia told us anything we don't already know? Not just Richard Eaton's book, which is abundantly quoted, there are a host of others, including stuff emanating from the Hindutva brigade. There are several articles by Rajiv Varma floating around on the Web. Sita Ram Goel (and others) have two volumes on the stuff. As research output, these are far superior to Hindu Masjids. What then, is the Goradia value addition? Apparently, two.

     First, a distinction made between a mandir converted into a masjid and a mosque built with the rubble of a demolished temple. Second, Prafull Goradia has visited every masjid or dargah described (in the book) and there are colour photographs. I am not sure the distinction makes too much sense. In any case, such a distinction is implicit in Sita Ram Goel's second volume. So the best part of the book is the photographs. There are photographs of China and Europe thrown in, including that of the People's liberation Army.

    Having established that some masjids were originally temples (or built with rubble from demolished temples), and no one denies that, what do we do? After all, the matter should only be of historical interest. Unfortunately not, and that's the problem with the Hindutva argument. The authority "now appeals to Muslims to and not use these ill-gotten or looted edifices". If appeal doesn't work, there is always force. The clock needs to be turned back. What date should we turn the clock back to? The arrival of Islam, the advent of Kali Yuga? By the same token, Hindus should abandon several Buddhist monasteries and not use these ill-gotten or looted edifices.

    It is because the book is not only about Hindu masjids that I used the word purportedly. A world-view is thrown in, about anti-Hindu Hindus, negotiating strategies with China, Bangladesh and Pakistan, and the perfidy of Islam. The anti- Hindu category is a Who's Who of modern India and includes Gandhi, Nehru, Amartya Sen, communists and several historians and economic historians. They are anti-Hindu because they fall over backwards to placate Muslims and under-play the historically destructive influence of Islam. This is not only suppressio veri, it is also suggestio falsi.

    Mr Goradia is very fond of Krishna and Krishna's name is invoked to solve a variety of modern-day problems. For instance, Krishna would have insisted that every Indian has an I-card. And that we swear a national oath. Krishna would also have solutions for cross-border infiltration. 'When a Hindu has a problem, he wonders what Kesava would have done to solve it with his genius for tactics and strategy." I don't wonder, because I have read what Krishna has to say in the Mahabharata. So should Prafull Goradia. This is when Dronacharya wrought havoc and had to be killed with subterfuge. Krishna's instructions to Yudhishthira were clear. There are five situations when lying is superior to telling the truth. Kesava not only wanted suppressio veri. He wanted suggestio falsi. Even if one accepts the thesis that anti-Hindu Hindus were guilty of suppressing the truth, at least three of Krishna's five criteria are satisfied.

    But despite Krishna's injunction, truth must prevail. Which is why this book was written. "In a democratic society, every citizen is free to hold his own opinions but no responsible person should twist facts to back up his views." 'This is the Voltaire precept. But just as I uphold Mr Goradia's right, I hope he will uphold mine and there is a reason why I am sceptical. Some years ago, my wife and I translated the 18 maior (19 according to some counts) Puranas. In some Puranas, we encountered passages involving Shiva (and in one Purana, even Krishna) that were untranslatable. You can imagine the reason. The Sanskrit wasn't difficult, but people's sensitivities were involved. We distorted facts and were following, if you like, the Krishna dictum. If we were to translate them now, I hope Mr Goradia will offer us his unstinting support for the truth.

    It is wonderful to be a Hindu, because, the term is undefined. There were no other major religions around and everything fitted into the umbrella. To establish its tolerance, I have to define Hinduism and as is fairly common, Prafull Goradia equates Hinduism with teachings of the Gita. Implicitly, this equates Hinduism with teachings of the Upanishads. If I truly believe in Upanishads, I shouldn't care about temples at all. They are not God. They are nothing; they shouldn't have been built in the first place. The Hindutva brigade worries about temples because it knows that, in rituals and in practice, Hinduism is not about the Gita and the Upanishads. And in de facto practice, Hinduism is anything but tolerant.

    Forget modern temples and priests. Read the Smritis, Mr Goradia. Read the Puranas. If you prefer, read even the Ramayana. And imagine what it was like to be a woman, or in today's jargon, what it was like to be a Schedule Tribe. By the way, the fascination for Krishna also has to be qualified. Which Krishna? The Krishna of the Gita, the Mahabharata, the Harivamsha, the Puranas or the Krishna the average Indian believes in? They are not identical.

    However, it is a fun book to read. Unfortunately, Prafull Goradia has threatened to write three more. They are listed as forthcoming in the blurb.