WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                        

Post No. 8211

Date uploaded in London – – – 20 June 2020   

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by R Nanjappa

Tracing the national identity of any people is an interesting exercise and a humbling experience.

Today, we may define it on the basis of citizenship-natural or acquired, ethnicity, historicity, or culture. Yet, if we probe into each patiently, we come up with the stark fact that no nationality is pure on any ground whatsoever. 

Colonial Concoctions

The colonial rulers divided us in many ways: into Aryan and Dravidian, into tribes, into aborigines, into martial races and even robber tribes. Our people blindly continued to follow them. The Punjabis and the Gurkhas were considered ‘martial’ and preference was given to them in the armed forces; the Bengalis were considered ‘revolutionary’ after the 1905 Partition experience and were not recruited into the army. Even among others, they forced the division of Brahmins and non-Brahmins. Our free govt. has added its own divisions: SC, ST, BC, OBC etc. People readily identify with one of these, more than with any pan-Indian category. Then there is the language identity. Through all this, it is real hard to say who is a true  or total Indian. 

English Scene

If we forget ourselves for a minute, and focus on our colonisers who started all this, we come up with very interesting facts!  What we call Great Britain is composed of so many immigrants it is almost impossible to say who were the original inhabitants of those islands!  The following is the picture we get around 600 AD:

Britain peoples circa 600

by user -Hel- Hama-vectorization CC BY-SA 3.0

So, we see the strands in the British population. Almost all of this consists of immigrants: Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes and Normans! And the whole area was not yet one nation or country, but each area shown was a separate kingdom.The majority of Britons are of Germanic extraction, as also their monarch! It certainly did not lie in their mouth to call us divided on so  many  lines, but we did not know then how to call their bluff! The Irish and the English are still contending to adjust their claims, not fully reconciled to each other. So is the case with Scotland. And the English Royal  Coat of Arms includes two French mottoes.

The arrival of the first ancestors of Englishmen out of Germany into Britain.

Richard Verstegan. 

What should really hold our fancy is not the variety,or the origin, but that Britain became such a great power in the subsequent centuries!

The US is an Infant

Compared to this, the United States is recent, hardly 5 centuries old.. It is a mini-world, containing people from all nationalities of the world. Yet, the core consists of Christians from Europe: about 51% Protestants, 24% Catholics. Other religions of the world constitute about 5%. The original inhabitants of America, the Native Indians form less than 2%, after millions of them were exterminated by the European settlers.  There are sizable segments of Afro-Americans and Hispanics. Historically, there was resistance to  the immigration and assimilation of certain peoples like those from southern Italy or Eastern Europe, and Asia but over the years, every one was absorbed.

 But when we have to define an American identity, we have to think of American culture or the American dream! Any one having American citizenship is legally an American, but he would become a “real” American when he shares that culture. But no one can say what that culture is! It is the basic American trait- you think BIG! You think there is no limit to the progress you can achieve! And yet there is a bit of conservatism, a bit of religious affinity- over 75% of Americans think of themselves as ‘religious’. They boldly put on their currency: “IN GOD WE TRUST”! Samuel Huntington said that the basic identity of Americans is Anglo-Saxon Protestants. 

Compared to the UK, India has been a nation for many millennia before her. Few Westerners and their Indian counterfeits have understood or acknowledged this. In contrast, Diana L.Eck  investigates

a particular idea of India that is shaped not by the modern notion of a nation-state, but by the extensive and intricate interrelation of geography and mythology.

The fact that the people of ancient India….gave a single name to the whole of this diverse subcontinent is itself noteworthy. The name is Bharata…This is an indigenous name used since the time of the Mahabharata to describe roughly the territory we call India…India, like Japan,China and Greece, links its modern identity with an ancient and continuous civilization.  For centuries the understanding of India in the West followed primarily a Western agenda, from the land called “Indika” by the Greek scholar Megasthenes, to the “Hindustan” of the Turk and Afghan Muslim dynasties , to the India of John Stuart Mill who, in the nineteenth century, without ever leaving England, wrote an enormous English-language history of India, to the postcolonial studies that still see India through the lens of Western interventions. In the past three centuries India has been seen by traders as a source of riches,by rulers as a part of empire, by missionaries as a mission field for winning souls, by romantics and seekers as the source of something missing in the heart and soul of the West.

