History Of Hinduism

The foundation of Hinduism possibly began

                              without one single founder.

By Promod Puri

In principal and virtually, religion is a code of conduct for a civil society. It all started from here.

With society’s progression, the code of conduct also evolved, resulting in its expansion, formalization, and application.

As civilization started taking root, the management of the society began.

A significant part of human evolution reveals and explains the origin of religion. Ancient religious orders were a set of regulations and principles for some acceptable and restrained behavior of an emerging civil society.

Later all aspects of human cultures, including presumptions and myths and overwhelming elements of nature, were covered in one order. In all these developments, social unity and coherence were the natural needs and dependencies of an advancing society.

An organized collection of beliefs, behaviors, and set of ideas started pouring in this social construction. The assemblage got sanctified with the addition of man’s most intuitive conception or imagination, the Supreme Being.

It is in this antiquity and perhaps with some divine or transcendental intervention that Hinduism emanated with no fixed date of its origin.

Precisely speaking at this very primal stage, Hinduism, as such, was not a designated title or an ism. Entwining of local customs, beliefs, and society’s basic norms together form the earliest identifiable Hindu traditions.

Archeologists say the Indus Valley Civilization, along the Indus River in the present-day north-west parts of Pakistan, started around 7000 BC. It reached its pinnacle of that period in 2000 BC with the emergence of a fully developed society.

The Hindu way of life was part of that societal evolution. It was here the foundation of Hinduism possibly began without one single founder.

No initiator and no original authorship have turned out to be a distinctive boon or godsend for the Hindu faith. It has not bound and devoted itself with a consecrated or an ordained originator.

Without that custodial entitlement, which could be a barrier in itself,  Hinduism got a clear passage eternally or from the very beginning to be in a progressive and evolutionary mode.

The early history of Hinduism is a difficult and challenging task to determine the date of its origin.

However, more critical and symbolic in Hindu thought was to know the substance contained in its constitution than discerning a calendar to determine its birth date.


Hinduism has deemphasized the period of its creation or beginning.

Instead, it has taken a philosophical route which is cyclical rather linear. It does not traverse with a start point from where it could continue adding to its age.

Instead, Hinduism is a successive rotation of “Yugas” or age periods of the cyclical phenomenon.

Hinduism’s Yuga-time clock represents four cyclic eras. It dawns with Satya Yuga, followed by Treta, Dvapara, and Kali Yugas.

The cycle is eternal.

Within each of these epochs, individually running into thousands of years, there is, besides humankind, a universal involvement too.

As Hinduism believes in the theory of creation and destruction of the universe, this cosmogony repeats itself after the end of one full Yuga-calendar. And the phenomenon begins all over again with the Satya Yuga.

Satya, meaning truth, is believed to be the supreme Yuga by crowing itself the best. In declining order, the other three Yugas follow.

What motivates the decline of one Yuga to be replaced by another?

The belief is that it is a divine involvement to reinvigorate the universal order of righteousness back to the Satya Yuga.

It is the degree of loss of moral excellence that represents Treta, Dvapara, and Kali Yugas. The full glory of Satya Yuga comes back after the three Yugas have passed in that order. And the cycle repeats itself.

The cyclic inclusion of Yugas in Hinduism means that progress in a religious order does not mean only moving forward.

Moving back to its future in the realm of Satya-Yuga is also part of spiritual advancement. The return passage helps to achieve completeness and wholesomeness in the faith.

Whereas the Yuga periodization is more rooted in its manifestation and metaphysical features, the history of Hinduism has sequential growth stages as well.

The acknowledged story of development and spread of Hinduism has its base on sighted and archeological findings, traditions, and recognized scriptures. The latter is an extensive collection that deals in philosophies, sciences, and spirituality from a period of 2000 BC up to the present.

The consecutive known history of Hinduism is a chain collection of five phases.


The beginning of Hinduism is associated with the Indus Valley Civilization around 2000 BC. It demonstrated a period of social adjustment and establishing cultural preferences and identities.

However, according to archeological findings, the most visible features of the era seem to be economical and civic developments to establish some basic living needs, standards, and amenities.

In the later stages of expansion, pieces of evidence of image formations, scripted inscriptions, and ritual introduction have emerged as well. Discovered tokens and archeological seals suggest the deification and worship of plants and animals as the first signs of the Hindu faith.

