Muhi al-Din Muhammad (1618 – March 3, 1707), commonly known as Aurangzeb, was the sixth and last effective Emperor of the Mughal Empire, who had ruled South Asia from July 1658 till the end of his life. It was during his reign that the Mughal Empire reached its zenith, with its territory, spanning nearly the entire South Asia.
However, a number of historians have showcased this Mughal Emperor as a villain, for imposing the infamous tax, termed Jizya, on non-Muslims. They have wasted a lot of ink on this issue, to explain Aurangzeb’s anti-Hindu sentiments.
Jizya was basically a per capita yearly taxation, historically levied in the form of financial charge on dhimmis or permanent non-Muslim subjects of a State governed by Islamic Law. Interestingly, the Quran and hadiths mention Jizya, without specifying its rate or amount. Hence, the application of this tax varied in the course of Islamic history. According to scholars, early Muslim rulers adapted existing systems of taxation and tribute that were established under previous rulers of the conquered lands, such as those of the Byzantine and Sasanian Empires. Initially, Jizya was only applied to the Jews and Christians, while pagans were not covered under the dhimmi system. As Islam spread to the Indian subcontinent, Jizya was applied onto the Hindus, as well. In other words, Muslim rulers used to collect Jizya Tax from non-Muslims in Islamic States, in order to protect their lives and dignity.
Aurangzeb was not an exception to this. Scholars have further claimed that not all non-Muslims had to pay Jizya, saying that patients, elderly people, clergies, priests, unemployed persons, differently abled people and womenfolk were exempted from paying this tax.
Incidentally, there were certain taxes that only Muslims had to pay under Islamic rule. During the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb, the maximum amount of Jizya was 48 dirhams per year and the minimum was 12. The Mughal Emperor levied this tax after considering the financial situation of tax-payers. Since the Mughal Administration was responsible for saving the lives of the tax-payers in return for this tax, Emperor Aurangzeb did not force them to participate in wars. However, it was mandatory for every able-bodied Muslim citizen to serve the Army during the Mughal period.
Even the Administration of Aurangzeb used to return the tax to citizens or members of their families, if he failed to protect their lives and properties. Had Aurangzeb marked anti-Hindu sentiments, there would have been no difference in tax rates. With the introduction of the Jizya, Emperor Aurangzeb had lifted about 70 taxes payable by the Hindus.
In his publication ‘A Short History of Aurangzib‘, eminent historian Acharya Jadunath Sarkar had mentioned 65 among those taxes. It remains a fact that several Hindu temples were destroyed during the reign of Aurangzeb, but if his only intention was to destroy the Hindu temples, then many other temples would not have remained intact during or after his reign.
Talking about the Liberal Policy of Aurangzeb, Prafulla Chandra Roy reportedly said that the Hindus were given important posts, status and jaigir (property) during his tenure. He had also appointed a Hindu administrator in the Muslim-majority Province of Afghanistan. Emperor Aurangzeb was seen to have promoted nearly 27 of his Hindu officials, including Jay Singh, Yashwant Singh and Rasikjan. There was also a predominance of Hindus in his Army.
In an article published in The Print on February 19, 2020, Meena Bhargava wrote: “Aurangzeb’s orthodoxy and his dedication to his beliefs was personal rather than a matter for political interference. He had more Rajput (Hindu) administrators than the third Mughal Emperor, Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar (October 25, 1542 – October 27, 1605). In fact, Aurangzeb patronised several Hindu institutions and was supported in the war of succession by Rajputs.” He was known to have honoured several Hindu scholars, including Giridhar of Varanasi District, Jadu Mishra and Pandit Bilvadhar Mishra of Maheshpur, with properties.
British historian Alexander Hamilton had toured India towards the end of Aurangzeb’s 50-year reign, and observed that everyone was free to serve and worship God in her/his own way. He mentioned that although Islam was the State Religion in Mughal India, 90% of the people were Hindus and they used to enjoy full citizenship status. Emperor Aurangzeb used to consider merit, and not religion, while making Administrative Decisions. (‘Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s Reign‘ by Habib Siddiqui; The MilliGazette, June 26, 2012)
Perhaps, this is the right time for the Historians to write an objective history of Emperor Aurangzeb and his reign.
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