The resistance to the ideas of India’s unity is embedded in colonial thought and often in postcolonial thinking as well. Even the many books that address the idea of India in recent times seem to acquiesce to largely Western constructs.

What are some of the ways in which India has seen itself and enacted its regional and pan-regional identities? Political analyses do not touch this question. Postcolonial studies do not reach very deeply into the premodern subsoil of India to inquire whether there have been alternative ways of imagining the complex collectivity of India in a distinctly Indian idiom. …Bharata is not merely a convenient designation for a conglomerate of cultures , such as Europe has been for so much of its history or such as Indonesia has become in modern times. ….And yet it is arresting to consider a “sense of unity” construed…., a sense of connectedness that seems to have flourished for many centuries without the need for overarching political expressions or embodiment.

 …the geography of this kind is more than a map. It is a three-dimensional sacred landscape.

Taken from: Diana L.Eck:  India, A Sacred Geography.Harmony Books, New York, 2012. p.45-49.

There are many points which could be added to this but I only wish to add two clarifications. India of the Mahabharata times was much more extensive than the India of today.

Even during historic times, India was more extensive than today. See the Maurya empire circa 250 BC.

By Avantiputra7 (Own Work). CC BY-SA 3.0 Creative Commons via Wikimedia

What is a Nation State?

Then there is the question of the nation state. As usual, there is no clear cut idea among scholars, only hypotheses. Some say it was the idea of the map-makers of the 15th century. Nation state- as the idea of a geographical area containing a political unit is a very late European idea- as late as the 19th century. Eric Hobsbawm contended that France became a nation state only in the 19th century; at the time of the French Revolution, (1787-1799) only half the people of France spoke some French, only 12 to 13% spoke ‘fairly’. Germany and Italy too became unified only in the 19th century.  

As we have seen in the old map of England, the British isles were not yet a nation! 

Wales had started coming close to England in the 13th century, and the eldest son of the English monarch was named the Prince of Wales! Wales finally merged with England in 1556.Scotland and England had always had problems between them because of religion (Catholic v.Anglican) but England, Scotland and Wales united in 1707. Religion [ that is factions within Christianity with one Book, one God, one Son of God] was a barrier between Ireland and England too, though Ireland joined the  earlier union of England, Scotland and Wales in 1801 , leading to the birth of the United Kingdom or Great Britain. (But Ireland, except the northern portion became Independent in 1922)

The United Kingdom. From BBC News.

 So for these Western writers and their Indian copy cats to say that India was not one nation before the British created it is the height of literate nonsense and deliberate lie. India, from Sethu to the Himalayas has been the Hindu nation from time immemorial. Many great emperors had established huge empires here, from Ashoka onwards, even if we do not take into account our old Itihas.

India is More Than Geography

So, when we say Indian, we do not just mean someone who happens to be born and to live in India as a geographical territory. We mean one who has fully inherited this hoary history and its sense of the sacred geography. As Dr. S.Radhakrishnan says:

When one says that he is an Indian, whether settled abroad or settled here, the matter is not one of geography but of history. What is the tradition for which the Indian stands? What are the ideals to which the Indian adheres? Why do we think that the ideals for which India has stood will have some quality of healing so far as the struggles of nations are concerned? …….

This world is asat. It is subject to mortality.It is dark. ..The Upanishad thinkers say that there is a reality which transcends this universe. It gives you freedom from fear….And it is the perception of that Reality underlying this cosmic process which gives us tranquillity which gives us some kind of freedom.

If the geography of India consists of this extensive territory from the Himalayas to Kanyakumari, the history of India consists of the formulation of these great ideals for which this country has stood from its beginning.

Anyone who calls himself  an Indian must know something about what this culture stands for.

From: Dr.S. Radhakrishnan: The Adaptive Indian- Identity and Ethos  (originally published as Our Heritage,1976) Orient Paperbacks, 2007.

We can now clearly see what is the identity of a true Indian. Let us remember: if mere birth in this land makes one an Indian, even buffaloes and donkeys are born here!


Christianity and Islam hold up an alien land and alien values as the ideal. That is why Dr.Ambedkar advised his followers not to convert to Christianity or Islam, but embraced Buddhism! Buddhism is an Indian religion, and accepts Dharma as the base.  We should be eternally grateful to Dr.Ambedkar for boldly declaring and calling India by her proper name  in the Constitution: INDIA THAT IS BHARAT. 


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