The name Hindu identifies with the “Indu” or Indus River, along with the people who were inhabiting the Indus Valley.


The Indus Valley Civilization was followed by the Vedic Period from 1500 to 500 BC. This phase in the Hindu past is marked by theological advancement with the formal introduction of God.

Vedas were composed either thru revelations or written by sage and enlightened people of the time. Hymns in praise of God, rituals, and prayers constituted the early Vedic literature.

All elements of nature like rain, wind, fire, etc. got sanctified as gods. The sacrifice of animals, along with offerings of food items like milk and fruits to please the deities were dominating features in Vedic religiosity.

Thru all these practices, the Hindu religion not only took its roots but expansion as well.

The people identified themselves as Aryans. It is not clear whether they migrated from other lands or if they were natives, but they did establish the Vedic Culture of elaborate religious traditions.

In this expanse, Sanskrit emerged as the primary language of communication.


The chain of Hindu traditions and theological enrichment continued with the dawn of Epic, Puranic, and Classical period from 500 BCE to 500 CE.

Traditional narratives of Ramayan and Mahabharat, including the latter’s discourse and sermon segment Geeta, were added to Hindu epics in this phase.

Hinduism started taking philosophical and varied route also. Several independent schools in Hindu thought and practices developed. These included Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, and Vedanta.

Manu’s imposing and controversial “laws” were incorporated. These edicts created a social order of caste distinctions in Hindu society.

Puranas in story formation, referred to as “Katha,” eulogized various deities. Hindu invocation of worship to idols and images of gods and goddesses in a temple setting was endowed.

The concept of ‘Trimurti’ or three aspects of divine constitution and their nature originated during this period. Along with that, the creation and destruction theory of the universe emerged as portrayed by the Trimurti.

In its essence, Hinduism, during this phase of development, manifested itself into a distinct and perceptible stature.


The period from 500 CE to 1500 CE can be called the Medieval Period.

Here one significant development in Hinduism was the adaptation of the diversity factor representing the regional worshipping practices. This aspect involved the introduction of more deities and sects in the domain of the Hindu faith.

Adoration of gods and goddesses was now an established tradition. And with the rise of devotional rituals of worshiping idols, sprawling temples marked the Hindu landscape from north to south and from West to the Far East regions of the subcontinent.

Hindu literature also diversified itself from Sanskrit to regional languages. The old texts got new theologies and interpretations.

For the first time, Hinduism started to organize itself in a simple bureaucratic or management setup.

Part of this development was the significant role played by the 8th-century preacher, Adi Shankara. He was an advocate of Vedanta philosophy in Hinduism. He is also considered the first ardent promoter of the Hindu religion.

He established four ‘mathas’ or monasteries covering the east, West, south, and north regions of India to promote Hinduism in coordinated administration.

The monastery heads got the title of Shankaracharya. And the “guru-parampara” or tradition of allegiance and reverence to guru began with disciplinal succession.


The Modern Period in Hinduism started around 1500 CE up to the present time. And that includes long chapters of Muslim and British regimes on the Indian subcontinent.

The earliest part of this period saw further developments of the faith through the channel of Bhakti, meaning devotion, where poetry, songs, and music became a popular means of worship.

Bhakti Marg was an individualistic path for theistic devotion irrespective of gender and caste affiliations. The religiosity of Hinduism was more shared among women and members of the lower caste.

The development saw new practices and rituals like group singing and chanting of hymns and establishing ‘langar’ or free kitchen where a community eats like one family.


During all these five phases, from its rudimental beginning to sophisticated practices along with development and enrichment in theological and philosophical contributions, Hinduism also accumulated elements of immoral social behaviors, fake systems, and absurd conventions.

These evils and nefarious practices bruised, corrupted, and somewhat dirtied the religion.

Increasing religionism with rituals, superstitions, sacrificial performing of animals and even of humans, and racist admission of caste distinctions were taking the faith away from its realistic, liberal, and ethical principles as laid down in the ancient scriptures of Upnishads or Vedanta philosophies.

It is in this phase of Hinduism that a correction started taking place. Call it a reform movement or Renaissance in Hinduism, rational, and ethical values got reintroduced and promoted.

Back to basics had been the argument of this period. And that includes revisiting the original Upnishads’ concepts of truthfulness, non-violence, self-discipline, compassion, charity, and virtuousness.

