Saturday, December 24, 2016

Who is a Hindu? Hinduism and Sanathan Dharma - Explained

The term 'Hindu' brings an image of people in India generally. Thus, people across the world consider Indians as Hindu. In India - locally - however, there is a huge confusion. People in India have been categorized as Hindu, Muslim, Christian etc by the lawmakers and intellectuals. It means Hindu is regarded a religion in India, or Hindustan, as it is known.

The elements of Hindustan

Hindustan Explained: Who is a Hindu?

If you deconstruct the word 'Hindustan', you get 'Hindu' + 'sthan' (place). Combined, it means 'place of Hindus'. Here is when the confusion really begins. Certain sections of India (Hindustan) think that the country really belongs to Hindus - a religion called Hindu. But who is a Hindu? How do you define a Hindu?

Prior to Supreme Court's ruling saying Hindu is not a religion, Savarkar came up with the word 'Hindutva' (हिंदुत्व) to represent the way Indians live. A Hindu can be anyone who finds his or her roots in India. The word "Hindu" is based loosely on the river Indu (of Indus valley civilization fame). Thus, people belonging to the place around Indus river should be Hindus - irrespective of their religious beliefs.

Around the same time, when colonial possession of India was in full swing, the British termed the local people as Hindus - and coined the word "Hinduism". They used the word 'Hinduism' to refer to the set of values followed by the locals of India. By then, there were already Muslims and Christians in India - and others like Buddhists and Jains. The same thing but with a different name - Hindustani - was used by Mongols and Mughals who attacked India time and again to loot and ruled it prior to the British.

Thus, Hindustan refers to place in and around Indus valley. In modern context, however, it refers to India. The term Hindustan is used mostly by the Arabic countries and countries around India that were initially part of India before the British divided it. The Eastern and Western world use the name 'India' to refer to this country of multiple religions and beliefs. I hope it explains who is a Hindu.

Summary: Who is a Hindu

Thinking in the above terms, a Hindu is a person who lives or has roots in the Indus valley civilization. The term Hindu has nothing to do with any religion - except that it is highly confused with the "Sanatan Dharma", a religion that most people in India follow. Sanathan Dharma too has its own values and books as is the case with any other religion. There are a set of rules, sacred books and of course, it too is misinterpreted and misused by the powerful for their own benefits.

People inside India confuse Sanatan Dharma with Hindu. But that is not the case as explained above. A Hindu can be a person following Sanatan Dharma, or following Islam or Christianity. A Hindu can be a Buddhist, Jain, agnostic or even an atheist. The only criteria for being a Hindu is that the person should consider the area around Indus valley is where his or her roots lie.

Extremists are there in every religion and they do cause a lot of damage. As such, the misadventures of extremists in Sanatan Dharma has led to the confusion that Hindu is a religion whereas in reality, it is just an identity based on the place to where the person belongs. In other words, Hindu is just a geographical identity.

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