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This Is Why It’s Not Fair To Refer To All Indians As ‘Hindus’

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By Chandrashekar B:

Recently many right wing fringe elements and prominent politicians associated with the BJP have been professing their views on Indians’ religious identity. A central minister says, “All Indians are Hindus”, and later retracts saying that she meant ‘Hindi’ and not ‘Hindu’. A deputy CM of the ruling party, who is a Christian, also says the same before adding, “I’m a Christian Hindu”. Not that their views are anything that is totally unexpected of them, but is there any substance in this view? Are all Indians Hindus? Well, the answer is both yes and no!

Picture Credits: Allen Brewer
Picture Credits: Allen Brewer

Let’s look back at the origin of the word ‘Hindu’. The word ‘Hindu’ is derived through Persian from the Sanskrit word ‘Sindhu’. People living on the other side of the Sindhu (present Indus) river were called ‘Sindhus’ by the ancient Persians, which eventually became ‘Hindus’ because the Persians pronounced ‘S’ as ‘H’. Hence the word ‘Hindu’ initially started as a geographical term. There is no mention of the word ‘Hindu’ in any old Indian scriptures because there was no need to contrast the religion, as there was no other religion prevalent in the land. Even after Buddhism and Jainism stemmed out of this country, and even after the entry of Muslim rulers, ‘Hinduism’ was not a popular term. It was the Europeans who popularized the word ‘Hindu’ , associating with religion that we call as ‘Hinduism’ today.

So, when we get into the etymological meaning of ‘Hindu’, yes, everyone living in India is a Hindu.

Another interesting aspect that these people put forward is that the followers of different faiths in India were originally Hindus, who were later converted to their respective religions. Even if we believe that India once remained an all-Hindu nation. It even embraced Buddhism and Jainism as a liberal offshoot of Hinduism. When Afghans entered India a thousand years ago, they brought their religion with them and so did the Europeans a few centuries back. All non-Hindus in India are converts is a view that is shared even by some of the most liberal of our politicians, including Jawaharlal Nehru in his book Discovery of India.

Great! Does that mean we can call all our citizens as Hindus?

Words go through something called ‘semantic drift’, where the word evolves to mean a point in the modern society that is radically different from the original usage. ‘Hindu’ is such a word. There are various factors that lead to this semantic drift including sociocultural forces, linguistic forces, psychological forces etc. When a new meaning is established, it wouldn’t be fair to use the word at its original face value. Now we use the word Hindu to denote a person following ‘Hinduism’ and that is the right way to use it even if it originated referring to people living beyond a geographical boundary.

It would be puerile to say Hindu is a person with a certain way of life and quote the Supreme Court judgement of 1995 that ruled ‘Hindutva as a way of life or a state of mind and not to be equated with Hindu fundamentalism’ because of two reasons. One, some legal experts still opine that the Supreme Court’s verdict in this facet is flawed. Two, practically speaking, in our contemporary society, Hinduism is a religion, and in a way, all religions are just a ‘way of life’.

Many people are also of the belief that the followers of Christianity and Islam in India were originally Hindus, centuries back. Even if that were the case, now that they have associated themselves with a different faith, it wouldn’t be right in expecting them to agree to be labelled as Hindus. Imposing a single identity with a term that has any religious shade will lead only to discomfort, and more importantly, hatred.

When Narendra Modi took office, he promised that he would be an accommodating PM and would take every one along. At least till a few days back, only people who were not in the policy making level used to voice such controversial views. Now this has taken a turn where ministers and CMs are following suit, which is really dangerous for a multi-religious nation like India.

You must be to comment.
  1. balayogi

    you guys propelled and prisoned by leftist ideology and constantly resorting to and enjoying Modi bashing, BJP bashing, Hindu bashing, Male bashing and Upper caste bashing must be funded by some vested interest group which will come to light soon. However, even while doing this I would suggest that you do your home work with a little more efforts rather than merely churning out some pieces from googling and peppering it with catchy and ready made victim hood pronouncing and leftist propaganda promoting vocabulary,phrases and idioms. Here are some more facts about the word HINDU itself, besides no one can label Hinduism as this or that , it is a way of life meant to either enhance the progress or give pleasure to the body and mind and /or produce enlightenment of the soul. ‘HINDU” DOES NOT COME FROM ”SINDHU”

    How many times have you explained that the name of your religion is a
    concoction invented by the Persians who called the people who lived
    beyond the Sindhu River ”Hindus,” mispronouncing the ”S”?
    A. Krishna Kumar of Hyderabad, India, explains. ”This [Sindhu/Hindu]
    view is untenable since Indians at that time enviably ranked highest
    in the world in terms of civilization and wealth would not have been
    without a name. They were not the unknown aborigines waiting to be
    discovered, identified and Christened by foreigners.”
    He cites a more solid argument from the book Self-Government in India
    by N. B. Pavgee, published in 1912. The author tells of an old Swami
    and Sanskrit scholar Mangal Nathji, who found an ancient Puran known
    as Brihannaradi in the Sham village, Hoshiarpur, Punjab. It
    contained the verse:
    Kumar translates it as:
    ”The country lying between the Himalayan mountain and Bindu Sarovara
    (Cape Comorin sea) is known as Hindusthan by combination of the first
    letter ‘hi’ of ‘Himalaya’ and the last compound letter ‘ndu’ of the
    word ‘Bindu.”’

    also read

    and this one too

    1. Amrit


      It is admirable that you at least backed up what you said by a few links. However, interesting to note that the links are not credible, peer-reviewed sources but even at a glance very apparently Hindutva-motivated sources. Thus they cannot be taken at face value. One of them is just someone’s blog!

      But what can be taken at face value? Perhaps the Indian Constitution? In 1955, the Hindu Code Bill set out to define what a Hindu is:
      “Anyone who does not consider himself or herself a Christian, Muslim or Parsi.”

      This is how Hinduism is OFFICIALLY described in law!

      Now to the final query- if Hinduism is a name given by Persians, what did a people so ancient and civilised as our ancestors call themselves before Hindu?

      Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya- jatis and castes.

      And then there were the others- which the Hindu Code Bill conveniently also labels as Hindu. As Dr. Ambedkar said in his brilliant work- Annihilation of Caste- our ancestors were just a bunch of rigidly enforced jatis and in-groups before interaction with the Abrahamic religions forced them to define themselves more broadly and inclusively, with all the artefacts of religion that Christianity or Islam possessed.

      On the article you shared by Murlidhar Pahoja, it really contains so many inaccuracies and intellectual dishonesties that it deserves not even a refutation- detailed or crisp.

  2. sathya

    It is a good article with listing of many facts. But references are must for this type of article!
    It will be purely misguiding, if the facts are false.

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