What Does a Visit to SouthCentral India Tell Us about Arab-Israel Peace?

Ajantha & Verul are incredible human achievements. These are wonders of sculpture and painting designed and built on a massive scale between 2nd century CE & 8th century CE. Ajantha is a complex of  about 26 caves dug into the side of a horseshoe shaped hill with each cave intricately carved and sculpted with images of Buddha, his followers and representations of Buddhist Stupa. The caves also contain exquisite paintings of revered figures of Buddhism.


                                                              (Ajantha – src Wikipedia)

In the same area as Ajantha, is Verul – a superb complex of about 34 caves with sculptures of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain art. The Kailash complex in Cave 16 simply boggles the mind. Verul was constructed around 8th century CE. You need a day to view Ajantha & Verul each but when you spend the time, you are left with joyous awe at both the engineering and artistry. You can see why this period was the Golden Age of India.

                                                                         (Verul – src Wikipedia)

Ajantha & Verul are international tourist attractions. We met visitors from all over the world at Ajantha & Verul – from France, Portugal, Japan & South Korea just to name a few. And we met Indians from all over India that had come to view these wonders, couples, families and students.

But there is one community or class we did not see, not even one member of it. . We did not meet or see a single Muslim, neither from outside India nor, more strangely, from within India. The main urban center near Ajantha & Verul is Aurangabad, a city with a large Muslim presence. Nearby is a town called Kagjipur which is majority Muslim. Yet, not one Muslim from this large group showed up at Ajantha & Verul. These wonders are pre-Islam and so it isn’t as if anything in these caves is anti-Muslim.

A few days before our visit to Auranganab, we took a trip to the western coast of Maharashtra, specifically to the historical sea fort of Janjira. We had heard of this impregnable sea-fort since our childhood and it was exciting to go visit this marvel. As the photo below shows, Janjira is located on an island near the town of Rajapuri, a beautiful coastal town. The fort belonged to the fishermen community and was very ably defended. Until a commando raid in the late 15th century, sort of like the mythological Greek Trojan Horse tale.

This raid was by a large group of African Abyssinian pirates financed and backed by a Muslim kingdom in eastern Maharashtra. For next couple of hundred years, the fort remained in the hands of Abyssinian pirates who used it to wreck havoc on the entire coastline, ransacking merchant ships, attacking coastal towns in lightening raids, and capturing Indian women for their eventual sale in Africa and Middle East. Janjira finally fell when long rage artillery came into use in the 18th century.


The only way to get to Janjira is by small boats that seat about 30 people. The boats and the sightseeing is the preserve of local Muslims, a minority in that area. We went early in the morning and had to wait for about 45 minutes until the boat got 30 tourists. So we spent the time talking at length with the guys who run the business and the various sailors/oarsmen who navigate the boats, all Muslim of course.

It was very interesting. These guys still have tremendous emotional attachment to 15-18th century African Abyssinians who occupied Janjira and ransacked coastal towns. We asked them why they cared so much about these African pirates who had absolutely zero in common ethnically or culturally with these guys who are 100% Indian in their ethnicity. It seems the pride & attachment is solely due to the fact that the Abyssinians were Muslim and they were winner invaders of Indian soil.

Then somehow the topic of Israel came up and we could sense deep discomfort. They were happy to talk about Muslim Abyssinian victories over Indian Hindu communities but Israel was a very sensitive subject. It was absolutely incredible. There is no Jewish or Israeli presence in that region. So their discomfort was not local or the result of any personal or historical experiences.

These are relatively low income and low net worth people, not fanatical by any means. They were pleasant to talk to and hospitable. Ours was a very cordial conversation. But their loyalties were absolutely clear and set. They considered themselves as a part of the victorious Muslim invader-occupiers of India and therefore of a higher rank than Hindus despite their poverty and lower class today. And they claimed to be an enemy of far away Israel simply because they hear that Israel is occupying Muslim lands.

This is the India that Tom Friedman writes so romantically about, his India of moderate Muslims who, he claims, do not harbor any rancor. This is the India where Muslims have enjoyed visible success and prosperity in Bollywood, literature and high levels of Government. This is not Saudi Arabia, Syria or even the Gulf. And this is not even North India, where Muslims have ruled for almost 1,000 years. This is Maharashtra where Muslim rule ended 300-400 years ago.

This is Maharashtra that destroyed “world-seizer” Aurangzeb (a spiritual ancestor of today’s Taleban) and his mighty Mughal military machine 300+ years ago; the Maharashtra that went on to conquer much of North India, all the way into what we now call Pashtunistan (in today’s NonPakistan), the Maharashtra where Admiral Kanhoji Angre dominated the same western coastline and defeated Portuguese, Dutch and British navies.

But in today’s India, in these two areas of well developed and winner Maharashtra, we encountered two  Muslim communities that clearly reject any tie with non-Muslim Indian history, even pre-Islamic history, and embrace Muslim African & Afghan clans that have no ethnic or cultural conn
ection to them.

They adore and embrace foreign Muslims who invaded and occupied Indian lands while they harbor a deep seated aversion to Israel because Israelis are foreigners who occupy Muslim lands in Arabia. If these guys have such aversion to Israel from this far a distance, how deep and intense must be the aversion among Arabs who see Israeli presence from near and close?

Unlike India, Israel sits on land that Muslims around the world recognize as Muslim lands. Unlike India,  Israel sits in a region where Muslims have a clear and dominant majority. So given the attitudes of Indian Muslims in Aurangabad & Janjira, we wonder how Arab Muslims can ever accept Israeli presence in their lands. If the Indian Muslims in Aurangabad and Janjira cling on to their separate identity and their aspirations of Muslim supremacy even after 300-400 years, how long Arab Muslims will retain their desire to end Israeli presence in Arab Muslim lands? 

We used to support people in America and India who preach to Israel about trusting Palestinians and giving up land in the quest for peace. After our trip to Aurangabad & Janjira-Rajapuri, we are not so sure. Now we neither sure nor sanguine about the possibility of real peace and harmony between Israel & any Sunni Arab community.

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