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Difference between Hindutva & Hinduism

In India any form of Hindu assertion or defence is quickly labelled as being pro-Hindutva. Indeed, the term ‘Hindutva’ is clearly used in pejorative sense in media, and many youngsters who unquestioningly consume the left-liberal dominated media propaganda are prompt to affix this tag who anyone who attempts to defend Hinduism and criticize other religions.

What exactly is Hindutva?

Hindutva is Persian-cum-Sanskrit neologism meaning “Hinduness” or “Hindu identity”, born in late 19th century and credited to Savarkar. Hindutva is a political movement, which argues that India is the “homeland” of Hindus, and defines ‘Hindus’ as those who consider India as their motherland, fatherland and holyland. Note that the definition is purely in cultural terms which include Indic religions like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. But this surely clashes with the two Abrahamic religions, Christianity and Islam, for whose followers, the holyland lies outside of India.

To put it rather bluntly, Hindutva states that all Indians are Hindus and that Hinduism is somehow connected (and confined) to the territory of Akhand Bharat (from Afghanistan to Myanmar, Himalayas to Kanyakumari). Far from being religious, this is a territorial conception copied from European construct of nationhood. And, it further surmises that Hindus are great because they live in this punyabhoomi called Bharat.

Problems with Hindutva : Criticism

This ambiguity in definition creates more confusion that it hopes to clear.

Mainly, by labelling all Indians as Hindus, it’s condescending to Indian Christians & Muslims who categorically do not wish to be called Hindus.

Also, this leaves out other Hindus residing in Nepal and Indo-China peninsula. Also, imposing nationhood on a religion has funny implications -  if Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Committee) is set in a foreign country say USA, then RSS which stands for ‘national’ actually stands for USA in this case.

Also, Hinduism is attracting converts from Europe and USA. How does Hindutva worldview reconcile with American Hare Krishnas?

By trying to bring in the concept of nationhood deliberately to interpret history, it reads successive Islamic invasions as “foreigners vs. natives” rather than “Islam vs. Hindu”. Therefore, Babur was an invader, but his grandson, Akbar becomes Indian. Ram Mandir’s (Ayodhya) destruction was a national loss for it was destroyed by an invader. This is a curious way of interpretation without due regard to the perspective of the other.

How do we interpret completely Indian born Muslim kings like Tipu Sultan’s prosecution of Hindus in Kerala? Or what about a Rajput forcefully converted to Islam called Mallik Kaffur who destroyed the temples he used to worship few years earlier?

Contrary to the idea suggested in that ill-advised article (but factual) by Subramanian Swamy that Indian Muslims should accept their Hindu ancestry, most Muslims already know that and more importantly are proud of exactly that fact. Per Muslim perspective, they had rejected the sinful idol worship and pagan practices of their infidel ancestors (kaffirs), and accepted the light of Islam. Even Prophet located his own mother in hell.

Also, Ayodhya remains an eyesore because Hindus still form the majority of Indian population. If India would have been Muslim majority, it would have celebrated Babri Masjid as a symbol of Islamic victory over pagans (which indeed was the intention behind building a mosque on the mandir’s very ruins).

The clash wasn’t truly speaking between foreigners and natives, but between two cultures - Islam and Hindu. If foreigner category were relevant, we wouldn’t find that part of ancient India now called Pakistan, respect invaders to that very region, like Ghanzini & Ghori and name missiles after them. We wouldn’t have seen the polarizing reception of Aurangzeb across borders for Aurangzeb ruled from what’s India today - where many hate him and is respected in Pakistan which was just another region of his empire.

Much is made of alliances between Hindu and Muslim kings against another Hindu king or vice versa. Secularists gleefully cherry-pick such instances to showcase the secular side of the battles, but closer examination reveals a different story. British eventually won over India by aligning with native kings against one-another. British Indian Army comprised mostly of Indian soldiers who actually enforced their white masters’ instructions. Using the above-mentioned logic, can one argue that because some Indians too collaborated with British, it’s wrong to characterize the British rule as imperialism, but rather should be pronounced a joint venture?

What’s so special about a piece of land in the world called Bharat? After all, nation isn’t about land, it’s about people. Without a set of people, divided by practices but united by liberal dharmic traditions, what’s that great about a piece of land? Bharat is an idea - not a territory. Those lands which were formerly Bharat such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh) are now wastelands replete with chauvinism, bigotry and violence. If a land is intrinsically holy, why are these lands, bereft of holiness today? Because the society that inhabits them is no longer liberal. India (or what remains today) continues to be liberal and bright (relative to neighbours) because it’s ensouled by a noble society. Without this society, this piece of land is just like any other in the world.


