Whitewashing Genocides: Why K.S. Lal’s claim of 80 million Hindus killed by Muslim invaders holds water – Aabhas Maldahiyar  

Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji

Aabhas MaldahiyarWhitewashing genocide and atrocities against Hindus have always been a key symptom of history-phobia. It must be countered as strongly as K.S. Lal had done in the past – Aabhas Maldahiyar  

I first looked at India’s medieval history through the works of court historians of those who invaded us and believed in the notion of “Dar-Ul-Islam”. And then I read the works of modern historians, examining the same era but with a different perspective. Perhaps, that is why American astronomer Donald Edward Osterbrock famously said, History is too Important to be left to the historians, while addressing the people as he received the Leroy E. Doggett Prize for Historical Astronomy in 2002.

Recently, a panel discussion featuring Meenakshi Jain, Vikram Sampath, Sandeep Balakrishnan and me as panellists was moderated by Sanjay Dixit during the Annual Jaipur Dialogue Event, 2022. The subject was to analyse the “Islamic Rule” in India. Sampath, based on works of authorities, pointed out that the Islamic invasion was one of the bloodiest leading to massacre of around 80 million people, besides auctioning of around 2.5 million women as slaves. He also raised the issue of the ransacking of the great university of Nalanda by Bakhtiyar Khalji and how ironically, we have the railway station named after him near the very site of monumental destruction. As usual, without wasting even thirty seconds, Anand Ranganathan quoted the statement in a tweet and the matter became a matter of concern for various professional historians (as they like themselves to be called) and other celebrated faces.

“Pamphleteers”, “Sanghi”, “Myth-Historians”, and many other names began to be invoked along with rhetoric feeds which have been infinite miles away from traits of scholarly criticism involving primary sources. They began to deal with the issue in quite a pedestrian way, while the subject looked for nuance. Largely, an attempt was made to build a narrative as under:

1. The loss of 80 million lives is too far from the reality;
2. There is hardly any evidence to prove that Nalanda University was ransacked by Bakhtiyar Khalji;
3. The period of Islamicate (term used by historian Yusuf Ahmad Ansari) was a golden era for India.

I was once told by my father, a historian, that “perfection in history lies in an honest inspection into the sources of the matter which is in debate.” I did the same thing and present the observations with you.

The first and the third claim has been made by historian Yusuf Ahmad Ansari. Let’s deal with that first.

80 million lives were lost?

Yusuf Ahmad Ansari writes, “Only in Hindutva fantasy could 80 million lives have been lost when the entire population numbered 70 million!” All along the interaction that were tabled henceforth shows no consciousness among the critics like him to name the source from where this number of 80 million was coming from. Many thought that it is based on estimates of Will Durant, as Dr. Sampath quoted him in opening lines at the Jaipur Dialogues.

K.S. LalEven Yusuf seemed unaware, until I replied to him stating that the number of around 80 million comes from the estimates put forth by K.S. Lal in his book, Growth of Muslim Population in Medieval India (1000-1800), that was published in 1973. If one would have cared to read this work, he would know the strong rationale behind the estimate. But after I put out that this estimate of 80 million is based on work by K.S. Lal, the same criticism of him began that was done more than four decades back. In fact, this work of K.S. Lal was criticised by Professor Irfan Habib, and many others in the similar way. Prof. Habib did so at the 39th Annual Session of the IHC held at Hyderabad in December of 1978, while presenting a 40-page paper called, Economic History of the Delhi Sultanate – An Essay in Interpretation, of which more than half of the part was full of charges against K.S. Lal, Prof. K.A. Nizami, and Prof. Lallanji Gopal.

But the neo-critics of K.S. Lal, who used the similar model of criticism as put forth by Prof. Habib forty-four years ago, perhaps weren’t aware that K.S. Lal gave a detailed rebuttal in chapter 7 of his book, Theory and Practice of Muslim State in India, published in 1999. Prior to it, K.S. Lal had presented as rejoinder to Prof. Habib’s charges at the 1979 session of the Indian History Culture Society, New Delhi. It was published in the Proceedings of the Society in the same year, edited by Late Dr. Devahuti. The volume was titled as, Bias In Indian Historiography, and the rejoinder appeared in chapter 24. The point to be noted is that it was never rebutted back by Prof. Habib, and hence by academic standards the weight lies by the work of K.S. Lal.

Before dwelling into the work of K.S. Lal, that is subject of criticism, let’s first dwell a bit into the rebuttal written by him to Prof. Habib, as this holds good to the neo-critiques today as well.

