What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
This is what Juliet says to Romeo after she comes to know that he was a Montague, an enemy. True, a rose will remain rose if called by any other name. Likewise, Indianness is the essence of the subcontinent. We might be known by different names today, be it Indians, Pakistanis or Bangladeshis, yet we remain essentially the same people and share so much in common for being the sons and daughters of the same soil.
The Truth is the Truth.
Of late, it has been reported that due to some reasons known to them, many Pakistanis have started introducing themselves as Indians in the West, especially the US. When it was first reported, the Indian media seized on the matter – like we always do – and started highlighting Pakistanis’ so-called identity crisis. Well, in my view Pakistanis are correct and absolutely justified in calling themselves Indians, for they are indeed ‘Indians’ besides being Pakistanis. Let me elucidate how.
In 1947, the most complex ‘divorce’ in the history of mankind took place wherein a family of 400 million human beings, along with the assets and household property they’d acquired in centuries of living together on the same piece of earth, was divided.
In the end, the truth shall prevail and ‘India’ is the Truth; the Truth is we are Indians and family; that we have been brothers and we will always remain brothers, despite the borders and walls of hatred that we have built around us.
At the outset of the cataclysmic Partition, Congress claimed the most precious asset of all, the name ‘India’. The party rejected a proposal to name their new dominion ‘Hindustan’ and insisted that since Pakistan was seceding, the name India and India’s identity in groups like the UN remain theirs. No tussle over the word ‘India’ is reported because Jinnah preferred the newly coined name, a very Islamic sounding identity, that is Pakistan.
John Keay in his book ‘India – A History’ writes that Jinnah was under the impression that neither of the states would want to adopt the British title of ‘India’. He only discovered his mistake after Lord Mountbatten had already acceded to Nehru’s demand that his state remained ‘India’. Jinnah according to Mountbatten, ‘was absolutely furious when he found out that they (Nehru and Congress party) were going to call themselves India’.
The author writes the use of the word implied a subcontinental primacy which Pakistan would never accept. It also flew in the face of history since ‘India’ originally referred exclusively to territory in the vicinity of the Indus River (with which the word is cognate). Hence, it was largely outside the republic of India but largely within Pakistan. If etymologically ‘India’ belonged anywhere, it was not to the republic proclaimed by Nehru but his rival headed by Jinnah in Pakistan.
Ironically, Pakistan inherited the majority of the main Harappan sites, so depriving India of the most tangible proof of its vaunted antiquity. Likewise, India inherited most of the subcontinent’s finest Islamic architecture, so depriving Muslim Pakistanis of what they regard as their own glorious heritage.
Jinnah was perchance under the impression that neither side would use the word ‘India’ because historically it was an object of conquest for outsiders, something to be coveted, ‘something worth taking’. Similar was the case with the terms like ‘Britain’, ‘Germany’ or ‘America’; When first these words were recorded, all were objects of conquest.
So why would either side want to associate itself with ‘India’, the land of the conquered?
Gandhiji, in his autobiography ‘The Story of My Experiments with Truth‘, has narrated his experience in South Africa as an Indian lawyer. Indians were called ‘coolies’, a disparaging term, and Indian Muslims would not even identify themselves as Indians. Instead, the Muslims would introduce themselves as Arabs and not Indians, as though they were ashamed of their true identity.
But, the Truth is the Truth. By merely calling ourselves an Arab, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and not an Indian, can we belie the Truth? Let me also state that there were many secular Muslims like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad who were proud of their Indian identity and never disowned it.
‘The word ‘India’ first made its debut in an inscription found at Persepolis in Iran, which was the capital of the Persian or Achaemenid empire of Darius I; the Persian inscription, dated to c518 BC, lists his numerous domains that of ‘Hi(n)du’. The word for a ‘river’ in Sanskrit is Sindhu. Hence Sapta-Sindhu meant ‘(the land of) the seven rivers’, which was what the Vedic Arya called the Panjab. Most of these seven rivers were tributary to the Indus and it was thus Sindhu par excellence; and in the language of ancient Persian, the initial ‘s’ of a Sanskrit word was invariably rendered as an aspirate – ‘h’; Sindhu is thus Hind(h)u.’
When, from Persian, the word found its way into Greek, the initial aspirate was dropped, and it started to appear as the route ‘Ind’ (as in ‘India’, ‘Indus’, etc.) In this form, it reached Latin and other European languages. However, in Arabic and related languages it retained the initial ‘h’, giving ‘Hindustan’ as the name by which Turks and Mughals would know India. That word was also passed on to Europe to give ‘Hindu’ as the name of country’s indigenous people and of what, by Muslims and Christians alike, was regarded as their infidel religion.
Hence, we all are sons and daughters of the same soil. We might follow different religions or not follow any at all; religion is a matter of personal choice after all and the state should have nothing to do with it. If that is the Truth, how can people be divided in the name of religion when they’re essentially the same; when they speak the same language and follow the same culture? How can we divide the people whom the God has made one? Yet, it happened in 1947 and we are still reaping the whirlwind today.
My brother from Pakistan Shehzad Ghias spoke the Truth in his brave and great piece, ‘To save Pakistan, we have to let go of the idea of Pakistan’.
“If we have any hopes of saving Pakistan, we have to let go of the idea of Pakistan. Neither the sub-continent nor the world needs a separate homeland for Muslims. We need a country where people can live freely regardless of their creed, caste, religion or political affiliation.”
In the end, the Truth shall prevail and ‘India’ is the Truth; the Truth is we are Indians and family; that we have been brothers and we will always remain brothers, despite the borders and walls of hatred that we have built around us.
And only the Truth can save us from perdition.