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Understanding Hindutva: From Savarkar’s, Gandhi’s and RSS’ perspective

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Like India, it is difficult to understand what Hindu or Hindutva means. The word has various meanings. The word ‘Hindu’ has its origin from Sindhu. It is a word for the land, which lies beyond a body of water. So Hindustan or India is a name given to the land; Hindus are the people living on it. But, Hinduism is also a religion. Thus, it is both religious identity and also the geographic identity of the people who live in this region. There are followers of Hinduism in other parts of the world, too. There can be influences of India in other parts of the world as well. But, not every person residing in India is religiously Hindu. They can be practitioners of different religions or even atheists.

One definition of Hindutva or Hinduness was given by ‘Veer Savarkar’. Savarkar called people living in India, having Hindu ancestry as Hindus. Savarkar was an atheist and can be classified as an early socialist. This definition doesn’t delve into what people are following now or what the Hindu religion is, but simply takes the name as an identity. This was an attempt to counter the other than Indian attitude of minorities particularly that of Muslims.

Another definition is that of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh or RSS which defines Hindus are people, who share cultural likeness regardless of the way they worship. It is to be noted that it is a secular definition of Hindu. Contrary to what some may say. ‘Hindu Rashtra’ or Hindu Nation for RSS doesn’t have theological meaning. An Arab is an Arab regardless of sect or religion. Of course, most are Muslims similarly maximum of those who are Hindu are religiously Hindus. It is a religion absent definition of Hindutva. Mahatma Gandhi too tried to define Hindu. He said it is both cultural identity and religion.

It is important to note both Savarkar and RSS unlike Gandhi reject casteism, but have not been successful to extend this brotherhood to other religions especially Islam. Whereas Gandhi, a religious Hindu has been more tolerant. The reason for this seems to be non-exclusion of politics and religion. Religious Hindu identity cannot make others secure about their religion. So doing away with the religious definition as done by RSS should have been welcomed. Sadly, it has not happened. But, it is the failure of both, the proponents of Hindutva and also of the minorities for not being able to communicate and comprehend views respectively.

Indianness gets challenged by the religion-inspired separatism of minorities. This leads to two kinds of reactions, one of frustration and the other of making the word Hindu as non-religious as possible. Failure of minorities to appreciate this approach further fuels up the tension. Their refusal to come together or do away with otherness anger non-religious Hindutva believer. This seems to be a vicious cycle where no cure seems to work.

The cure is with the minorities, but sadly the Abrahamic religions define religion exclusively, and mix politics and religion. The development that the western world saw with the separation of state and church has not been understood. I believe social and religious reforms amongst the minorities should be given precedence. With backwardness regardless of best intentions, Hindutva will be misunderstood. This will create more disaster and also undermine the Hindu religion.

It will be wrong to take Hindutva only as a counter-movement to minority separatism or extremism. On a broader perspective, it is cultural nationalism. It is a reminder of the good things of the past and the destiny, we have to fulfill. It can be said, Hindutva is a continuation of the religious and cultural trend from ancient India which has seen many developments.

Republished from my personal blog –

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