History revisited

Why putting less Mughal history in school textbooks may be a good idea

The disproportionate amount of space given to the dynasty has squeezed out the histories of other medieval Indian empires.

I have always struggled to explain to my friends that even though I am writing a dissertation on medieval Indian history, it is not about the Mughal Empire. That medieval Indian history is not just about the Mughals comes almost as a revelation to them. But this is not entirely their fault. In India, middle school history textbooks give unprecedented importance to the Mughal Empire as compared to its contemporaries in the South and East.

It’s not just middle school. The current NCERT textbook for high school students devotes two of five chapters on medieval Indian history solely to the Mughals. In school, I too was exposed to a similar framework, but I was lucky that my tryst with history took me far enough to realise that there is more to the medieval era than just the Mughals. Not all of us are so lucky.

Hegemony of the North

The disconcertingly disproportionate space the Mughals enjoy in our medieval Indian history textbooks is primarily because of the dominance of North India over the rest of the country. The hegemony of the North alienates us from a host of other histories that merit equal, if not more, attention. It stifles several vibrant strands of history during that era, which must be brought to the fore. This bias permeates not just medieval history, but the history of the Indian subcontinent as a whole. This is why even ancient India is all about the Mauryas and the Guptas of the North, while the Pallavas and Cheras of the South find no mention.

In the small chance that these parallel empires make it to our textbooks, it is always in relation to the Mughal Empire. I clearly remember reading about Bijapur, the seat of the Adilshahis of the Deccan only with reference to the invasion of the Mughal ruler, Aurangzeb. Similarly, Bengal is mentioned only when Jehangir captured it. This bias can be attributed to the obsession most British historians have with the opulence, art and architecture of the Mughal empire that we have inherited, much like the other biases of the British.

That the legacy of the Mughal Empire merits a special place in our history is indisputable. But it should be one of several strands of the subcontinent’s medieval history, and not come to dominate it. Thus, while removing Mughal history from our textbooks altogether would be a grave injustice to a fascinating historical narrative, reducing the space it currently occupies would help make it more representative of medieval India.

Fascinating histories

If this is done, several other strands of history can be introduced in our textbooks, such as that of the five Deccan sultanates, which struggle to find a mention at present. In its heyday, Bijapur – the seat of the Adilshahi dynasty (in present-day Karnataka) – flourished as the centre of production of some of the finest specimens of Deccani painting and lovely illuminated manuscripts and muraqqas (albums containing miniature paintings and calligraphy), much before Mughal emperor Jehangir’s famed muraqqas.

The architecture of Bijapur surpasses that of the Mughals in terms of its detailed carving and beautiful arabesques as seen in the buildings of Mehtar Mahal and Ibrahim Rauza. Ibrahim Adil Shah II, the most famous ruler of the Adilshahis, was a great connoisseur of the arts, especially music. A contemporary of Akbar, Ibrahim’s keen interest in Hinduism and his cosmopolitan attitude towards religion, earned him the title of Jagadguru (preceptor of the world) much before Akbar’s policy of sulh-e-kul or universal peace.

The Ibrahim Rauza complex built by Ibrahim Adil Shah II (1580-1627) consists of his tomb and mosque rising from a common raised terrace with a tank and fountain between them. (Photograph: Mukul Banerjee, via Wikimedia Commons.)
The Ibrahim Rauza complex built by Ibrahim Adil Shah II (1580-1627) consists of his tomb and mosque rising from a common raised terrace with a tank and fountain between them. (Photograph: Mukul Banerjee, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Further south, the history of the Zamorin or the Hindu ruler of Calicut (Kozhikode) is seldom mentioned in school textbooks either. During the medieval era, Calicut was one of the largest trading centres of the world and hosted several sets of migrants – Portuguese, French and the British – who contributed to its fascinating cultural history. The port city lay on the medieval Spice Route and was coveted by the Portuguese and the French, but the Zamorin continued to control Calicut till the 18th century by giving the European powers only the trading rights of the port and keeping the judicial and administrative authority with himself. Mosques made without the archetypical dome and arch architecture (such as the Miskaal mosque in Kuttichera) and gorgeous temples built under the aegis of the Zamorin (such as the Tali Shiva temple) are a sight to behold. They constitute a culture that is rarely mentioned in our history books.

The Tali Shiva Temple in Calicut (Kozhikode). (Photo courtesy: calicuttalimahakshetra.com)
The Tali Shiva Temple in Calicut (Kozhikode). (Photo courtesy: calicuttalimahakshetra.com)

In the East

An equally interesting history is that of the Ahom kings of Assam. Even though the Mughal forces were considered a formidable force in medieval India, they were defeated twice by the powerful Ahom army – comprising the paiks – in the battles of Itakhuli and Saraighat. In quieter times, the paiks were employed in public works and it was because of this that high embanked roads and enormous tanks came into existence in Upper Assam. Bhakti and Sufi traditions also made their way into Assam giving birth to Vaishnavite saints such as Shankardeva and Sufi saints such as Ajaan Fakir. Traditions such as shravana kirtana and bargeet (devotional songs) were also followed.

