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Indians generally feel their country has lived up to one of its post-independence ideals: a society where followers of many religions can live and practice freely

In a resounding endorsement of India's enduring secular values, an extensive report has found that most Indians respect all religions as it is "very important to being truly Indian" and they are all free to practice their religions. "Tolerance is a religious as well as the civic value: Indians are united in the view that respecting other religions is a very important part of what it means to be a member of their own religious community," said the report by the US-based Pew Research Center that was based on face-to-face interviews with nearly 30,000 Indians.

"Indians generally feel their country has lived up to one of its post-independence ideals: a society where followers of many religions can live and practice freely," the report released on Tuesday said. Eighty-five percent of Hindus and 78 percent of both Muslims and Christians agreed with the view that respect for all religions is integral to being Indian, it said. The report said there was overwhelming support for the view that "respecting other religions is a very important part of their own religious identity".

It said that 80 percent of Hindus, 75 percent of Sikhs, 79 of Muslims, 78 percent of Christians, and 75 percent of Sikhs agreed with that proposition. The belief that they were "very free" to practice their religion found tremendous support across religions, with 91 percent of Hindus, 89 percent of both Muslims and Christians, and 82 percent of Sikhs endorsing it. Pew Research Center, one of the foremost think tanks and polling organizations on religion and society, said that it conducted the interviews in 17 languages across India between late 2019 and before the Covid-19 pandemic struck the next year.

Quran 65 percent of the Hindus who hold those beliefs and voted for the BJP also said that religious diversity was good for the country. Photo by Abdullah Arif on Unsplash

Its report based on the polling covers religious beliefs, politics, and social issues and summaries of the report were also issued in Hindi and Tamil. But in a discordant note, the report found that for many Hindus, being of the Hindu faith and speaking Hindi were essential to being "truly Indian". However, 65 percent of the Hindus who hold those beliefs and voted for the BJP also said that religious diversity was good for the country.

It said that for 64 percent of Hindus to be truly Indian one had to belong to the religion and for 59 percent speaking Hindi was essential. There were wide divergences regarding the Partition of India, according to the report: 66 percent of Sikhs and 48 percent of Muslims considered it "bad", while only 37 percent of Hindus and 30 percent of Christians shared the view. Forty-three percent of Hindus, 30 percent of Muslims, 25 percent of Sikhs, and 37 percent of Christians said it was good, the report added.

In a sign of weakening caste barriers, Pew said that most Indians, 72 percent, from other castes said that they would be willing to have a Dalit as a neighbor. The report also included the non-sequitur that members of various religions saw themselves as different from adherents of other religions: 66 percent of Hindus see themselves as "very different" from Muslims who reciprocate the perception by 64 percent. But it also said that certain religious beliefs were shared by many people across the religious divide irrespective of their dogma.

Seventy-seven percent of both Hindus and Muslims, and 54 percent of Christians believed in Karma, and 32 percent of Christians believed in the "purifying power" of the waters of the Ganga, which 81 percent of Hindus also believed, the report said. There was significant acceptance of rebirth, by 27 percent of Muslims and 29 percent of Christians, it said. Three percent of Muslims and five percent of Christians said that there were many gods. "While these may seem like theological contradictions, for many Indians, calling oneself a Muslim or a Christian does not preclude believing in karma or reincarnation - beliefs that do not have a traditional, doctrinal basis in Islam or Christianity," Pew said.

Christianity When it comes to marriages, there is still strong opposition to alliances across religious and caste lines. Photo by James on Unsplash

When it comes to marriages, there is still strong opposition to alliances across religious and caste lines. A larger percentage of Muslims, 80 percent, than Hindus, 67 percent want to stop women of their religion from marrying outsiders, according to the report, which also found that 76 percent of Muslims and 65 percent of Hindus were against their men marrying outside their faith.

Among Sikhs, 59 percent were for stopping inter-religious marriages of their women and 58 percent for their men, the report said. Only 37 percent of Christians were against women of their religion marrying members of other religions, and 35 percent when it came to men having inter-religious marriages, it said.

When it comes to inter-caste marriages, a majority of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Jains consider stopping them for both men and women a high priority, Pew reported. Overall, 64 percent of Indians said it is "very important" to stop women in their community from marrying into other castes, while it was 62 percent when it came to men, the report said, adding that "nearly identical shares" of Dalits and other cast members said that stopping inter-caste marriages is "very important".

The report said that in the 2019 national elections, 60 percent of Hindus who subscribed to the view that it was "very important" to be Hindu and to speak Hindi to be truly Indian voted for the BJP, compared to only a third of Hindu voters who felt less strongly about both these aspects of national identity. The report, however, found very large differences between regions on these views of Indianess.

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In the Central Indian states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhatisgarh, 83 percent of Hindus considered being Hindu was very important to being truly Indian; while in the South the corresponding figure was 42 percent, and 87 of Hindus in Central India gave that degree of importance to speaking Hindi, while in the South the comparable percentage was only 27 percent. Pew said that conversions have not had an impact on the religious composition of India and attributed the changes to different fertility rates among religious groups.

To buttress this argument, it asserted that 81.6 percent of Hindus said that they were raised as Hindus and a nearly identical 81.7 percent said they were still Hindus. But it also said that among Christians, six percent said they were raised in the faith, while an extra one percent said they now belonged to the religion. Among Christians, 0.4 percent were formerly Hindus, while 0.1 percent Hindus were formerly Christians.

Most of the conversion to Christianity was in the South, which accounted for 74 percent of the conversions, the report said. It said that 84 percent of Hindus and Sikhs considered religion very important in their lives, while 91 percent of Muslims and 76 percent of Christians said so. Shiva was the manifestation of the Hindu deity who was most popular as the one Hindus feel close to, it said. Forty-four percent of Hindus said that they felt close to Shiva, while 35 percent said it was Hanuman, and Ganesha 32 percent, Pew reported. In Central India, however, 27 percent said Ram was the divinity they felt close to, and in the North-East said it was Krishna, the report said. (IANS/JC)


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