Syed Firdaus Ashraf on the futility of the 'Who is a Hindu?' debate.
Some people are young and immature, and grow up later in life.
Some people refuse to grow up -- and I fall in this category I feel.
In the 1990s when India was engulfed in communal riots, my friends and I had no idea what was happening around us.
We only knew some basic facts -- that there was a mosque in Ayodhya called the Babri Masjid at the spot which Bharatiya Janata Party leader L K Advani claimed was the Ram Janambhoomi and that mosque needed to be demolished and a grand Ram temple must be built at that very spot.
In fact, I must give Advani credit for lending a new word to the current political lexicon of the time -- 'disputed structure' or vivadit dhancha in Hindi, and of course, 'pseudo-seculars' which covered most of India's liberals.
A popular slogan which Advani and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad coined then was 'Garv se Kaho, Hum Hindu Hain' (Proclaim proudly that we are Hindus).
Stickers bearing this slogan were pasted on many BJP supporters' homes as well as public transport, walls, etc.
My friends and I, who believed in only one religion -- humanity -- and were above the Hindu-Muslim tag, wanted to do something about it.
We felt we needed to counter this campaign and someone gave us an idea how to go about it.
I had completely forgotten this chapter in my life till I saw how Rahul Gandhi was more than eager to claim that he was a Hindu, and his party seeming to take pride that he was in fact a 'janeu-dhari' (one who wears a sacred thread) Hindu.
Rahul Gandhi's visit to the Somnath temple in Gujarat got mired in a controversy after his name was found entered in the register for non-Hindus along with Ahmed Patel's, with the Congress calling the register entry 'fake' and the BJP insisting that Rahul had declared his faith before the people.
Television anchor Arnab Goswami, who does not find the time to discuss real issues which the nation wants to know about -- issues like the state of India's economy, unemployment, farmer suicides -- latched on to this episode asking #RahulHinduorCatholic.
I wondered why Shri Goswami was wasting his and his channel's viewers' time on such a debate when even the controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik had admitted he was a Hindu.
On a video floating about on Youtube, Naik says, 'Hindu by definition is a man who lives beyond the Sindhu river. So people who live in India which is beyond the Indus river are Hindus.'
'The word Hindu was first used by Persians and Arabs when they came to India,' Naik goes on to say. 'They also gave the word "Hindi". When I go to Saudi Arabia they call me 'Hindi', a person coming from India. So, I am a Hindu by geographical definition.'
Naik then quotes from Jawaharlal Nehru's Discovery of India, stating, 'The word Hindu does not occur at all in our ancient literature. The first reference to it in an Indian book is, I am told, in a tantrik work of the 8th century AD where 'Hindu' means a people and not the followers of a particular religion.'
British commentators, Naik adds, started using the word 'Hindus' since 1830.
'Hindu is an English word and the right word must be Sanatan Dharma or Vedic Dharma, the religion of the Vedas,' Naik says in the video.
Naik also quotes Swami Vivekananda and says the sage too claimed that Hindu is not the right word. In fact, Vedantist is the right word as they were followers of the Vedas.
In Discovery of India Nehru writes about Yijing or I-tsing's visit to India: 'The famous Chinese pilgrim I-tsing, who came to India in the seventh century AD, writes in his record of travels that the 'northern tribes', that is the people of Central Asia, called India 'Hindu' (Hsin-tu) but, he adds, "This is not at all a common name . .. and the most suitable name for India is Noble Land (Aryadesha)".'
'The use of the word "Hindu" in connection with a particular religion is of very late occurrence, Nehru points out.
'The old inclusive term for religion in India was Arya Dharma,' Nehru writes further. 'Dharma really means something more than religion. It is from a root word which means to hold together; it is the inmost constitution of a thing, the law of its inner being.'
'It is an ethical concept which includes the moral code, righteousness, and the whole range of man's duties and responsibilities.'
'Arya dharma would include all the faiths (Vedic and non-Vedic) that originated in India; it was used by Buddhists and Jains as well as by those who accepted the Vedas. Buddha always called his way to salvation the 'Aryan Path,' Nehru explains.
So when BJP President Amit Shah issues a clarification that he is not a Jain but a Hindu, he need not do so because he too is a Hindu -- like Zakir Naik -- irrespective of whether he is a Jain or a follower of Arya Dharma.
Quoting Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Nehru writes, 'If I were asked to define the Hindu creed, I should simply say: Search after truth through non-violent means. A man may not believe in God and still call himself a Hindu. Hinduism is a relentless pursuit after truth. .. Hinduism is the religion of truth. Truth is God.'
On Christians and Muslims, Nehru writes, 'A Christian or a Moslem could, and often did, adapt himself to the Indian way of life and culture, and yet remained in faith an orthodox Christian or Moslem. He had Indianised himself and become an Indian without changing his religion.'
'The correct word for 'Indian', as applied to country or culture or the historical continuity of our varying traditions, is 'Hindi', from 'Hind', a shortened form of Hindustan,' Nwhru points out.
'Hind is still commonly used for India. In the countries of Western Asia, in Iran and Turkey, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and elsewhere, India has always been referred to, and is still called Hind; and everything Indian is called 'Hindi'.'
'Hindi' has nothing to do with religion, and a Moslem or Christian Indian is as much a Hindi as a person who follows Hinduism as a religion. Americans who call all Indians Hindus are not far wrong; they would be perfectly correct if they used the word "Hindi".'
Which brings me back to the idea that my friends and I were given to counter the Garv Se Kaho Hum Hindu Hain campaign.
Which was to make our own stickers proclaiming Prem Se Kaho Hum Insaan Hain (Proclaim with love that we are human) in our homes.
Some people believe in humanity and refuse to grow up. Obviously I am one of them.
IMAGE: Devotees take a dip in the Godavari river during the Kumbh Mela in Nashik. Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters