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All Indians are Hindus

After stoking controversy over her ‘Hindu’ remark, minority affairs minister Najma Heptulla on Friday said she was misquoted and clarified she had called all Indians ‘Hindi’- Arabic for people living in India- and not ‘Hindus’ as reported. 

She said it was “not in relation to the religion but in relation to identity as nationality”. Heptulla hinted at the need for uniformity of identity for all Indians. “There isn’t any country with three names: in Arabic, Indians are called Hindi, Hindustani in Persian and Indian in English,” she said. 

Prominent religious leaders, however, disagreed. Pandit Jugal Kishore of Ayodhya’s Ram-Janki Mandir said, “The Constitution talks of India, that is, Bharat. Hindu is a political coinage for extracting political advantage. If everyone in India is Hindu, then what’s the identity of Hindus living in, say, Pakistan, England or Saudi Arab?” 

The word Hindu was derived from the Sindhu river and defines a geographical area. “For RSS though Hindu isn’t just a geographical identity, but denotes followers of certain rituals and scriptures. That makes it an institutional religion. Why then will followers of other religions be identified as Hindus?” asked Sant Vivek Das Acharya, head of Varanasi’s Kabirchaura Mutt Trust. 

Kabir panthis come from Hindu and Muslim families. “But, we don’t go to temples or mosques. We are humanists. So, how can they bracket us with Hindus?” said the Acharya. 

Ramakrishna Mission Delhi Secretary Swami Shantatmananda articulated the order’s view founded by Swami Vivekananda, who PM Modi adopted as an icon: “Hinduism is not a religion. It’s sanatan dharma which espouses supreme tolerance, acceptance and peaceful coexistence. Various religions came to India. They were all accepted and became part of this glorious country. Religion is purely a personal choice.” 

Ramakrishna Mission’s practised policy is harmony of all religions. “By imposing a single identity, what are they trying to prove? The majority should take care of minorities, give them a feeling of comfort and confidence, not drive fear in them,” said Swami Shantatmananda. 

He urged pan-India Hindu identity advocates to return to Vivekananda who called for a collective resurgent India involving all communities and religions.

“Since BJP came to power at the Centre, there’s not been any discriminatory sentence from those at the decision-making level. But, such divisive statements will tarnish the government’s image. It’s important to rein in those who make such statements. Instead of talking about non-issues, we should work hard to eradicate poverty, illiteracy and dwell on good governance,” he said.

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