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Reviewed by:
  • Xenophobia in Seventeenth-Century India
  • Markus Vink
Xenophobia in Seventeenth-Century India. By Gijs Kruijtzer. Leiden: Leiden University Press, 2009. 324 pp. €45.00, $63.50 (paper).

The "lives and times" approach, the use of individual portraits as a medium to depict a panoramic view of a particular region and time period, has been one of the most venerable genres of history writing. The current volume, based on the author's 2006 Leiden University dissertation, focuses on the Deccan Plateau in central and southern India in the seventeenth century and is part and parcel of this long-standing tradition. If not modeled after Richard M. Eaton's A Social History of the Deccan, 1300-1761 (2005),1 it inevitably draws a number of comparisons with Eaton's work. Where Eaton used eight Indian lives—a maharaja, a Sufi shaykh, a long-distance merchant, a generalissimo, a slave, a poet, a low-caste rebel, and a dowager—as a vehicle to illuminate social processes fundamental to the history of the Deccan between the early fourteenth and mid eighteenth centuries, Kruijtzer weaves together six cases of conflict centered around a Dutch painter, a Bijapuri queen, two Brahmin brothers at Madras (Chennapatnam), a Maratha king, an English rebel, and a Golkonda prime minister into a rich narrative [End Page 146] tapestry as an expedient tool to explore the identity claims and clashes of the set of people finding themselves in this "carousel region" (p. 3) between North India, South India, the Arabian Sea, and the Bay of Bengal in the seventeenth century. Moreover, where Eaton set out to reclaim for history subject matter that, having been largely abandoned by professional historians, has been eagerly appropriated by politically motivated myth makers, Kruijtzer challenges both the academic silence on precolonial conflict between Hindus and Muslims and the emphasis on harmoniousness of Western (mainly American) scholars and what he calls the "heritage view" of the past of Hindu nationalists, seeing groups in a more or less far away past as ancestors of modern groups and in effect identifying the two (pp. 10-11, 280). These two "extremist views" converge with the "blame paradigm" representing the reverse side of the "heritage paradigm." Kruijtzer opines that modern academic discourse has made a "Whitean tragedy" out of the putative emergence of caste and the Hindu-Muslim divide in the colonial period. He notes a strong tendency among academics such as Nicholas Dirks2 to assign the blame for present divisions of Indian society to British colonialism, and an equally strong tendency among Hindu nationalists such as Arun Shourie3 to assign the blame for many things to the Muslims (pp. 9, 280-281).

Thus, Kruijtzer warns the reader in his opening sentence, Xenophobia is not a history of love but of hatred, the fearful distrust of the strange(r) (p. 1). On the issue of identity and identity formation, Kruijtzer assumes a middling position between primordialists, emphasizing rigidity and autonomy, and historicists and constructionists (including Bernard Cohn and the "Chicago school" of ethnohistory focusing on the role of Orientalism and the "colonial project"4), emphasizing fluidity and contingency of identities. Reversing the causal relationship, Kruijtzer asserts that communalism preceded colonialism and contributed to the advance of the British Raj in India. It was no coincidence, he argues, that by 1798 all of the former Mughal successor [End Page 147] states—Bengal, Awadh, Hyderabad, and Arcot—were more or less under British control, whereas the western qaum-based (nation-based) states of the Marathas, Afghans, Jats, Sikhs, and Rajputs came under British control only later and in a manner involving more physical violence (pp. 277-279).

More specifically, Kruijtzer argues that the roots of modern communalism (the antagonism between "communities" of Hindus and Muslims) can be found in a decade demarcated by the visit of the Maratha king Shivaji (r. 1674-1680) to the sultan of Golkonda, Abul-Hasan Qutb Shah (r. 1672-1687), in 1677 and the fall of the Qutb Shahi state to Mughal forces in 1687. Shivaji exported the implosion stemming from the factional strife between the Deccanis and Afghans to the remainder of the Deccan and the Karnatak with his discourse on Deccani patriotism...