The Supreme Court recently dismissed a plea seeking direction to the Central government to appoint a renaming commission to rename cities and places named after foreign invaders. A bench comprising Justices K.M. Joseph and B.V. Nagarathna used an oft-repeated cliche “Hinduism is a way of life” while rejecting the plea.
They also made some other interesting (for lack of a better word) observations which we will come to later. But first, let’s examine the “Hinduism is a way of life” quote.
The reference to Hindutva and the ‘way of life’ phrase was first recorded in modern Bharat’s jurisprudence in a 1994 Supreme Court judgment in the case ‘Ismail Faruqi’. SC Justice Sam Piroj Bharucha (he later became CJI) said in that case, “Ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind and it is not to be equated with, or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism.”
Then in 1996, SC Justice Jagdish Sharan Verma (he also later became CJI), while ruling on a case involving an election speech by a Shiv Sena candidate, said “past constitution bench judgments indicate no precise meaning can be ascribed to the terms ‘Hindu’, ‘Hindutva’ and ‘Hinduism’; and no meaning in the abstract can confine it to the narrow limits of religion alone, excluding the content of Indian culture and heritage. It is also indicated that the term ‘Hindutva’ is related more to the way of life of the people in the sub-continent. It is difficult to appreciate how in the face of these decisions the term ‘Hindutva’ or ‘Hinduism’ per se, in the abstract, can be assumed to mean and be equated with narrow fundamentalist Hindu religious bigotry…”
But the ‘way of life’ phrase’s origins go back even deeper. Vice-President S Radhakrishnan in his book ‘The Hindu View of Life’ defined Hindus thus—“The people on the Indian side of the Sindhu were called Hindu by the Persian and the later western invaders… That is the genesis of the word “Hindu”. When we think of the Hindu religion. We find it difficult, if not impossible, to define Hindu religion or even adequately describe it… It may broadly be described as a way of life and nothing more.”
Whatever may have been the context in which these remarks were made, one thing is certain. The ‘way of life’ definition has only worked to restrict or entirely deny the religious rights of Hindus. Theories around the etymology of the word ‘Hindu’ have also been used to strip Hindus off their agency to define themselves and their religion.
Let’s make a few things abundantly clear:
1.) Hindu’ism’ is a misnomer. Hindus are followers of Hindu Dharma. The suffix -ism reduces Hindu Dharma to just another doctrine or theory. Now, what is Dharma? Religion is a poor translation as Dharma has a much broader meaning, and one way of defining it is ‘that which upholds’ society & cosmos. It can also be used to describe the innate nature of things, such as Dharma of fire is to generate light & heat.
2.) But this does not mean that Dharma doesn’t encompass religion. Dharma includes what are commonly understood as religious practices, meaning followers of all Dharmik paths like Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs etc are entitled to all the religious rights that others, like exclusivist & monotheist Abrahamics, enjoy.
Especially in a non-Dharmic, secular State like Republic of India, all Dharmics should ideally be entitled to all the protections and privileges a secular State is duty-bound to give to all religions. Of course, it is a different matter that the current Republic has failed to uphold its obligation towards Hindus and discriminates against them in myriad ways, primarily in not giving them the right to administer their own religious institutions and schools.
In their oft-professed anxiety about not being seen as ‘majoritarian’, India’s elites have turned it into a minoritarian state.
3.) The roots of the word ‘Hindu’ are Bharatiya, and in consonance with Sanskrit grammar. But since most Indian elites will never accept this unless some Ivy League university gives its stamp of approval, even if we consider the ‘outsiders termed us Hindus’ theory for argument’s sake, the word ‘Hindu’ is now very much our own. The fact that the two continents of America are named after Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, doesn’t take away the agency of native Americans to define their religion, culture and way of life.
For the record, even Islam and Christianity are ways of life – in fact, Islam dictates down to the last detail what a person should wear, eat, and even how he should shave. But their scriptures are treated with utmost respect by our courts, whereas even Vedas are made targets of vicious canards by ex-SC judges.
