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Prelims Capsule

Indian Society

What do Indians think about religion and religious diversity? Role of religion in Indian society

What do Indians think about religion and religious diversity? Role of religion in Indian society


  • GS 1 || Indian Society || Communalism, Regionalism & Secularism || Secularism

Why in news?

  • A recent survey by the Pew Research Center (‘Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation’) suggests that most Indians respect religious diversity, and yet draw clear lines between communities when it comes to marriage.

About Pew Research center

  • It is a major survey of religion across India.
  • It is conducted by Pew Research Center.
  • It is based on nearly 30,000 face-to-face interviews of adults conducted in 17 languages between late 2019 and early 2020.


  • Live Together Separately:Indians simultaneously express enthusiasm for religious tolerance and a consistent preference for keeping their religious communities in segregated spheres – they live together separately. These two sentiments may seem paradoxical, but for many Indians, they are not.
    • Indians’ concept of religious tolerance does not necessarily involve the mixing of religious communities.
    • Indians seem to prefer a country more like a patchwork fabric, with clear lines between groups.
    • People in all six major religious groups overwhelmingly say they are very free to practice their faiths, and most say that people of other faiths also are very free to practice their religion.
  • Being Hindu important to Indian identity for many Hindus
    • Most Hindus think two dimensions of national identity – being able to speak Hindi and being a Hindu – are closely connected. An identical percentage of Muslims and Hindus (65 percent each) saw communal violence as a very big national problem.
  • Dietary laws are central to Indians’ religious identity
    • Hindus traditionally view cows as sacred, and laws on cow slaughter have recently been a flashpoint in India. Nearly three-quarters of Hindus (72%) in India say a person cannot be Hindu if they eat beef.
    • Similarly, three-quarters of Indian Muslims (77%) say that a person cannot be Muslim if they eat pork.
  • The 1947 Partition sentiment
    • While Sikhs and Muslims were more likely to say the Partition was a ‘bad thing,’ Hindus were more likely to say the opposite.
    • Muslims are more likely than Hindus to say the 1947 partition establishing the separate states of India and Pakistan harmed Hindu-Muslim relations.
  • Caste another fault line in Indian society
    • Religion is not the only fault line in Indian society. Significant numbers of people in some parts of the country believe that caste-based discrimination is widespread.
    • India’s caste system, an ancient social hierarchy with origins in Hindu writings, continues to fracture society
    • Regardless of whether they are Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, or Jain, Indians nearly universally identify with a caste.
  • Religious conversion in India
    • According to this survey, religious switching, or conversion, has little effect on the overall size of India’s religious groups. Other groups exhibit comparable levels of stability.
    • Changes in India’s religious landscape over time are primarily due to differences in fertility rates among religious groups, rather than conversion.
  • Religion is very important across India’s religious groups-Most Indians believe in God
    • Religion is very important in the lives of the vast majority of Indians, across all major faiths.
    • And at least three-quarters of followers of each major religion say they know a lot about their religion and its practices.
    • Nearly all Indians say they believe in God (97%), and roughly 80% of people in most religious groups say they are certain that God exists.
    • Affinity to Own Group:Indians generally stick to their religious group when it comes to their friends. Fewer Indians go so far as to say that their neighborhoods should consist only of people from their religious groups. Still, many would prefer to keep people of certain religions out of their residential areas or villages.

Significance of the survey

  • Definition of Tolerant- The survey revealed what Indians mean when they say they are tolerant.
  • Tolerance comes with a catch-it is limited to each group living separate lives and within their agreed-upon lines. Transgression of these ostensibly “agreed lines” can and frequently does result in violence.
  • Divided Society-The survey demonstrates how divided Indian society is, as well as how important religion is to the average Indian: Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh.
  • Patriarchal Society-A majority of those polled prefer the idea that women cannot marry outside of their religion or caste community.
  • Decades of Indian feminist research on marriage and women have also revealed how almost all religions promote patriarchal structures in which women are viewed as property.

The positive impact of Religion on Indian society

  • Religion has been a feature of the world for as long as it came into existence. Different religious traditions have played a major role in the evolution of society.
  • Religion and culture
    • Religion has historically influenced Indian society on a political, cultural, and economic level. There is a sense of pride associated with the country’s rich religious history as the traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism all emerged out of India.
    • Moreover, while a majority of people in India identify as Hindu (79.8%), the medley of religions that exist within the country continually impact contemporary society.
  • Solidarity
    • Individuals having a place with a specific religion nearly distinguish themselves from the religious gathering.
  • Moral qualities
    • Religion helps in the advancement of moral qualities, e.g.: Care for the guardians, security of kids, helping poor people and debilitated, genuineness is sure values, lectured by religion.
  • Social control
    • Religion goes about as a powerful instrument of social control. By guzzling certain moral qualities, religion empowers to direct the behavior of people.
  • Premise of law
    • Over a timeframe, religious traditions and conventions pick up the power of law. For example, according to profound quality, support of spouse and kids is the bounden obligation of the husband. Keeping in mind the end goal to maintain this standard, arrangements for granting upkeep is made when in doubt in Hindu Marriage Act and Sec 125 CRPC.

Religion being used as a tool to destroy the very fabric of Indian society

  • Groupism
    • Religion separates individuals. Such divisions may come in the method for improvement of the nation.
  • Regular clashes
    • Individuals having a place with various religions feel that their religion is predominant. They even attempt to force their religious practices on others which would prompt clash circumstances. In India, the collective clash has turned into a typical component.
  • The mingling of Religion and Politics that is the mobilization of votes on grounds of primordial identities like religion, caste, and ethnicity, have put Indian secularism in danger.
  • Communal politics operates through communalization of social space, by spreading myths and stereotypes against minorities, through the attack on rational values, and by practicing divisive ideological propaganda and politics.
  • The politicization of any one religious group leads to the competitive politicization of other groups, thereby resulting in inter-religious conflict.
  • Vested political interests:Certain politicians or political parties to further their gains give indirect support or patronage to communal groups or activities.
  • Rise of communal organizations:Communal organizations established on the pretext of propagating and promoting religion socially through cultural activities have instead worsened the problem of communal politics.
  • Religious fundamentalism:Some religious leaders followed ardently by herds of devotees use their influence through inflammatory speeches to misguide the masses. Especially the ignorant masses get caught up in religious fervor and are willing to act violently.
  • The politicization of local problems:Local issues or problems involving different communities, which can be resolved by the local authorities, are sometimes magnified and given political dimensions to use communalistic passions and often lead to riots. Ex. Malegaon and Bhiwandi.
  • External threats:There exist many foreign forces which train extremists and supply them with modern weapons to undertake terrorist activities to fuel communal unrest in the nation.


  • India’s vast population is both diverse and religious.
  • India is home to not only the majority of the world’s Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs but also one of the world’s largest Muslim populations, as well as millions of Christians and Buddhists.
  • The overall picture of India in the survey is of a religious country, ideologically committed to religious diversity, but exclusionary and segmented in its toleration, with less support for individual freedom.

Mains model question

  • Do you believe that religious freedom is more important to Indians than integration? Discuss the importance of tolerance in our society.