Daksh Saroha and Lavanya Chawla, both 4th year students of Amity Law School, Delhi assays their views on the petition filed in the Supreme Court to rename ‘INDIA’ as ‘BHARAT’

The Bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde with Justice AS Bopanna and Justice Hrishikesh Roy on 3rd June 2020 rejected a petition to rename ‘the symbol of slavery’ India as Bharat or Hindustan. The sentiment of Delhi based petitioner is not something new, and has been brought up numerous times in the past by the likes of RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat who in 2013 stated that “Rapes happen in India, not Bharat” and the incumbent Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath in 2014 moving a similar Constitution Amendment Bill in 2014 to substitute the word “India” with “Hindustan” throughout the Constitution and amend Article 1 as, “Bharat, that is Hindustan, shall be a Union of States.” A pertinent question arises as to how the matter was entertained in the first place when the Supreme Court is restricting itself to “urgent matters” only amid an ongoing global pandemic. 

William Shakespeare in his play Romeo and Juliet expressed his views on symbolism with the famous lines: “What’s in a name … That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” But it is not just the unmerited nature of designation that is the subject matter of the issue at hand, it is also the underlying intention behind the petition. 

The origin and validity of various names given to this country have been widely discussed by various historians and authors. The name “India”, originally derived from the Indus or Sindhu river, was used in Persian and Greek since ancient Greek geographer Herodotus in the 5th century BC. The name “Hindush” which later became “Hindustan”, was attributed to Persian origin.[1] Jawahar Lal Nehru, in his book Discovery of India, says, “In the Mahabharata a very definite attempt has been made to emphasize the fundamental unity of India, or Bharatvarsha as it was called, from Bharat, the legendary founder of the race.” Bharat is thereon felt native, while India felt foreign. 

But it is argued through 9th-century Hindu philosopher Vacaspati Misra’s commentary that “Bhārata then refers to a spatially delimited social order, but not to a politically organized entity.” The social order of the Varna system is the antithesis of constitutional values of equality and existed as a mechanism of class oppression. In this sense, Bharat differed from the organically developed political regime that was Hindustan or India. Bharat Ratna winning historian Pandurang Vaman Kane on this matter states that “The Viṣṇu (II, 3, 2), Brāhma, Mārkaṇḍeya (55, 21-22) and other purāṇas proudly assert that Bharatavarṣa is the land of action (karmabhūmi). This is a patriotism of a sort but not of the kind we see in western countries. Bharatavarṣa itself has comprised numerous countries from the most ancient times. There was no doubt great emotional regard for Bharatavarṣa or Ᾱryāvarta as a unity for many centuries among all writers from a religious point of view, though not from a political standpoint. Therefore, one element of modern nationhood viz. being under the same government was wanting.”[2]

This country maturing through its cultural and eventual political stages, is described by Bipin Chandra Pal in his book The Soul of India. The idea of political sovereignty and administrative centralization, he says, were not in the genius of the Aryan people. He states that “the unity of India was neither racial nor religious, nor political nor administrative. It was a peculiar type of unity, which may be best described as cultural. The Moslem rulers of India came into these invaluable inheritances of the Hindus. To the old community of socio-religious life and ideals, the Mahomedans now added new elements of administrative and political unity, all irrespective of castes or community, became equally subject to certain laws and obligations, known only to Islam. Thus, we had, under the Moguls, a new and more united, a more organic, though not yet fully organized, national life and consciousness than we had before. Political unity was achieved and added to the existing cultural unity of Bharat allowing Indians to develop a complete sense of belonging together irrespective of religion and other considerations.”[3] 

This secular solidarity was evident through the words of Mohammad Iqbal in his famous patriotic poem, “सारे जहाँ से अच्छा हिन्दोस्तां हमारा, हम बुलबुलें हैं इसकी ये गुलिस्तां हमारा … मजहब नहीं सिखाता आपस में बैर रखना, हिन्दी हैं हम, वतन है हिन्दोस्तां हमारा”. When he uses the term ‘Hindi’, he does not mean a particular community or religious group; he means the people of Hindustan, irrespective of caste or religion.

