What is our Nationality: Indian or Hindu?

The 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 the word “Hindu”. He said that this is Hindustan so all those living here are Hindu. Both these, Hindu is a nationality, and that we are all Hindus, are erroneous formulations in today’s context and need to be examined from the point of view of the Indian Constitution.   

Bhagwat at times says that Muslims’ way of worship-faith might have changed but their nationality remains Hindu! 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 found in the 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 used the word H more often than the word S, so with passage of time Sindhu became Hindu. The word Hindu thus begins as a geographical term. Built around this, the word “Hindusthan” comes up, the land east of the 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. 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 the 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 the geographical area of Hind-Hindu. The confusion is due to the fact that the same word was initially used for an 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 the freedom movement. The rise of RSS politics came to oppose the concept of one, secular India. The 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 while RSS’s Hindu nation stands for pre-Modern values in a modern garb. India has a Constitution which recognizes diversity and pluralism but the 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 and why RSS ideologues are uncomfortable with the Indian Constitution and always invoke holy books (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 fatherland and holy land. In his definition of Hindus, Christians and Muslims are not called Hindus. According to him, these people have a different nationality. The second major Hindutva ideologue Golwalkar also follows this line. In his book ‘Bunch of Thoughts’, he regards Muslims and Christians as a ‘threat to the 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. Such is the contrast between RSS ideology and the ideology of Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar and myriad others who stood for Indian nationalism. Indian Constitution with its libertarian message of justice and equality is in contrast to the injustice inherent in Manusmriti, 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 changes ways of worship, it is a faith in a different religion. This applies 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’ does not conform to the 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 letter and spirit of the 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. This is in tune with our Constitution. 

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