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Islamic Voice Logo
MONTHLY    *    Vol 12-01 No:132    *   JANUARY 1998 / RAMADAN 1418H

email: [email protected]

FEATURES 1


Sadhus in Politics: Historical Realities and Contemporary Claims
Caring Hands of Maymar


Sadhus in Politics: Historical Realities and Contemporary Claims

By Yoginder Sikand

Sadhus are a striking feature in India’s political landscape today. Although the emergence of Sadhus on the country-wide political front is but a recent phenomenon, owing much to the Babri Masjid issue, propagandists of Hindutva have claimed a hoary tradition for the involvement of warrior-sadhus in politics as crusaders of Hindu India against the Muslims in order to legitimise their use of the Sadhus in the service of their own political project. In the course of the campaign that finally led to the destruction of the Babri Masjid, a central thrust of the Hindutva message was the assertion that down the centuries large numbers of warrior-sadhus had allegedly sacrificed their lives in resisting Muslim attempts to destroy Hindu temples, including the one that they alleged had stood on the spot occupied by the Babri Masjid. While they offered no substantial evidence for this assertion, their claims have served to construct a now widely-accepted image of fiery warrior-sadhu patriots cheerfully courting death in the cause of the ‘nation’, defending it against Muslim ‘imperialism’.

To be fair, ideologues of contemporary Hindutva were not the first to argue that the founding of various orders of warrior-sadhus had its origins in a Hindu ‘nationalist’ struggle against the Muslims. Perhaps the earliest to do so was the late nineteenth-century Bengali novelist, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya. In his celebrated Anandamath, Bankim wrote of the late eighteenth-century Sanyasi Rebellion against the East India Company. Although in this rebellion both Hindu sadhus as well as Muslim faqirs had played an active role, Bankim presented the revolt as entirely Hindu. Interestingly, in his sequel to the Anandamath, the Bangadarshan, he described it as having been led by warrior-sadhus alone and as not so much directed against the British as against the Muslims themselves, whom he painted in rather lurid colours. Although Bankim portrayed the warrior-sadhus in the Sanyasi Rebellion as impassioned patriots and as impeccable Hindu ‘nationalists’, historical evidence suggested that rather the actual motives of the sadhus and the faqirs in the revolt were actually rather different. It seems that their main concerns were actually to reclaim their right to carry arms, to levy contributions from the countryside and on pilgrims and to serve as mercenaries for local Bengali nobles, all of which the East India Company had done away with.

In line with British colonial historiography which essentially focused on issues that divided rather than brought together Hindus and Muslims, British orientalists were also particularly concerned to trace the development of warrior-sadhu orders to a presumed history of constant Hindu-Muslim antagonism. The noted early twentieth-century orientalist, J.N.Farquhar even went so far as to allege, with no firm historical evidence at his disposal, that it was actually the Mughal Emperor Akbar who, through his trusted minister, Birbal, gave permission to non-Brahmin Hindus to set up orders of warrior-sadhus apparently to protect Brahmins from attacks by Muslim faqirs.

This, however, does not seem to have actually been the case, for the historical records only speak of Akbar having witnessed an armed battle between two groups of Hindu Shiva-worshipping warrior-sadhus, the Puris and the Giris at Thaneshwar in 1567. In fact, Akbar was himself was called upon to mediate and give his support to the ... weaker of the two factions so as to make it a battle between equals.

Likewise, the early historical records speak less of warrior-sadhu battles with Muslims than with intra-sadhu conflicts, that often turned bloody and resulted in the loss of many lives. In particular, orders of warrior-sadhu Shiva-worshippers, such as the Dasnamis and the Gosains, gradually grew to develop a tradition of armed conflict with similar orders among Vishnu-worshippers such as the Bairagis. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries most such conflicts resulted in favour of the Shaivites, such as was the case of the Shaivite-Vaishnavite armed battles at the Kumbh Mela at Hardwar in 1640 and in 1760 as well as at the Kumbh Mela at Nasik in 1789. Numerous attacks by Shaivite Gosain and Dasnami warriors on Vaishnavite Bairagi strongholds are reported in the records in the seventeenth century, including the Dasnami capture of Ayodhya from the Vaishnavites in 1699. Gosain power seems to have continued to be consolidated over the Vaishnavite warrior-sadhu orders throughout most of the eighteenth century, and it was only at the Kumbh Mela at Hardwar in 1796 that they suffered a humiliating military defeat at the hands of a new entrant on the political scene, the Sikhs.

Yet, armed conflict between the Vaishnavite and Shaivite sadhu orders persisted even after this, so much so that in 1813 the Peshwas had to make separate bathing areas for the two orders lest they should fight each other. At the Kumbh Mela at Ujjain in 1826, a combined army of Vaishnavite warrior-sadhus and Maratha soldiers inflicted a harsh military defeat on the Shaivite sadhus, and ended up plundering their temples and monasteries. Later, while the British put an end to the regular bouts of violence between the warrior-sadhus Shaivites and Vaishnavites, they made separate arrangements for both orders at the Kumbh Melas at Allahabad and Hardwar to prevent bloodshed over which sadhu order should have precedence in bathing in the Ganga.

