Title: Our 'Hindu' identity: A vision for the millennium Author: Srichand P Hinduja Publication: The Time of India Date: December 11, 1997
India is a land with a radiant past. Indian culture is more than five thousand years old and the Vedas are the oldest tradition of knowledge, originally transmitted orally and later in the written form.
The Indian tradition originated three thousand years before the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions came into being. The civilisation that existed on the banks of the Indus flourished in the lap of a culture that far surpassed any other in terms of sheer advancement in thought, science and human development.
Sanskrit had become one of the most perfect linguistic phenomena by way of grammar and phonetics. Research scientists in computer technology and linguistics now feel that Sanskrit's syntactical and scemantical perfection makes it the most suitable language for programming.
The various schools of philosophy that were propagated from this great culture mushroomed into famous international universities, where scholars from all over the world migrated in search of the latest developments in human thought. Takshasila and Nalanda were two such great centres of learning.
The peoples of this civilisation, whatever their caste or creed, called themselves "Bharatvasis". The word "Hindu" was used for them only by foreigners.
The word "Hindu" did not exist in the Vedas nor in the post-Vedic texts of other religions like Buddhism or Jainism. It was the Greeks who used the word Indu for the river Sindhu and its people. The Arabs and Persians who followed them named the race of people living on the other side of this river as "Hindi" and they continue to do so until today.
While Muslims, Christians and Buddhists were seen as adherents of their respective religions, Hindus were considered to be those who lived on a particular tract of land.
Thus the word Hindu refers to all Indians who lived in India, similar to the words, Americans, British, Israelis, Persians, Arabs and Africans, all of which refer to people living in that particular region of the world.
If people claim that Hindus are those who follow the Vedas, again the word "Hindu" cannot be associated with a particular religion. The root of the word Veda is "Vid" which means "to know". In this context, Vedas are books of knowledge and refer to the science and art of living.
The Mongols, Turks and other invaders could not initially penetrate the political network of this region which stretched from Gandhar to Burma, and from the Himalayas to Kanyakumari.
The British used the divisive forces of caste and creed, and the sense of insecurity among the Muslims and other religious minorities to divide and rule.
Greedy and power-hungry politicians have encouraged these divisive forces. Unfortunately, this undermines the pace of foreign investments, decelerates the rate of economic growth and defeats us all in our battle against poverty.
Political, business and social leaders of the country should not encourage activities which hamper our efforts to alleviate poverty and achieve social progress.
Instead, they should bring about a change in the mindset of the people. That change should aim at promoting awareness of the true meaning of word "Hindu", and discourage leaders from using and abusing this word for their political and monetary gains. After all, why should anyone become an "untouchable" simply because the word "Hindu" has become misunderstood?
The word Hindu refers to all Indians and should only be used to encourage a national identity not a religious one.
All of us belong to the same culture and tradition of India, whatever our religious affiliation. Unfortunately, power bases have been built by dividing sections of the society on the basis of religion, caste and creed.
In the developed world, however, politicians who stay in power for a long time cannot resort to such tactics because the concept of nationhood is stronger than identity with a particular religion.
A communist country like China is able to make-the free market work better than India. Modem India faces a stark choice - it can accept divisions of its society which will lead to continuing poverty and undermine social progress, or it can work to integrate the concept of nationhood and build a prosperous future.
The dynamic, catalytic process of economic liberalisation should now be brought forward to its logical conclusion: to redeem Indian society from the deep-rooted fissures that have divided different groups based on caste, religion and creed.
The Hinduja Foundations have established two Dharam Hinduja Indic Research Institutes - one at Cambridge University headed by Dr Julius Lipner, and the other at Columbia University in New York under Dr Mary McGee - to conduct research into the identity of the Indic tradition of knowledge. A third centre has been set up in New Delhi under Dr Kireet Joshi.
I am proud to have descended from the ancient universal Indic culture - a culture that gave birth to universal tolerance.
This is a new vision whereby we can live together, with a sense of common humanity and common purpose for the future, enriching each other from the strengths of our particular traditions, and helping each other overcome the weaknesses of each of these traditions. This should be the new, constructive meaning of the term "Hindu". It ought to be a description that binds us together, through our diversity of faiths and perspectives, into one fellowship. (Srichand P Hinduja is chairman, Hinduja Group and Hinduja Foundations)