aurungz.jpg (12920 bytes)

Events in Indian History Pertaining to Anita Desai’s Clear Light of Day

One thing to keep in mind about the history of India is that until the late 1940’s, India had never been a unified nation-state--not even under the British. India has always been a mixture of empires, large and small kingdoms, varying religions, ethnicities, and languages, as well as having a broad range of geographic and economic differences. These volatile forces continue to make India an often violent and strive-ridden place. Most of the larger empires and kingdoms have been in North India, and the political center of power continues to be there. The three ancient empires of India, the Harappan-Aryan (ca. 2000-1000 BC), the Mauryan (326-184 BC), and the Guptan (375-415 AD) prior to the Muslim invasion all existed in the north and northwest regions of the land.

997 – The Turkish sultan Mahmud of Ghazni begins raids into the Punjab plains, looting Indians cities. Mahmud’s Islamic armies destroyed numerous Hindu temples.

1175-1193 – Muhammad of Ghur raids India. Delhi becomes the new seat of Muslim dominance of North India. Most Hindus are forced to convert.

1211-1236 – Iletmish consolidates Muslim control in Delhi and keeps Ghengis Khan from invading. He gives Hindus the status of udhinmis or protected (but taxed) people.

1296-1316 – Ala-ud-din-Khalyi achieves greatest extent of the Delhi sultanate. He taxes the Hindu populace by 50% or more.

1338 – Bengal achieves independence from Delhi until the Mongul conquest of the 16th century.

1351-1388 – A period of peace, prosperity, and cultural achievement under the Muslim leader Firuz. Delhi becomes a garden city full of mosques and famous colleges and hospitals.

1398 – The Central Asian despot Tameriane invades North India, plundering Old Delhi, killing and enslaving tens of thousands.

April 21, 1526 – Babur of Kabul founds the Modhul dynasty in Delhi.

(*) 1556-1605 – Akbar the Great builds strong connections with the local Hindu population, abolishes the heavy taxation of Hindus, ends enslavement and forced conversions. Akbar begins to adopt a belief system that weaves together Hindu, Sikh, and Jannist beliefs with Islam.

(*) 1605-1627 – Jhangir’s reign reaches the height of Indo-Persian cultural syncretism. The construction of the Taj Mahal begins. A great period of Modhul painting and music.

(*) 1628-1658 – Shah Jahan, the most lavish of all Moghul rulers. Jahan begins a massive building campaign over six new cities, including Jahanabad, the site of the present Old Delhi. He completes the Taj Mahal. Jahan was noted for jewel encrusting just about everything.

(*) 1658-1707 – Aurangzeb comes to power. Aurangzeb in ruthlessly orthodox in his beliefs and he is greatly hated by both his court and the general populace. He appoints Muslim censors of public behavior in every city, outlaws most Hindu practices, re-imposes the tax on Hindus, and uses the imperial elephants to crush rebellions including those by the Sikh population. Aurangzeb spends the last twenty-six years of his rule trying to conquer the Deccan Plain. The great slaughter exhausts both his forces and the countryside. In 1707, he writes the famous letter to his son that Bim recalls.

1707-1764 – Great period of internal conflicts. Nizan establishes a Muslim dynasty in mostly Hindu Hyderabad in South India.

1764-1765 – The minor Moghul dynasties are defeated by the British army on the Ganges. The British opt for secondary control, leaving the sultans in control in name only.

1813 – Charles Metcalfe and Thomas Munro establish British control in Delhi.

1833 – The English Charter Act opens India to unrestricted British immigration, commerce, and education.

1857-1858 – The Anglo-Indian War. Delhi becomes one of the three major centers of revolt. The last great Moghul ruler of Delhi, Bahadur Shah II, is deposed on September 20, 1857 by the British.

1870-1890 – The first wave of Hindu Indian nationalism arises in Bengal and Bombay. These movements tend to alienate Muslims. Sir Sayyad Ahmud Khan of Moghul descent founds the College of Aligarh near Delhi, a major center of Muslim activity. The Muslim League is formed and takes a broadly pro-British stance.

1911 – The British administrative capital is moved from Calcutta to New Delhi. The Muslim League begins to adopt a self-governing position.

1920’s – Growing Hindu-Muslim conflict in Bengali and Punjabi regions of India.

December 1928 – Jinnah, the future founder of Pakistan breaks with the Indian National Congress.

1930 – Muhammad Iqbal prospers a new Northwestern Muslim state.

1935-1938 – The British government provides for local province rule. In the first elections, the Muslim League only take 109 seats. Jinnah and others take this as a sign that Muslims will be displaced by Hindu nationalism. The unites the other Muslim parties under Jinnah’s leadership.

1940-1945 – Growing plans for the partition of Pakistan from India in two regions – the Northwest and what will late become Bengaldesh. Gandhi is increasingly alienated from Muslim leaders over this plan.

May 1944 – Gandhi and Jinnah meet for talks, which break down after eighteen days.

August 16, 1946 – Muslim "Direct Action" Day or "The Great Killing" – Hundreds of thousands are killed from this point to the winter of ’47. February 20, 1947 – British government agrees to give up control of India by June of 1948. Widespread violence breaks out in the Northwestern Frontier regions. Jinnah, who is now bedridden, learns he has terminal tuberculosis.

April 20 – Nehru agrees to let the Muslim League have Pakistan

June 15 – Formal declaration of the "two independent dominions." Over ten million people migrate in one direction of the other between Pakistan and India during the next few months. Over one million are killed during this migration.

August 14 – India declares independence. Hyderabad refuses to join.

1947-1948 – First Indo-Pakistan War breaks out over the region of Kashmir. (India and Kakistan will continue to periodically fight over this region in the 1960’s, 1970’s and as late as 1999.) Gandhi fasts in protest of the widespread killing of Muslims. This results in his being condemned by radical Hindu nationalist groups.

January 30, 1948 – Gandhi is assassinated by a Hindu nationalist.

September 13, 1948 – Indian troops crush Hyderbad’s resistance, and the region is formally absorbed into India.

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding