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Columbus statues demolished in America: Was he different from Babur or Ghazni?

For a while now, Indian liberals have been urging Indians to learn from the Black Lives Matter movement. I agree. Let us press Indian liberals to clarify the underlying principle. How was Columbus different from Babur or Ghazni?

An invader comes to plunder a country. Then, settlers come along. They carry out bloody atrocities on the people who are already there. They impose their rule, their culture and their religion.

Sound familiar?

Below is a statue of Christopher Columbus in Boston, now destroyed by liberal protesters, apparently sympathizers of the Black Lives Matter movement. This is happening all over America right now.

Christopher Columbus statue toppled in Minnesota

And here, from Ayodhya in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, is the famous image from Dec 6, 1992. The demolition of Babri Masjid by karsevaks.

Babri mosque demolished

However, we know that the world reaction to these two events has been vastly different. In the case of Columbus statues, the reactions have ranged from benign neglect to silent support to active praise. In the case of Babri Masjid, there was near universal condemnation.

Why? Personally, I don’t take a position in either case. I would just like the well informed global elite to clarify the moral principle here.

Christopher Columbus came to America in 1492. Babur arrived in India around 1526. If Columbus is a villain, why is Babur a hero?

The parallels are obvious. Columbus was the first of the European invaders who massacred the Native Americans and plundered them. Around the year 1000 CE, Arab and Turkic invaders did much the same to India. Most famously Mahmud Ghazni and his plunder of Somnath Temple. During these invasions, Indian Hindus were massacred in large numbers.

Soon after the raiding and the pillaging, there came the settlers. The dynasties of the Delhi Sultanate and a few centuries later, the Mughals. In America, the European settlers arrived in ships around the year 1620. They set up their colonies along the east coast of what is now the United States.

Both Arab / Turkic settlers in India and European settlers in America were constantly at war with the original inhabitants. The American settlers pushed westward to gradually occupy the continent. In India, the settlers pushed towards the south and the east of the subcontinent. For both groups, this was a long and bloody process, stretched out over centuries.

No difference there.

And just as there were times of war, there were times of peace. The European settlers signed numerous treaties with Native American chiefs, allowing them to control large parcels of land, known as ‘reservations.’ Here is what the continental US really looks like, if you draw all the Native American nations separately.

Native American ‘reservations’ in US

Just like that, the Muslim empires in India have a complicated history. Many Hindu chieftains signed treaties and kept their sovereignty over certain tracts of land. This is how virtually *all* empires work. From Alexander’s empire to the Mughal empire, the British empire or even the Nazi empire. Or even the Soviet empire. No empire is absolute. Everyone has a number of vassal states who enjoy some form of independence.

What about the excuse of Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb? Our history textbooks tell this heartwarming story of Hindus and Muslims lived in mutual harmony in the medieval times. It’s probably true at the level of some individuals living closely together in one place such as a a village. It happened in America too. In fact, Native Americans welcomed the settlers and showed them how to survive in the New World. After a particularly successful harvest season, the settlers invited their Native American hosts to share in a great celebration. This was the first Thanksgiving. It’s a wonderful American tradition that is still thriving today.

But just because everyone in America loves Thanksgiving and just because everyone loves Sufi music, doesn’t mean that the broad contours of history are any different. The Native Americans were the oppressed and the European settlers were the oppressors. This is not hard to make out. Similarly, it is Hindus who paid Jaziya tax. Hindu temples were broken and plundered. It is not hard to see who is the victim here.

Finally, what of the argument that the Mughals and their descendants became fully “Indian”? Well, of course they did. The European settlers fought a bloody war of independence against Britain, following which they embraced a fully American identity. Their descendants today are 100% American, just as the descendants of Mughals are 100% Indian. Nobody can question that.

But that does not mean we have to reject the obvious history of which class was ruling and which class was subjugated. It is entirely possible to acknowledge the wrongs of history without being prejudiced or hateful against anyone today on the basis of race or religion.

The only difference I see is that American liberals are extremely sensitive to the wrongs of history, while Indian liberals want to suppress the wrongs of history. In the US, someone speaking up for the rights of Native Americans would never be vilified by the left. In India, anyone talking about Hindus becomes a target for the left and its global network.

This is true not just of America, but of many other countries. In New Zealand (another global liberal darling), white school kids are taught to embrace dances and other art forms of the native Maori people. But in India, liberalism is all about attacking “Bharat Mata ki jai” or “Vande Mataram” or someone for wearing a Hanuman shirt.

The stated objective of Indian liberalism is to curb Hindu expression, to further marginalize the historically marginalized Hindu people! To snatch away even more land from Indian Hindus than has been snatched already!

For a while now, Indian liberals have been urging Indians to learn from the Black Lives Matter movement. I agree. Let us press Indian liberals to clarify the underlying principle. How was Columbus different from Babur or Ghazni?

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or may not be an Associate Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar - A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.  

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