BY Haroon Khalid
At the entrance of the [Badshahi Masjid in Lahore] are some pictures from the colonial era. They show the mosque’s dilapidated condition after having served as a horse stable during the Sikh era.
The pictures narrate the story of the mosque, of the benevolence of the “just and fair” colonial empire that returned its control to the rightful inheritors—the Muslims of the city. It narrates the story of colonial historiography, the categorisation of history into Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, and British eras, pitting epochs, communities, religions, and histories against one other, and in the process creating new classifications that might not have been there at the start. History is used as a political tool, an excuse, a justification for the imposition of colonial rule. The British were needed to rescue the Muslims from the Sikhs, the Hindus from the Muslims, the Dravidians from the Aryans, the Dalits from the Brahmins, the past from the present.
The narrative continues to unfold even today, throughout south Asia, as modern sensibilities are imposed on historical characters, making heroes out of them, of imagined communities. The Mughal rule, for example, in this narrative became a symbol of the oppressive Muslim “colonialism” of India, as foreign to the Indian subcontinent as British rule, while figures such as Chhatrapati Shivaji were representative of Hindu indigenous resistance. Just like the British, everything Muslim was deemed “foreign,” alien to the Indian subcontinent, a coercive historical anomaly that ruptured the Indian, read Hindu, civilization. In this narrative there was room for Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs within the fold of Hindu nationalism, but not for the Muslims, the successors of foreign occupation.