Non-violence occupied a guiding concept in the Hindu way of life.

Vegetarianism became popular. It bestowed an identity mark of being a Hindu. The doctrine of non-violence became an effective political weapon to achieve Independence of India from British rule.

During this reform movement, blind and fanatic veneration to Hindu deities got disparaged. Instead, as instructed in the Upnishads, there was an emphasis on knowledge of self or Atma. And the latter’s relationship with Brahma or the Supreme-Atma.

Prominent names in the Hindu Renaissance, who thru their ameliorable efforts of righting the wrongs in the faith are:

Raja Ram Mohan Rai (1772-1833), Swami Dayanand Sarasvati (1824-1883), Paramahansa Ramakrishna (1836-1886), Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948), Dr. B.R.Ambedkar (1891-1956) and Acharya Rajneesh aka Osho (1931-1990).

While the clean up in Hinduism was going on, gleams of the faith also started reflecting abroad. The word ‘Indology’ got introduced. It is a faculty dealing with education and interpretation of subjects that mostly include the Hindu religion, its history, customs and traditions, scriptures, and literature.

Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) is credited to be the first or one of the early exponents of the Hindu spirituality to the West.

Overall, the long and momentous journey of Hinduism from its roots in the Indus Valley Civilization to the present is the story of its evolution, its enrichment, and development, while safeguarding itself from those practices which are fallacious, irrational, and unethical.

Since Hinduism does not advance linearly, each development in its history, rather than replacing the previous ones, constituted and designed its own space in its sprawling complex.

From the original set of beliefs and rituals, customs, and traditions synthesizing with some essential obligations and responsibilities toward society, Hinduism established itself a phenomenon of moral, social order.

Moreover, in its organic diffusion, Hinduism enriched its faculties with intellectual, philosophical, and mystical ideations.

Along with eternal edicts and messages of honesty and sincerity, mercy and non-violence, purity and self-restraint and everything else toward righteous living, Hinduism distinguishes itself in exploring more in the studies of nature of existence, our relationship with the rest of the universe, and beyond the physical form in the field of spirituality.

The history of Hinduism is a tradition of creative development of thought to institute various schools of philosophies, teachings, movements, and sects; to practices in yoga, meditation, and music; and establishing ethics, customs, rituals, and traditions.


Cremation on the banks of the Ganges river, India.
Keystone-France via Getty Images

Maura Chhun, Metropolitan State University

In India, during the 1918 influenza pandemic, a staggering 12 to 13 million people died, the vast majority between the months of September and December. According to an eyewitness, “There was none to remove the dead bodies and the jackals made a feast.”

At the time of the pandemic, India had been under British colonial rule for over 150 years. The fortunes of the British colonizers had always been vastly different from those of the Indian people, and nowhere was the split more stark than during the influenza pandemic, as I discovered while researching my Ph.D. on the subject.

The resulting devastation would eventually lead to huge changes in India – and the British Empire.

From Kansas to Mumbai

Although it is commonly called the Spanish flu, the 1918 pandemic likely began in Kansas and killed between 50 and 100 million people worldwide.

During the early months of 1918, the virus incubated throughout the American Midwest, eventually making its way east, where it traveled across the Atlantic Ocean with soldiers deploying for WWI.

Indian soldiers in the trenches during World War I.
Print Collector / Contributor via Getty Images

Introduced into the trenches on Europe’s Western Front, the virus tore through the already weakened troops. As the war approached its conclusion, the virus followed both commercial shipping routes and military transports to infect almost every corner of the globe. It arrived in Mumbai in late May.

Unequal spread

When the first wave of the pandemic arrived, it was not particularly deadly. The only notice British officials took of it was its effect on some workers. A report noted, “As the season for cutting grass began … people were so weak as to be unable to do a full day’s work.”

By September, the story began to change. Mumbai was still the center of infection, likely due to its position as a commercial and civic hub. On Sept. 19, an English-language newspaper reported 293 influenza deaths had occurred there, but assured its readers “The worst is now reached.”

Instead, the virus tore through the subcontinent, following trade and postal routes. Catastrophe and death overwhelmed cities and rural villages alike. Indian newspapers reported that crematoria were receiving between 150 to 200 bodies per day. According to one observer, “The burning ghats and burial grounds were literally swamped with corpses; whilst an even greater number awaited removal.”

