Doctor Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940), founder of the Rashtriya Swayansevak Sangh in 1925, wrote down some inspiring thoughts or Amrutvachan (“immortal sayings”). These were collected and published in 1989 by Bhaiyaji PG Sahasrabuddhe in book form as Pathey. They were originally in his mother tongue, Marathi, published in 2004 by Pustakmala Prakashan, Nagpur, Maharashtra; but have been translated in Hindi and English. We use the English translation finished in 2012 by Manmath Deshpande, but as yet unpublished.
Smart readers might think that “Pathey” is derived from “path”, meaning a “reading” or “lesson”. But no, it means “tiffin”, the food which we carry with us to be eaten later. In this case, it means insights which we can draw upon while on our way.
OUR HINDU NATION
The RSS was born as a child of the Freedom Movement. One source of fledgling RSS activity was as security brigade for the 1925 meeting of the Indian National Congress, the official Freedom Movement. This was the source of its uniforms and drills. The other was Dr. Hedgewar’s own brief involvement with the Anushilan Samiti (“Self-Culture Committee“), a Bengali revolutionary organization. This explains its secretiveness and its method of communication through personal emissaries rather than paper documents.
At that time, nationalism seemed like a relevant paradigm. So, Indian and Hindu anti-colonial activists adopted nationalism as an idea from Europe, e.g. by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s translation of the Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini. Hedgewar was by no means the first to make that Western nationalist paradigm his own.
He also defined who constituted the nation concerned: the Hindus. Like the Jews, the Hindus are defined both as a religion and as a nation. Conversion to Hinduism, like to Judaism, is somewhat easier than among the Yezidis of Kurdistan or the Zoroastrians, who veto conversion altogether, but still very rare and normally confined only to interreligious marriages, where the non-Hindu partner becomes part of an existing Hindu family. So, one is Hindu by birth, just as one is Russian or Chinese by birth. In the case of Hinduism, it may be hard to find a common denominator in ethics or worldview, yet it is very clear whether someone is part of a Hindu community. So, the “Hindu nation” is understood as the sum total of all existing communities that define themselves as Hindu.
It may also be observed that at that time, the self-identification as “Hindu” was very recent. In the successive census operations, we see a fast popularization of the term “Hindu”. In the first census, many Hindus gave only their caste name as their group-identification. “Hindu” was originally a Muslim concept, a common denominator automatically uniting all the intractable Pagan communities of India. The Hindu themselves rarely had that international outlook needed to see India as a unit, and self-identified with the caste part of the Hindu whole. It is when the British adopted the Muslim category of “Hindu” that the Hindus themselves started interiorizing it.
A state must not be created arbitrarily, it is made up of people. Rather than lumping any group of people who happen to live in certain confines together to form a state, an existing nation which already has a cultural cohesion, must form the state. This is the principle of the nation-state.
Dr. Hedgewar seems to think that India is called “Hindusthan” because it wants to embody a cultural unit, the Hindu nation. That is not the case.
Let us first of all observe that “Hindusthan” is a neologism, combining the Sanskrit part –sthan (“country, region”, as in “Rajasthan”) with the Persian part Hindu-, which is the Iranian equivalent of Sanskrit Sindhu, the name of the westernmost river of the Subcontinent, mostly known in its Greco-Roman form as the Indus. Persians used “Hindu” and its derivative “Hindustan” (with “-stan” as the Iranian equivalent of Sanskritic “-sthan”) as meaning: the people c.q. the country around or beyond the Indus. It was a purely geographical term indicating a mere geographical entity of which Hedgewar is precisely saying that it is insufficient as the basis for a state. Often it is only used for northern India, as southern India was reached not by crossing the Indus but overseas; thus, the music styles or North and South India are called Hindustani c.q. Carnatic music. At any rate, in origin "Hindu" does not mean a religion or a worldview or a culture.
However, when the Persians were Islamized and conquered India (or when the Turks conquered India but had adopted the Persian usage), they started using this geographical term for “the Indians who were not Muslims (nor belonged to the related religions of Judaism and Christianity, nor were Persian refugees, the Parsi Zoroastrians)”, i.e. “the Indian Pagans”. This automatically included the Buddhists, Jains and Tribals, and would include the Sikhs and every community that now falls under the Hindu Code. So, at the time of the Islamic conquest, “Hindu” acquired a cultural meaning. But “Hindustan” continued as a geographical term. It does not refer to a pre-existing religion dubbed Hinduism, but antedated the transformation of the geographical term “Hindu” into a cultural-religious term.
Though wrong as history and etymology, his point is at least very clear as a political programme: he wants India or “Hindusthan” to be the country of the Hindu nation.
(to be continued)