Hindu, Hindi and Hindutva: Some Thoughts

It is sometimes difficult to resuscitate the right from the wrong or the truth from the perception. Nevertheless, everybody has a right to their own truths or perceptions. However, many a times the truth is sabotaged by the idea of one culture, one identity and that becomes a truth for the masses. The idea that propagates every Indian as a Hindu (not in a geographical way of the term “Hindu” as a synonym of the river Indus) is reverberated by the parent power to the current political rule in India. And this idea is calibrated by the thought that to bring a collective consciousness in our Nation, from Srinagar to Kohima or from Varanasi to Visakhapatnam, Hinduism as a practice should be everybody’s way of life, whether the individual is a practicing Sanatan Dharmi or a Christian or a Muslim or anyone else. And this is of course the anti-thesis of the founding of our nation based on a Secular and Liberal Constitution, where the diversity of beliefs and practices is celebrated.

India, in medieval times was known as Hindustan or in short, Hind and this nomenclature was very popular in the Arab world (and Perhaps still popular in Countries like Egypt etc). So much so, the people from Hind were known as “Hindis”, like you would call someone a Saudi or an Israeli, based on the Country they belong to. One of the lines in Poet Iqbal’s famous poem, Sare Jahan se achcha Hindostan hamara is, “Hindi hain hum (We are Hindis)”. The name of the conglomeration of Devanagari script linked languages was also called “Hindi” as a repercussion of the British Strategy to divide Urdu and other North Indian dialects, as a intervention to rule the Country based on its “divide and rule” policy. Our Constitution has substituted Hind or Hindustan with “Bharat” and “India”. Hence, all the citizens are Indians and Bhartiya based on the term we choose. And India is a multicultural, multi-religious country where the majority religion is a unique experiment of a convergence of different belief systems from worshiping a tree to an elephant God and where one ritual in one part of the country is auspicious while the other part of the Country is not at all aware about it. The word “Hinduism” is also an injustice to the belief system as Hindu or Hindi as I wrote in the earlier part of this paragraph is a geographical identity. There are various terms for the religion. Some people call it “Sanatan Dharma” or the eternal way of life while some call it a Vedic way of living. The core of this belief system is that there is one truth but there are various ways to search and internalize that truth. There is also a strong belief that the entire planet is a one race. Hence by philosophy, it is one of the most unique constructs of inclusiveness, although suffers hugely in practice. India is one of the most casteist Countries in the world where untouchability is practiced rampantly and the sanatan belief system is still unable to correct this bigotry of caste.

Coming to Hindutva, it was an idea propagated by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, a figure revered by the right wing and criticised by others. Savarkar’s original idea was a strong cultural identity and unity of Hindus (although he was an atheist himself), that would define the nationhood of India and where the minorities would have a second class status (or even worse). It was a contrast to the core Hindu beliefs of inclusiveness or the quest for truth. RSS has adopted Savarkar’s plea of Hindutva with a religious notion of sovereignty of Hindu faith over others in the new idea of India, where people practicing other religions should also adapt to Hindu (or sanatan dharma) way of life. This was spelled out in a recent speech of RSS chief where he reiterated what he spoke in the past, that every Indian is a Hindu. But this doesn’t still convey the view of the Hindutva forces about contemporary issues like the heightened level of brutal violence against the minorities, where people are lynched and also asked to chant Hindu mantras like “Jai Shree Ram”. This is again not the core of Hinduism as we know it, on purely philosophical terms. As has happened with other religions, distortion is the name of the day for Hinduism as well.

The challenge that emerges today is to understand the superficial enhancement of self-esteem that is being inculcated in the masses by the strong rhetoric of nationalism and Hindutva. So much so, the masses are not ready to accept the critique of the Government and its policies. The earlier Governments are no doubt responsible for elevating the corruption in the Governance but there are very few who are being critical of the Current Government’s decisions, that are not able to solve major challenges of the day. So, where is all of this leading us to? There is no quick answer I guess but there are alarming bells for sure.

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Sandeep Kulshrestha

People, Strategy and Culture Consultant. Positive Psychologist. Leadership Coach. Poet. Political Commentator. Vegan