Hinduism is an ancient religion which stands for a noble set of dharmic values. Its sweetness can be tasted by any religion’s follower and its sacredness experienced by any national. Consequently, any land becomes liberal when inhabited with dharmic culture and shorn of this culture it automatically recedes in timeline.

While Hindus do indeed worship every form of life and geography, the sacredness to geography is bestowed by people after all. If Hindus were originally located in America, they would have worshiped salient features of the landmass there too.

Also, I find Savarkar’s call for Hindus to eat beef if that’s what makes us strong, problematic. (Savarkar surprisingly was an atheist and ate beef). No, this isn’t about eating beef (for I’m against ban on cow-slaughter), but about the mentality behind such a thought. If Hindus survive by becoming non-Hindu-like, despite having won a battle, they’ve lost the war. As people they may survive - but as a culture they’re dead. This isn’t a battle of people; it’s a battle of culture. What has prevented India from becoming a Hindu Pakistan? If Hindus survive by ceasing to be Hindus, then isn’t their victory pyrrhic for the culture they’ve been fighting for is lost. Of what use is successfully fighting a demon, if it has consumed your soul next?

Mainly, pro-Hindus are interested in preserving their culture against the combined weight of demographic seizes of Islam, conversion onslaught of Christianity, Western chauvinism and their own self-flagellating Macaulayites [these interests do intersect with Hindutva-waadis too, although Hinduism is not a political movement].

And as a Hindu, I merely want India to be truly secular - that is government and its policies should be religion-agnostic. Government should have no stake in religious matters and consequently should refrain from interfering in any religion’s internal affairs.

And like any liberal state - it should have uniform civil code - recognize its citizens as citizens only - with their personal adherence to religion irrelevant to its functioning.

This also involves revoking ban on cow-slaughter and conversions (however forced, unfair and regardless of ulterior motives) and simultaneously includes minoritysm such as Hajj Subsidy, special privileges to minority educational trusts etc.

Hinduism asks for a liberal state, not Hindu Rashtra

Given the trend of self-proclaimed ‘liberals’ who have made Hindu-bashing a fad, one might question how I call myself a liberal too. Some explanation is in order: liberalism, originally, is a philosophy that places human freedom above all and demands that no force including State can curtail it for any reason, however justified. But today’s self-identified liberals however feel that State (Government) can and should interfere with human freedom for social justice.

Therefore for clarity’s sake, those who advocate uncompromising freedom of men and feel that state has absolutely no role to play in society are called “Classical Liberals”, while those who feel that State has a legitimate role in promoting social justice through intervention in economic and social issues are called “Socialist Liberals”. These days, the term ‘liberal’ is by default associated with “Socialist Liberal”, whereas I speak as a “Classical Liberal”.

In this age of modern secular state, it’s highly inappropriate to ask for a “Hindu Rashtra”, however benign the intentions of Hindutva-waadis may be. State has no business in religion, it’s a private affair of a citizen and that’s about it. The legitimate role of State is however in ensuring justice to all (policeman) - to prevent riots, to prosecute the guilty and compensate the loss in life and property through humanly possible means.

That doesn’t mean Hindutva’s concerns are irrelevant. After all, the fact that it rose as a strong political force once and still remains a force to reckon with tells us that some of its concerns found resonance among Hindu masses. One needn’t discard the message, because the messenger’s credibility is tarred. Some of Hindutva’s agenda is distinctly liberal - like Uniform Civil Code, Article 370 (Kashmir), asking for a more balanced treatment of Hinduism in academics, rewriting history stripped of left bias, revoking governmental control of Hindu temples and monuments, stopping preferential treatment of minorities in many sectors including education sector, dividing Hindu community through selective reservations and creating bad blood between them.

As MJ Akbar rightly pointed out, India is secular not because Muslims need it, but because Hindus want it.

Am I a Hindutva-waadi?

Many people associate me with Hindutva, just because I happen to write in defence of Hinduism. And many think, I’m very spiritual as I take time to write such lengthy posts. Both are explicitly denied. J

You could say I’m a cultural Hindu (probably reeks of Savarkar, though significantly different), who’s secular, largely religiously unobservant (mostly because of laziness though), but still strongly connects (and identifies) with Hindu culture & philosophy probably because of family background, cultural and social environment in which I grew up, and personal experiences with large number of people across the wide spectrum of Hindu dharmic traditions who thankfully had spared time to share their knowledge, which I appreciate a lot.

So, I’m a non-Hindutva Hindu. (as Rajiv Malhotra introduces himself often in many forums).


  1. Madhav, great post. Was trying to get a handle on the subject for my own blog and couldn't find a better explanation. I have now decided not to write about it but in the future if I do..may I re-blog your article with a link back to your blog?

    Thanks, Anuradha

    1. Anuradha, Please go ahead :) And thanks for your kind words.


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