Members of the British Raj out for a stroll, circa 1918.
Fox Photos/Stringer via Getty images

But influenza did not strike everyone equally. Most British people in India lived in spacious houses with gardens and yards, compared to the lower classes of city-dwelling Indians, who lived in densely populated areas. Many British also employed household staff to care for them – in times of health and sickness – so they were only lightly touched by the pandemic and were largely unconcerned by the chaos sweeping through the country.

In his official correspondence in early December, the Lieutenant Governor of the United Provinces did not even mention influenza, instead noting “Everything is very dry; but I managed to get two hundred couple of snipe so far this season.”

While the pandemic was of little consequence to many British residents of India, the perception was wildly different among the Indian people, who spoke of universal devastation. A letter published in a periodical lamented, “India perhaps never saw such hard times before. There is wailing on all sides. … There is neither village nor town throughout the length and breadth of the country which has not paid a heavy toll.”

Elsewhere, the Sanitary Commissioner of the Punjab noted, “the streets and lanes of cities were littered with dead and dying people … nearly every household was lamenting a death, and everywhere terror and confusion reigned.”

The fallout

In the end, areas in the north and west of India saw death rates between 4.5% and 6% of their total populations, while the south and east – where the virus arrived slightly later, as it was waning – generally lost between 1.5% and 3%.

Geography wasn’t the only dividing factor, however. In Mumbai, almost seven-and-a-half times as many lower-caste Indians died as compared to their British counterparts – 61.6 per thousand versus 8.3 per thousand.

Among Indians in Mumbai, socioeconomic disparities in addition to race accounted for these differing mortality rates.

The Health Officer for Calcutta remarked on the stark difference in death rates between British and lower-class Indians: “The excessive mortality in Kidderpore appears to be due mainly to the large coolie population, ignorant and poverty-stricken, living under most insanitary conditions in damp, dark, dirty huts. They are a difficult class to deal with.”

Change ahead

Death tolls across India generally hit their peak in October, with a slow tapering into November and December. A high ranking British official wrote in December, “A good winter rain will put everything right and … things will gradually rectify themselves.”

Normalcy, however, did not quite return to India. The spring of 1919 would see the British atrocities at Amritsar and shortly thereafter the launch of Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement. Influenza became one more example of British injustice that spurred Indian people on in their fight for independence. A periodical published by the human rights activist Mahatma Gandhi stated, “In no other civilized country could a government have left things so much undone as did the Government of India did during the prevalence of such a terrible and catastrophic epidemic.”

The long, slow death of the British Empire had begun.

[Insight, in your inbox each day. You can get it with The Conversation’s email newsletter.]The Conversation

Maura Chhun, Community Faculty, Metropolitan State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.



The liberalism in Hinduism has encouraged genesis of rituals. Over its long history, rituals generated to build up a maze that gives the religion its complex identity. Within that complexity lies an inclusive mosaic of Hinduism.

From a religious point of view, a ritual is a symbolic and sacramental repetitive activity. It provides manner and order in performing revered service.

Rituals and diversities in Hinduism based on local traditions, customs, and languages invigorate the faith. This contribution makes the religion adapt itself to changing environments.

In these social and cultural influences, rituals perpetually take up dominating space in Hindu convictions and sentiments.

Imprints of rituals adequately identify Hinduism as a way of life.

Promod Puri


Book Review: Hinduism Beyond Rituals, Customs And Traditions

by Acharya S.P.Dwivedi

Promod Puri is a distinguished South Asian journalist and prolific essayist. In his book- “Hinduism,” he tried to cover the historical evolution of Hindu dharma and its major philosophies, theistic doctrines, social codes, rituals, and practices.

He admits openly, “Hinduism is a democracy of conflicting, contradicting and controversial thoughts and theories” (Preface iii) with that feeling it would have been trying for him “to pick and choose” the paths, philosophies, or doctrines. He neither claims that the book is an academic research paper nor meant for teaching.

Furthermore, Puri admits that the understanding and facts he acquired about Hinduism were based mostly on the internet and his personal experiences, and that reflects his humbleness too.

As far as methodology is concerned, Puri has applied an analytical approach. He interprets everything rationally and denounces irrational snobbery.

