India is one of the most diverse nations in terms of religion. Even though Hindus form close to 80 percent of the population, the Indian Muslims form the third largest Muslim population in the world, and the country also has large Sikh and Christian populations. It is home to the holiest shrines of four world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.
Modern India came into existence in 1947 as a secular nation, two of the large sections of India, were partitioned into a new Islamic nation, Pakistan (East Pakistan later became Bangladesh). In Pakistan, the Hindu population declined from 24% to about 1.5%, in Bangladesh the Hindus declined from 39% to 10%. The Muslims in India have increased from 10.3% to 13.4% .
The Indian constitution's preamble states that India is a secular state. Freedom of religion is a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution. Every citizen of India has a right to practice and promote their religions peacefully. However there have been many incidence of religious intolerance which resulted in riots, although the issues which caused these riots have been investigated and dealt with.
India has a Hindu President Mrs. Pratibha Patil, Muslim Vice President Mr. M. Hamid Ansari, a Sikh Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and a Catholic Defence Minister A.K.Antony. The powerful leader of the Congress Partry Sonia Gandhi is a Christian, while the leader of the opposition is L.K. Advani, a Hindu. India had a prominent former Defence Minister George Fernandes, a Christian (though not practicing) and a Hindu minister controlling foreign affairs. India's IAF Chief Fali H. Major is a Parsi.
India has been generally stated to have religious tolerance and people of different faiths can equally practice their religion publicly.
Historical tradition of religious freedom
The plural nature of the society in India was encapsulated in an inscription of Asoka
- "King Piyadasi (Ashoka) dear to the Gods, honours all sects, the ascetics (hermits) or those who dwell at home, he honours them with charity and in other ways. But the King, dear to the Gods, attributes less importance to this charity and these honours than to the vow of seeing the reign of virtues, which constitutes the essential part of them. For all these virtues there is a common source, modesty of speech. That is to say, One must not exalt one’s creed discrediting all others, nor must one degrade these others Without legitimate reasons. One must, on the contrary, render to other creeds the honour befitting them.”
King Kharvela (born in the family of Rajarshi Vasu) declares himself in his inscription (approx 2nd cent. BCE) :
- sava pasaNDa-puujako, sava devaayatan-sa.nskaarako
Translation: I am worshipper of all sects, restorer of all shrines.
Kharvela's self-description must be contrasted with other rulers around the world, who took pride in calling themselves "but-shikan" or "defender of the (only true) faith"
Badayuni in his Muntakhab-ut-Tawáríkh reports that the Mughal Emperor Akbar, who had established the Din-i-Ilahi faith, decreed the following in AH 1000 (1951-1952 CE):
- "Hindus who, when young, had from pressure become Musalmans, were allowed to go back to the faith of their fathers. No man should be interfered with on account of his religion, and every one should be allowed to change his religion, if he liked. ... People should not be molested, if they wished to build churches and prayer rooms, or idol temples, or fire temples."
Refuge from religious persecution
India, with its traditional tolerance, has served as a refuge for groups that have encountered persecution elsewhere.
- Christians: Christianity is believed to have come to India through St.Thomas, an apostle who came to India in 52 AD. The first non-Jewish Christians were thus Indians. The first Christians to come to India to escape persecution in their own land were the Knanayas from Edessa in 345 AD..
- Parsi: The Zoroastrians from Iran arrived in India fleeing from religious persecution in their native Iran in the 9th century. They flourished in India and in 18-19th centuries intervened on behalf of their co-religionists in still in Iran. They have produced India's pioneering industrialist house of Tatas and one of the only two Indian Field Marshals in S. F. Manekshaw.
- Jews: Jews in India were granted lands and trading rights.The oldest of the three longest-established Jewish communities in India, traders from Judea and Israel arrived in the city of Cochin, in what is now Kerala, 2,500 years ago and are now known as Cochin Jews. According to recordings by Jews, the date of the first arrival is given at 562 BC. In 68 AD, more Jews fled to Kerala to escape attacks by the Romans on Jerusalem.
- Tibetan Buddhists: India is now home to the Dalai Lama, the revered head of the Vajrayana Buddhism of Tibet.
Religious disturbances and conflicts in India before 1947
Incidents of religious intolerance, conflicts and riots have occurred at several points in time.
Cases of religious violence
- The National Liberation Front of Tripura, an organization (presently almost disbanded), regarded as a Christian/Nationalist terrorist group operating in Northeastern India, have committed mass-murders on the Hindu population of the region.
- The Ghanchi Muslims of Gujarat have frequently carried out pogroms against Hindus, most notably the Sindhi riots in the 1960s and the Godhra Train Burning in 2002.
- The murder of Indira Gandhi had triggered a riot against the Sikhs, often regarded as a Congress Party and its then leader Rajiv Gandhi supported pogrom (for details see 1984 Anti-Sikh riots).
- The BJP government of Gujarat siding against the Muslims during recent riots against Muslims in Gujarat, triggered by the event above and of not assisting in persecution of the guilty (for details see 2002 Gujarat violence).
