The Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes; the Dalits and the Other Backward Castes are there in large numbers in present-day India. Many backward classes were there from the pre-historic or very ancient times, many more were added in the medieval period spanning over a thousand years. Their numbers went on growing because of the conflicts of the times arising out of the policies of Muslim invaders and rulers. Contrary to modem-day make-believe, there is no evidence to show that the lower classes suffered from the tyranny of the Hindu upper classes in the medieval period. If it were true that the backward classes were so terribly oppressed by the Brahmanas, we would expect them to take some kind of revenge by making common cause with the Muslim persecutors of the Brahmanas. But exactly opposite is the case. Throughout the medieval period, the lower castes fought shoulder to shoulder with the upper castes and against the foreign invaders and tyrannical rulers.
Muslim invaders did not come as friends of the Dalits. Muslim rulers did not treat the low castes any better than they treated the high castes. Hindus suffered repeated defeats on the battlefield because due to a weak state system, their armies were ill-organised and ill-equipped as compared to the Muslim state system which was highly militarized and geared to total war. Hindus would have been wiped out if their social system had been as weak as their state system. So well coalesced was the Hindu social structure that it not only saved India from the fate of countries like Iran, Iraq, Syria and Egypt when they confronted the Islamic onslaught, but did not rest content till it had supplanted the Muslim political power in the land even though it took a thousand years to do so.
As we put the record straight, we find that the small and scattered class of trained and traditional Hindu warriors, mostly Rajputs, stood exhausted by the time of the Mughal invasion, having fought the earlier invaders at every step for well-nigh eight centuries - from the middle of the seventh to the end of the fifteenth. The leadership of Hindu resistance to Muslim rule thereafter was provided by what are termed the Backward Castes and the Dalits in present-day India. These classes had fought earlier under the leadership of Rajput Rajas and Zamindars. Now onwards they took up the leadership on themselves, and battled with the Mughal regime till the latter stood shattered by the middle of the eighteenth century. It is a different story that in the process the Backward Castes and the Dalits suffered grievously and found themselves in a bad shape by the time the Islamic nightmare was over. That story has yet to be put together from indigenous annals which historians have neglected so far. This study is only a beginning, based for the most part on medieval Muslim chronicles.
Professor Kishori Saran Lal (b.1920) took his doctorate in Medieval Indian History from the University of Allahabad in 1945. Starting as a lecturer in the same University, he served in Madhya Pradesh Education service from 1945 to 1963 and taught at Government Colleges in Nagpur, Jabalpur and Bhopal. He was Reader in the University of Delhi for ten years(1963-73) and, for the next ten years, Professor and Head of the Department of History in the University of Jodhpur (1973-79) and the University of Hyderabad (1979-83).
He has participated in many seminars and conferences, national and international, in India and abroad. In Madhya Pradesh, he was Secretary of the Madhya Pradesh Itihasa Parishad and Convener of the Regional Records Survey Committee. He Presided over the Medieval History Section of the History Congress in 1958, Punjab History Congress in 1975, Rajasthan History Congress in 1978, and Indian History and Culture Society in 1984.In 1977 he chained a Session at the Seventh International Conference of the Association of Historians of Asia, held in Bangkok.
He has published a number of articles and monographs on Medieval Indian History. All his books have met a world-wide acclaim; they have been noticed in learned journals in London, Leiden, Chicago, Leipzig, Rome and other centres of learning.
The Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, the Dalits and the Other Backward Castes are there in large numbers in present- day India. Many backward classes were there from the pre-historic or very ancient times, many more were added in the medieval period spanning over a thousand years. Their numbers went on growing because of the conflicts of the times arising out of the policies of Muslim invaders and rulers. Contrary to modem- day make-believe, there is no evidence to show that the lower classes suffered from the tyranny of the Hindu upper classes in the medieval period. If it were true that the backward classes were so terribly oppressed by the Brahmanas, we would expect them to take some kind of revenge by making common cause with the Muslim persecutors of the Brahmanas. But exactly opposite is the case. Jats and Meds helped the Brahmana and Kshatriya rulers of Sindh against Arab invaders. Jats and Khokhars joined the Hindu Shahiya Rajas of Punjab against Mahmud of Ghazni. Throughout the medieval period, the lower castes fought shoulder to shoulder with the upper castes and against the foreign invaders and tyrannical rulers.
