Jai Bharat

By Basab Dasgupta 

When I was living in Wisconsin a friend of mine told me a story about his visit one summer to Wisconsin Dells, a picturesque town around glacial-formed gorges of Wisconsin river nestled with multiple water parks and other tourist attractions. I do not know if it was a true story or something he made up.

He found a large tent at one place with a big banner saying, “Indian Ceremonial Dance”. A sign below the banner said, “Admission Fee: $20”, followed by the statement in smaller letters, “Admission is free if you are Indian”. My friend approached the (American Indian) guy at the entrance to the tent, wearing a colorful skirt and headgear with feathers, holding a spear on one hand and beating on a drum with the other. “Can I get in for free?”, my friend asked him “I am Indian”.

The guy looked at my friend up and down and said, “You may be Indian, but you are the wrong kind of Indian”. That made my friend angry; he said, “No, I am the right kind of Indian and you are the wrong kind. It was a big mistake by Columbus”. It did not help him to get in for free though.

There are other stories and jokes capitalizing on the confusion between American Indians and Indian Americans. I remember a colleague in my previous company commenting, when a fourth guy of Indian origin was promoted to be a manager, “You know what our problem is? We have too many chiefs but not enough Indians”. I have heard comments describing me as an “Indian giver”.

Frankly, I am tired of all these jokes, especially when I do not feel any kind of kinship or commonality in values or history with American Indians. I am also not pleased when Americans use the description “East Indians” to distinguish us from American Indians.

I equally dislike the description of the people from Caribbean islands as “West Indians”. When I was a kid, I was an avid fan of the game of cricket and the West Indian cricket team consisted of some of the best players of the world. I was proud that names of some of the players indicated an Indian heritage: names such as Kanhai, Ramadhin and Kallicharan.

However, later I learned that the people of Indian origin were transplanted in the Caribbean by the British rulers – as “Indentured” workforce (almost like glorified slaves) to serve in sugar cane plantations, the same rulers who came up with the name “West Indies”.

The common thread in my stories is the disrespectful use of the word “Indian”, coined and spread by the British.

I am delighted to learn that President Draupadi Murmu invited world leaders to a G-20 dinner as “President of Bharat”. This has immediately started a firestorm of comments on social media with the speculation that the name of the country is about to be changed from “India” to “Bharat”, probably in a special session of the parliament, scheduled to start on September 18. I wholeheartedly welcome the name “Bharat” instead of India for my old country. India is a bastardized name given by foreign invaders arising from the word “Indu” which is a distorted version of Hindu and Hindu in turn is a distorted version of Sindhu. The name India is not used in any language in India in any context. Changing the name will free us from all foreign influences.

Outspoken actress Kangana Ranaut tweeted her support for the name change and pointed out that she had expressed the need for a name change two years earlier. She was criticized for hypocrisy; it was pointed out that only days earlier she was a proud member of the Indian film industry and now she does not like to be called Indian.

Perhaps the point of her critics is that we did not strongly stand up before against the name “India”, and a few efforts to do so failed. Now is the perfect time with our successful lunar landing, booming economy, hosting G-20 gathering and being the home of the largest population in the world. Other celebrities including Amitabh Bachchan have thrown their support for “Bharat”. Some argue that our constitution says, “India that is Bharat shall be a union of states” and therefore both names can be used with equal significance. I disagree. Why stick with “India” to show our subservient mindset to colonial British raj and Persians who could not say “Sindhu”.

Some are pointing out that a name change will cause confusion to people studying our history. However, this is not a new idea; just look at our neighbors: Burma is now called “Myanmar” and Ceylon “Sri Lanka”. Persia is now Iran and Siam is “Thailand”. Even within India, names of cities like Bombay, Madras, Bangalore and Calcutta have been changed to Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru and Kolkata respectively without causing any major confusion or disruption. The same is true for name changes of many states such as Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

We can now proudly explain the meaning and significance of the name “Bharat” in a profound way to foreigners by going into its Sanskrit origin instead of fumbling with an explanation based on how Persians, Greeks and the British messed up and came up with hodgepodge of a name like India.

While some lean towards the name “Hindustan”, Bharat is better than Hindustan. Hindustan implies a land for Hindus. I like secularism: India is a land not just for Hindus but also for Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Jews and any other religion one can think of. By the same token I like the term “Bharatiya” better than “Hindustani”.

Anti-BJP politicians are describing this name change as another stunt by Prime Minister Modi before next year’s general election to drive the nation more towards a “Hindu Nationalist” direction. He may indeed have a hidden agenda of linking the name “Bharatiya Janata Party” with the name “Bharat” in a subliminal way. It may be so, but no one is stopping other parties from changing their names; to Bharatiya Congress or Bharatiya Communist party for example. I believe that Indian Ocean should be renamed “Bharat Sagar”

Bharat is directly related to Mahabharat – the epic metaphor of our culture, history, philosophy and values. It will now make perfect sense to say that Mahabharata is the story of the great country of Bharat. It is also ironic that a president named “Draupadi” would push for this name change. Next on my wish list is a change of the name of our religion from “Hinduism” to “Sanatan Dharma”.

I will conclude with my salute to the almighty using opening lines of our national anthem, written by Rabindranath Tagore: “Jana gana mana adhinayaka jaya he, bharata bhagya bidhata” (thou art the ruler of the minds of all people, dispenser of Bharat’s destiny).

Note that the name India does not appear in our national anthem. It should not appear anywhere else either. I hope that the name change is overwhelmingly approved in the parliament.

Basab Dasgupta has a doctorate in physics from University of Wisconsin and worked with Sony as Vice President of an operating division. Retired, he now lives in San Clemente, CA.


Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times 

Images courtesy of Bizz Buzz and Provided

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