Prof. Habib says in his paper, “(…) Professor K.S. Lal has made the equally startling discovery that the sultans reduced the population of the country by over a third.” In the same paper Prof. Habib had even gone all ablaze against Elliot for talking about the massacres done by the Muslim rulers and associates.

K.S. Lal explains clearly in the rebuttal that his estimates on the loss of population from 200 million in 100 AD to 125 million in 1500 AD is based on various primary sources (Greek writers, Chinese travellers, Arab geographers, Muslim court historians like Abul Fazl) and cross analysis of modern scholars who estimated population around that period. Below is the Table 5 presented in K.S. Lal’s book, Growth of Muslim Population in Medieval India, that shows various estimates of population across the period.

Table 5 re K.S. Lal

While rebutting, K.S. Lal made a very strong point: “But he does not make any assessment at all; he merely challenges and criticises my conclusions—a very easy task! In my computation, however, sufficient historical evidence has been set forth for any demographic behaviour and on that basis, I have arrived at the conclusion (…).”

The point that must be key here is that K.S. Lal is talking of “estimate” which by virtue of language holds good until and unless someone comes with a newer “estimate” with a critique of sources and methods applied by the former.

In fact, K.S. Lal has done a deep analysis of demographics and population at an extent of 130 pages (26-156). Of course, one needs to read those 130 pages to understand the whole process and methodology but, in this essay, I’m citing part of his study on how a population of 140 million was estimated by K.S. Lal for the year 1600 AD using Ain-i-Akbari.

K.S. Lal writes as below: “The revenue of Akbar’s empire in AD 1594 was, ‘Three arabs sixty-two crore ninety-seven lakhs fifty-five thousand two hundred and forty-six dams and twelve lakhs of betel leaves.’ About the time of his death in 1605 the total revenue amounted to 17 crores and forty-five lakhs (174,500,000) rupees. (…) Taking the common rate of one-third as the chargeable revenue, the total value of food grains produced in Akbar’s time would be 52 crore and 35 lakh rupees, Akbar’s dam was 1/40 of his rupee and his man was of 28 sers of today. And although the prices of high-class food items, like good quality rice, had gone up since the days of Firoz Tughlaq, the ordinary quality food stuffs were, by and large, cheap. On the average about 8 (to 10) dams bought one man (of 28 sers) of food grains in Akbar’s time, and one rupee 5 mans (of 28 sers each) and 34 maunds (of 40 sers each) of today.”

“Following the same principle of calculation as was adopted for the reign of Firoz Shah Tughlaq, the money value of the one third of total agricultural production consumed by the people was Rs 174,500,000. Since one rupee purchased 34 maunds of cereals, the total quantity of cereals should be 610,250,000 maunds. With the average consumption of 5½ maunds per individual per year, the total number of inhabitants in Akbar’s empire should be (610,250,000÷5½) about 110 million. Add to this the 30 to 35 million people of the South and the inaccessible tribal areas, and the estimate would again come to between 140 and 145 million.”

This is just one of the many analytical examples used to demonstrate why a population of 140 million is estimated in 1600 AD for India. Likewise, he has given multiple analyses based on historical records to show why he estimates the population to be 200 million and 125 million in 1000 and 1500 AD respectively.

Between page 25-32 of his book, Growth of Muslim Population in Medieval India (1000-1800) K.S. Lal has cited multiple foreign travellers (Chinese, Greek and Arab Geographers) to talk about the prosperous large population of India in its ancient phase. To gauge a few examples as mentioned by him quoting the primary sources, during the invasion of Alexander (as described by Arrian), even one small kingdom like that of the Kalka tribe had 37 cities with each having inhabitants of 5000 a minimum to a maximum of 10,000. This would make the total habitation to be no lesser than around 2 lakhs.

K.S. Lal also talks about Chandragupta Maurya having an army of 700,000 men, which can give you a scale of the habitation that would have been required to have such a huge army. He talks about Fa-hien and Hieuen Tsang who were deeply impressed by the population, and size of the cities. Lal observes the latter to be talking about the perimeters of towns to be around 20, 30 or 40 li (one sixth of English Mile). Al Masudi speaks (941 AD) of the Kingdom of Kannauj which maintained four armies, and each consisted of 700,000 to 900,000 men. It means that the army of Kannauj itself amounted to 2.8 to 3.6 million.

