The age of wrath---by Abraham Eraly


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Jul 21, 2010
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Writing history is a hazardous task, even when pursued with the most honest of intentions and the most diligent of research.
History is an indelible part of one's identity - the people, the land, culture, and even religion. This is one reason why colonials like the English sought to rewrite Indian history to portray them as a continually conquered land, its people as weak and ineffectual, and its religion as a regressive morass of discrimination. This line of fiction-as-history was unfortunately picked up and internalize by an entire generation of communist historiographers in India after independence, like the late Bipin Chandra, Irfan Habib, Romila Thapar, and others.
Abraham Eraly's ambitiously titled book The Age of Wrath: A History of the Delhi Sultanate is an unfortunate continuation of the communist historiographer's line of thinking, and is a shockingly vitriolic screed, even by those standards.
If a book, any book, were to use the kind of invective and language when describing a people or race or religion that Eraly reserves for India and Hindus, it would have been roundly condemned as hate-speech, and the author rightfully termed a bigot, a racist, or worse. But since it is India and the Hindus that Eraly is talking about, just about everything and anything is par for the course here. Eraly's bigotry and anti-Hindu venom is so unremitting and vicious it will shock even the most inured of readers.
Eraly wastes no time in coming out swinging at Indians, by which he means mostly Hindus, since, as the later paragraphs reveal, Eraly's hatred is reserved exclusively for the Hindu. But to establish the Hindu as the vermin of the land, he first strains to establish the land they have inhabited is itself cursed:
"Psychologically too Indians were at a disadvantage, ..., and were often sluggish in battle, unlike the spirited Turks."
"Moreover, the fatalistic value system of Indians inculcated in them a generally defeatist attitude."
"Indians were always the conquered, never the conquerors."
"Indians ... were a rather torpid people, and did not have the energy or the spirit to go adventuring over the mountains or across the seas."
These are thoughts representative of an ideology that colonial historiographers invented to keep Indians in servility, and Eraly is an ardent subscriber to this line of thought. If that was in doubt, he removes all traces with this statement:
"India was in fact even more fragmented than Europe,because of the innumerable sectarian & caste divisions among each of its regional people."
It is as if Winston Churchill were channelling his racism through Eraly's pen. Not that Eraly lacks in bigotry on his own!
It does not take Eraly much time to progress from cursing India to narrowing his invective to the Hindu. The preceding paragraphs were a warm up to the actual hate-speech.
"Basically, the problem was that Islam was too adamantine to be influenced by Hinduism, and Hinduism too effete to respond creatively to Islam."
Eraly believes in Goebbel's motto of repeating a lie a thousand times to establish it as truth. Therefore, sidestepping the too-numerous-to-count references in Hindu scriptures that establish that caste was determined by actions and not birth, Eraly parrots the line of communists that "likewise, while Hindu society was a closed society, and its caste divisions were hereditary, into which one could enter only by being born..."
Ved Vyasa was born to a fisher-woman, yet is revered as the compiler of the Vedas. Valmiki was a dacoit, a robber, yet became the author of the Ramayana, worshipped as "adi-kavi".
To establish Hinduism as a morass of evil, Eraly turns to Islam as contrast. Even here, he continues to sip from the poisoned chalice of bigotry. "Islamic society was an open society, into which anyone from any background could enter as an equal member on becoming a Muslim."
Muslim history over the last fifteen hundred years has been full of wars fought between one sect or the other, each of whom believed themselves to be the true inheritors and practitioners of the faith. Even the grandsons of the Prophet were not spared. Eraly knows little of history, or does not care enough.
If one believes that this is an isolated statement, Eraly's screed turns from hateful to a rather pathetic descent into the grotesque when he writes, "It was not a disgrace but a distinction to be a royal slave." Yes, you read that right. Eraly has basically rewritten centuries of history with a single, sweeping statement.
If that's not enough, "Being a slave in Muslim society, unlike in Hindu society, was not an insurmountable handicap or degradation..." should make you run for the nearest sink to throw up. But fear not, because Eraly is not done yet, not by any stretch. Hindus had slaves? Yes, if you believe Eraly. Never mind what the rest of history actually says.
Another factoid that is known to most is that the Islamic conquest of India is described as the most brutal and the bloodiest episodes in world history, one that resulted in the estimated murder of 80 million Indians - more than ten times the Jews gassed by the Nazis. What cannot be denied therefore must be diluted. Hence Eraly's gem, "Muslim rulers did slaughter a large number of Hindus, demolish many of their temples and shrines, Hindus seem to have taken all that fatalistically." Being slaughtered in "great numbers" should have been no great inconvenience to the Hindus.
Since most informed people have read that Hinduism is by nature a tolerant religion, Eraly feels it necessary to tell the reader that all that is a facade, a sham, an inglorious deception.
"But the tolerance of Hindu society was tolerance by segregation; it was in fact a form of intolerance."
"This meant that Hindu society, despite its appearance of tolerance, was in fact a highly discriminatory, inequitable and intolerant society."
And, like a well-oiled Swiss watch, comes the obligatory, and glowing, contrast with Islam: "In contrast to this birth- determined social segregation in Hindu society, Muslim society was basically egalitarian."
Here Eraly takes a claim out of his hat, unsubstantiated by fact, posits it as the undisputed truth, and then builds an entire edifice of vitriol on top of this fantasy.
The arc of Eraly's hate speech has taken the reader from inveighing against India, to singling out the Hindus, to finding evil and intolerance in everything the Hindus did, to contrasting it with imagined benevolence in such practices of the invaders as unbridled homosexuality, capture of women as sex slaves, the castration of attractive men captured for the gratification of their owners. But he is not done yet. Eraly's only just started.
There is no communist parroting of Hinduism that is quite complete with talking about the evils of the caste system. Eraly dutifully obliges. Having established that the Hindugenocide could not possibly have bothered, or should have bothered, the Hindus, Eraly now turns his attention to the caste system.
"In any case, the discriminatory treatment that Hindus received at the hands of Muslim rulers would not have troubled them much... for most Indian communities were subject to worse discrimination in their own sharply stratified caste society."
Anyone remotely familiar with current events and the horrors perpetrated by the ISIS and Boko Haram will know what fate awaits women who are captured by these groups. Eraly seems to believe otherwise. For him, "Islam considered prostitution as a major sin, but Hindus viewed it as a normal and legitimate aspect of social life."
Finally, let us conclude with the tragic tale of Queen Padmini, who, along with hundreds of other Rajput women, chose to immolate themselves rather than submit to the lust of Alaudin Khilji. This self-immolation was known as "jauhar", and there are too numerous-to-count instances of Hindu women choosing death over degradation. Eraly ventures to wipe that bit of history with his pen thus: "Jauhar, sati...Islam considered all these as abominable practices."
While writing the review was painful enough, reading the book was an exercise best described as extreme sado-masochism. The book has nothing to recommend itself, apart from perhaps the cover.
Money will be better spent flushing it down the toilet, and time better spent watching paint dry than on buying and reading this book.

Abhinav Agarwal is a a software professional in the field of analytics, data visualizations, and spatial BI. A computer engineer, and a gold medalist from the Indian Institute of Management at Bangalore, his interests are reading, writing, and photography. His tweets at @abhinavagarwal. All views expressed are personal.

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