India and National Identity

Topics: India, Hindu, Mumbai Pages: 7 (2542 words) Published: December 3, 2006

India, the land of thousands years of history, hundreds of millions of people, a myriad of cultures, numerous religions and languages is also home to an puzzle of great importance, the Indian national identity. The quest for Indian national identity has set its mark in the Indian history for the last one hundred and fifty years. Think-thanks of both Indian and Western origin sought an answer to the question whether India had a unique nation. Often the differences between their arguments boiled down to their ideological differences, subsequent ways they defined the nation and treated the history of India. The intellectual debate as well as the very experiences of the people of the lands showed that India is a state without a nation. India does not have a Staatsvolk. The duality and the resulting inconsistency between Hindu and Hindi mean that Staatsvolk even in its crudest term cannot be applied here. Hindu, being a religious identity is exercised by 80% of the population where Hindi, the supposed language of the Hindus, is only spoken by 40% of the total population. An examination of the ideologies that surround the Indian national identity and ways in which these ideologies were exercised throughout history will prove valuable insights in understanding what makes the puzzle of Indian national identity so unique. As the British settled in India unofficially in 1700s with the establishment of the East Indian company and then officially with the dissolution of EIC and the foundation of the British Raj, India’s fate in the years to come were to take a rather dramatic turn towards what would ultimately be the Indian republic in 1947. The physical presence of the English was further enhanced by their institutions and perceptions. The interaction between the English, who represented the Western line of thought, and the Indian, who in turn represented his own culture, largely shaped the Indian cultural and political life from then on. One of the results of the interaction between the Indians and the English was the emergence of a class of elites educated in Western tradition among who were Nehru, Jinnah, Gandhi, and some of the most eminent Hindu nationalists. “The key to all India leadership ultimately lay however with those who through their moral authority could transcend regional affiliations and link disparate communities together in a common national cause.”(Talbot, 16). It is under the light of the thoughts of these prominent figures that one can understand the Indian state and the communities that make up India. The emergence of Hinduism as a sound, viable concept and the Hindutva, Hindu nationalism, was greatly facilitated by the British census conducted first after the rebellion of 1857. Pre-colonial Hinduism was far from unifying the constituents of the mosaic that made it up (Frykenberg, 237). The purpose of the census was mainly to identify the exact nature of the discontent the British faced in India, a general outcome of the late 19th century modernism (Metcalf, 113). The census classified the resident people into distinct groups often sorted by caste, religion, and in the absence of known traits, by hereditary occupations. (Talbot, 9) Hindus were defined to be the ‘Other’, which meant that anyone who “was not able to define his creed or described it by any name other than that of some religion was held to be classed as Hindu” (Talbot, 14). The most important aspect of the British census lay within the fact that the British perception of Indian society was largely adapted by the indigenous Indian people. Having accepted the definition of Hindu, people who belonged to the “Other” category came together to defend their collective rights against the British and the Muslim, towards whom their antipathy and hostility grew more each day. The census, the emerging Hinduism and the deteriorating relations with Muslims caused the...
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