An Indigenous View Of The Hindu Identity

Hindu is the geographical, cultural and metaphysical identity of the people of the land. It’s neither a religion nor a nation-state.

The people of America are called as Americans, Japan as Japanese, and Brazil as Brazilian and so the people of India or Hindustan are called as Indians or Hindus. But whereas American-ism, Japan-ism or Brazilian-ism are not called as a religion, by what yardstick is Hinduism called and officially proclaimed by the Indian nation-state as a religion?

The word religion is rooted in the Latin word “religare” meaning “to bind.” Religion in its most pervasive meaning today is used to describe Christianity and Islam which are marked by being “bound” to One Book and One Prophet, and divides the world as believers and non-believers, thereby ostensibly seeking to “convert” one to another. Every other identity that is called as a religion is thus portrayed through this predominant world view.

Despite repeated attempts to drag the innocuous Hindu identity into this gambit, by no stretch of imagination it qualifies to be called as a religion of Hindu-ism. This is a gross infringement on the rights of the Hindus who constitute the native and indigenous people of the land or the adivasi.

It has been said that religion is akin to “panth” or “math” in the Hindu context, but that’s another gross distortion, when we compare them to either Christianity or Islam. Neither can “dharma,” which denotes a sense of duty and means “that which upholds,” be described as religion. There are attempts to “religion-ise” the Hindu identity through Hinduism or Hindutva by vested interests but only serve to defile and damage the Hindu identity, and cause grave harm to the ordinary people they claim to represent and defend.

The existence of malpractices and sociopathic behavior that crept into a society at some time has resulted in vitriolic being directed against those who profess Hinduism as a religion. Ambedkar states in his essay ‘Philosophy of Hinduism’:

Inequality is the soul of Hinduism. The morality of Hinduism is only social. It is unmoral and inhuman to say the least. What is unmoral and inhuman easily becomes immoral, inhuman and infamous.” (Ref 2)

But if the Holocaust has not cast such an indelible shadow on German-ism, despite the fact that its Christian history of hatred against Jews had a lot to do with the rise of the Nazis and the cold-blooded killings of 20 million Jews; or the British genocide and brutal exploitation of its colonial subjects has not stigmatized British-ism and Turkish and Arabic genocides and brutalities has not blemished these identities forever, even as they happened explicitly in the garb of Islam, why should ordinary Hindus be haunted and bullied today for no fault of theirs, in their own land and elsewhere in the name of Hinduism.

The greater irony is that even scholarly bodies like the Hindu America Foundation make the same mistake of falsely denigrating the indigenous Hindu identity into a religious identity of Hinduism, in their limited and defective vision. They fail to see the powerful and growing tide of humanity that sees through the imperialist machinations of using religion as bait to “convert,” grab land from the indigenous people and which has penetrated academic circles with great deal of deceit and chicanery to show other competing religions in poor light.

Who are the real Hindus?

Hindus are neither religionists of Hinduism-As-A-Religion nor the jingoistic nationalism of Hindutva-vadis, against whom much of the ire and tirade of the “anti-Hindu” forces is directed. Hindus are ordinary people of the land. Over thousands of years of their known existence, the Hindus have heartily welcomed people and their opinion from all over the world with open arms because of their core beliefs in “World as a Village and Village as the World (वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम),” “Guest is God (अतिथि देवो भव)” and “Truth alone shall win (सत्यमेव जयते).”

Addressing the complexity and gravity of the Hindu situation must begin with diving deeper to the indigenous view of the Hindu identity rather than the exogenous view, despite the fact that the latter has far greater currency today and the former has been muted and subdued.

Why is Hindu not a sovereign “nation-state”?

Unraveling the indigenous Indian or Hindu identity could be the uniting principle for its diversity and at times conflicting ideologies and identities. For this we need to challenge and dissolve the imposition of Hindu as a religion and as a jingoistic nationalism as a modern nation-state. The brazen centralization of power by the nation-state is both anachronistic and against the interests and rights of its indigenous people, a right which is guaranteed and staunchly protected by the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People, which came to effect since 2007. Article 3 of this epoch-making declaration clearly states that:

Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” (Ref 1)

The sovereignty in the Hindu context rests with the indigenous forest dwelling communities (वनवासी), village dwellers (ग्रामवासी) and city dwellers (नगरवासी), with a symbiotic and synergistic relationship among the three. The political state had a limited role of regional governance and security for which it collected a percentage of the produce and was responsive to natural calamities.

The political boundaries and administration of these states kept changing to reflect people’s needs and aspirations.

After having experienced several hundreds of years of foreign occupation that continues up to the day in a covert fashion, we need to weigh the pros and cons of the status quo vis-a-vis the Hindu identity and its attendant indigenous systems and structures.