Being a Hindu, the author doesn’t use any smokescreen to hide his anguish, frustration, or guilt-consciousness. He outrightly condemns centuries-old decayed, dis-functional, and torturous Hindu social traditions and customs. He dealt in length demonic treatment of untouchables and downtrodden (Dalit) segments of society.

He focuses on issues and challenges which the modern person of the Hindu community is facing. Commendable job in putting Hindu religion from historical development to present practices.

He did it on his terms without compromising with the classical Hindu philosophical and theistic obsessions. He identified the tumult of terrific inhuman practices and racked the truth, which is all spread over the religiously regulated life of an ordinary person of the Hindu community.

He writes thoughtfully and straight from the heart. Just because he repeated on the subject of untouchables, his intelligence is not vague. His book and its contents will motivate not only Hindu reform-loving people but all those also who will cherish his banner of equality, dignity, and justice to all living beings on earth. He moves from the Hindu problem and turns it a global one. Puri emerges as a vanguard of Hindu reforms.

Puri came up with the categories of philosophies, yogas, scriptures, and sciences, music, dance, and drama and thoroughly explained it. Of course, he cited several quotations from Manu Smriti to bolster his arguments. It would not be out of the way to say that- ‘one life is not enough to cover all Hindu scriptures.’ Of course, Puri does not commit to any particular Hindu creed or ideology. However, Puri seems to be leaning on Western scholars while describing the period of the development of the Hindu religion and writings of scriptures but adhered to the fundamental values.

As for the symbolic significance of worship, spirituality, karma-dharma, and temple rituals are concerned, he picked up the true spirit of the Hindu belief system and offered impressive interpretations. For example- “Idolatry establishes direct one to one relationship between a devotee and the divinity”(p.36), “ Arti and several other elaborate adorations generate a spiritually charged atmosphere of reverence and sacredness” (p.45), and “ Hinduism’s democratic framework the management of self is what we call a way of life” (p.122). He quoted three verses/mantras 1. Om purnamidam…2.Aum bhur bhuvah… 3.Aum dyauh shantI because of their sublime quality of universality, peacefulness, harmony, and secularism. He enriched Hinduism by adding the scientific interpretation of the above mantras, including Aum and Naad, etc.

He dealt in length the caste and class problem in Hindu society, which has degraded and contaminated the social and religious fabric. I have discovered two traits. 1. He was exposing the social imbalance and 2. I hope for the improvement. In support of the latter feature, he has described the reform movements and invaluable contribution of the Messiah of Acchoots and Dalits- Dr. B.R.Ambedkar. Puri ultimately rejected the irrational and non-logical writing of Manu and appeared as a radical and anti-traditionalist.

There is a marked difference in the present Hindu society because of an enhancement in education, urbanization, and constitutional laws that are en-cracking upon the inflexible traditions. (p83) People are severing their relationship with evil Hindu customs and rituals. It can be safely admitted that the reform movement in the Hindu religion is gathering momentum. “Consequent to Hinduism’s democratic framework, the management of self is what we call a way of life,” a mantra to be enchanted. (p.122)

His clarity of language carries the freshness and clearness that is immensely impressive, and easily understandable. Puri is a writer of uncommon brilliance and interpretive innovations, and he applied effectively appropriate terminology to strengthen his arguments.

This book appears to be his life’s work and carries a delightful blend of scholarly and analytical explanation. Further, it provides the general reader concisely and easily understood facts of Hinduism. It fulfills the need for an authentic exposition of Hinduism. Finally, I would like to conclude that Promod Puri’s works stand out before us to be complimented and appreciated.


A Divine vibe in the beauty of Rhododendron. QE Park, Vancouver

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US Presidential Race

And the rest of the news from across the border is Bernie Sanders has quit the Democratic nomination race.

He hangs up his hat and let Joe Biden enter the ring where the foregone conclusion is President Trump would have an easy win unless some divine intervention happens.

Flickering pragmatism of Biden wins over the dogmatic consistency of Sanders.

It is the second time in a row that Sanders has dropped out to the disappointment of many looking for a real change in the political environment of the USA.

Americans expected this change from Barrick Obama. But more words were delivered by him than actions during his two-term at the White House.

Come, Biden, there is hardly a difference of red and blue in the baggage he carries. The contents of the baggage have enough of his personal choices that are in line with the Republican Party from wars in foreign lands to the domestic social or economic issues.

Is the November presidential election would be a battle between the two-in-one political figures or based on some real ideological differences?