Contrary to the myths in circulation today, far from being uniformly and constantly opposed to the Muslims, many warrior-sadhus actually entered into the service of Muslim Kings and princes. Thus, for instance, in the mid-eighteenth century the most important of the Shaivite warrior-sadhus, the Dasnamis under Rajendragiri and his disciples Anupgiri and Umraogiri cemented military alliances with the Mughals of Delhi and the Nawabs of Awadh, on the one hand, as well as the Jats and the Marathas on the other. Under Anupgiri, who by 1761, had risen to become commander of 12,000 troops, the Dasnamis actually allied themselves with the British. Interestingly , Rajendragiri went on to be appointed as faujdar or commanding officer by none other than the Mughal Emperor Ahmad Shah, and, after his death, Umraogiri was confirmed in that post by Safdar Jung, the Mughal governor.

With historical evidence pointing more to infighting among the various warrior-sadhu orders themselves along sectarian lines rather than against the Muslims as such, and with reports of noted sadhu soldiers having allied at various times, with Muslim princes and kings among others, it would seem that the Hindutva image of fiercely ‘nationalist’ sadhu-warriors, crusaders against Muslim ‘imperialism’ is little else than a mere myth.
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Caring Hands of Maymar

By A Staff Writer

Maymar’s moving spirit Aleemullah Khan is, however, undeterred. “What you see today is a hundred times better than when we started working in these slums four years ago. It’s no joke doing social work here. Maymar is just a drop in the ocean. “We have ventured out into a field none bothered to ever care for. Going by Bangalore’s slum-dwelling Muslim population, even 60 clinics would not suffice”, he says ruefully, hoping that people’s cooperation would help the Maymar widen its services. Every morning Dr. Vijayalakshmi heads for the Makkah Masjid located in the quiet environs of Gangondanahalli, an area inhabited by poor Muslims behind the posh Vijayanagar locality of Bangalore. She has nothing on her mind but the queues of poor women patients and children with dishevelled hair who line up before her clinic in the basement of the Makkah Masjid. For Vijayalakshmi her work is worship. For the next four hours, she remains preoccupied with ailing women and children. With the azan for the zuhar prayers she winds up and heads for home as devotees stream into the Mosque.

The scene is part of the growing chain of Maymar Clinics in Bangalore slums that have come to render medical care to a section of people in areas cursed by the social blight. Slum folk being its prime target, Maymar clinics draw crowds of sick people who would have otherwise remained without treatment. Neither would have their pockets allowed them to spare the money for expensive medicine nor would have any other agency cared to reach them.

The Maymar Clinic in Madina Mohalla in Devarajeevana Halli slums is another of Maymar’s projects in action. The setting is worth seeing. The clinic operates from a two-room corner of the Jamia Ashrafia School. Stench of the raw sewage from the nearby cesspools welcomes the nostrils. Decaying fruit also attract buyers here. Most tenements are one-roomed and layer upon layer of sedimented garbage is what constitutes the apology of roads that twist and turn according to their own whims. Amid the open running sewers and festering slums and defecation ground are located tea stalls, mini hotels and mobile eateries. Maymar stepped into the arena where diseases required no invitation.

Dr. Dilshad’s task here does not confine merely to dispense medicine. “More than medicine, these people need lecturing on hygiene and sanitation. Water is scarce and bath is a luxury for them. One could very well guess the causes for sickness”, says Dr. Dilshad working in the Maymar Clinic in a Madina Mohalla.

Maymar’s moving spirit Aleemullah Khan is, however, undeterred. “What you see today is a hundred times better than when we started working in these slums four years ago. It’s no joke doing social work here. People expect us to disburse charity and we feel they need education and health as basic needs to carry on their lives more productively. It is a serious mismatch of vision between them and us. But now they are beginning to understand the value of our work”, says Khan while thanking the Jamia Ashrafia School authorities for having provided space for the Maymar Clinic.

Each of the three clinics by Maymar Trust treats 50 to 60 patients. Water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, gastroenteritis etc., are stated to be common. But the clinic at Padrayanapura reports high incidence of wounds, cuts and bruises among children who work in auto-garages, foundries and glass factories, says Dr. Geetha Prakash. Infection of the upper bronchial tracts is common among women engaged in beedi rolling and agarbathi making.

But all the three clinics report high awareness about birth control. Dr. Vijayalakshmi admits that the TV watching has helped the women adopt the small family norm and most women also take care to space out births. Contraceptives are demanded by women and the clinics provide all such facilities.

Maymar has targeted health of the women and children. According to Secretary Amjadullah Khan most women are made to work as housemaids by their idling husbands who contribute nothing to the family’s economy. Though divorces are rare, desertions are common. Males who ply autorickshaws, feel no qualms in marrying two or three women and deserting the wives with children. “One reason why the menfolk do not approach us is the fact that they feel ashamed to say that they were not working”, says Amjad who liaises between the three clinics.

Working on shoestring budget, donated medicine, and helpful well-wishers, Maymar Charitable Trust is also focusing on education. Currently, it is financing education through payment of tuition fee, uniforms and textbooks for 630 children, girls outnumbering the boys.

But for President Aleemullah Khan, Maymar is just a drop in the ocean. “We have ventured out into a field none bothered to ever care for. Going by Bangalore’s slum-dwelling Muslim population, even 60 clinics would not suffice”, he says ruefully, hoping that people’s cooperation would help the Maymar widen its services.

For details and contributions contact Mr. Aleemullah Khan, President, Maymar Charitable Trust (Registered), 69/3, Meenakshi Coil Street Cross, 1st Floor, (Jumma Masjid Building), Bangalore-560051, Tel:5596947.
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