By Sufiya Pathan

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If anything, he asserts, the two communities had come closer to each other during British rule than in all the preceding centuries. By this logic then, we are left in the rather ironic position of dubbing one of the most contentious periods in Hindu-Muslim relations as also being one of greatest ‘unity’ between them. Thus, in McPherson’s account, although religion is the primary motivation for this conflict, it is expressed least by those to whom religion matters most and the period of greatest Hindu-Muslim proximity and cooperation, is also one of greatest Hindu-Muslim conflict.

Muslims are most highly honoured amongst them, except that, as we have said, they do not eat with them or allow them into their houses (Battuta 1992: 232). 23 For any contemporary reader of these accounts this is a curious paradox, for, descriptions of similar inter-community practices today would be read extremely differently. Ibn Battuta, a Muslim traveller with his sympathies quite clearly lying with his co-religionists sees “honour” where contemporary views would see, at the very least, “discrimination” or “prejudice”.

The problem, however, is that no evidence can be found in support of the theory. Moreover, it is profoundly illogical. First, by attributing present-day values to peoples of the past, it reads history backward. Before their contact with Muslims, India’s lower castes are thought to have possessed, almost as though familiar with the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau or Thomas Jefferson, some innate notion of the fundamental equality of all humankind denied them by an oppressive Brahmanic tyranny.

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