The Islamic System of Nazar as a Source of Corruption

The Nazar system was a defining feature of Islamic regimes in India. In practice, it normalised political and official corruption at all levels beginning with the monarch himself, and was responsible for disfiguring the ancient Sanatana ideals of Dharma and Karma.
The Islamic System of Nazar as a Source of Corruption

IN COMMON PARLANCE, the term Nazar generally means “eye,” “sight,” “to set one’s eye upon,” and so on. It also has prolonged cultural and social connotations connected mostly with superstitious elements such the proverbial “evil eye.” In Islam, especially, it has theological significance rooted in various phobias, and there are elaborate rituals on “removing Nazar.” In fact, its prophet advises all true Muslims to recite Masha Allah “every time we look at something with exhilaration in order to prevent casting the evil eye.” In the Quran and Hadiths, Muhammad commands thus:

1. The evil eye is real, and if anything were to overtake the divine decree (al-qadar) it would be the evil eye.

2. The evil eye makes the person enter the grave and makes the camel enter a pot.

Here is a rather incredible list of symptoms that a victim of Nazar suffers from:

  • Body weakness

  • Poor appetite

  • Laziness

  • No motivation “to be better”

  • Dizziness

  • Migraine

  • Business losses

  • Crying for no reason

  • Loss of love

  • Uncontrollable sweating and urinating

But there were other connotations of Nazar, the most popular of which was the practice of making gifts as a form of supplication and acceptance of overlordship. The history of the Muslim period of India shows that this practice was regally-sanctioned corruption because it emanated directly from the Sultan himself. It reached its apogee during the Mughal rule as these vignettes from Jahangir’s regime of depravity and vice show.

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The Islamic System of Nazar as a Source of Corruption

The practice of the imperial ruler exacting tributes from his vassals is almost as old as history itself. However, under Hindu monarchs, these tributes acted as stabilizing forces and were the price the subordinate paid for protection offered to him. But the most important distinction is that the common citizen typically didn’t need to pay tributes—i.e., bribes, to his immediate ruler or Government officials. In fact, there are hundreds of evidences that show that most of the great and small Hindu kingdoms ruthlessly punished official corruption.

The exact opposite is true of Islamic regimes. In fact, a defining trait of Muslim administrations was premised on a straightforward maxim of evil: extort as much as your official position allows you to. Arguably, this pyramidical system of extortion was first systematized by Ala-ud-din Khalji in the name of his celebrated “administrative reforms.” As a result, in less than five years, lakhs of Hindu peasantry lost their lands overnight and were impoverished to service his unquenchable thirst for gold and war and to satisfy his vanity of being called the “Sikandar of Hindustan.”

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The Islamic System of Nazar as a Source of Corruption

Thus, Nazars decided the fate of court cases adjudicated by corrupt Qazis. An appropriate Nazar was the only line that separated a farmer from losing or retaining his land. The right amount of Nazar miraculously infused compassion into the vice-ridden heart of the revenue collector. In some case, clandestine Nazars also decided the fortunes of a scheming fourth wife of a courtier or Mansabdar. The sickening list is endless.

Even this brief survey unambiguously reveals the truth that the infernal phenomenon of pervasive bribery that stubbornly refuses to be controlled in India has its origins in the prolonged Muslim rule of India. But it acquired its hydra-headed form during the Mughal regime. No matter what your status was, you had to pay up to even meet an official with some rank. This accursed cancer still persists: there are any number of examples where you need to bribe the P.A. of a minister for his pleasure of granting you an appointment. This behavior pattern is patentedly Islamic, and is a violation of every known Sanatana precept of Dharma and Karma.

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The Islamic System of Nazar as a Source of Corruption

Hypocrisy was the natural handmaiden of the disgusting practice of Nazar. We can cite the example of the barbarian Bakhtiyar Khalji whose blitzkrieg of Jihads in southern Bihar and Bengal earned him the moniker of “the rising star and crescent-moon of Islam in infidel Hindustan.” The crafty Bakhtiyar once met Qutub-ud-din Aibak with a substantial booty of Nazar, all plundered from Hindus. Aibak warmly embraced him and threw a grand booze and brothel party lasting several days. Before Bakhtiyar left, Aibak conferred a Khillat or robe of honour upon him. He also gave a good amount of jewelry and coins. In reality, this was a bait which Bakhtiyar did not fall for. In full court, he distributed all this bounty among Aibak’s officers, retaining only the robe of honour.

