Things evolve with time and so has ‘Hindutva’. Once it was the only saviour of others, but the condition demanded it to add a new feature: Resist
Among the words most misused in Indian polity are ‘Hinduism’ and ‘Hindutva’. Even writers like Shashi Tharoor, along with many others inclined to the views of Rahul Gandhi, have helped distort the two terms. The issue came to the limelight again when senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid found similarities between ‘Hindutva’ and Islamist terrorist organisations such as IS and Boko Haram. Most of these critics of ‘Hindutva’ are the elite, self-proclaimed guardians of language, literature and culture.
Where did the term ‘Hindu’ come from?
Through this essay, I try to dislodge various myths around the terms ‘Hinduism’ and ‘Hindutva’ using empirical shreds of evidence. The difference between the two terms is primarily about the suffix added to the word ‘Hindu’. Hence, to understand the two we must first understand the term ‘Hindu’ itself.
Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit word Sindhu, which means ‘a large body of water’, covering ‘river, ocean, etc’. It was used as the name of the Indus river and also referred to its tributaries. The actual term ‘Hindu’ first occurs as ‘a Persian geographical term for the people who lived beyond the river Indus (Sindhu)’. It was found in the 2.6 kya inscription of Darius-I. It mentions the province of Hi[n]dush, referring to north-western India. The people of India were referred to as Hinduvān (Hindus) and Hindavī has been used as the adjective for Indian in the 2.8 kya text Chachnama.
The term ‘Hindu’ in these ancient records is ethno-geographical and didn’t refer to religion (Source: Hindustān, Hinduism and Hindutva by Arvind Sharma & Numen)
What is ‘ism’?
Now let us talk about the suffix of the first term ‘Hindu+ism’. What does ism stand for? The first recorded usage of the suffix ism as a separate word in its own right was in 1680 CE. By the 19th century, it was being used by Thomas Carlyle to signify a pre-packaged ideology. The use of the phrase ‘the isms’ as a collective derogatory term to lump together the radical social reform movements of the day (such as slavery abolitionism, feminism, alcohol prohibitionism, Fourierism, pacifism, early socialism, etc) was common in the US of the 19th century. It was also added for various spiritual or religious movements considered non-mainstream by the standards of the time (such as Transcendentalism, spiritualism or ‘spirit rapping’, Mormonism, the Oneida movement often accused of ‘free love’, etc).
I don’t know how people even believe that the ‘Hindu’ idea is non-mainstream or just a radical social reform that they find the addition of ‘ism’ to ‘Hindu’ justified? The isms have always been about ‘unilateral philosophy’ or ‘idea’. But isn’t Hindu practice all about plurality and diversity? Let me make it even simpler by taking the example of three very common isms.
It comes with a completely distinct appearance. It’s because of the unique philosophy embedded within each of them. And that’s where the problem comes when you add ’ism’ to ‘Hindu’. You can’t limit it to a singular idea, hence in reality ‘Hinduism’ is an oxymoron. Like how we can’t ever say ‘Architecturism’, though ‘Deconstructivism’ is a type of architecture. You can have ‘Shaivism’, ‘Vaishnavism’ but not ‘Hinduism’. Despite that, we accepted this oxymoron and with time it became popular. Britishers never understood the diverse and pluralistic Hindu idea and ended up adding ’ism’ as they thought it to be on par with ‘rigid’ Abrahamic ideas which they were only aware of. I also get a sense that the idea of adding ‘ism’ was very much inspired by the reformist notion of the Protestant British.
Have you ever wondered why ‘Islam’ isn’t ‘Islamism’ or ‘Christianity’ not ‘Christianism’, but we have ‘Judaism’ and ‘Hinduism’, etc? Ism was always added to practice that seemed inferior or not mainstream. If one understands ism and believes in a plurality of ‘Hindus’, then Hinduism can never be ‘Hindu dharma’, rather Sanātana Dharma. Plainly speaking ‘Sanātana Dharma’ means eternal order, like ‘the flow of water’. It’s the nature of the water to flow, wind to blow and every such order is Sanātana.
Dharma signifies behaviours that are considered to be in accord with rita, the order that makes life and the universe possible. It includes duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues, and the ‘right way of living’. For instance, ‘Rajadharma’ means king’s duty, not religion.
For Bharatiya understanding, Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Buddhism, Sikhism, etc, are various panths which mean denominations. Most fail to get it. We mustn’t confuse ‘dharma’ with ‘religion’.
So to sum up the points derived out of the above discussion following becomes clear:
1. ‘Hindu’ is an ethno-geographic connotation as per the historical records and not religious at all.
2. Hinduism is an oxymoron, though we use it for popularity. Often the addition of ism degrades the great ‘values’.
Hindutva for beginners
Now let’s come to the second sensational term, ‘Hindutva’. It is formed by adding tva suffix to Hindu. What do we understand by tva? In plain language, adding tva (ness) to a noun means: in the state of being that noun.
So can any of the critics of ‘Hindutva’ explain how the ‘state of being ‘Hindu (Indian)’’ is wrong at all? Who are we to interpret ‘Hindu’ as per our comfort if Darius-I, the first one to use the word, had defined it completely the other way around?
