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'India, That Is Bharat': One Country, Two Names And the Latest Controversy

Is it constitutionally valid to use India and Bharat interchangeably? The Quint spoke to lawyers.

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“What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.."

These were the words of famous English playwright William Shakespeare in his play Romeo and Juliet. Hundreds of years later, India finds itself discussing the same issue – in the backdrop of speculation of an official change in the country's name from 'India' to 'Bharat.'

Barely two weeks ahead of the Parliament meeting for a special session, a political row erupted on Tuesday, 5 September after an invitation for India's G20 Summit dinner from President Droupadi Murmu was sent in the name of “President of Bharat” instead of the traditional "President of India."

So again, what's in a name? The Quint speaks to historians and lawyers to trace the origins of both the names, what Constituent Assembly debates show, and how the name-change controversy has been a fraught issue.

'India, That Is Bharat': One Country, Two Names And the Latest Controversy

  1. 1. Bharat and India: What's the History Behind Both?

    The terms "Bhārata," "Bharatvarsha," and "Bharat," can be traced back to puranic literature, and to the epic the Mahabharata, a Delhi-based History professor, who did not wish to be identified, told The Quint.

    The oldest of these words is Bhārata, a Sanskrit word dating to the puranas, which would make it at least 2,000 years old. It was derived from the Bharata tribe mentioned in the Rig Veda.

    "The puranas envisage a land mass on which humans dwell called Jambudvipa. The Bhāratavarsa people are said to be a part of the Jambudvipa," the History professor said.

    The other local language name given to the country was 'Hindustan.' This term started off as an exonym (an external name for a geographical place) and is a Persian word.

    'Hindu' was the Persian name of the people who inhabited that land, while in Sanskrit, it has the same origin as 'Sindhu', the professor explained.

    "It doesn't refer to the whole country, but to the area around the Indus Valley and hence the word 'Sindh'," Ganesh Narayandas Devy, a cultural activist and linguistic professor, explained to The Quint.

    "The Greeks, acquired knowledge of ‘Hind’ from the Achaemenids, and transliterated the name as ‘Indus’. This name was given by Macedonian King Alexander in the 3rd century BC and ‘India’ became identified with the region beyond the Indus," Devy said.
    Expand
  2. 2. 'Bharat' More a 'Cultural' Usage Than 'Religious'

    Both the experts pointed out that the term 'Bharat' was more of a "cultural" connotation than a "religious" one. "While one term (Bharat) was born out of literary tradition, the other (India) was born out of geographical context," Devy told The Quint.

    In her research paper titled 'India, that is Bharat...': One Country, Two Names, social scientist Catherine Clémentin-Ojha explained that the term 'Bharata' was a "discourse" on space but it was "not possible, on the basis of that discourse, to draw a map in the modern sense of the word."

    By the mid-nineteenth century what educated Hindus called ‘Bharat’ was the territory mapped and organised by the British under the name ‘India.'

    Expand
  3. 3. How did 'Bharat' and 'India' Make It Into The Constitution?

    During a Constituent Assembly discussion on 18 September 1949, Dr BR Ambedkar moved an amendment to Article 1, which said, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States”. However, the House was met with differing opinions, most of whom were in support of ‘Bharat’ but had doubts regarding ‘India,' which they saw as being a reminder of the colonial past.

    Incidentally, it is on 18 September 2023 that the special session of the Parliament has been convened.

    Today, Article 1 of the Indian Constitution says, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.” This means that the Constitution recognises both ‘India’ and ‘Bharat’ as the official names of the country.

    Apart from Article 1, the Constitution, originally drafted in English, does not refer to “Bharat” in any other provision.

    Over the years, "India" became a more commonly used name, especially in international context, but "Bharat" continued to be used in Hindi, both the experts told The Quint. Several names such as Reserve Bank of India and the Indian Railways already have Hindi variants with “Bharatiya” in them.

    Supreme Court (SC) lawyer Sanjay Hegde told The Quint, "When the Constitution was framed, it was not meant to be as 'India' and 'Bharat' in opposition to each other, or that one would efface the other."

    Expand
  4. 4. Can One Use India and Bharat Interchangeably?

    The Congress used Article 52 of the Indian Constitution – which states that "There shall be a President of India," to claim that the term "Bharat" cannot be used in official invitations. However, Supreme Court lawyer Ujjaini Chatterji told The Quint that both terms can be used interchangeably.

    "Through the phrase 'India, That is Bharat,' it is implied and we can interpret that one can use the terms interchangeably though it may not be something we have not done. There is no particular law that prohibits anyone from using the word 'Bharat,'" she said.

    Soutik Banerjee, a Delhi-based advocate said there was nothing wrong in sending an invitation as the “President of Bharat”. But the problem arises when the government wishes to get rid of one name.

    "The fact is that the terms Bharat and India can be used interchangeably, especially in view of the authorised Hindi version of the Indian Constitution. But the problem only arises when the government wishes to use only one name, and wants to remove a particular name from the Constitution," Banerjee told The Quint.

    In 2020, then Chief Justice of India SA Bobde dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking a name change.

    “Bharat and India are both names given in the Constitution. India is already called ‘Bharat’ in the Constitution,” Justice Bobde had said.

    Expand
  5. 5. What Would It Take To Rename India? Lawyers Explain 

    All three lawyers The Quint spoke to said that one can change the name of the country by making a Constitutional amendment under Article 368 of the Constitution.

