What does India mean to you? Is it a piece of land? What binds Indians to India? Is it language? Is is a common race? Is it based on one religious idea? Is it Hinduism?
Would India remain as one political entity if it were to turn 100% Muslim or Christian (or even a significant, say, 40% to 50% non-Indian Religionists population)?
Is India a modern nation-state? What does India or Bharatvarsha mean to Hindus? Is there a deep sacredness attached to this land? Was its sacredness taken away by partitioning the country in 1947? Or is there a civilizational continuity that Hindus of India still find in this country?
What about the Muslims of India? Or Christians? Does what India means to the Hindus, same for them? Is India another political/geographic entity for them, a modern nation-state to Muslims of India? Or do they consider India a civilizational entity as well? If it is a modern nation-state how is India different for Muslims of India than, say, Pakistan? Or Bangladesh or Saudi Arabia? Especially if they would like to see an Islamic India.
Would India remain one political entity if it were to become majority Muslim (or even Christian)? Or would India dismember into smaller nation-states just like Bangladesh separated from Pakistan because of linguistic-cultural oppression of Punjabi dominated West Pakistan, in 1971?
Would the Hindus of India defend such a balkanization of India? Would Muslims defend such a balkanization of India if it were majority Muslim?
These are questions i explore in this article.
What are Indian Religions?
Indian Religions here refers to religions which originated in India – Hinduism (or Sanatana Dharma) and all its offshoots as major religions of India – Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism – and the hundreds of sects such as Kabir panthis, OSHOites, and probably also Ramakrishna Mission. We call these Indic Religions or Dharmic Religions.
Side note: I must note, that given the leftist-Nehruvian social narratives and the dole-out of incentives in the country for non-Hindus, there has been a race amongst these sects to define themselves as non-Hindus, including shockingly Ramakrishna Mission. However, it is heartening to still see a large part of Sikhs and Jains still consider themselves sects within the framework of Hinduism. I would refer you to read Koenraad Elst’s “Who is a Hindu” where he asks whether Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Animists are Hindus. And, with detailed research, reaches the resounding conclusion — “yes”. We’ll leave this discussion for another time, though.
By this definition, Islam and Christianity are non-Indian religions.
Is India a modern nation-state or a civilizational nation?
Indians have referred to themselves as belonging to Bharata since time immemorial. ‘Mahabharata‘ literally means “Greater India“.
If you go by dating of Nilesh Neelkanth Oak, Mahaharata War is dated to 5561 BCE ie ~ 7500 year from current era. The Ramayana and Vedas are therefore much older. New research in archaeology, astronomy, geology, climate studies, paleobiology, genetics, oceanography and many other scientific fields of study are slowly throwing new evidence contributing to evidence of an unbroken continuity of 15,000+ years of Indian civilization — of it’s people living in this land.
The ‘Vishnu Purana‘ dated to atleast 200BC (but probably much much older) defines the boundaries of ‘Bharat’ (India) with snowy mountains in the north and oceans in the south. It defines the mountain chains that cover it’s territory.
Sankrant Sanu in his famous article “Why India Is a Nation” writes: “It was an idea of civilizational unity and sacred geography of India that inspired Shankaracharya to not only enunciate the mysteries of the Vedanta but to go around setting upmathas circumscribing the land of India in a large diamond shape. While sage Agasthya crossed the Vindhya and came down south, Shankracharya was born in the village of Kalady in Kerala and traveled in the opposite direction for the establishment of dharma.
The Marathas under Shivaji Maharaj and for 5 decades after him, pursued his vision of Hindavi Swarajya. Hindavi Swarajya essentially means Hindu self-rule and removal of colonialists from India. Shivaji refers to India as Sapta-Sindhu. This same term was used by Bal Gangadhar Tilak at the beginning of the Indian Independence Movement.
It is often argued that India is a modern nation-state formed in 1947 after the British left. It is a moot question to ask, but who were Indians fighting to free? Pakistan? Or were they all including the later separatist, Muslim League, fighting to free India? Two of the biggest political and military entities called themselves the “Indian National Congress” and the “Indian National Army (INA)” respectively. Were they fighting for the current geography of India, or were they fighting for the larger, undivided entity called India or Akhanda Bharat?
It was Pakistan (and Afghanistan), under Jinnah, which separated from Bharata or India citing the two-nation theory – that Muslims were a separate civilization and could not co-exist with Hindus.
