Is ‘Hindu’ Our National Identity?
By Ram Puniyani
29 August, 2014
From the decade of 1980 the identity based politics has come to the fore in our Country. The Shah Bano issue, the Ram Temple imbroglio and the Rath yatras, brought to fore the issues related identity, the first major casualty of this politics was the demolition of Babri Masjid. Around that the notion that we are a Hindu nation propped up in a serious way and also that ‘we are all Hindus’ came to the fore. Lately with Modi-BJP getting simple majority in the parliament, this formulation is being asserted more powerfully. Around 1990 Murli Manohar Joshi, the then BJP President, said that we are all Hindus, Muslims are Ahmadiya Hindus, Christians are Christi Hindus and Jains-Sikhs-Buddhists are also Hindus as such. Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists are regarded as sects of Hindu pantheon by RSS. It is another matter that when the earlier RSS Sarsanghchalka, K. Sudarshan, said that Sikhism is not a religion as such but is a mere sect of Hinduism, there were massive protests in Punjab.
With Modi at helm, the RSS combine is going hammer and tongs in asserting that all Indians have to call themselves as Hindus. Keeping this in mind, in tune with ‘when asked to bend you crawl’ the Goa Deputy Chief Minister Francis Desouza, a member of BJP, said that Christians are Christian Hindus. The RSS Supremo Mohan Bhagwat went on the reiterate that "The entire world recognizes Indians as Hindus therefore India is a Hindu state. This is a very simple thing, if inhabitants of England are English, those of Germany are Germans and USA is Americans, all those who live in Hindustan are known as Hindus." Mixing up Hindu with Hindutva, an altogether different category; he stated that "The cultural identity of all Indians is Hindutva and the present inhabitants of the country are descendants of this great culture," To articulate the political agenda behind all these assertions, Goa’s Co-operatives Minister Deepak Dhavalikar (BJP) told the assembly that India could well be on the way of becoming a "Hindu nation", with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the helm.
The whole rigmarole of Hindu, Hindutva, Hindu Rashtra is very deliberate and a part of political agenda. These three terms have to be seen in a historical context. The claims about Hinduism have to be seen in today’s context. The evolution of the term Hindu has a long journey. Over a period of time its usage has changed. Its use for political goals; political adaptation is Hindutva and Hindutva’s political goal is Hindu Rashtra (Nation). These terminologies have been neatly packaged by the Sangh combine, as part of Nationalism, which they believe in.
It is interesting to note that till 8th century the scriptures called as Hindu scriptures do not have the word Hindu in them. This word Hindu as such came into being with the Arabs and Middle East Muslims coming to this side of the continent. They called the land on east side of Sindhu as Hindu. Thus the word Hindu began as a geographical category. So even today in some parts of the World, especially in West Asia, India is referred to as Hindustan. Mr. Bhagwat is wrong to say that we are referred to as Hindustan all over. It is only in Saudi Arabia and West Asia, that the word Hindustan is prevalent. In Saudi even today the Muslims going for Hajj are referred to as Hindi and In Saudi Arabia the discipline of arithmetic in their language is called Hindsa (Coming from Hind).
It was later that religious traditions prevailing in this part started being called as Hindu religion. The notion that there was a prevalence of a Hindu culture here is a pure ideological construct. The Indus valley civilization had its own features distinct from the other parts. The Aryans were initially a pastoral society, and then they went for settled agriculture and formation of Kingdoms. The native Adivasis had their own culture. The Brahimanical and Buddhist traditions were again very distinct, the litmus test here is the belief in caste system, Brahmanism holding to birth based graded hierarchy and Buddhism opposing the same. The assertion that a homogenous culture prevailed is a total myth. We know that culture is always evolving through interaction which is due to migrations and mobility.
The term Hindutva emerges in late 19th century with the rise of communal politics in opposition to the nascent Indian National Movement. When Indian National Congress was form in 1885, the Muslim Feudal classes and Hindu Feudal classes opposed it and both articulated their own communal ideology. The one coming from Hindu communal stream was vaguely called Hindutva. This was brought to the fore prominently by Savarkar in 1924. Savarkar also defined Hindu as one who regards this land as Holy land and father land, keeping Christians and Muslims out of the definition of Hindus. Hindutva as per him is a total Hinduness, common race (Aryan) Culture (Brahminic) and the land spread from Sindhu to sea. He also conceptualized Hindu Rashtra, as the goal of Hindutva ideology. This goal of Hindu Rashtra was picked up by RSS from 1925. The goal of Hindu Rashtra was opposed to the goal of Indian National Movement, which aimed at secular democratic India.
There are also assertions that we all should call ourselves as Hindus, since it is a ‘way of life’ common to all the people living here. This is a clever trick to deceive. Many a Muslim communalists similarly say that ‘Islam is a way of life’. Religion alone is not the ‘way of life’; way of life is much broader and includes language, local-regional cultural nuances, which cannot be uniform. Religion, again is not monolithic, and is a part of way of life, not the other way around. The matter as to what are we as a political entity had been a subject of extensive debate in the Constituent Assembly and the conclusion was to call this country as “India that is Bharat’, a religion neutral term. Today Hindu is not a regional-‘national’ identity; it is primarily a religious identity. The subtle trick in calling everybody Hindu is to first talk of geographical identity, common ancestor and then to say that since we are all Hindus, the Hindu scriptures, Gita, Manusmriti are all our national books, cow is our National animal; we all have to worship Ram etc.
This is not an innocuous step. In the beginning ‘we are all Hindus, then so we are a Hindu nation and then follow the dictates coming from Hindu holy seers or self proclaimed custodians of Hinduism. The position of Constitution is very clear that Hindu is a religious identity and India is a national identity. Surely RSS never had anything to do with either the freedom movement or belief in the Indian Constitution so in pursuance of its agenda, in contrast to Indian Constitution, which gives us the Indian identity, RSS wants to impose Hindu identity.
What will happen in the next step become clear from the following discussion which transpired in the RSS training camp, which gives us the inkling of the agenda of RSS in the long term. Let’s see the statement of RSS worker Joshi, couple of decades ago, “During a question-and-answer session, a volunteer asked Yadavrao Joshi, then the head of Sangh workers across all of south India, “We say RSS is a Hindu organization. We say we are a Hindu nation, India belongs to Hindus. We also say in the same breath that Muslims and Christians are welcome to follow their faith and that they are welcome to remain as they are so long as they love this country. Why do we have to give this concession? Why don’t we be very clear that they have no place if we are a Hindu country?” Joshi replied “As of now, RSS and Hindu society are not strong enough to say clearly to Muslims and Christians that if you want to live in India, convert to Hinduism. Either convert or perish. But when the Hindu society and RSS will become strong enough we will tell them that if you want to live in India and if you love this country, you accept that some generations earlier you were Hindus and come back to the Hindu fold.” (http://www.caravanmagazine.in/reportage/rss-30#sthash.GmBGCZLQ.dpuf )
So what Sangh Combine had been aspiring from last nine decades is being asserted with bigger authority with Modi Sarkar at center. What Bhagwat of RSS is saying and followers are speaking on the TV debates is a clear violation of the values of Indian Constitution. So where are we heading is a question which all the citizens have to become aware and stick to what we have gained through freedom movement epitomized in our Constitution. That needs to be saved and protected from the sectarian motivated agenda.
Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. He is involved with human rights activities from last two decades.He is associated with various secular and democratic initiatives like All India Secular Forum, Center for Study of Society and Secularism and ANHAD. Response only to firstname.lastname@example.org
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