    "If you want to efface 'India' from the Constitution and bring in 'Bharat' instead, you will have to go through the process of a constitutional amendment," Sanjay Hegde argued. 

    Ujjaini said that in order to make a Constitutional amendment, a bill has to first be introduced in the Parliament and at least two thirds of the members, in both house i.e. Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, must approve of the change.

    "However, this is only if the Bill is being introduced. We are speaking out of mere speculation and rumours," they concluded.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Bharat and India: What's the History Behind Both?

The terms "Bhārata," "Bharatvarsha," and "Bharat," can be traced back to puranic literature, and to the epic the Mahabharata, a Delhi-based History professor, who did not wish to be identified, told The Quint.

The oldest of these words is Bhārata, a Sanskrit word dating to the puranas, which would make it at least 2,000 years old. It was derived from the Bharata tribe mentioned in the Rig Veda.

"The puranas envisage a land mass on which humans dwell called Jambudvipa. The Bhāratavarsa people are said to be a part of the Jambudvipa," the History professor said.

The other local language name given to the country was 'Hindustan.' This term started off as an exonym (an external name for a geographical place) and is a Persian word.

'Hindu' was the Persian name of the people who inhabited that land, while in Sanskrit, it has the same origin as 'Sindhu', the professor explained.

"It doesn't refer to the whole country, but to the area around the Indus Valley and hence the word 'Sindh'," Ganesh Narayandas Devy, a cultural activist and linguistic professor, explained to The Quint.

"The Greeks, acquired knowledge of ‘Hind’ from the Achaemenids, and transliterated the name as ‘Indus’. This name was given by Macedonian King Alexander in the 3rd century BC and ‘India’ became identified with the region beyond the Indus," Devy said.
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'Bharat' More a 'Cultural' Usage Than 'Religious'

Both the experts pointed out that the term 'Bharat' was more of a "cultural" connotation than a "religious" one. "While one term (Bharat) was born out of literary tradition, the other (India) was born out of geographical context," Devy told The Quint.

In her research paper titled 'India, that is Bharat...': One Country, Two Names, social scientist Catherine Clémentin-Ojha explained that the term 'Bharata' was a "discourse" on space but it was "not possible, on the basis of that discourse, to draw a map in the modern sense of the word."

By the mid-nineteenth century what educated Hindus called ‘Bharat’ was the territory mapped and organised by the British under the name ‘India.'

0

How did 'Bharat' and 'India' Make It Into The Constitution?

During a Constituent Assembly discussion on 18 September 1949, Dr BR Ambedkar moved an amendment to Article 1, which said, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States”. However, the House was met with differing opinions, most of whom were in support of ‘Bharat’ but had doubts regarding ‘India,' which they saw as being a reminder of the colonial past.

Incidentally, it is on 18 September 2023 that the special session of the Parliament has been convened.

Today, Article 1 of the Indian Constitution says, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States.” This means that the Constitution recognises both ‘India’ and ‘Bharat’ as the official names of the country.

Apart from Article 1, the Constitution, originally drafted in English, does not refer to “Bharat” in any other provision.

Over the years, "India" became a more commonly used name, especially in international context, but "Bharat" continued to be used in Hindi, both the experts told The Quint. Several names such as Reserve Bank of India and the Indian Railways already have Hindi variants with “Bharatiya” in them.

Supreme Court (SC) lawyer Sanjay Hegde told The Quint, "When the Constitution was framed, it was not meant to be as 'India' and 'Bharat' in opposition to each other, or that one would efface the other."

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Can One Use India and Bharat Interchangeably?

The Congress used Article 52 of the Indian Constitution – which states that "There shall be a President of India," to claim that the term "Bharat" cannot be used in official invitations. However, Supreme Court lawyer Ujjaini Chatterji told The Quint that both terms can be used interchangeably.

"Through the phrase 'India, That is Bharat,' it is implied and we can interpret that one can use the terms interchangeably though it may not be something we have not done. There is no particular law that prohibits anyone from using the word 'Bharat,'" she said.

Soutik Banerjee, a Delhi-based advocate said there was nothing wrong in sending an invitation as the “President of Bharat”. But the problem arises when the government wishes to get rid of one name.

"The fact is that the terms Bharat and India can be used interchangeably, especially in view of the authorised Hindi version of the Indian Constitution. But the problem only arises when the government wishes to use only one name, and wants to remove a particular name from the Constitution," Banerjee told The Quint.

In 2020, then Chief Justice of India SA Bobde dismissed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking a name change.

“Bharat and India are both names given in the Constitution. India is already called ‘Bharat’ in the Constitution,” Justice Bobde had said.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

What Would It Take To Rename India? Lawyers Explain 

All three lawyers The Quint spoke to said that one can change the name of the country by making a Constitutional amendment under Article 368 of the Constitution.

"If you want to efface 'India' from the Constitution and bring in 'Bharat' instead, you will have to go through the process of a constitutional amendment," Sanjay Hegde argued. 

Ujjaini said that in order to make a Constitutional amendment, a bill has to first be introduced in the Parliament and at least two thirds of the members, in both house i.e. Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, must approve of the change.

"However, this is only if the Bill is being introduced. We are speaking out of mere speculation and rumours," they concluded.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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