Lal quotes Al-Masaudi to be speaking of Multan as, “it is one of the strongest frontier places of the Musalmans, and around it there are one hundred and twenty thousand towns and villages.” Even though in that phase, Arab Geographers stopped documentation by the borders of Islamic realm, they all maintained a common narrative of “huge population,” in India. It is also observed that the way the Dharmik traditions of Bharat were spreading in the south-east surely a large population must have migrated in those regions. Although numerous examples have been given including the works of Ferishta to talk about the massive Indian population in pre-1000 AD one example cited by K.S. Lal holds out strongly is that of Sulaiman the Merchant, who had visited India and China several times (in the 9th century). Lal quotes him as, “the country of India is larger than that of China. Its rulers are also larger in number.”

So, the first thing that one needs to do with the desire to discredit K.S. Lal is to criticise his process of estimation objectively and not with rhetoric and name calling. The rebuttal given by K.S. Lal in 1979 remains unattended.

As far as the number for slavery of women is concerned, the neo-critics of Lal must need his rebuttal well because even Professor Habib is not disputing the slavery. In fact, Lal exposes Habib by mentioning that latter has used exactly same sources to talk about slavery as he himself has used.

One statement from the rebuttal that brings down complete hypocrisy is, “Irfan Habib is all praise for Professor Mohammad Habib who was ‘so conscious of the negative aspects of the medieval Islamic civilisation or so sensitive to the devastation that the wars and campaigns of the sultans wrought on the inhabitants’ (page 3) while he attacks Professor Nizami for writing ‘without that critical view of Islamic society and the destruction accompanying the invasions’ (p. 5).”

Now we should move to the next part of this question: How exactly did the population decline so much in India? Look at the graph below as projected by K.S. Lal based on the critical analysis of all the primary sources available:

K.S. Lal Graph

We see a large drop in population which is very unusual if we buy the argument that the Muslim rulers were adding more and more wealth for Bharat. With the pattern of population and prosperity in all terms before 1000 AD, India should have had a population of around 500 million as pointed out by K.S. Lal by the time he was writing the book. He writes, “To us ancient society might look traditional or static as ‘when we pass a much slow moving auto on the road (…) it seems to be standing still.’ Social change in ancient times was no doubt slow, and yet ancient Indian society was not so static or traditional after all. For the implements of agricultural production have remained the same right up to our own times, but the population has gone on increasing so as to touch the 500 million mark now.”

So, what went wrong that this huge and prosperous population saw a decline? K.S. Lal and many other stalwarts referring to the Muslim chroniclers have concluded that it was decimated by Muslim invaders like Mahmud Ghazni, Muhammad Ghori and Qutbuddin Aibak, Khalji, etc, most of whom took pride in claiming that they had killed people by lakhs. Their chroniclers have been very true to the deeds as they go on to credit those rulers with tremendous achievements in this regard of slaughtering so many kafirs.

Though there are multiple uncountable records put across by contemporary court historians of Muslim rulers, limiting the scope of this article, I’m putting across the table of loss of Indian population (from K.S. Lal’s book) done by Ghazni in the early 11th century where the numbers as mentioned by his own secretary, Utbi, touches to around 2 million when consolidated with proper analysis.

Population Loss Table

So, it becomes quite evident from the analysis done by K.S. Lal based on the primary sources that India indeed lost a population of around 80 million to the barbarism of Islamic Invaders. Should anyone be keen to disagree, he must come up with own detailed analysis along with point-to-point rebuttal to the process and methodology applied by K.S. Lal.

I’m resting my keyboard here and would be soon coming up with next parts in the series of history-phobia, wherein I will deal with the narrative propagated by Audrey Truschke that, “Bakhtiyar Khalji did not ransack the Nalanda university,” and “if Islamicate India was truly living the golden age?” In the meantime, you can read a few details about it in a longish twitter thread I compiled on a similar issue.

Aabhas Maldahiyar Tweet

And of course, she has been a regular offender when it comes to the issue of offending Hindu and Indian sentiments. A few months back I had written a piece called, Why Audrey Truschke should stop inventing history to suit her vicious agenda, bringing forth some of the propaganda against Hindus.

Whitewashing genocide and atrocities against Hindus have always been a key symptom of history-phobia. It must be countered as strongly as K.S. Lal had done in the past. Denying the Holocaust of Jews has been recognised as a crime, but in Bharat making the film, The Kashmir Files, on one of the many genocides of Hindus is seen as an act of crime. This is certainly not done. – FirstPost, 13 November 2022

Aabhas Maldahiyar  is a practicing architect, urban designer, history researcher and author of three books.

Bartiyapur Jn. Railway Station in Bihar.