The history of the tribes subsisting alongside the “settled communities” of Medieval India is by far the most grossly underrepresented in our textbooks. The Gond kingdom of Garha Katanga took to trading with “settled communities” due to the rapid commercialisation of agriculture and the vigorous clearing of forests. This opening up of their society allowed caste barriers to emerge, with Gond rajas styling themselves as Rajputs and giving land grants to the Brahmins.

Sadly, these fascinating bits of medieval history find no place in our textbooks. The Mughal Empire’s grandeur overshadows each and every one of its contemporaries. This irksome dominance of North Indian history over histories from other regions of India is fast leading to the loss of a significant part of the subcontinent’s heritage. If we are to stop this from happening we must reduce Mughal history from school textbooks.

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The incredible engineering that can save your life in a car crash

Indian roads are among the world’s most dangerous. We take a look at the essential car safety features for our road conditions.

Over 200,000 people die on India’s roads every year. While many of these accidents can be prevented by following road safety rules, car manufacturers are also devising innovative new technology to make vehicles safer than ever before. To understand how crucial this technology is to your safety, it’s important to understand the anatomy of a car accident.

Source: Global report on road safety, 2015 by WHO.
Source: Global report on road safety, 2015 by WHO.

A car crash typically has three stages. The first stage is where the car collides with an object. At the point of collision, the velocity with which the car is travelling gets absorbed within the car, which brings it to a halt. Car manufacturers have incorporated many advanced features in their cars to prevent their occupants from ever encountering this stage.

Sixth sense on wheels

To begin with, some state-of-the-art vehicles have fatigue detection systems that evaluate steering wheel movements along with other signals in the vehicle to indicate possible driver fatigue–one of the biggest causes of accidents. The Electronic Stability Program (ESP) is the other big innovation that can prevent collisions. ESP typically encompasses two safety systems–ABS (anti-lock braking system), and TCS (traction control system). Both work in tandem to help the driver control the car on tricky surfaces and in near-collision situations. ABS prevents wheels from locking during an emergency stop or on a slippery surface, and TCS prevents the wheels from spinning when accelerating by constantly monitoring the speed of the wheels.

Smarter bodies, safer passengers

In the event of an actual car crash, manufacturers have been redesigning the car body to offer optimal protection to passengers. A key element of newer car designs includes better crumple zones. These are regions which deform and absorb the impact of the crash before it reaches the occupants. Crumple zones are located in the front and rear of vehicles and some car manufacturers have also incorporated side impact bars that increase the stiffness of the doors and provide tougher resistance to crashes.

CRUMPLE ZONES: Invented in the 1950s, crumple zones are softer vehicle sections that surround a safety cell that houses passengers. In a crash, these zones deform and crumple to absorb the shock of the impact. In the visual, the safety cell is depicted in red, while the crumple zones of the car surround the safety cell.
CRUMPLE ZONES: Invented in the 1950s, crumple zones are softer vehicle sections that surround a safety cell that houses passengers. In a crash, these zones deform and crumple to absorb the shock of the impact. In the visual, the safety cell is depicted in red, while the crumple zones of the car surround the safety cell.

Post-collision technology

While engineers try to mitigate the effects of a crash in the first stage itself, there are also safe guards for the second stage, when after a collision the passengers are in danger of hitting the interiors of the car as it rapidly comes to a halt. The most effective of these post-crash safety engineering solutions is the seat belt that can reduce the risk of death by 50%.

In the third stage of an actual crash, the rapid deceleration and shock caused by the colliding vehicle can cause internal organ damage. Manufacturers have created airbags to reduce this risk. Airbags are installed in the front of the car and have crash sensors that activate and inflate it within 40 milliseconds. Many cars also have airbags integrated in the sides of the vehicles to protect from side impacts.

SEATBELTS: Wearing seatbelts first became mandatory in Victoria, Australia in 1970, and is now common across the world. Modern seatbelts absorb impact more efficiently, and are equipped with ‘pre-tensioners’ that pull the belt tight to prevent the passenger from jerking forward in a crash.
SEATBELTS: Wearing seatbelts first became mandatory in Victoria, Australia in 1970, and is now common across the world. Modern seatbelts absorb impact more efficiently, and are equipped with ‘pre-tensioners’ that pull the belt tight to prevent the passenger from jerking forward in a crash.

Safety first

In the West as well as in emerging markets like China, car accident related fatalities are much lower than in India. Following traffic rules and driving while fully alert remain the biggest insurance against mishaps, however it is also worthwhile to fully understand the new technologies that afford additional safety.

So the next time you’re out looking for a car, it may be a wise choice to pick an extra airbag over custom leather seats or a swanky music system. It may just save your life.

Equipped with state-of-the-art passenger protection systems like ESP and fatigue detection systems, along with high-quality airbags and seatbelts, all Volkswagen cars have the safety of passengers at the heart of their design. Watch Volkswagen customer stories and driver experiences that testify its superior German engineering, here.

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This article was produced on behalf of Volkswagen by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.

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