Who is Hindu?

Who is Hindu?

In the earliest time, the term ‘Hindu’ had a territorial significance. It only denoted nationality. The word ‘Hindu’ is of foreign origin. This designation came into existence with the advent of Greeks who called the inhabitants of the Indus valley “Indoi” and later on this designation was extended to include all persons who lived beyond the Indus valley. The Persians pronounced this word Hindu and named their Aryan brethren ‘Hindus’. Dr. Radhakrishnan has also observed that the Hindu civilization is so-called since its founders or earliest followers occupied the territory drained by the Sindhu (Indus) river system corresponding to the North West provinces in Punjab. This is recorded in Rig Veda, the oldest of the Vedas. The people on the Indian side of the Sindhu were called Hindus by the Persians and later Western invaders. That is the genesis of the word Hindu. Thus, the term Hindu had originally a territorial and not a creedal significance. It implied residence in a well-defined geographical area.

In the case of Sasti Yagnapurushadji v. Muldas Brudardas Vaishya, the Supreme Court elaborately considered the question of who are Hindus and what are the broad features of the Hindu religion. The Supreme Court has observed that the word Hindu is derived from the word Sindhu, otherwise known as the Indus river.

Today, the term ‘Hindu’ has lost its territorial significance. It is also not a designation of nationality.

The following persons shall be deemed to be Hindus

  1. Any person who is a Hindu. Jain, Sikh, or Buddhist;
  2. Any person who is born to Hindu Parents;
  3. Any person who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi, or Jew and who is not governed by any other law.

Based on the description of persons above it can be said that the following persons are Hindus:-

1) Hindu by Religion

The following two types of persons fall in this category:

i. Followers of Hindu Religion:

Any person who follows the Hindu religion either by practicing it or by professing it is a Hindu. An attempt to define Hindu in terms of religion was made by the Supreme Court in Shastri Yagnapurusholasji I v. Muldas. The Court through Gajendragadkar J. said that “beneath the diversity of philosophic thoughts, concepts and ideas expressed by Hindu philosophers who started different philosophical schools, lie certain broad concepts which can be treated as basic. The first among these basic concepts is the acceptance of the Vedas as the highest authority in religious and philosophical matters. This concept necessarily implies that all the systems claim to have drawn their principles from a common reservoir of thought enshrined in the Vedas. The other basic concept which is common to the system of Hindu philosophy is that all of them accept this view of the great world rhythm, vast periods of creation, maintenance, and dissolution follow each other in endless succession. It may also be said that all the systems of Hindu philosophy believe in re-birth and pre-existence”. This judgment of the Supreme Court gives a good working elaboration of the Hindu religion in positive terms. But it is equally true that any definition of the ‘Hindu’ in terms of religion will always be inadequate.

ii. Hindu by conversion

The concept of Hindu law is that “A Hindu is born, but is not made”. It means that “No one could claim to be governed by Hindu law by simply professing Hinduism if he was not a Hindu by birth”. Now this concept is not sound and the Hindu law recognized not only Hindu by birth but also Hindu by Conversion.

In Ratansi Morarji v. Administrator-General of Madras, an Australian Christian lady was converted to Hinduism by the Hindu Missionary Society of Bombay. She 108 married a Hindu and died leaving a will which was executed in Adyar in Madras provinces. The will was not attested. It would be valid if she was a Hindu and it would not be valid if she was a Christian. It was held that she was a Hindu and was governed by Hindu law and the will was upheld by the court.

