What is our Nationality: Indian or Hindu?

Prof Ram Puniyani, IIT Mumbai, (Rtd)

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Debate around the words Hindu, Hinduism, Hindutva is not new. Recently the assertion by Mohan Bhagwat, the Sarsanghchalk (Supreme Dictator) of RSS that ‘everyone living in India is Hindu’ and that Muslims might be Muslim by religion but they are Hindus by nationality’, is yet another interpretation of Word Hindu. He said that this is Hindustan so all those living here are Hindu. Both these, Hindu is a nationality and we are Hindustan are erroneous formulations in today’s context and need to be examined from the point of view of Indian Constitution.   

Bhagwat at times says that Muslim’s way of worship-faith might have changed but their Nationality remains Hindu! Over nearly two decades ago when Murli Manohar Joshi, was the President of BJP, he had stated that we are all Hindus, Muslims are Ahmadiyya Hindus and Christians are Christi Hindus. These statements are part of the newer formulation of RSS which in a way are in tune with the ideology of RSS, which regards India as a Hindu nation. Their earlier ideologues had a different take on the issue.

Their current formulation is based on the confusion about the word Hindustan. Simply put the RSS ideologues state that this country is Hindustan, as all people living here are Hindus. This is a circular argument. The word Hindustan needs to be re-examined in today’s context as many words keep changing their usage historically. One knows that the word Hindu is not there in Holy Hindu scriptures. The word Hindu was coined by those coming from Western Asia. They identified this land in the name of the river Sindhu. They use the word H more often than the word S, so Sindhu became Hindu. The word Hindu thus begins as a geographical category. Built around this; the word Hindusthan comes up, the land on East of river Sindhu. 

The religious traditions prevalent in this part of the World were multiple and diverse. Unlike in Islam and Christianity Hinduism has no prophet. Origin of the diverse traditions here are of local origin. In due course the word Hindu came to be used for conglomeration of diverse religious traditions prevalent here, and these traditions were lumped together as Hinduism. Within Hinduism there are two major types of traditions, the dominant Brahmanical one and the Shamanic traditions, like Nath, Tantra, Bhakti, Shaiva and Siddhanta. During colonial period the identity of Hinduism was constructed more around Brahmanical norms.

This historical identification of our region as Hindustan was not around religion, but around geographical area, Hind-Hindu. The confusion is due to the fact that same word Hindu was initially used for the ‘area’ and then for religious traditions. Today the word Hindustan is not appropriate, as per the Indian Constitution and as per the global recognition now we are India not Hindustan. ‘India that is Bharat’ to be more precise! That’s what our Constitution says we are. So what is our Nationality, is it Indian or Hindu? RSS refused to be part of the process of ‘India as a nation in the making’, it was not a part of freedom movement. The rise of RSS politics came to oppose the concept of India. Concept of India was brought up by the modern sections of society, the industrialists, workers and modern educated classes. This concept had parallel and integrated aspirations of women and Dalits. Here it is important to see that India stands for Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Hindu nation stands for pre-Modern values in the modern garb. India has the Constitution which recognizes diversity and pluralism. Hindu nation harps back to imaginary glories of the past where birth based hierarchies of caste and gender were the core aspect of social laws. That’s how RSS ideologues are uncomfortable with Indian Constitution and always invoke Holy books (i.e. Manusmriti for example) as the model code for current times.

What about the religious minorities, Muslims and Christians being Hindus? As per the founder of Hindutva ideology, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Hindu is one who regards this land from Sindhu to seas as his father land and holy land. In his definition of Hindus, Christians and Muslims are not called Hindus, as per him they have different nationality. The second major Hindutva ideologue Golwalkar also follows this line and in his book ‘Bunch of Thoughts’, regards Muslims and Christians as ‘threat to ‘Hindu nation’. It is lately that RSS after gaining political strength wants to assimilate the religious minorities and wants to impose Hindu norms on these minority communities, so the assertion that they may be so and so but their nationality is Hindu. As per the Indian Constitution our nationality is Indian. So the contrast between RSS ideology and ideology of Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar and myriad other; who stood for Indian nationalism. Indian Constitution with its libertarian message of justice and equality is in contrast to the injustice inherent in Manu Smriti, the holy Hindu scripture.

To say that Muslims have merely changed their mode of worship is a deliberate move to co-opt them into the fold of Hindu nationalism. Adopting Islam not merely change in ways of worship, it is a faith in a different religion. This can apply to Christianity also. So Muslims have Islam, Christians have Christianity, Hindus have Hinduism, but their nationality is Indian not Hindu. To expect that Muslims will also have Aarti and chant ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ is not as per Indian Constitution. Aarti is a Hindu ritual. If people of different religions wish to adopt the holy rituals of other religions it’s their choice. It may relate to Aarti or Namaz or a prayer in Church. But to expect that they should do it; is anti democratic and against the norms of Indian Constitution. Many Muslims do feel that they can bow only to Allah and no other deity, so many of them are opposed to chanting ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ (Hail mother India), so be it. It’s what is in tune with our Constitution. 

First published at –  http://peoplesvoice.in/2017/02/21/nationality-indian-hindu/

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