By Maxwell Pereira
I was intrigued when a venerable oldie who appeared knowledgeable
once told me that linking the word Hindu with religion was a British
creation. That, this was during the first Census the British conducted
in India, when their sole purpose was to determine the extent
of proselytizing they had managed in their colony of lands in
the Indian sub-continent.
to that, the gentleman claimed, the word Hindu meant merely another
form of Sindhu, which the people of other lands found convenient
to pronounce as Hindu - referred to denote a resident of the lands
Sindhu, or Sindhustan and Hindustan as successive forays of invading
Mohammedans preferred to call. On this, I do remember reading
somewhere that the credit for coining the word Hindu goes back
to the famous historical figure in the 6th century BC - to Cyrus
the Great. As my grand 'oldie' stated, Hindu was indeed derived
from Sindhu, since other communities had a phonetic difficulty
with 'S' and Cyrus merely simplified it.
was common for all sea-route exploratory forays to include missionaries,
the oldie further told me, firstly as chaplains to the ship crews
and to the troops that accompanied to consolidate to the crown
the territories and the commerce gained in the exercise. And then
to carry on The Lord's work by propagating His Word to the natives
with a view to win souls for His heaven through their sacred and
argument this oldie presented me was, that the British were keen
to know through this first census exercise, how many had converted
to Christianity - which, among other thrust areas of the census,
was a focus. While Christians and Mohammedans could easily be
classified as individual religious categories, the rest, he claimed,
were clubbed together for purposes of the census under one single
religious category of 'Hindu'. That till then, the actual religious
groups and beliefs known to this now clubbed together 'Hindu'
world, were as Shaivites of Shaivism, Vaishnavaite of Vaishnavism,
Jains of Jainism, Sikhs of Sikhism, Buddhists of Buddhism, and
but this was too cumbersome for the British to comprehend!
There did appear to be some convincing logic in the argument put
Since this aspect had indeed excited my knowledge-buds, I looked
up the 1871 Report of the first ever Census the British held in
India. In the process, I had opportunity to educate myself that
census operations were not unknown in ancient times, especially
for purposes of recruitment to the army, and for taxation - known
as early as in 3000 BC in parts of Babylon, China and Egypt, with
mentions thereof in the Bible and our own Arthashastra of Chanakya.
That modern census began in Sweden in 1749, and the decennial
census, since 1790 in the US and 1801 in England. Census exercise
commenced in India since 1865-75 with the first report coming
out in 1871 followed by the decennial reports thereafter in 1881
and every synchronous ten years since.
Nowhere in the 1871 Census Report could I find though, anything
supporting the contention that its purpose was for assessing the
achievement at proselytizing by the colonial powers. The first
thing that strikes you in most such old reports is that the British
preferred to spell the word as 'Hindoo' and not 'Hindu'. And then
in "An Introduction to the Indian Census" Adam Bowles
candidly states that while the "movement for a census and
the accumulation of social statistics had the administrative purpose
of more efficiently matching state resources to social needs,
in the colonial context its manifestation in the early Indian
Censuses can not be divorced from Britain's colonization of India".
Nowhere any reference to proselytizing or conversions.
further points out that the process of classifying social institutions
and structures in the early Indian Censuses led to the creation
of an authoritative representation of Indian Society. That these
Censuses - a product of the colonial encounter, do reflect a proliferation
of ethnographic essays not seen in modern day dry statistics laden
censuses, presenting not merely statistical accounts of early
modern India, but also documentation of the British encounter
with its colonized other; as documentation of the colonizer's
attempts to come to an understanding of its colonial subjects
and integrate India - at least from an administrative perspective
- within the British Empire.
The 1871 Report classifies Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains separately
in addition to Mohammedans and Hindus as the major religious communities.
It points out that at least 19 in every 20 persons of the day
in India are either of the Hindoo or of the Mohammedan religion,
and there are 7 of the former to 2 of the latter. That the Hindoo
element preponderates especially in the south. In Mysore, it comprises
95 per cent, of the whole population, and in Coorg and Madras
about 92 per cent. In Oude, the North-West Provinces, Ajmere,
and Berar, it forms between 80 and 90 per cent of the people.
Bombay contains 79½ per cent of Hindoos and the Central
Provinces 7l½ per cent. In Bengal and Assam the percentage
is about 64½, and in the Punjab 34¾ without, or
41¼ with, the Sikhs. That in British Burma, the stronghold
of Buddhism, there are only 1-1/3 per cent of Hindoos.
Christians are accounted for in the 1871 census tables, and pegged
for the period at 896,658 against 140½ million Hindoos
and 40¾ million Mohamedans. That this negligible figure
perhaps included the vast chunk of Christians in the lands of
the then Travancore and Cochin (now Kerala) who embraced Christianity
as early as and since 52 AD following the arrival in India of
St Thomas - one of Jesus Christ's 12 apostles, makes one wonder
at the British achievement at proselytising, if at all there was
.and enough to make it a focus areas listed for the
first ever Indian census!
words: dated 24.08.2004.
Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002.
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