The communalisation of this term ‘Hindu’ was done by Savarkar when he divided the Holy land Puṇyabhūmi from Fatherland Patṛbhūmi, and in doing so, excluded the Muslim and Christian community. With Hindustan, he envisioned a Hindu nation. The current petition at hand followed that same intention, which goes against what a secular nation stands for.

According to Jawahar Lal Nehru, “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. ‘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”[4]

Replying to the petitioner, in the case at hand, the Supreme Court bench noted that “India is already called Bharat” under Article 1 of the Indian Constitution. The petitioner sought the complete exclusion of the name “India” to “instill a sense of pride in our own nationality.” The logic of the Supreme Court rings true when one examines the practice followed by other nations too. Nations like Spain, Germany, or Japan did not change their official English name to España, Deutschland or Nippon respectively, then why is such a religion coloured need felt in a secular democratic country such as ours?

The petitioner further mentions Constitutional Assembly debate in his application but conveniently omits that any and all such suggestions were deemed as unnecessary. Even suggestions such as those by Kamlapati Tripathi proposing “Bharat, that is India” and Hari Vishnu Kamath proposing “Bharat, or, in the English language, India, shall, be and such” were rejected by the assembly. 

The sentiment shared by the aforementioned political leaders as well as the petitioner that there is a requirement to rid ourselves from the colonial constructs is flawed to an extent. Structures such as the Parliament, The Supreme Court, the Railway network, many major laws such as the Indian Contracts Act 1872, Indian Penal Code 1860, The Indian Evidence Act, 1872, Transfer of Property Act, 1882 were all developed in the colonial era. The nationalist argument based on ethnocentrism, symbolism, and ridding the country from the “symbols of slavery” is not only unnecessary, but it also focuses on the growing Hindu centric sectarianism. 

It is argued that it is not the name of the country that matters; it is how it is represented on an international front. The respect of, rights of the individuals, the freedom of press, and independence of non-political organisations that define its position in that matter. In these tumultuous and difficult times, the Supreme Court should have imposed heavy costs on the petitioner for making unnecessary claims and wasting the honorable court’s time, instead of referring the application as a representation to the centre.


Daksh Saroha and Lavanya Chawla are fourth year law students from Amity Law School, Delhi.


[1]Bʀᴀᴛɪɴᴅʀᴀ Nᴀᴛʜ Mᴜᴋʜᴇʀᴊᴇᴇ, Tʜᴇ Fᴏʀᴇɪɢɴ ɴᴀᴍᴇs ᴏғ ᴛʜᴇ Iɴᴅɪᴀɴ Sᴜʙᴄᴏɴᴛɪɴᴇɴᴛ 46 (Place Names Society of India, 1989).

[2]3 Pᴀɴᴅᴜʀᴀɴɢ Vᴀᴍᴀɴ Kᴀɴᴇ, Hɪsᴛᴏʀʏ ᴏғ Dʜᴀʀᴍᴀsᴀsᴛʀᴀ 137 (2nd ed. Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona 1973). 

[3]Bɪᴘɪɴ Cʜᴀɴᴅʀᴀ Pᴀʟ, Tʜᴇ Sᴏᴜʟ ᴏғ Iɴᴅɪᴀ: A Cᴏɴsᴛʀᴜᴄᴛɪᴠᴇ Sᴛᴜᴅʏ ᴏғ Iɴᴅɪᴀɴ Tʜᴏᴜɢʜᴛs & Iᴅᴇᴀʟs 387 (4th ed. Yugayatri Prakashak Limited, 1958).

[4]Jᴀᴡᴀʜᴀʀ Lᴀʟ Nᴇʜʀᴜ, Dɪsᴄᴏᴠᴇʀʏ ᴏғ Iɴᴅɪᴀ 76 (6th ed. Oxford University Press 1994)

IMPORTANT – Opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IJOSLCA.

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