For all that India is; it is not

By Amir Ullah Khan and Raju Bhupathiraju

A recent PEW report on “Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation” has been widely seen and reported across the world. It brings a new set of insights into India’s charged communal atmosphere. The report has made some predictable and some rather shocking conclusions. For example, a majority think that Partition of the country was for the better; almost all Indians marry within their religion; most Indians think religion is very important in life; most people pray regularly, observe fasts and less than 40% are vegetarian. The PEW report covers twelve broad areas, and each brings up a new facet of India’s amazing diversity.

1. Religious freedom

Less than 20% of Indians see evidence of widespread religious discrimination in India. 46% of Northeast Indians perceive religious discrimination. 65% of Indians see communal violence as a huge problem in the country. Indians divided on the legacy of Partition for Hindu-Muslims; 41% think it is good, 39% think it is bad, and 20% are indifferent. 91% of Indians say they and others are very free to practice their religion.

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2. Diversity and pluralism

“More Indians say religious diversity benefits their country than say it is harmful.” Many in India do not take a position on whether religious diversity is beneficial or harmful to their country. Most Buddhists, Muslims and Christians see members of their own religion as very different from Hindus. 20% of Muslims in India participate in celebrations of Diwali, but only 7% of Hindus say they have participated in Eid. 99% of Indians generally marry within the same religion.

3. Religious segregation

Most Indians are willing to accept members of other religious communities as neighbours, but many express reservations. Majorities in India say, hypothetically, that they would be willing to accept members of other religious groups as neighbours. Members of both large and small religious groups mostly keep friendships within religious lines; A large majority of Indian adults say that either “all” (45%) or “most” (40%) of their close friends have the same religion they do.

4. Attitudes about caste

An overwhelming majority of Buddhists say they are Dalits, while about three-quarters of Jains identify as members of General Category castes. “Indians conduct their social lives largely within caste hierarchies,” unlike industrialised societies where there is geographical mobility, most Indians have lived in the same place for generations, entrenched in caste. Less than 15% of Indians have had a recent experience with caste discrimination. 72% of Indians are OK with Scheduled Caste neighbours.

5. Religious Identity

Among Hindus, there are regional differences in views toward identity. In South India, roughly half (53%) say being Hindu is only a matter of ancestry and culture – and not mainly a matter of religion. India’s religious groups vary on what disqualifies someone from their religion. Hindus say eating beef, disrespecting India, celebrating Eid is incompatible with being Hindu. Muslims place stronger emphasis than Hindus on religious practices for identity. Respecting India and respecting elders are shared values across all of India’s major religious groups.

6. Nationalism and Politics

Over 74% of Indian Muslims favour their own religious courts; other religious groups are less supportive though. Most Indians do not support allowing triple talaq for Muslims. Across India, above 94% of people have pride in their country, state and religion. Large majorities say Indian culture is superior to others. Upwards of 80% of people say ‘true’ Indian identity consists of the following: 1)stand for the national anthem 2) respect elders 3)respect the army 4) respect all religions 5)respecting the country’s institutions and laws. More than 60% of Indians support politicians being involved in religious matters.

7. Religious practices

Indians overwhelmingly (84%) say that religion is very important in their lives; Over 83% of Indians schedule key life events based on auspicious dates. Religion in life is least important to Southern Indians (69%); Indians regularly visit their houses of worship (weekly 53%, monthly 18%, few times a year 25%, Never 5%). 89% of Indians give to charitable causes at a house of worship. Over 60% of Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Jains in India pray daily. Most Hindus do not read or listen to religious books frequently. Roughly half of the Indian adults meditate weekly, and only about a third of Indians ever practice yoga.

8. Religion, family and children

Indians value their traditional events marking rights-of-passage in life. Upwards of 84% of Indian parents say they raise their children religiously. Less than 43% of Indians send their children outside the home for religious instruction.

9. Religious clothing and personal appearance

Half of Hindus (52%) and Muslims (50%), and a majority of Christians (61%), for instance, say they generally wear a religious pendant. In addition to religious activities like praying, visiting houses of worship or having a home altar, many Indians also display their religious observance through attire.

10. Religion and food

Upwards of 77% of Indians fast as an observance. 40% of Indians are vegetarian. Fewer than half of vegetarian Hindus are willing to eat at a place where non-vegetarian food is being served/eaten.

11. Religious beliefs

77% of Indians, across different religious groups, believe in karma. Across religions, 49% of Indians believe in angels; 37% believe in demons. 71% of Muslims in India believe in Judgment Day. Against the Hindutva narrative, “47% of Hindus say there are multiple ways to interpret Hinduism than say there is only one true way”.  70% of Indians believe in fate, 44% believe in astrology. Nearly 94% of Indians trust medical science at least to some degree, and 47% believe in religious rituals to treat health problems.

12. Beliefs about God

Nearly 97% of Indians believe in God. Gods Hindus feel close to: Siva 44%, Hanuman 35%, Ganesha 32%, Lakshmi 28%, Kali 20%, Ram 17%, Vishnu 10%, Saraswathi 8%, Other gods 22%. 69% Indians believe God can be manifested in nature, 62% in Animals, and 62% in other people. 35% believe that there is only one God, 54% believe that there is one God with many manifestations, 6% believe in many gods and 3% don’t believe in God.

We are one nation under the constitution and the law. We often delude ourselves in the fact that Indianness needs to be uniform, yet we are anything but uniform. We straddle the boats of diversity and uniformity in our daily lives and in our aspirations. However, what we are is an indeed juxtaposed society, which is both the ugly and the beauty of being Indian.

Amir Ullah Khan and Ramachandra Raju Bhupathiraju are researchers at the CRIDP

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