- Hindus in Kashmir have frequently been murdered and ethnically cleansed from the region by Islamic extremists.
- Christian missionaries have faced brutal asaults at the hands of people siding with Hindu fundamentalists. (See Graham Staines.)
Laws against Conversions
Recent wave of anti-conversion laws in various Indian states passed by some states is actually seen as gradual and continuous institutionalization of Hindutva. Christian missionaries are accused of using inducements such as schooling, money, and even motorcycles and bicycles to lure poor people to the faith, and have also launched movements to reconvert many tribal Christians back to Hinduism.
Most of the Anti-conversion laws are brief and leave a lot of ambiguity, which can be misused for inflicting persecution. Legal experts believe that wilful trespass by missionaries upon the sacred spaces of other faiths can be prosecuted under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, and as such there is no need for anti-conversion laws by individual states and they should be repealed. A consolidation of various Anti-conversion or "Freedom of Religion" Laws
has been done by the All Indian Christian Council.
In the past, several Indian states passed anti-conversion bills primarily to preventing people from converting to Christianity. Arunachal Pradesh passed a bill in 1978. In 2003, Gujarat State, after religious riots in 2002 (see 2002 Gujarat violence), passed an anti-conversion bill in 2003.
In July, 2006, Madhya Pradesh government passed legislation requiring people who desire to convert to a different religion to provide the government with one-month's notice, or face fines and penalties.
In August, 2006, the Chhattisgarh State Assembly passed similar legislation requiring anyone who desires to convert to another religion to give 30 days' notice to, and seek permission from, the district magistrate.
In February, 2007, Himachal Pradesh became the first Congress Party ruled state to adopt legislation banning illegal religious conversions.
Situation of Muslims
There were widespread riots during the Partition of India in 1947, with attacks on Muslim minorities by Hindu and Sikh mobs.
In 1992, the Babri Mosque was demolished by the Sangh Parivar family of organizations on the basis of their controversial assertion that a Hindu temple belonging to a Hindu god existed at the site before the erection of the Mosque. The demolition was followed by anti-Muslim riots in Mumbai allegedly perpetrated by the nativist Shiv Sena party.
The Sangh Parivar family of organisations, has allegedly been involved in encouraging negative stereotyping of Muslims, and in the 2002 Gujarat violence they were allegedly responsible for encouraging attacks against Muslims.. Subsequent riots led to the death of 754 Muslims. Another major incident was at Naroda Patia, where a Hindu mob, massacred more than 100 Muslims. In another incident at Best Bakery, in the city of Baroda, a family of 12 was massacred and burnt. The Gujarat riots officially led to the death of 1044 people, 754 Muslims and 290 Hindus.Human Rights Watch puts the death toll at higher figures, with 2000 deaths, mostly Muslim, but with attacks against Hindus by Muslim mobs as well.
Recently Hindu mobs have attacked Muslim villages after claims were made that cows had been slaughtered for the festivities of eid. In 2005, this caused the destruction of 40 homes and 3 deaths. A police investigation revealed that no cow had been slaughtered in the village.
Situation of Christians
attacks against Christians, especially in the states of Gujarat
, Madhya Pradesh
, and Orissa
, have occurred in recent years in response to missionary activity by evangelical Christians. According to a report by the Center for Religious Freedom
the attacks include the murder of missionaries
and priests, the sexual assault of nuns, the ransacking of churches, convents and other Christian
institutions. Graham Staines
, an Australian
missionary running an Australian proselytisation mission, and his 2 children were burnt to death by a mob led by Dara Singh
. The 2007 Orissa Violence
again witnessed violence against Indian Christians. The All India Christian Council
claimed that the attacks on Christians were not spontaneous but preplanned by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad
and other Hindutva
groups in retaliation to the conversion of Hindus to Christianity. Proselytisation is a crime in Orissa after the promulgation of the Orissa Freedom of Religions Act in 1967.
According to careful estimates, at least 70 churches and 600 houses were attacked and torched by Hindu extremists. Human rights groups consider the violence as the failure of the state government that did not address the problem before it became violent. The authorities failed to react quickly enough to save human lives and property. On August 23rd 2008, Orissa once again made the news after a regional leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad was murdered in the eastern State of Orissa. Militants Hindu's in the State blamed Christians and used this as a pretext for large scale, mob violence against Christians inspite of the fact that police believe Maoists rebels were behind the murder. Over 20,000 Christians were reported to have fled to the forests or held up in refugee camps fearing for their lives. Within weeks attacks against Christians spread to the south Indian state of Karnataka
, where an Evangelical outfit called The New Light Church distributed vulgar pamphlets about Hindu gods. In several cities throughout the State, right-wing Hindu militant mobs attacked churches and Christian-owned businesses. In Mangalore, Christians blocked roads and marched against Police Stations.
- RELIGIOUS DEMOGRAPHY OF INDIA: A.P. Joshi, M.D. Srinivas, J.K. Bajaj; Centre for Policy Studies.