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Who is Hindu?

Updated: May 5

The legal debate surrounding Hindu identity within the framework of Indian law encapsulates a rich tapestry of historical, cultural, and religious complexities. Defined by a series of legislative acts and judicial interpretations, the notion of who qualifies as a "Hindu" has evolved through a delicate interplay of religious affiliation, lineage, upbringing, and societal customs. The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 stands as a cornerstone in this discourse, providing a legal scaffold for understanding Hindu identity within the context of family law.

who is hindu


At its core, the interpretation of Hindu identity within legal frameworks is not merely a matter of religious adherence but extends to encompass broader considerations such as conversion dynamics, parental lineage, and the preservation of cultural traditions. Legal precedents, established through landmark cases, offer crucial insights into the understanding of Hindu identity, elucidating the significance of factors such as upbringing, customary practices, and the recognition of diverse religious beliefs.

Hindu Marriage Act 1955

The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, through Section 2, categorises individuals for whom the Act applies, delineating the scope of Hindu identity within the legal framework of India.

Religious Affiliation: This section extends the Act's application to individuals identifying as Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, or Buddhists, either by religion or birth. It inclusively encompasses those not affiliated with specific religious communities such as Muslims, Christians, Parsis, or Jews.

Exclusions: Notably, Section 2 provides exemptions for members of Scheduled Tribes from the Act's applicability unless specified by official notification from the Central Government.

This section lays the groundwork for understanding the legal recognition of Hindu identity within the Indian legal system, emphasising inclusivity while also acknowledging specific exemptions based on tribal status. It serves as a foundational piece in navigating the complexities of Hindu identity within the realm of family law.

Hindus by Religion: Understanding Conversion

Original Affiliation vs. Conversion Dynamics

Original Affiliation

Individuals who hail from Hindu, Jain, Sikh, or Buddhist backgrounds are inherently classified as Hindus. This classification is based on their familial and cultural ties to these religions, forming the foundation of their Hindu identity.

Conversion Dynamics

The process of conversion holds significant weight in determining Hindu identity within the legal framework. Hindu law recognizes individuals who convert or reconvert to Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, or Sikhism as Hindus. This recognition highlights the fluid nature of religious identity and the acknowledgment of individuals' choices regarding their faith.


Legal recognition of conversion to Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, or Sikhism.

The legal recognition of conversion to Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, or Sikhism is pivotal in affirming an individual's Hindu identity. Several legal precedents and interpretations highlight the parameters for such recognition:

Peerumal v. Poonuswami (AIR 1971 SC 2352)

  • Conversion to Hinduism is recognized through formal ceremonies prescribed by the respective caste or community.

  • Alternatively, if an individual expresses a bona fide intention to become Hindu and exhibits conduct unequivocally reflecting that intention, coupled with acceptance by the community, their Hindu identity is affirmed.

Chandrasekhar v. Kulandaivela (AIR 1963 SC 185)

  • Any person who practises, professes, or follows Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, or Sikhism is considered Hindu under the law, irrespective of their adherence to specific tenets or practices.

  • Hindu identity persists even if an individual deviates from orthodox practices, adopts atheism, or embraces aspects of Western lifestyles.

IV. Hindus by Birth

Parental Lineage and its Impact

In Indian legal discourse, parental lineage serves as a cornerstone in determining an individual's Hindu identity. Children born to Hindu parents inherit their Hindu status by virtue of their lineage, irrespective of the religious background of the other parent. This principle highlights the importance placed on familial heritage and the transmission of cultural identity from one generation to the next within Hindu society.

The recognition of parental lineage in shaping Hindu identity reflects broader societal values and traditions, where familial ties and ancestral heritage hold profound significance. By acknowledging parental lineage as a defining factor, the legal framework aligns with the cultural ethos that considers lineage as a vital aspect of individual identity.

Effect of Parental Conversion

One of the intriguing aspects of Hindu identity within the legal framework is the continuity of identity despite parental conversion to another religion. Even if one or both parents undergo conversion subsequent to a child's birth, the child retains their Hindu identity unless subjected to formal conversion procedures.

This principle indicates the resilience and adaptability of Hindu identity, which transcends individual choices or changes in parental religious affiliation. It reflects a recognition that the essence of Hindu identity extends beyond mere adherence to religious doctrines or practices but is deeply rooted in cultural, social, and familial contexts.

Moreover, the continuity of identity despite parental conversion highlights the inclusive nature of Hinduism, which accommodates diverse beliefs and practices within its fold. It exemplifies a dynamic understanding of identity that evolves in tandem with individual experiences and societal transformations while retaining a sense of continuity with the past.


Importance for Customary practice

1. Maneka Gandhi v Indira Gandhi

In the landmark case of Maneka Gandhi v Indira Gandhi, the Indian judiciary delved into the intricate aspects of Hindu identity concerning parental lineage and upbringing. The case revolved around Sanjay Gandhi, whose father hailed from the Parsi community while his mother, Indira Gandhi, practised Hinduism. Despite Sanjay Gandhi's paternal lineage, the court upheld his Hindu identity primarily due to his mother's adherence to Hinduism and her pivotal role in his upbringing.