The Supreme Court in Perumal v. Poonuswami,  observed that a person may be a Hindu by birth or by conversion

No formal ceremony of purification or expiation is necessary to effectuate conversion. But at the same time, a mere theoretical allegiance to the Hindu faith by a person born in another faith does not convert him to a Hindu, nor is a bare declaration that he is a Hindu sufficient to convert him to

In Jawala v. Dharam, it was held that to come in a category to be called Hindu this can be Hindu by birth, Hindu by religion, and also converts to Hinduism

In Mohandas v. Devaswom Board, Jesudas singer was a catholic Christian by birth. He declared that he was a follower of the Hindu faith. The court has held that he becomes a Hindu by conversion with such a bonafide declaration.

iii. Hindu by reconversion

The following two questions are raised when a Hindu converted to some other religion and then reconverted to Hinduism. 1. Whether he would be treated as Hindu? 2. Whether he would be admitted to his original sub-caste? Answers to these questions are considered by Supreme Court in Rajagopal v. Arumugham. Rajagopal, an Adi-Dravida community, had converted to Christianity in 1949. Thereafter he began to profess Hinduism and married a Hindu Adi-Dravida woman and brought up his children in Hinduism and showed them as Hindu in ‘school records’. The question is whether he could stand for election as Adi-Dravida community for a seat reserved for Scheduled Caste. The Supreme Court held that though there was no formal process for reconversion, he could be treated as a person belonging to the Hindu faith. But he could be treated as having reverted to his previous sub caste only if the said caste re-admitted him into its fold 109 unequivocally. In this case, there was no such evidence for the re-admission of Rajagopal by the said Adi-Dravida community. So the Supreme Court held that Rajagopal could not be entitled

In Nitaben &Others v . Dhirendra Chandra Kant Shukla, It has been held by the Supreme Court that no particular ceremony is required for reconversion to Hinduism of a person who had earlier embraced another religion.

2) Hindu by Birth

The following persons are deemed to be Hindus by birth:

i. When both the parents are Hindu

Children born to Hindu parents are Hindus. Such a child may be legitimate or illegitimate. It is also immaterial that such a child does or does not profess practice or has faith in the religion of its parents. In Rani Bhagwan Koer v. J.C. Bose, it was held that a Hindu who recites the Koran & takes the food with a Muslim friend will not cease to be Hindu unless he renounces the Hindu religion. In the same case, it was held that a person who is Hindu by birth does not cease to be Hindu merely because he denies to follow the standard of orthodox in matters of diet and ceremonial observance.

 ii. When one Parent is Hindu

When one of the parents of a child is Hindu and he is brought up as a member of a Hindu family, he is a Hindu. It is clear by the explanation (b) of Section 2(1) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 that a child’s religion is not necessarily that of the father. For instance, a child is born of a Hindu mother and Muslim father. The child is brought up as a Hindu. Subsequently, the mother converts to Islam. Nonetheless, the child is Hindu. Ram Prasad v. Dahin Bibi,  is a good example on the point.

In Maneka Gandhi v. Indira Gandhi, it was held that Sanjay Gandhi, son of a Parsi father & a Hindu mother was a Hindu at the time of his death as he was brought up as a member of his mother’s community.

3) Persons who are not Muslims, Christians, Parsis, or Jews:

The codified Hindu law lays down that a person who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi, or Jew is governed by Hindu law unless it is proved that Hindu law is not applicable to such a person. Those persons who are atheists or who believe in all faiths or a conglomeration of faiths may fall under this class. Under the codified Hindu law such persons will be Hindus for the purpose of the application of Hindu law. Therefore, the modern Hindu law is a body of rules of personal law applicable to Hindus as well as several non-Hindu communities. In modern Hindu law, all those persons to whom Hindu law applies are called “Hindus”.


Therefore, the modern Hindu law is a body of rules of personal law applicable to Hindus as well as several non-Hindu communities. In modern Hindu law, all those persons to whom Hindu law applies are called “Hindus”.


  1. R.Myneni,Hindu Law(Family Law-I) , (Asia Law House, Hyderabad, 2009)
  2. Paras Diwan , Modern Hindu Law,(Allahabad Law Agency, Haryana, 24th, 2020)
  3. Neera Bharihoke, Mulla Hindu Law,(Delhi Law House,Delhi,2021)

Author: Gururaj udagi,
Karnataka State Law University, 3rd year Student

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