Would our courts ever dismiss any religious matter brought forth by Christian or Muslim communities with a flippant “your religion is just a way of life, don’t reduce it to religious fundamentalism” remark? On the contrary, rigid Abrahamic standards are imposed on Hindus and our religious practices are targeted by elitist judges using the Essential Religious Practices doctrine by asking to us to produce sanction for our rituals in a doctrinal ‘book’!
In summary, Hindu Dharma is a religion, a moral & spiritual code to live life as per 4 Purusharthas and much-much more. But this doesn’t mean that Hindus don’t have a unique religious worldview which is definable. Different Hindu sampradayas all agree on these common theological concepts – theory of karma, cycle of life and death, and moksha i.e. ultimate liberation where the individual atma merges with the paramatma i.e. divine cosmic consciousness. Other Dharmik paths like Jain, Sikh, Bauddha share elements of these core beliefs with Hindus.
The Dharmik ethos teaches us mutual respect, i.e. respect for different Dharmik paths to divinity, even if we disagree on certain theological or spiritual aspects. This makes Dharma fundamentally different to Abrahamic religions, each of which claims that theirs is the ‘One True God’ and only their religion is ‘true’ while all others are ‘false’.
The best Abrahamic religions have to offer others is religious tolerance, i.e. putting up with other religions & belief systems. Their core doctrines just do not allow respecting other religions as equally valid. Hence, Dharmics must reciprocate by also only tolerating Abrahamic religions, if that is offered to us. Respect should be accorded only to other Dharmic paths and to indigenous/native religions like the Shinto, Maori, traditional African religions etc, which return that respect.
Other remarks by SC
Petitioner-advocate Ashwini Upadhyay cited several examples of hundreds of such cities, and places named after foreign invaders, obliterating the original names of those places, and sought a direction to the Archaeological Survey of India to research and publish the initial names of ancient historical cultural religious places.
“We have roads after Lodhi, Ghazni, Ghori….there is no single road named after Pandavas, though Indraprastha was constructed by Yudhishtir….Faridabad named after person who looted the city…What is the relationship of Aurangazeb, Lodhi, Ghazni etc with India?”, the petitioner submitted.
The petitioner sought a direction to the Union Home Ministry to set up a renaming commission to find out original names of ancient historical cultural religious places, now named after foreign invaders. Citing the importance of renaming, the plea argued that it is necessary in order to maintain sovereignty and to secure aright to dignity, right to religion and right to culture’ guaranteed under Articles 21, 25 and 29 of the Constitution.
The SC bench of Justices KM Joseph and B.V. Nagarathna told: “Don’t dig up the past which will only create disharmony… Can’t have the country on the boil…India is a secular country, this is a secular forum. We are supposed to protect the Constitution and all sections…We have assimilated all cultures. Let’s not break it up by such kind of petitions. Hinduism is a way of life and there is no bigotry in it. You or this court should not become instrument to create havoc.”
Here are some questions to the SC judges –
1.) “Don’t dig up the past”: Was reverting Bombay, Madras, Calcutta to their original names also an example of ‘digging up the past’? Well, the judiciary still refuses to rename the High Courts in those cities, so would it be wrong to assume that this institution which serves the people of Bharat is suffering from a colonial hangover?
The current CJI has previously made the extraordinary remark that judging is “self-expression by a judge of what he/she considers to be a just society”. The CJI believes that his mandate is to effect a ‘transformation of society’, so isn’t he also guilty of ‘digging up the past’, or at least his version of it? Wasn’t the whole quota/reservation system originally envisaged as reparations for past injustices? It’s a different matter that today the quota system has become a hydra-headed monster which has deepened fault-lines within society instead of resolving them.
So why is the Hindu demand for restoring original names of our cities & historical sites, and renaming roads named after fanatical genociders unjust? Wasn’t the whole point of independence to get the autonomy to make such decisions? Would Israel name roads after Hitler and Himmler?