This case showed the judiciary's recognition of the significant influence of parental lineage and upbringing in shaping an individual's Hindu identity, emphasising the broader understanding that Hinduism transcends mere biological inheritance and encompasses cultural and familial aspects.


In URAJMANI STELLA KUJUR v DURGA CHARAN HANSDAH, the judiciary shed light on the importance of acknowledging customary practices, particularly within the context of Scheduled Tribes, in determining their legal status under Hindu law. The case emphasised the necessity for clear evidence when invoking customary practices within legal proceedings.

It highlighted the judiciary's commitment to recognizing and respecting the diverse customs and traditions prevalent among different communities, especially those belonging to Scheduled Tribes. By emphasising the need for clear evidence, this case reinforced the principle of legal clarity and consistency while accommodating the intricacies of cultural diversity within the Indian legal framework.

These two cases serve as poignant illustrations of the approach taken by the Indian judiciary in grappling with the complexities surrounding Hindu identity within the legal landscape. By delving into aspects such as parental lineage, upbringing, and customary practices, these cases reflect the judiciary's endeavour to interpret the law in a manner that is both equitable and cognizant of India's rich cultural heritage.

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Case Laws for 'Who is Hindu'

The Indian legal landscape, particularly concerning Hindu identity, has been shaped by numerous landmark cases and judicial pronouncements. These cases have established crucial principles and interpretations that guide the understanding of Hindu identity within the legal framework of India.

1. Chandrasekhar v. Kulandaivela

  • This case elucidated that an individual qualifies as Hindu, regardless of practising or professing the religion, as long as they are Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, or Sikh by religion.

  • Importantly, the judgement emphasised that a person does not cease to be Hindu even if they dissent from orthodox practices or adopt a western lifestyle, highlighting the inclusive nature of Hindu identity.

2. Peerumal v. Poonuswami

  • The case outlined conditions under which a non-Hindu can be considered Hindu by conversion.

  • It stated that formal ceremony or a bona fide intention, coupled with conduct expressing that intention, can lead to recognition as a Hindu by the community into which the individual is converted.

3. Surajmani Stella Kujur v. Durga Charan Hansdah

  • This case addressed the inclusion of Scheduled Tribes under the Hindu Marriage Act, emphasising that they could be brought under its purview through official notification.

  • It highlighted the necessity of clear evidence to prove customary practices of Scheduled Tribes in legal proceedings.

4. Yagnapurushdasiji v. Muldas

  • The Supreme Court recognized essential features of Hinduism as defined by Tilak, including reverence for Vedas, diversity in means of salvation, and the acknowledgment of multiple deities.

  • This judgement solidified the understanding of Hindu identity within a broader religious and philosophical context.


Principles for who is hindu?

The Supreme Court's interpretations of Hindu identity reflect an understanding that extends beyond mere religious adherence. These interpretations emphasise the inclusive nature of Hinduism and acknowledge its diverse manifestations:

  • Hindu identity is not solely defined by religious practices but encompasses a cultural and philosophical heritage.

  • Conversion to Hinduism can occur through formal ceremonies or sincere intentions coupled with community acceptance.

  • Scheduled Tribes may fall under Hindu law jurisdiction under specific conditions, with the requirement of clear evidence regarding their customary practices.

  • Hinduism embraces diversity in beliefs and practices, recognizing various paths to spiritual fulfilment.


The exploration of Hindu identity within the legal discourse of India reveals a multifaceted tapestry of complexities. From the foundational Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 to landmark judicial interpretations, the understanding of who qualifies as a "Hindu" has evolved through an intricate interplay of historical, cultural, and religious factors.

The complexities surrounding Hindu identity are evident in the legal landscape, where considerations extend beyond mere religious adherence to encompass factors such as conversion dynamics, parental lineage, and the preservation of cultural traditions. Legal precedents, established through landmark cases, offer crucial insights into the complex understanding of Hindu identity, emphasising the significance of upbringing, customary practices, and the recognition of diverse religious beliefs.

Against the backdrop of India's diverse religious landscape and its constitutional commitment to secularism, the exploration of Hindu identity in legal discourse reflects a delicate balancing act between the preservation of religious traditions and the principles of equality and justice. The Indian legal framework, with its inclusive interpretations and recognition of cultural diversity, embodies a dynamic and evolving discourse surrounding Hindu identity.

As India navigates its ever-evolving socio-legal landscape, the conversation surrounding Hindu identity emerges as a vibrant tapestry, weaving together the nation's rich cultural heritage with its enduring commitment to inclusivity. In recent years, landmark legal cases have sparked a profound exploration of what it means to be Hindu in contemporary India, reflecting the country's dynamic ethos and its ongoing quest for harmony amidst diversity.

The Indian judiciary stands as a beacon of insight, offering important  interpretations that recognize the fluidity and diversity inherent within Hindu identity. Through their rulings, judges have demonstrated a deep understanding of the multifaceted nature of Hinduism, embracing its myriad manifestations while upholding the principles of equity and justice.

One of the most striking aspects of this legal discourse is its reflection of India's pluralistic ethos. Rather than seeking to homogenise Hindu identity, the judiciary has embraced its diversity, recognizing the myriad ways in which individuals express their faith and cultural heritage. This inclusive approach not only honours the complexities of Hinduism but also reflects a broader commitment to tolerance and mutual respect.


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