FOR ALL THEIR FAULTS, the British have left behind meticulous and minute details of their encounters with India. Thus, we have voluminous records that show their disgust towards the Nazar system practiced by the Mughals. Until the East India Company attained dominance, its officials unfailingly showed humility to the Mughals and paid them Nazars. When the tables were turned, they not only stopped paying Nazars but openly flouted even ordinary etiquette. But it appears that even after the Mughal power did not exist beyond the Red Fort, Akbar Shah II, father of Bahadur Shah Zafar, had learnt no lessons.

Two revealing episodes show the extent of his delusion.

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The Islamic System of Nazar as a Source of Corruption

Warren Hastings, the then Governor General, once called upon Akbar II. He placed two preconditions to visit the tattered Mughal court: I need to be offered a chair equal to that of the king and I won’t offer any Nazar. While Akbar II accepted the conditions, his mother scolded him severely: we are still the Mughals, don’t agree. When Warren Hastings heard this, he promptly cancelled the visit.

The second episode relates to Amherst, the Governor General in 1826. When he visited the alleged Mughal’s court, he was made to sit on a chair left to the “emperor,” and was exempted from paying Nazar. Not just that, he received a gift from the king. In reality, it was protection money, not gift.

Nor should this be taken as evidence of the high ethical standards of the British. The opposite is actually true. There are indeed hundreds of instances where high-ranking British officials turned a blind eye to the Nazars that they accepted in private. This despite the pioneering robber-baron Robert Clive’s official order prohibiting East India Company officials from accepting Nazars. When it became inevitable to accept Nazars, the officials had to deposit them in the Company’s treasury. These items would then be publicly auctioned and the cash proceeds would be appropriated by the Company.

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The Islamic System of Nazar as a Source of Corruption

However, the officials quickly devised match-fixing methods. Edward Colebrooke, a minister of sorts in Bentinck’s cabinet is a typical case. He had succumbed to his wife’s avarice for Indian riches and amassed exorbitant sums. His modus operandi was rather simple. He would faithfully deposit the Nazars in the treasury. When the auction came up, he would pre-fix the prices of the items at sums far lower than the actual market price and would pocket the difference. He was eventually caught, tried, and dismissed from service. But one swallow maketh not a summer. Quite the contrary. In an official dispatch dated April 1860, Canning openly boasted about devising methods to corrupt the psyche of Indians so that the British Empire in India could be maintained forever. He recommended that

restless men and crafty intriguers bred up in Native Courts [i.e. Indian Princely States] could live contentedly if we made all India into zillas. If we could keep up a number of Native Citizens without political power, but as [British] royal instruments, we should exist in India as long as our naval superiority in Europe was maintained.


Yet, the system of Nazars obstinately persisted even in the twentieth century, most notably in the Mleccha regime of the Nizam of Hyderabad, about which we have carried a series in The Dharma Dispatch. The system has indeed, proved to be highly enduring.

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The Islamic System of Nazar as a Source of Corruption

Recent history is the living proof of the fact that after “independence,” the Nazar system merely altered form. It didn’t take long for the Nehru dynasty to see the veritable political and financial goldmine that it was. Nawab Nehru and Indira Gandhi’s courtiers were the ultimate Nazar-givers. The venal example of Jayanti Dharmateja who gifted expensive mink coats to Indira Gandhi and took her two young sons to decadent chateaus on the coast of France…other courtiers who lavished gifts upon Nehru family members…perhaps the full details and the full story will never emerge.

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The Islamic System of Nazar as a Source of Corruption

We can close this piece by quoting Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa’s memorable line:

Every tactic that Indira Gandhi used, every political caper that she launched, annihilated the ethical edifice of an ancient civilization and provoked the worst tendencies of human nature. In the Bharata of my time, she was the deadliest ethics-destroying force that ever arose.

In the context of our discussion, Indira Gandhi was the most recent human incarnation and accomplished practitioner of the Islamic system of Nazar or bribery.

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