The 'exploitation' by the upper classes noticeable today is because of the rigidity developed by the Hindus caste system after the Hindus got bereft of political power for a long time and a moral degeneration set in. There is sufficient evidence to show that on the eve of Islamic invasions, the Hindu social system did not suffer from the defects which it developed at a later stage. In the mean time the upper castes came to the rescue of the lower castes in distress and the lower castes fought under the banner of the upper caste Kshatriyas in the defence of freedom. So well coalesced was the Hindu social structure that it not only saved India from the fate of countries like Iran, Iraq, Syria and Egypt when they confronted the Islamic onslaught, but did not rest content till it had supplanted the Muslim political power in the land even though it took a thousand years to do so. Hindus had suffered only a military defeat against Muslim invaders. It was not a collapse of the Hindu social system.
Backward classes and forest dwellers went on growing under Muslim pressure. Their numbers and nomenclatures have proliferated. Muslim rule spread all over the country. Resistance to it by Hindus also remained widespread. Jungles abounded through- out the vast land and flight into them was the safest safeguard. That is why SC/ST people are found in every state in large numbers. During the medieval period, in the years and centuries of oppression, they lived almost like wild beasts in improvised huts in forest-villages, segregated and isolated, suffering and struggling. But by settling in the forests, these freedom fighters of medieval India were enabled to preserve their religion and their culture.
The forest-village dwellers, whether escapees or resisters, suffered untold privations. In their segregated clusters, they developed their own social norms, their own rules of behaviour, their own rigid codes of conduct. This sometimes resulted in tension between one low caste and another. This tyranny of one low caste over another is still prevalent rather than the oppression of Brahmanas over the lower castes.
This book attempts to portray the rise and recapitulate the role of some of these backward classes and tribes in the history of medieval India, the process of their proliferation and the contribution they made in the preservation of Hindu culture under Muslim rule. It is necessary to bear in mind that there are no such categories as scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other back- ward castes, Harijans, Dalits and so on in the records of the medieval times. Such people are mentioned as Kahars, Telis, Ahirs, Mochis etc. by name. We shall also do the same. But we cannot avoid modem nomenclatures like Dalits, Harijans, back- ward castes, low castes, bonded labourers, etc. In this book the most commonly used word for them would be backward or low castes because there are no familiar names for many classes, clusters or groups of Scheduled Castes and Tribes although their number runs into hundreds.
Medieval people loved their homes, their villages, and their fields. What often forced them to flee into the jungles was the Muslim army, its principles of war and its terror tactics. Therefore, at the end a survey of the Muslim army vis-a-vis the backward classes has been given. Muslim rule had spread all over India by the fifteenth century. So the study of the Muslim army is carried only up to that century.
This is the main thesis of the present study. However, in the context one points needs to be clarified. The march of the armed creed of Islam subverted many ancient civilizations before it knocked at the gates of India. Here they came across the existence of the caste system and they took the short cut of clamping all blame of the defeat of Hindus on their caste system. They popularised a theory that Hindus in medieval India were defeated by Muslim invaders because the Hindu social system was dominated by the Brahmanical caste system in which the lower castes were oppressed and exploited by the upper castes. On the other hand, they say, Islam came to India with a message of social equality and human brotherhood. The following pages amply bear out that these assumptions are incorrect.
Muslim chronicles themselves prove without a shadow of doubt that it was the Hindu social system based on caste which not only withstood the Islamic onslaught but also defeated it in the long run, after the Hindu states had gone down one after another in various parts of the country. So far as the message of social equality and human brotherhood of Islam is concerned, it was confined to Muslims alone. Muslim chronicles themselves describe how even basic human rights were denied to non-Muslims, high or low. Muslim invaders did not come as friends of the Dalits. Muslim rulers did not treat the low castes any better than they treated the high castes. Hindus suffered repeated defeats on the battlefield because due to a weak state system, their armies were ill-organised and ill-equipped as compared to the Muslim state system which was highly militarized and geared to total war. Hindus would have been wiped out if their social system had been as weak as their state system.
Of late the attention of social and political concerns in India has been focussing on the Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Backward Castes (OBCs). With other associated problems, there is awareness of the immensity of their numbers. Scheduled Tribes and Castes alone form about 25 per cent of the population of the country. "According to 1991 Census, the populations of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes were 13.82 crores and 6.78 crores constituting 16.48 and 8.08 per cent respectively of the country's total population of 84.63 crores. As compared to 1981 Census (SC population 15.75 percent and ST population 7.85 per cent of the total population) there has been slight increase in SC as well as ST population in the terms of percentage."! Besides, every state of the Indian Union is identifying its Other Backward Castes. Hence their numbers will also go up when compilation of their lists is completed.
The eleventh century Muslim savant, Alberuni, who came to India in the train of Mahmud of Ghazni speaks of the four traditional castes and eight sections of Antyajas (untouchable?) or workers in low professions such as fuller, shoemaker, juggler, fisherman, hunter of wild animals and birds. ''They are occupied with dirty work, like the cleaning of the village and other services.'? In his time their number in Hindustan was obviously not large. But their numbers and nomenclatures increased with the passage of time.
