On Not Having a Good Hindu Name

I met up with a friend yesterday, who, like me, is an atheist but has a Christian last name. As often happens these days, the conversation drifted to the possibility of having Modi as prime minister. She told me about a friend of hers, who has a mixed background – Muslim father, and Christan mother. Her friend said that she was apprehensive about having a Muslim name in an India where Modi is in charge. There would be a sense of fear lurking in one’s mind. What if.

My friend and I realised that we too feel a sense of unease and othering which comes from not having a good Hindu name – “good” meaning a reasonably “good” caste. Your name immediately “locates” you as a person whom the Hindutva-wadis detest, and whom even some moderate Hindus do not like. You experience micro-aggressions, like a person (particularly government officials who have power over you) deliberately mangling your name, even sneering at it, or being denied a house on rent and never being sure if the reason had anything to do with your name.

Which brings me to the reason for writing this post – there seem to be some Indian atheists and moderates who are pro-Modi. I’ve seen comments from my facebook friends for instance, whom I never would have thought supported Modi, indicating that they support him. They all have good Hindu names. I wonder how many of these people in general have good Hindu names, so they can “pass”, they can utilise the social capital that accrues from having such a name, and they can rest easy free of micro-aggressions and othering and safe in the knowledge that if they keep their head down, Hindutva’s stormtroopers will never target them. They can simply ignore the threat that Modi’s  Hindutva poses, while my friend and I cannot – our name permanently marks us as outsiders and potential targets. I recall the unease I felt a month ago when I scanned the voter list – freely available online – and found my name in it, along with my home address.

Someone with my upper-middle-class privilege is much less likely to be attacked by Hindutva thugs than the average non-Hindu. So if I feel this apprehensive… I wonder how they feel.

Also see:

Casteless Academe, Name-calling Dalits?

We are more than our name: A Gujarati Muslim ponders life under Narendra Modi




  1. says

    Let me put in some perspective as an atheist who is “pro-Modi”.

    Firstly, I’m not sure if my last name qualifies as a “good Hindu name” but speaking of discrimination, being a Maharashtrian who eats meat, I would have a lot of trouble finding housing in the Gujarati-dominated areas of Mumbai. Discrimination comes in many forms.

    Now coming to this automatic assumption that Modi’s ascension to power at the center will bring on a “saffron apocalypse”. Just where do you think the PM’s powers extend to? There is always the threat of Hindu fanatics trying to proliferate their agenda throughout the country irrespective of who is in charge where. Is there any concrete evidence that during Modi’s stint as CM there has been a general rise in the power of the Hindu fanatics as compared to the rest of the country. Were the Gujarat riots really that different from other riots that have happened throughout the country?

    Since you automatically labeled all pro-Modi atheists as “someone with good Hindu names who can ignore his Hindutva threat”, I have a general observation too. I find most anti-Modi atheists use the Hindutva/Gujarat riots card to dismiss Modi so they can ignore the more important questions about economy, which by the way, has been Modi’s main platform during the elections. How has Gujarat’s rural vs urban infrastructure development fared? Has development reduced or increased income inequality in the state? Its much easier to say “OMG Modi’s so communal” dismissively and ignore other important questions right?

    I wouldn’t say your fears are unfounded. You have provided your personal experiences with discrimination. Its just a matter of personal bias related to it, where you may be ignoring that there are several other instances of discrimination, and they don’t all have to do with just one man or one party. in fact, I would rate both the majority parties as equally bad when it comes to secularism. Some of the regional parties that flaunt a “secular” tag fare much, much worse.

  2. says

    … they can utilise the social capital that accrues from having such a name, and they can rest easy free of micro-aggressions and othering and safe in the knowledge that if they keep their head down, Hindutva’s stormtroopers will never target them.

    An entirely plausible and sad situation, Sunil, and well put. This is hardly the India that I grew up in. The apprehension that you feel has lately been chilling my spine, too – and not only because I have friends and family who don’t have Hindu names, but also because I am worried about future of the various minorities in the country. I wish I had a more cogent answer for you.


