Actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan said on Friday that the word “Hindu” is not native to India, but of foreign origin.

“Neither the Alwars nor the Nayanmars, the famed Vaishnavite and Shaivite saints, had made any note on ‘Hindu’,” Haasan said in a tweet. Haasan said the citizens of the land were only identified as Indians, and calling them Hindus was erroneous.

“There has been no mention of ‘Hindu’ by the 12 Alwars or Nayanmars,” he said. The Makkal Needhi Maiam chief said the people of India were branded Hindus by the Mughals, a term the British endorsed during their colonial rule. The Alwars and Nayanmars were poet-saints in southern India during the first millennium CE.

“While we have so many of our own identities, it is ignorant to have something given to us by non-native as name and faith,” Haasan added. “It is erroneus, in terms of commerce, politics and spirituality, for us to try to confine our vast country into religion.” The politician invoked a Tamil proverb: Living in harmony has a million benefits.

The actor-turned-politician has faced backlash for calling Godse “India’s first extremist” and pointing out that he was a Hindu. He made the comment at a public meeting in the Aravakurichi Assembly constituency in Tamil Nadu on Monday.

Earlier on Friday, he said every religion has extremists and that he does not feel threatened by reactions to his remark on Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse. “Every religion has their own terrorist,” the Makkal Needhi Maiam chief added. “You cannot claim that we are sanctimonious and [that] we have never done that. History shows you that all religions have their extremists. My talk that day was about harmony.”

Haasan made the statement after stones and footwear were hurled at him during bye-election campaigns in Tamil Nadu in the past two days. Haasan’s supporters beat up two people believed to have hurled the stones.

On Wednesday, slippers were thrown at the politician when he was addressing an election meeting in the Tirupparankundram Assembly constituency. Earlier that day, Haasan had said that his comment about Nathuram Godse was a “historical truth”.