April 27, 2017

India:Hartosh Singh Bal Interviews D.N. Jha regarding his book 'Rethinking Hindu Identity' (2009)

Open Magazine, 20 June 2009

Bible on Hinduism (Hartosh Singh Bal)

Hinduism as we know it was a British creation. DN Jha reveals a few home truths

Rethinking Hindu Identity | DN Jha | Equinox | 100 pages | £14.99

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When you say Hinduism is the youngest of religions, do you mean this literally?

A There may be a few sects younger than Hinduism, but it is certainly one of the youngest religions. The word Hindu in the sense of a religion does not exist in Sanskrit texts prior to the 19th century. Given this fact, how do we accept the view that Hinduism is an eternal religion? It cannot be treated as eternal or sanatana—the Sanskrit term for eternal. There is no basis for this in history. Interestingly, even the expression Sanatan Dharma was first used in the Buddhist texts Suttanipata and Dhammapada. The former defines it as truth being an undying word and the latter as love alone being an antidote to hatred and enmities. Subsequently, the Brahminical texts used it in different senses and in various texts and contexts.

Hinduism itself is a colonial construct: when the British commenced the Census, they faced the problem of classifying amorphous groups of castes and communities, and people of different religious denominations. The Census authorities used the term Hindu to bring all non-Muslims under one category. But the line between Hindus and others was so unclear that the term ‘Hindu Mohammedans’ was used in some Census records as late as 1911.

The 19th century social reformers also accepted this term, which is why it became so popular. The first Indian to do so was Rammohan Roy. In the early 20th century, the University of Calcutta started two departments of history: one for the study of ancient Indian history and the other for promoting the study of Islamic history. Though, in practice, the former glorified the ‘Hindu’ period of Indian history and the latter denigrated Muslim rule. RC Majumdar and Jadunath Sarkar—no doubt great historians of modern times—were the products of the academic milieu in which celebration of Hindu kings and condemnation of Muslim rulers went hand in hand. This milieu has unfortunately continued in most Indian universities.

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