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Who is a Hindu ? – An Insight Into Savarkar’s Answer

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The etymology of the phrase ‘Hindutva’ and the emphasis given to it especially in the current scenario is something the citizens of India are familiar with. Every common man residing in this subcontinent knows the position the Hindu religion and tradition holds in our society. However, do citizens, who with such vigor use the word ‘Hindutva’ as a colloquial term, actually know the meaning of it?

Hindutva is often used as a synonym of Hinduism, whereas in reality, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the proponent of the ideology, meant an entirely different concept when he used this term. The notion of ‘Hindutva’ became prominent in modern parlance towards the end of the nineteenth century in Bengal. However, its current dominance must be accredited to the works of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who lived during the phase of history marked by the Indian freedom struggle reaching its full glory. Although he authored several works such as the Indian War of Independence 1857 and Hindu Pad-Padashahi, his work ‘Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?’ has left behind a long lasting legacy, whose effect can be felt even today.

Savarkar had penned down his views on Hindutva while he was imprisoned at the Andaman Islands and later in Ratnagiri. His work was published in the year 1923 and became the driving force of ‘Hindu Nationalism’ in the 1920s. His conception is used as an expression of Hindu nationalist movements even today. In his work, Savarkar attempts to describe the characteristics of a Hindu identity. His effort seeks to answer the question: ‘Who is a Hindu?’ by defining the term ‘Hindutva’. Hindutva is a philosophy that seeks to portray the rich culture of India.
Savarkar’s conception of Hindu identity has three primary attributes. The first is the geographical criteria. A Hindu is “primarily a citizen, either in himself or through his forefathers of Hindustan”. According to the first yardstick, any person residing within the borders of this subcontinent, will be considered a Hindu. A Hindu is one who regards the land of Bharatvarsh as his cradle land. However, he will not be incorporated within the Hindu traditional ambit unless he fulfills the second criterion. The second criterion is of common blood or ‘jati’. According to Savarkar,a Hindu is a descendant of Hindu parents and shares common blood with other Hindus, a lineage tracing them back to their forefathers.

Based on these touchstones, Savarkar deduced that the Muslim citizens of India could be given the privilege of being ‘Hindus’. To quote Savarkar, “The majority of the Indian Mohammedans may, if free from the prejudices born of ignorance, come to love our land as their fatherland, as the patriotic and noble-minded amongst them have always been doing. The story of their conversions, forcibly in millions of cases, is too recent to make them forget, even if they like to do so, that they inherit Hindu blood in their veins. But can we, who are here concerned with investigating into facts as they are and not as they should be recognize these Mohammedans as Hindus?”. He answers his own question negatively by adding a third yardstick that is in addition to having love for one’s own territory (rashtra) and loyalty to common blood (jati). The third basis is an attachment to Hindu culture or civilization. Savarkar terms this common culture as ‘Sanskriti’ to refer to Hindu culture, rituals and festivals. This criterion formed the basis by which not only the Indian Muslims but also the Indian Christians could be excluded from the realm of Hindutva. In spite of belonging to a common territory and sharing the same blood, they had, “ceased to own Hindu civilization (Sanskriti) as a whole. They belong, or feel that they belong to a cultural unit altogether different from the Hindu one,” as per Savarkar.

India is not a homogeneous cultural community. It has several castes, communities and religions intermingling with each other. Savarkar was aware of the presence of heterogeneous communities in India such as the Muslim sect of Bohras and Khojas of Gujarat. In order to differentiate these hybrid cultures from the indigenous Hindus, he painted his terminology of ‘Hindutva’ in a religious colour. Hinduism engulfs various Vedic and Non-Vedic cultures within its large cloak. While a majority of Hindus consider themselves to be a part of the Varnashram Dharma, other traditions such as Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism also have their roots in India. The fourth attribute propounded by Savarkar states that all traditions within Hinduism consider India not only as their ‘Pitribhumi’ (Fatherland) but also as their ‘Punyabhumi’ (Holy land). He uses this trait as an important weapon to exclude all foreign traditions, especially Christianity and Islam, from the wide arena of ‘Hinduness’.  To these traditions, Hindustan is their Fatherland but their Holy land is far away in Arabia or Palestine. Their mythology and deities are not of Indian origin, and instead proclaim a foreign lineage. In Savarkar’s words, “We have tried to determine the essentials of Hindutva and in doing so we have discovered that the Bohras and such other Mohammedan or Christian communities possess all the essential qualifications of Hindutva but one and that is that they do not look upon India as their Holy land”.

Thus, for a staunch exponent of Hindutva like Savarkar, a Hindu is one who boasts of a being an inhabitant of the Indian territory which extends from the Indus to the Seas, one who inherits the blood of his Vedic ancestors, relates to Sanskrit culture and regards ‘Sindhustan’ as his Holy land. Savarkar identifies Hinduism with nation (rashtra), race (jati) and culture (Sanskriti).

Savarkar’s notion of Hindutva has undergone several permutations and combinations in the present decade. This has resulted in increasing ambiguity and murkiness in the realm of the meaning of the concept. Needless to say, Hindutva forms an integral part of contemporary politics and happens to be a dominant ideology ruling our political domain. It is fascinating to see how an idea postulated almost a century ago still shapes the politics of the current generation.

– Contributed by Rajeshwari



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