However, India remained. Only parts of its geographic body dismembered on both sides. It’s soul lived on. Osho, who just like Shankaracharya saw India as a civilization with a spiritual purpose, defines his idea of India poetically, powerfully and beautifully:
“The dream is one. It is not mine, it is centuries old. Let us call it eternal. This part of the earth began dreaming this dream from the very dawn of human consciousness. How many flowers are strung in this garland? How many Gautam Buddhas, how many Mahaviras, how many Kabirs, how many Nanaks, have sacrificed their lives for this dream? How am I to call it my dream? This dream belongs to man himself, this dream belongs to man’s inner being. We have given this dream a name: we call this dream “India“.
I will conclude this part-1 of my argument quoting Hindol Sengupta from his article “Wy India Does Not Fear Patriotism And Nationalism (Unlike The West)“.
The critical difference to understand here is that India is not a classic modern nation state. It is a civilisation state. A civilisation is a much wider framework of history and socio-cultural canvas than a nation. The Chinese scholar Zhang Weiwei has described China as a civilisation state where cultural (this includes religious) unity of philosophy, thought and doctrine creates the idea of the state and not just political decrees.
What China is struggling to achieve ought to be effortless for India — the only civilisation in the world which has an unbroken history of ritual and practice, a collective memory of shared knowledge that constitutes a living culture, a culture that survived a thousand years of invasion, conversion and colonialism. As perhaps the only true civilisation state, a sense of pride for the land and culture is inevitable in India. Not only are our epics linked to geography (there is in our memory an Ayodhaya, a Dwarka, a Kashi, a Mathura; now we could argue indefinitely about the exact location but that these places have existed from the time the Ramayana and Mahabharata were written is undeniable).
Allah-ordained goal of creating a Dar-al-Islam
Allah via the Quran has ordained upon every devout Muslim that he must convert people of other religions to Islam. This is especially a god-given entitlement to Muslims for polytheists, such as Hindus. Polytheists are a particularly hated group of people in the Quran, which regularly calls upon Muslims to hate & kill polytheists or idol-worshipers – such as the Hindus.
Yes, twitter Muslims always tell me that these verses of the Quran are contextual — that of a war between Muhammad’s followers and polytheists of Arabia, including worshippers of ‘Kabba Temple‘ who refused to convert to Islam.
This argument is used only to evade taking on the truth head-on, as the basis of Quran as an infallible word of god falls flat on its face if they were to agree that these violent verses were “only” in the context of a certain situation and time.
Further, the same example set by Muhammad in breaking the ‘murtis‘ (incorrectly translated to idols) of Kabba has inspired the breaking of an estimated 40,000 Hindu-Jain-Buddhist temples in (undivided) India by Islamic invaders coming into India starting in 712AD under Muhammed bin-Qasim (when Sindh was temporarily lost) until the Marathas took over from the Mughals are the death of Aurangzeb in 1708.
From Muhammad, to bigoted rulers right up to Aurangzeb, to now Taliban and ISIS, their primary underlying mission has been to establish Dar-as-Salam — largely agreed to be described as a place where:
- Muslims must be able to enjoy peace and security with and within this country.
- The country should be ruled by a Muslim government.
- It has common frontiers with some Muslim countries.
Every few weeks you come across some videos of American and UK Muslims calling for dominating these western countries and implementing Shariah after throwing away human-made laws including values such as democracy itself. See this, this and this.
On a side note, it completely beats me how shamelessly they do this in countries that have given them refuge. Contradict this to the case of persecuted Parsis taking refuge in Gujarat in India.
When the Zoroastrians requested asylum, Jadi Rana motioned to a vessel of milk filled to the very brim to signify that his kingdom was already full and could not accept refugees. In response, one of the Zoroastrian priests added a pinch of sugar to the milk, thus indicating that they would not bring the vessel to overflowing and indeed make the lives of the citizens sweeter. Jadi Rana gave shelter to the emigrants and permitted them to practice their religion and traditions freely.
Nationalist Indian Muslims
It is common to see devout Muslims (skull cap, shaved upper lip, et al) bearing images of the Indian flag in their twitter profiles and Facebook pages. It is certainly very heartening.
However, i’ve very often probed them, and more often than not, i’ve found them to have the same beliefs which are core to Islam:
- Islam is the only true religion
- Hindus are on thee wrong path; polytheism is wrong
- India must become Islamic
They may or may not say this directly, but their defense of Shariah and the worst of its’ medieval practices of beheading, cutting-off hands, stoning people to death are often indicators into their closely held supremacist-Islamic beliefs.