So far, being a “moderate” candidate, Biden has not demonstrated a distinct approach to challenge the style of rule with Trump stamp on it.

What can Biden do to offer a marked difference in the election fray?

He can pick up where Sanders has left his progressive agenda related to domestic and foreign policies. He must adopt those elements that appealed to the young voters.

To reinforce Sanders’ legacy, Biden can seriously consider Elizabeth Warren as his vice-presidential running mate because she echoes many of veteran socialist’s policy statements.

If not, the upcoming presidential vote would turn out to be a predictable and bland one.

-By Promod Puri

Open for “business” but no visitors:

“guloñ meñ rañg bhare bād-e-nau-bahār chale

chale bhī aao ki gulshan kā kārobār chale.”

Spring blossom in Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver, Canada.



The other day I received a phone call from an old friend of mine after quite a long time. Old in the sense that we know each other for the past over four decades. But it is also in the context that he is now 102 years of age.

He has the same clarity and vigor in his voice as ever before. Good hearing and an excellent memory reflect while conversing with him. In his astute expressions, his mental alertness is still sharp.

Mr. Singh still goes for walks and waiting for the summer weather when he will hit the golf course. The testimony to his exceptional health at this senior golden age is that he does not take any of those medicines often related to old age. Cholesterol, diabetes, knee problem, etc. have bypassed him.

The secret!

It is under one medical term, called circadian rhythm. And Mr. Singh has kept it well under control with his disciplined daily regime.

A real understanding of the circadian rhythm is that all our body organs, down to their cellular levels, have body clocks working along with the brain. Together, the working of all theses body clocks is in coordination to create the circadian rhythm.

A synchronized circadian rhythm of every part of the body, especially the lungs, heart, kidneys, and brain, goes well without any compromise. The entire process, when settles down to set routine is the circadian rhythm that is not only beneficial to our overall health but most important in developing a robust immune system.

The boosting of the immune system is very vital, especially when we are facing the onslaught of the COVID-19 virus. And if this body clock rhythm is not put in place or being disturbed, our health problems start kicking in along with a weak immune system.

Specialists in the field of circadian rhythm emphasize a regular and systematic pattern of good sleep, exercise, and diet. The exact timing, duration, and disciplined, healthy living day in and day out is what we need to develop a robust immune system.

Mr. Singh listens to his body clock, religiously every moment of his life. Talking to him has always been very meaningful and knowledgeable.

One of these days, when this social-distancing restraint is over, I’m going to meet him. It certainly would be an inspirational meeting as well as to revive our chess sessions with a glass of Scotch on the side, that he still enjoys every day.

By Promod Puri



BY Promod Puri
The rationalist and liberal thought in Hinduism is the very basis of Sankhya school, which is one of several ancient Hindu faculties infusing diversity in the theological philosophies of the faith.
Sankhya in Hindi or Sanskrit means number. So it seeks rationality as demonstrated by a numeric equation like 2+2=4. It rejects 2+2=5. In other words, a concept has to go through rational examination before being accepted or rejected.
Sankhya establishes three principles that accept knowledge. These are:
1. Pratyksa, which means perceiving things or thoughts directly through one’s senses. The truthful of knowledge is to be taken by creditable perception. The proof, termed parmana in Sanskrit, has to be established not by analogy or cognitive imagination but by both external senses and mind’s conscious awareness.
2. Anumana or inference involves both observation and reasoning in establishing a fact. When a hypothesis or proposition is created, it must be observed with logical consequence. Dark clouds in the sky infer that rain is likely to come, is an example of Anumana.
3. Sabda or sabd means word. It is just a communication tool. But according to Sankhya the device has validity only when a statement of knowledge comes from a reliable and legitimate source either thru written or spoken words.
The three principles by which knowledge is created and allowed for its distribution have metaphysical and empirical elements. These requirements of the Sankhya school help Hinduism to go through its epistemology tests of finding the nature and justification of religious ideations and beliefs.


Christophe Z Guilmoto, Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD) and Thomas Licart, Université de Strasbourg

India introduced a national lockdown on March 24 hoping to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. As April 2020 begins, the country has registered over 1,500 cases of COVID-19, the disease associated with the new coronavirus, according to the latest data available.

