The term Indian means many things in many contexts. Historically the term Indian refers mainly to people living within the boundary of Indian sub-continent that used to encompass toady’s India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Afghanistan, and loosely in some countries like America and Australia, the aborigines are referred to as Indians. The emergence of sovereign India changed the definition and made it more focused on Indian as a political in addition to cultural identity. As such, political India is much younger to cultural India. In today’s context, the term refers to a conglomeration of people, who are citizens by birth, citizens by marriage, citizens by honorary citizenship and citizens by political consideration by the government, without any consideration to religious faith of the person.
Hindu, on the other hand, means anybody, who irrespective of his/her citizenship or place of residence believes in Hinduism and indulges in and approves Hindu traditional customs. Hinduism, though the biggest organized non-Abrahamic and oldest religion of the world, was never institutionally organized and regimented religion like Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam. Hinduism is rather a philosophy of life based on the concept of “Truth prevails”. The philosophy grew in India and practiced by people living in India for more than 5000 years, before any organized religion came into existence. It a historical fact that before the Muslim invaders from Mongolia and Persia founded empires in India, the people of India was 100% Hindus. It also astonishes that in spite of 800 years of Muslim rules followed by 200 years of British colonialism, as on today 85% of Indian population is officially Hindu. This is the reason why historically Indian and Hindu are perceived as synonymous. But there exist some differences between an Indian and a Hindu. This article is an attempt to highlight some of the major differences between the two.
The term Hindu or for that matter Hinduism finds no reference in the ancient Hindu literature. Sanatana Dharma meaning eternal religion was the commonly used term, as evidenced by ancient scriptures, to mean Hinduism as we see it today. The term was coined either by Alexander, the great Greek invader or somebody from his force, to mean people living beside the river Shindhu, as a matter of convenience in pronunciation. Since that time till the beginning of 18th century the term Hindu was used to mean any person living in Indian subcontinent with no allusion to religion.
On the other hand, the term Indian is relatively newer concept and became popular during the anti-imperialist movement during early 19th century. Before this movement India was never united as a nation, and the concept of Indian identity was nowhere in the socio-political landscape. People of different kingdoms identified themselves as citizens of respective kingdoms. Indian National Congress led by nationalistic leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak and B. C. Pal spearheaded the anti British movement and the concept of political Indian as a member of a united India was born.
Conceptually Indian means any person who is a citizen of India and minor children of such persons. More precisely a person is called an Indian if s/he has been conferred voting right or will be conferred voting right with attainment of majority, by the constitution of India. India is a secular democracy and the constitution of India views religion as a matter of personal choice. Thus anybody irrespective of his/her religious affiliation is termed as an Indian provided s/he fulfills other criteria for being Indian as postulated by the Constitution. As such an Indian can be a Hindu, or a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Jew or an atheist.
A Hindu is a person who follows Hinduism and must have a name succeeded by a Hindu title. A person need not be an Indian to be a Hindu or in other way, a person with non-Indian mother tongue can be called a Hindu if s/he is born to Hindu parents or chooses Hinduism as religion of faith, though born to non Hindu parents.
The term Hindu has more powerful political connotation than the term Indian. The Muslim invasion was viewed by many kings of Indian princely states as affront to Hinduism and the wars between Indian kings and Muslim invaders were for all practical purposes wars between Hindus and Muslims. The leaders of Indian impendence movement too used the ‘Hindu sentiment’ to garner support for the movement.
- The term Hindu is much older than the term Indian.
- A Hindu can be either Indian or non-Indian.
- An Indian can be either a Hindu or a non-Hindu.
- The term Hindu has more powerful political connotation than the term Indian has.
- The constitution Of India clearly differentiates between a Hindu and an Indian.
- Hindu is a religious concept, Indian is a national concept.