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Is Hindutva the same as Hinduism?

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“I am not anti-Hindu but anti-Hindutva”, “Hindutva is not the same as Hinduism” and several flavors of such distinction are heard, while prominently from the sec-lib camp, also among a fraction of confused Hindus.

While the words are not exactly synonymous, the difference is not really what it is made out to be in public discourse. Here is a brief inquiry into these terms and the phenomena represented by these.

Semantics and Reference – Hindutva

The semantics are simple. Hindutva literally means Hinduness. It doesn’t denote people or organizations but to a phenomenon. Hindutva is known in popular perception to be a movement. While Savarkar is known to have coined the word, it “refers” to several movements and organizations including RSS and VHP not just HMS of yore. However if we look through the self-references with this word, none of these indicate that this word is used to represent movements or organizations but to represent Hindu self-assertion. Importantly, it is a self-referential term and not an attribution. The word Hindutva therefore, applies to any Hindu who thinks of and stands for being Hindu, whether or not one uses that word for oneself. In fact it is not applied to individuals in any case.

Associated words like “Hindutva-vadi” are not self-referential and attributions to individuals by those who have a problem with Hindu self-assertion and hence Hindutva. This is like calling individuals “Manu-vAdi”. Calling someone “jAti-vadi” has some inaccuracy and mischief, because “jAti-vad” in its negative connotation refers to casteism and caste bigotry, not really the phenomenon of jAti. This is camouflaged to attack the phenomenon instead of perversion. But in case of Hindutva, the phenomenon is itself made to mean negative not because of any negative with the phenomenon but because of the inherent hatred for Hindu self-assertion. Thus comes about the word Hindutva-vAdi. The problem with it is the same as with using an “ism” – it attributes an argument in favor of something while there is none. There is no argument, and no need for an argument in favor of Hindu self-assertion, it is merely the survival instinct of a people. It can hardly be called an ideology for the same reason. Yes, it is definitely a visible phenomenon. There is a Hindutva. There is hardly, however, a Hindutva-vAda and there is no Hindutva-vAdi. If there is any, any Hindu owning a Hindu identity is a Hindutva-vAdi. Obviously this is not the sense in which the term is used by those that attribute the word to individuals.

Semantics and Reference – Hinduism

 

Hinduism is known to be a “religion”. Hinduism is an Abrahamic coinage that is mistakenly attributed. For all its “broader application to all Hindus not just fundamentalist Hindutva brigade“, Hinduism is an external attribution and not self-referential. The inherent mischief behind the word is quite apparent while not paid attention to. If Hinduism were a religion, how is the word coined? If the religion of Christ is Christianity, why is the religion of “Hindus” called Hinduism, putting it on par with some ideology (as in Marxism) or an organized system (as in feudalism) and why is it not given a word that indicates its “religious” nature? If “ism” is indeed applicable to religion, why is there no “ism” with Christianity? Of course, this mischief isn’t limited to Hinduism, the occident played this mischief with entire orient – Shintoism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Sikhism are all referred to as “ism”. Being a closer sibling, Islam overcame this easily and became that instead of Mohamedeanism.

That aside, is Hinduism really a religion? It is a religion as a religion (Christianity) saw it. Hindus really haven’t identified themselves as a religion in the sense that religions of the world identify themselves. That also doesn’t make it a non-religion either. It is a comprehensive eco-system with various kinds of traditions spiritual or otherwise, social & cultural units thrive in harmony. This system has seen full life cycles (inception, rise, fall, dissolution) of several traditions, philosophies, groupings. It is therefore a dharmic system, often wrongly used as an alternative to the word religion. It would however be wrong to say there are dharma-s just as there are religions, for dharma is singular for ecosystem and plural for category. For instance, there is just dharma, there is nothing like Hindu dharma or Sikh dharma. In that sense, it is singular. But when it comes to the roles individual plays in life, there is a rAja dharma, vyakti dharma etc, In this sense it is plural. It is accurate however, to say nigamAgama, jaina, bauddha etc are all dhArmic traditions, more like a forest where trees grow and branches (child-traditions) grow out of them.

Several of traditions in this ecosystem are knowledge traditions, several have been martial too. Any attempt to disassociate the “deep philosophy of Hinduism” from its martial element is to be seen as mischief, intended (in most cases) or otherwise. There are out-facing elements that defend the ecosystem just as there are in-facing elements that enrich it.

 

It is not as if Hindutva brought with it any intolerant or violent element which did not already exist in “Hinduism”. The amount of blood Hindus have shed for the defense of dharma, and the amount of gore Hindus withstood is unparalleled in human history. As a matter of fact Hindutva doesn’t even rank as a genuine martial uprising, an overwhelming majority of Hindutva activity is defensive and service oriented. It is the very fact that it represents a defense and assertion of Hinduness that makes the enemies of dharma hate it.

Who has problem with Hindutva?

Simply put, one who is saying he has problem with Hindutva but not Hinduism, is saying that he has a problem not with Hindus but has problem with those who stand for being Hindu and those who stand for Hindu causes.

Valentine Chirol’s hate for Tilak, missionary hate for traditional Hindus are not very different from sec-lib hate for Hindutva. All these have made their best attempts to isolate their hate targets from the Hindu ecosystem. They only make it look like their hate target is a separable entity from the ecosystem.

Camouflage and calumny can be overcome by clarity and awareness. So it comes back to Hindus being self-aware, being aware of their own ecosystem, collective identity and collective craving, that holds key to overcoming these problems.

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