These numbers translate into surprisingly low prevalence rates compared to the rest of the world due to the delayed arrival of the virus. But it is possible the scenario could get much worse, while experts are warning that India is at grave risk notably due of the vulnerability of its health system.

Personal hygiene and more specifically handwashing practices have come under scrutiny as millions of India’s poorest do not have access to basic amenities. We are social demographers and have specifically investigated the data about handwashing practices in India for this article.

In India, research has shown how good hand hygiene reduces the risk of diarrhoea, pneumonia, or stunting – prime factors of high infant and child mortality.

Unfortunately the focus on handwashing was not included in the large Swachh Bharat Mission, or Clean India programme, launched in 2014. The spread of the coronavirus has brought back this issue to the fore as hand hygiene is one of the easiest ways to avoid both catching and spreading the virus.

While the Swachh Bharat mission addressed the issue of open defecation, it did not specifically focus on handwashing practices. Mumbai, October 2, 2017.
Indranil Mukerjee/AFP

Hand hygiene in India

There is a debate about the reliability of surveys on handwashing and how statistics are captured. According to a national survey in 2011-12, 63% of households reported usually washing their hands with soap after defecation, a low figure for a country where toilet paper is rarely used.

More recent research conducted in India has, however, shown that the most reliable statistics about hygiene practices are derived from an environmental check in which fieldworkers inspect the house for the presence of a water source with soap where people wash their hands.

This is how information was collated in India’s last national demographic survey coordinated by the International Institute for Population Sciences in 2015-16, from where the data for this study was drawn. It found that 39.8% of households had no soap or no water, a situation often explained by the absence of soap during the survey.

Huge geographical variations

India’s proportion of households without soap or water is lower than the 71.4% of people in Bangladesh or 52.9% in Nepal lacking such amenities. But Indian households fared worse than Pakistan (31.4%) or Myanmar (16.4%) during the same period.

When the data is broken down, we found that 20% of households in urban areas, where access to running water is more common, had no handwashing facilities, compared to 51% in rural areas. Regional disparities are even wider: ranging from below 10% in Delhi to above 60% in the entire state of Odisha. As the map below shows, the best hand hygiene can be found in Northwest India, in coastal Western India, as well as in many states of the Northeast. In contrast, districts where handwashing facilities are the least common are clustered around Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand.

Regional disparities in handwashing practices in India.
C.Z. Guilmoto, T. Licart, Author provided

The map also highlights another pocket of poor hand hygiene in the more developed Tamil Nadu state in southern India. In fact, while spatial patterns of hygiene are very pronounced, the map of lower use of soap and water does not exactly correspond to the least developed regions of India.

Socioeconomic inequalities

Our research also looked at social and economic characteristics of households. We found that only 4% of the richest households didn’t have handwashing facilities, compared to 80% of the poorest households. The worst levels of hand hygiene were observed in houses with an absence of toilet facilities (64%) or in illiterate families (68%).

Hand hygiene compare with social and economic characteristics of the families surveyed.
C.Z. Guilmoto, T. Licart, Author provided

The implications of these inequalities may be considerable for the transmission of the disease within the country and the impact on vulnerable groups.

Labourers, maids, cooks, drivers, daily wagers, people working in small businesses in towns and cities are now losing their livelihoods. With no economic plans to support them, they are going back home generating the largest sudden migration India has seen since Partition in 1947.

A reverse migration is taking place in India.

Very soon they may carry COVID-19 back to their neighbourhoods and native villages and transmit the virus further across the country. The situation is particularly worrying in households composed only of old people above 65 years, with less than half of them having access to soap and water.

The benefits of handwashing in India extend well beyond the coronavirus since it reduces the spread of pathogens of all types. In 2017, researchers estimated the annual net costs to India from not handwashing were US$23 billion, stressing the considerable gains relating to decreases in diarrhoea and acute respiratory infection for India from behavioural changes. Local initiatives have already emerged to encourage the population to wash hands frequently.

Promotion of handwashing in India.

Experts also point out that although handwashing should be more widespread, lack of access to water – particularly clean water – in India may be another challenge for the poorest communities to protect themselves from coronavirus.

In this context, handwashing campaigns during the crisis will be crucial for public health in India – alongside an increase in access to basic amenities for all.The Conversation

Christophe Z Guilmoto, Senior fellow in demography, Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD) and Thomas Licart, Doctorant, démographie, Université de Strasbourg

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