There were tribes inhabiting rather isolated and wild areas from early times with their own names and specialities. To these were added hordes or groups invading or entering India in the ancient period, that is, before the advent of Islam. Some of these are very well known such as the Greeks, the Parthians, the Sakas or Scythians, the Kushanas, the Hunas, etc. They were assimilated into the social and cultural mainstream of Hinduism. Some of them merged into the existing castes, others got new caste names, and still others joined tribal groups or clusters. But it was during the medieval period under Muslim rule - 712 to 1707 CE - that many castes and sub-castes of SCs, STs and OBCs came into being, to become more than 2,330 enumerated today. For sure, tribal population increased rapidly under Muslim rule to become the 70-million strong tribal community of India today. It is the largest population of this kind in the world.
The year 1993 was named the international year of the indigenous peoples. It is not as innocent as it looks. In many parts of the world the white nations systematically liquidated the original 'native' inhabitants of their countries. Since very few of them have now remained they are being preserved as "dangerous species" with the respectable appellation of "indigenous people" given to them. In the old world, Hindus too were called natives by the whites. Now they are not termed so, but, in accordance with the old divisive policy, the words "indigenous Indians" are used for tribal and backward classes. The fact is that upper class Indians are as much indigenous as the lower, and the word need not be used in the Indian context. But since the word has become current in modern English usage, we too have to use it for tribal and backward classes primarily, however fallacious it may be. (And since the year 1993 was named after them the indigenous people of India also celebrated it by holding tribal youth cultural camps. A 15-day camp was held on the outskirts of Delhi at Holambi Khurd village where participants from Gujarat, Rajasthan, Mizoram, Nagaland, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka established contact through the medium understood by all - dance and music.) It is proposed here to trace their growth in historical perspective. It is also proposed to study the role of these sections of society in the political, cultural and religious spheres in the history of medieval India.
A precise study of the growth and activities of SCs, STs and OBCs under Muslim rule is difficult to make because our source materials are hopelessly deficient in information in this area. Our main authorities are the medieval chronicles. These have been written by Muslim ulema mainly in the Persian language, although there are a few treatises in Arabic and Turki also. Some Muslim chroniclers were prolific writers. For example, Mir Khwand's Rauzat-us-Safa, Farishtah's Gulshan-i-Ibrahimi and Abul Fazl's Akbar Nama run into thousands of pages. But prolific or concise, they confine their writings to narrating the "glorious victories of the faithful" or the conversion of the "infidels to the true faith". They do not care to study the indigenous Hindu society at all, not to speak of its complexities and ramifications. Some tribals and backward classes also have preserved their legendary accounts, their oral mystic traditions and their sacred groves and burial grounds, but only some. These two sources - the Muslim chronicles eulogizing their conquerors and kings no end, and the traditional accounts of tribals singing the praise of their victories over attackers and oppressors - help in reconstructing an interesting, though somewhat disjointed, account of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the medieval period.
To these sources of information may be added the Census reports of early British rule (chronologically closer to the medieval times) as well as the Gazetteers prepared in late nineteenth century and published in 1908-09. These have proved useful in listing the nomenclatures and vocations of most of the medieval tribes and castes. Consequently, the Gazetteers have been extensively used and referred to in the body of the book, instead of other contemporaneous accounts which the compilers of the Gazetteers must have taken care of in any case. Moreover, since we are covering the whole of the medieval period, it is more profitable to look to the Gazetteers for the activities of the low castes and tribes rather than to other medieval literature which is couched in pompous and turgid language containing minimum information.
In this connection. however, it would be well to remember that in medieval times there were no categories or epithets as formulated in the Gazetteers like Animists, Aboriginals, Adivasis, Vanvasis, Vanputras, Nomads, Backwards, Tribals, Original or Indigenous inhabitants etc., etc. This categorization is modern; rather it is a formulation of the British compilers of the Gazetteers. Thus the Gazetteers are not without their politics. The British officials labelled the tribals, in successive Censuses, as Aboriginals (1881), Animists (1891-1911), and as Adherents of Tribal Religions (1921-1931). This is one example of how colonial notions of tribes and castes were imposed upon some sections of our population, although the communities concerned had gone through varied processes of transformation. It must be admitted that the terms 'caste' and 'tribe' can be only loosely used. "It has been aptly said that 'caste' is the largest group based on common occupation, and 'tribe' the largest group based on common descent.'? But in actual usage they get mixed up. Mahatma Gandhi called the lowest castes Harijans, Dr. Ambedkar called them Depressed Castes, a term later translated as Dalit, while the Constitution classifies them as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Many other sections call them- selves Other Backward Castes."
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend