2.) Who Won and Why

It is instructive to compare some of the causes of the defeat of the Hindus at the hands of the Muslims, with the reasons given for the defeat of the Muslims at the hands of the Britishers.

Scholars often refer to Alberuni’s amount of India in this respect. He is believed to have accompanied Mahmūd of Ghazna on some of his forays into India. While other historians provide accounts of the victories of Mahmūd, Alberuni provides us with the reasons which account for these victories.

One of the reasons for Mahmūd’s victory and Hindu defeat seems to be a sense of insular arrogance the Hindus had developed over time. In a famous passage he states:

                We can only say, folly is an illness for which there is no medicine, and the Hindus believe that there is no country but theirs, no nation like theirs, no science like theirs. They are haughty, foolishly vain, self conceited, and stolid. They are by nature niggardly in communicating that which they know, and they take the greatest possible care to withhold it from men of another caste among their own people, still much more, of course, from any foreigner. According to their belief, there is no other country on earth but theirs, no other race of man but theirs, and no created beings besides them have any knowledge or science whatsoever. Their haughtiness is such that, if you tell them of any science or scholar in Khurâsân and Persis, they will think you to be both an ignoramus and a liar. If they traveled and mixed with other nations, they would soon change their mind, for their ancestors were not as narrow-minded as the present generation is.[1]

Elsewhere, he alludes to the outdated military equipment and methods of warfare employed by the Hindus.

We turn now to an account of some of the factors which are said to have contributed to the defeat of the Muslims at the hands of the English. One of them points to the isolationist tendencies among the Muslims of India:

                One feature of Islamic power in India, as elsewhere, was the failure to make progress in certain vital fields. For example, even Akbar failed to see the possibilities in the introduction of printing. The scarcity of books resulted in comparative ignorance, low standards of education, and limitation of the subjects of study. Because of this, the governing classes were ignorant of the affairs of the outside world. The position becomes clear if we compare the books on India printed in Europe during the eighteenth century with the knowledge of the West in current India. The interest on the part of the Europeans that led travelers like Bernier to make reports on their travels finds no parallel in Mughal India. So far from being concerned with Europe, the Mughals, after Ain-i-Akbari, made no real addition to their knowledge even of their own dominions.[2]

Another factor mentioned in this context possesses a military dimension.

                The stagnation visible in the intellectual field was visible also in the military. Babur had introduced gunpowder in India, but after him there was no advance in military equipment, although the organization and discipline of forces had been completely revolutionized in the West. The Portuguese had brought ships on which cannons were mounted, and had thus introduced a new element which made them masters of the Indian Ocean. What was a fortified wall round the country became a highway, and opened up the empire to those countries which had not remained stagnant. Mughal helplessness on the sea was obvious from the days of Akbar. Their ships could not sail to Mecca without a safe-conduct permit from the Portuguese. Sir Thomas Roe had warned Jahangir that if Prince Shah Jahan as governor of Gujarat turned the English out, “then he must expect we would do our justice upon the seas.” The failure of the Mughals to develop a powerful navy and control the seas surrounding their dominions was a direct cause of their replacement by an European power having these advantages.




                On land no real progress or large-scale training of local personnel on the use of artillery was made in Mughal India, and the best they could do was to hire foreigners for manning the artillery. The military weakness resulting from this was obvious, and was clearly visible to foreign observers. Bernier wrote in the early years of Aurangzeb’s reign: “I could never see these soldiers, destitute of order, and marching with the irregularity of a herd of animals, without reflecting upon the ease with which five-and-twenty thousand of our veterans from the army in Flanders, commanded by Prince Condé or Marshal Turenne would overcome these armies, however numerous.” With this condition of the Mughal army, the downfall of the empire was only a question of time.[3]

Very briefly then, the same factors which account for the defeat of the Hindus at the hands of the Muslims serve to explain the defeat of the Muslims at the hands of the Britishers. Is there a lesson in here somewhere?

[1] Edward C. Sachau, ed., Alberuni’s India (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co, 1914) Part I, p. 22-23.

[2] S.M. Ikram, Muslim Civilization in India (edited by Ainslie Embree) (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1965) p. 274.

[3] Ibid.


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