Not true for cultural Muslims (‘Hindu Muslims’?)
I must qualify this. There are several practicing Muslims, including among Muslim sects such as the Bohra Muslims or Ismaili Muslims of India, who either sit uneasily on these divisive ideas within Hanafi-Sunni/Wahabi Islam or even completely reject them.
They are probably happy being Muslim and practicing their faith side-by-side with Hindus, and other Indian Religionists, without holding the other ideals of converting India to Islam. They denounce medieval practices of Islam, promote modern values & democracy.
They are someone we call ‘cultural Muslims‘. Some even call themselves Hindu-Muslims.
This post excludes them.
What does ‘Indian nationalism’ mean to Indian Religionists?
India’s sacredness to Indian Religionists
Kailash Parbat : To Hindus, Buddhists, Jains who together find sacredness in this land, it’s rivers, mountains and temples. For instance, Mount Kailash (in Tibet) has been sacred to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains alike for thousands of years.
Chomolungma and Nanda Devi: The Buddhist Sherpas until 1950s had never climbed Mt. Everest, which they consider sacred. Even now they climb with reverence, and for reasons to feed their families – unlike Westerners who climb it “Because it’s there” as George Mallory had famously said. The Sherpas call it ‘Chomolungma’ or Mother of the World.
Similarly, Hindus of Uttarakhand revere India’s second highest peak, Nanda Devi, as a mother. All trekking guides tell stories of how lucky it is considered if you have ‘darshan‘ Nanda Devi on a clear day.
So what is the common thread among Indian Religionists in their view of India?
It’s sacredness. Sacredness of it’s mountains, rivers, trees & forests. It’s inner-search. It’s seeking the Truth, the mysteries of existence of the Universe. And all of this search manifests in a seamless continuity among its sciences, dances, arts, music and temples. None of the pursuit of these subjects are bereft of philosophy.
What is important to note is that there is no one over-arching theology that dictates the framework for all Indian Religions. Infact they often have paradoxical even contradictory philosophies and approaches to the idea of the Truth. Some called
The foundation of all this was probably laid in the Rg Veda:
Truth is one; sages call it by various names
This forms culture. This defines values. This defines what it means to be Indian.
Mutual Respect! Not only Tolerance
It is this fundamental value system which binds Indians to India. Inspite of differences and contradictory philosophies, Indian Religions never fought violently with each other, inciting their practitioners to kill and create one all pervading supremacy of their own way of thinking.
They not merely tolerated, but offered each other mutual respect. They all offered each other spaces to express themselves and bring over followers – almost exclusively by dialogue and debate, called ‘Shastrartha‘.
There are rare incidents of violence documented in Indian history, the most infamous being that of Ashoka who killed several thousand Ajivikas because Buddha was shown bowing to Nirgrantha (Mahavira). Ashoka was the exception and the home grown non-Islamic Jihadi of India.
What is important to understand is that within Hinduism or broadly Indian Religions ideas of Monotheism, Monism, Pantheism, Polytheism, and even Atheism have co-existed without fault-lines and violence. For instance, Jains do not believe in a God or a Supreme Creator at all. Neither do Buddhists. And yet, Jains comfortably call themselves Hindus.
Is India a modern nation state or a civilizational state?
So where Indian Muslisms belong?
This brings us to the big question.
If India has a sacredness to Indian Religionists based on value systems of seeking and respecting each other’s seeking via different philosophies and ideas, where does mainstream Islam with it’s idea that ‘it is the only true religion, and all others are false‘ fit into this scheme of things? How will devout Indian Muslims who are taught to reject all Indian forms of worship of Divine as false, find respect for their ancestral blood-brothers?
Further, Indian Muslims have no sense of sacredness of India. India is probably a modern nation-state to which they belong. This goes completely contradictory to what we have explored above.
Would India be India if it were 100% Muslim? Or Christian?
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“India enjoys one of the world’s most rich, liberal, diverse, multi-linguistic, multi-religious civilization and has been so in its historical trajectory. It has been solving most of the problems which others found intractable like those arising from pluralism, diversity of languages and spiritual expressions, etc. for millennia within its indigenous framework“, writes Abhinav Prakash.
My guess is every reader reading this would agree.