  3. says

    Hindutva always had an obsession with non-Hindu names. That’s why Sonia Gandhi is always referred to “Antonio Maino”, Rahul Gandhi as “Raul Vinci” as if they using Christian names makes them un-Indian. I mean it is perfectly reasonable to point out that they’re leading a corrupt party and have abused power, but the problem is when their Christian antecedents are offered up as the reason for their foibles. The assumption is that if you are not a Hindu, your are more likely to “betray” India. Modi too plays that same name game.

  4. says

    @Sagar Keer,

    Let us for a moment assume that Modi is the development god reincarnate. (Though contrary to your hasty assumption, people have analyzed Modi’s development model, but I’m not interested in the pointless game where any criticism of Modi or BJP is met with “What about teh development!”).

    Does that in any way excuse Hindutva asses who attack people based on their names?

  5. says

    @Satish: I never said his development record (if true) excuses the Hindu fanatics. My problem is the baseless assumption that Modi becoming PM will start a Hindutva apocalypse. The situation seems more or less the same whoever is in charge. Also, as I mentioned before no other party fares any better with secularism and some do much worse.
    I agree with the author’s basic premise about discrimination. But he goes on to relate it directly to Modi assuming power, which I find absurd.

  6. says


    Modi is a Hindutvawadi and so it’s not unreasonable to assume that he’s going to use his power to further the cause of Hindutva (not an apocalypse as you strawmanned it). And that is not mutually exclusive with doing “development”, which is why citing “development” is an excuse.

  7. says

    @Satish It would not have been unreasonable to assume that if we didn’t have an example n front of us. But we do. There is nothing to suggest that Modi has “furthered the cause of Hindutva” these last 12 years.

  8. says


    In my comment above, I had linked to this – http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/modi-is-back-at-it-namecalling/article4164746.ece

    Modi and the BJP have been playing that Hindutva game pretty hard in case you missed it. A few other examples on top my head:

    Modi’s Gaurav Yatra speeches – http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?218024#What Modi Said At Becharaji (Transcript of Narendra Modi’s speech)

    His appropriation of Sardar Patel – http://www.countercurrents.org/islam130613.htm

    On some recent events – http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/standpoint-the-facade-slips-hindutva-it-is-1980884

  9. says


    Thanks for the links, but all these are typical political speeches mostly made during election rallies. For every Modi mention of a minority trope, there is a typical minority-appeasement soundbyte by every political leader in the opposite camp. Of course this is a sad situation in India, where parties continually stoop to religious identity for votes. My claim is merely that the situation remains unchanged irrespective of who is in charge. I don’t see a reason to hold that up as a case for not voting Modi, or concluding that Modi as PM automatically means a significant rise in Hindutva bullying.

  10. says


    If situations remain unchanged, why vote out the Congress? Whoever will replace them will continue the same thing. See how that logic works?

  11. Saravanan says


    Your post reminds me of an assignment that I had to do last year involving popular baby names (top 1000) in US, using data aggregated via : http://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/

    The name “Mohammad” was steadily rising as one of the popular names in the 80s, 90s and completely vanished from the top 1000 list post 9/11.

    The apprehension of parents from discriminated minority communities mentioned in your post in naming their kids is very real and global. It is very likely to be happening in India too.

  12. says

    @Satish: Because there are several other distinguishing factors. If none of the parties are any better at secularism, we can look at other things to make a decision too. Ultimately, it is a sad case of choosing the lesser evil.

  13. Stevebr123 says

    It should not be surprising that many atheists are pro-Modi. Many Hindutvas are atheists and Hinduism and atheism are not mutually exclusive. Anyway you are right that non-Hindu, non-upper class people should be feeling uncomfortable about Modi’s rise. You can add the LGBT community and feminists and generally anyone who cares about women’s and minority rights and progressive issues (Maybe Modi will prove me wrong but i wont be holding my breath). As i type this I am seeing Arnab Goswami on Tv shouting like a lunatic declaring BJP victory in the elections. Whats been most disappointing about this election is the way most people have uncritically swallowed Modi’s pronouncements (when on the other hand they have correctly scrutinized and criticised his inept opponents).

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