Adding Humiliation to Plunder

I used to have a blog at UC Berkeley. It was titled “Life is a Random Draw.” I wrote it for a couple of years and decided to shut it down as it was attracting too much spam. I will re-publish some of the posts from the Berkeley blog depending on relevance. Here’s one from 13th May 2003. This one is related to the recent incident in which an exhibition of some historical records related to Aurangzeb was shut down by the police in Chennai because some people felt that they could not bear to know that Aurangzeb was a vicious tyrant.

Adding Humiliation to Plunder (Berkeley, May 2003)

I have been thinking about the lecture that Tariq Ali gave the other day over here called “War, Empire, and Resistance.”

Empires have always existed, he said. And wars have always been fought between empires, with the exception of the period between the start of the First World War and end of the Second World War.

He claimed that it was now the American Empire that was engaged in a war in Iraq. It was American hegemony showing what it was capable of doing. I agree with Tariq. He went on to add that empires typically humiliate the conquered. For instance, he said, that there was no reason for the Americans to stand by and watch the libraries in Baghdad burn except that to rub the noses of the Iraqis in the dirt, to tell them that their culture is worthless and that it is worth destroying without a thought.

Inflicting injury is not sufficient; insult was in some sense more important.

Ali spoke about the staged toppling of one of Saddam’s statues and what it was supposed to symbolize.

Being intentionally offensive is not something unique to the American occupying force. I recall reading the great historian Sir Arnold Toynbee’s description of earlier such acts.

In the course of the first Russian occupation of Warsaw (1914 – 1915) the Russians had built an Eastern Orthodox Christian cathedral on this central spot in the city that had been the capital of the once independent Roman Catholic Christian country Poland. The Russians had done this to give the Poles a continuous ocular demonstration that the Russians were their masters. After re-establishment of Poland’s independence in 1918, the Poles pulled this cathedral down. The demolition had been completed just before the date of my visit. I do not greatly blame the Polish government for having pulled down that Russian church. The purpose for which the Russians had built it had been not religious but political, and the purpose had also been intentionally offensive. [emphasis added]

India has suffered down the centuries much more than the pulling down of a statue or two. Its holy places have been descecrated innumberable times. Once again Toynbee, this time on Aurangzeb’s destruction of temples and building mosques on them.

Aurangzeb’s purpose in building those three mosques (Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura) was the same intentionally offensive political purpose that moved the Russians to build their Orthodox cathedral in the city centre at Warsaw. Those mosques were intended to signify that an Islamic government was reigning supreme, even over Hinduism’s holiest of holy places. I must say that Aurangzeb had a veritable genius for picking out provocative sites. Aurangzeb and Philip II of Spain are a pair. They are incarnations of the gloomily fanatical vein in the Christian-Muslim-Jewish family of religions. Aurangzeb — poor wretched misguided bad man — spent a lifetime of hard labour in raising massive monuments to his own discredit. Perhaps the Poles were really kinder in destroying the Russians’ self-discrediting monument in Warsaw than you have been in sparing Aurangzeb’s mosques. [emphasis added]

India has suffered incalculably the harm of religious vandalism perpetrated by intolerant ignorant monotheistic hordes.

Why have Indians forgotten that? Is it denial? A fact too shameful to admit to? Is that what motivated Cha-cha Nehru to whitewash the sordid history of India — because he was aware of his ancestry perhaps?

Is that why the capital of India has Aurangzeb Road, a major street where many of the political leaders of India have their mansions? Are Indians so utterly defeated and humiliated that now the vanquished hold up their tormentors as heroes? Is that why Pakistan names its most sophisticated weapons after those who raped their ancestors?

[Related posts: On Aurangzeb, and Aurangzebs of Today. From The Acorn, on The Prince of Arcot.]

Author: Atanu Dey


3 thoughts on “Adding Humiliation to Plunder”

  1. Atanu – This is a topic very important to the future of India’s development. History has a tendency of repeating itself at great cost to a nation, if the lessons from history are forgotten and mistakes are repeated. Many Indians have a tendency to put band aids rather than analyzing the root cause of conflict and sure enough every 50-100 years the wounds flare up!!


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