That was the period when Islam was spreading on the power of ‘sword’ and ’qital fi sabilillah’ was common. The Parsis had to take refuge in Hindu Rashtra ‘Bhāratá’. They were persecuted the worst as Islam was set to conquer Persia. Hindus came to their refuge and that’s exactly ‘Hindutva’ ie ‘state of being Hindu’ for you from that period.
One may like to read pages 147-50 from the book Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices by Mary Boyce to know the underlying truth in detail.
Many overenthusiastic scholars even try to give a date of origin to Hindu+ism (Sanātana dharma) but as someone can’t trace from when the water got the trait to flow, it is impossible to claim if it originated a few thousand years ago. As per historical records ‘ism’ was first added to ‘Hindu’ around 1830 and ‘Hindutva’ was coined in 1892 by Chandranath Basu. So people should even come out of this myth that Veer Savarkar coined the term. Veer Savarkar gave ‘Hindutva’ an intent and theory best fitted in the era of 1920s and beyond. With the onslaught of political Islam for ages, the period around the Khilafat Movement saw Mahatma Gandhi pushing the national movement for the establishment of the Caliphate. This was the phase when only Muslims of India were mobilised to fight to safeguard the Caliphate which Muslims of Turkey too despised. All the scholars of that age including Tagore, Dr Ambedkar, Savarkar, etc, saw India on verge of succumbing to political Islam. The Moplah massacre in the backdrop of the Khilafat movement and electoral politics was a reality check. Indeed Savarkar was correct the way he theorised ‘Hindutva’, ie, the state of being Hindu in the way he did back then.
I also observed an interesting point raised in this debate. They say that ‘‘Hinduism’ has many central texts while ‘Hindutva’ has none’. Nothing can be more to call self-humiliation than this statement. A logical person will tell you that: Centre is always one, you don’t have multiple centres.
Things evolve with time and so has ‘Hindutva’. Once it was the only saviour of others but the condition demanded it to add a new feature: Resist. Now ‘Hindutva’ is the ‘Hinduism’ that resists. When the whole cabal came against ‘asatomāsadgamaya…’ being sung in Kendriya Vidyalayas, it needed a force to preserve the echo of heritage. And the force that stood to resist was ‘Hindutva’ for you, though centuries ago, giving refuge to the Parsis. Hence, it will need to exist in the present form to preserve the ethos of Bhāratá till attacks keep occurring.
As ‘Hindutva’ is the state of being Hindu, so how can one not follow Hinduism (I have used it multiple times for popularity) if he is ‘in state of being Hindu’?
It’s like saying water is not in a ‘state of being water’ though it’s flowing.
Comparison with Islamic State and Boko Haram
And of all the most appalling case is the attempt to establish similarity between Islamist terror outfits and Hindutva. The truth of the matter is that bodies like Islamic State and Boko Haram have been responsible for the persecution of millions of people not agreeing to their faith system. One may like or dislike it, but they are indeed drawing inspiration from the Holy Book.
There can be a case of argument that those organisations are misinterpreting the texts, but then this argument only appears more fallacious. I say this because while they want each Hindus to celebrate ‘Not in my name’, they would get into this ‘interpretation business’ whenever things like Charlie Hebdo or Kamlesh Tiwari happen. They would not go on to talk of ‘Not in my name’ even when cities get burnt for someone calling names to Qur’an or Muhammad. We can’t forget that the capital city was held to ransom just because the Indian state had opened doors for the persecuted minorities of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Hundreds were killed in riots caused because of the ‘misunderstandings and lies’ spread around the CAA.
I would love to see some empirical comparison drawn by people like Salman Khurshid between the thoughts penned on ‘Hindutva’ and terror outfits like Islamic State. All these whatabouteries like Gandhi=Hinduism & Godse=Hindutva must go away. For then the finger goes straight at the followers of Gandhi, asking them aloud about the ideology that went on to butcher the Brahmins of Maharashtra after the assassination. What was the ideology that sought Hindus to introspect even when they were at the receiving ends whether it was Moplah 1921 or Bengal 1946-7?
There is a lot to express and write, but I’ll rest my keyboard citing three people of distinct ideologies:
Please, see to it that mercy is not imposed on me. I want to show that through me, Gandhiji’s non-violence is being hanged. (Nathuram Godse quoted from Elst, Koenraad (2018). Why I killed the Mahatma: Uncovering Godse’s defence. New Delhi: Rupa, 2018)
Now you will, perhaps, understand why I have called Abdul Rashid a brother, and I repeat it, I do not even regard him as guilty of Swamiji’s murder. Guilty, indeed, are all those who excited feelings of hatred against one another. For us Hindus, the Gita enjoins on us the lesson of equality; we are to cherish the same feelings towards a learned Brahmin as towards a Chandala, a dog, a cow, or an elephant. (Mahatma Gandhi quoted from Congress session in Guwahati, 1926. In Collected Works, Volume 32, pp. 461-62)
Any person could have said that this was too heavy a price for Hindu-Muslim unity. But Mr Gandhi was so much obsessed by the necessity of establishing Hindu-Muslim unity that he was prepared to make light of the doings of the Moplas and the Khilafats who were congratulating them. He spoke of the Mappilas as the ‘brave God-fearing Moplahs who were fighting for what they consider as religion and in a manner which they consider as religious’ (Dr. BR Ambedkar, Pakistan or the Partition of India. Chapter 6)
The writer is an architect and an author. Views expressed are personal.
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