2.) “India is a secular country”: What does that have to do with the petition at hand? Where does religion come into a demand to restore the original name of places? Is the SC lumping all Muslim personalities and rulers in the same basket as fanatics like Aurangzeb? Is the SC forgetting that all citizens of this country (bar a few Islamists who labelled him a ‘heretic’) have embraced our ex-President APJ Abdul Kalam or shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan, both Muslims?
The ruling of the SC bench rambles at length about secularism, Articles 25 to 30 and whatnot, whereas a simple yes or no to the petitioner’s request for a ‘Renaming Commission’ would have sufficed.
At one point the judges say, “Secularism is thus more than a passive attitude of religious tolerance. It is a positive concept of equal treatment of all religions”. Even if we take this at face value, where is the much touted ‘equal treatment’ when Hindu temples are kept under state control while minorities are given right to administer their religious places? Why are courts dismissive of Hindu appeals to stop their persecution and exodus in places like Mewat, or probe their cleansing from Kashmir, or silent as Abrahamic proselytizers flout all legal and ethical norms and openly threaten another partition?
But it must be asked again – what do lengthy homilies on secularism have to do with a petition to revert historical sites to their original name?
The judgement also quotes an older SC judgement which says “As is well known, several races have converged in this subcontinent and they have carried with them their own cultures, languages, religions and customs affording positive recognition to the noble and ideal way of life — “unity in diversity”. Though these diversities created problems in early days, they were mostly solved on the basis of human approaches and harmonious reconciliation of differences, usefully and peacefully. That is how secularism has come to be treated as a part of fundamental law, and an unalienable segment of the basic structure of the country’s political system….The core of religion based upon spiritual values, which the Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas were said to reveal to mankind seem to be:“Love others, serve others, help ever, hurt never” and “sarvae jana sukhino bhavantoo”. One-upmanship in the name of religion, whichever it be or at whomsoever’s instance it be, would render constitutional designs countermanded and chaos, claiming its heavy toll on society and humanity as a whole, may be the inevitable evil consequences, whereof”
Is the SC aware of what took place in the subcontinent 75 years ago – something called partition? Are they really saying those ‘differences’ were resolved harmoniously and peacefully? With Islamist terror cells being busted almost every month, gunning for Ghazwa-e-Hind, and Western-funded missionaries forcefully converting people all over the country, what ‘assimilation of cultures’ is the SC talking about? It is now increasingly clear that we have learnt no lessons from partition and continue to dabble in delusions, so are headed down the exact same path for a redux.
Our courts keep insinuating that Hindus demanding equal rights and protection from predatory Abrahamic proselytization is ‘causing disharmony and putting Constitutional values at risk’, but never utter one word against the Islamists and evangelists wreaking havoc across the country. SC quotes Vedas and Upanishads to disarm Hindus and stop them from demanding their rights, but will any judge have the fortitude to quote from those religious texts which claims exclusive copyright on God?
Let it be heard loud and clear – Hindus refuse to live as second-class citizens in their homeland anymore, irrespective of brow-beating and bullying by self-appointed guardians of morality.
3.) “There is no bigotry in it (Hinduism)”: Is the SC implying that there is bigotry in other religions? Was Sri Krishna being a ‘bigot’ when he asked the Pandavas to fight for their rights when all negotiations with Kauravas had failed? The foundational bedrock of Bharatiya civilzation is Dharma – and it teaches us to fight Adharma. Dharma teaches us to respect different paths to the divine, but only when those paths are respectful of others. If someone tries to impose their religion on others, Dharma doesn’t advocate turning the other cheek or ‘sacrificing ourselves to usher in a new world.’
But, and at the cost of sounding repetitive, what do such ill-informed takes on Hindu religion have to do with the legitimate question at hand – restoring historical sites to their original names as part of decolonization and a true reconciliation of our bloody history?