“Muslims also know that there was a temple but they will not accept it openly, because they don’t want to solve the issue”, says K.K. Muhammed, renowned archaeologist and writer of the book ‘Main Hoon Bharatiya’ (I am Indian). In an interview given at the former’s home in Kozhikode, Kerala, he elaborated on his tryst with archaeology, a Padma award and his experience as a tour guide with Barack Obama and Pervez Musharraf. He went on to offer a solution to the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue, which according to him, can strengthen the social fabric of the country.
Excerpts from the interview:
Aditya Jingham (AJ): Padma awards are rare when it comes to archeology. What do you think has gone in your favour in getting this award?
K.K. Muhammed (KM): It’s one of the highest recognitions by the government of India, and I agree, that normally for a branch like archaeology, you don’t get this award. My case is a little different. Along with archaeology, I also dedicated myself to social work when I was in Delhi. I think it’s the combination of my archaeological achievements and social work which got me this award.
AJ: Many critics are saying that you got this award because the BJP government is in power. What is your take on this?
With a smile on his face, Mr Muhammed responded as follows:
KM: See, the thing is that everyone doesn’t respect everyone. There might be some people whom you respect, but I don’t, and vice versa. So, I don’t have any problem in accepting that I got this award because the present government likes my work, and respects me for it. Those who are criticising me will get the award when the government who likes their work, comes into power; if there is any government like that.
AJ: Can you tell us what prompted you to choose archaeology as a career, because it’s not a very conventional choice of career, even now?
KM: I always had a proclivity towards history and books, like the discovery of India. Glimpses of World History, by Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, has fascinated me. I decided that I will pursue history and took admission in Aligarh Muslim University. I was rejected for the post of a research scholar, because of a tiff with a renowned historian at AMU. After that, I had given a test for the archaeological survey of India and got selected. That rejection opened the world of archaeology to me, and I consider it as a watershed moment in my life.
AJ: What do you think about the future of archaeology in India?
KM: Without being diplomatic, and beating around the bush, I will say honestly, that I don’t see a bright future for archaeology in India. I am a little disappointed with the present regime because my expectation was high when they came to power. I don’t know why authorities have a hostile attitude towards archaeology. I think because of this attitude, we are not able to utilise the potential of our rich cultural heritage, to attract tourism and generate revenue. We need to learn from western countries, how to preserve cultural heritage, and use it to generate income.
AJ: What is your opinion on the involvement of private players in the maintenance of historical monuments?
KM: I think we need the private sector in some areas, like maintenance of toilets, or canteens, but not in any other areas. We must adopt a discretionary approach in this and not allow private players to take advantage.
AJ: I think you might be the only archaeologist in India who dealt with Naxalites and dacoities to preserve monuments. Please tell us about that experience and how you convinced them in your favour?
KM: One very important lesson I learnt from these experiences is that you should have a human approach towards these people. If you will behave like an officer, and try to act smart, you might get in trouble. But if you can convince them it’s for the betterment of local villagers, they will not only allow you but also support you in your work. We used to carry medicines for the local people, and we used to pay them on time; it convinced them that we didn’t have any malicious intent, and after that, they never interrupted our work.
AJ: You were the tour guide for Barack Obama and Parvez Musharraf. I want to know whose company you enjoyed most.
KM: Both were our guests but if you ask me personally, I enjoyed Obama’s company more, because he was well-read and very curious to know about Indian philosophy. While Musharraf was mostly interested to know about the Mughal era.
AJ: You were in a controversy regarding your statement about the Ayodhya temple case. With the hearing currently going on in court, what is your prediction about the outcome of the case?
KM: I can’t predict the outcome, but if you ask my suggestion to solve the issue, I will say that Muslims should willingly give that land to build the Ram Temple. Muslims can build a mosque wherever they want, but for Hindus, it’s a sacred place, and it’s our duty as a community to respect that. I have seen the proof of temples with my own eyes, and most of the people from the Muslim community will agree with me on this. But some elements, who are earning from this issue, don’t want a solution, because it will end their source of earning.
AJ: When you make statements like this, many in your community turn against you, and many of your critics are of the opinion that you are pro Hinduism?
KM: I will accept this without hesitation; if I get a choice, I will choose Hinduism as my religion. I like the humanitarian and broad approach of Upanishads, rather than the rigid approach of Islam. Islam as a religion has not evolved with time.
AJ: At last I want to ask you, what is that one quality you think every archaeologist should possess to excel in this field; especially young archaeologists who are entering the field?
KM: One of the most important qualities is impartiality. An archaeologist should have a wider horizon, free from religious and political bias. People used to be surprised when they heard my name and found out that I was working to preserve Hindu Temples and monuments. I think if your intentions are good, religion does not matter, one earns respect from his work, not religion.