The Human Truth Foundation

Religion in India

By Vexen Crabtree 2023

#buddhism #christianity #hindu_castes #hinduism #india #india_religion #islam #new_age #pakistan #religious_conflict #secularism #sikhism

Religious life in India is rich and diverse1, with traditions dating back into prehistory2. The population of India is Hindu (79.5%), Muslim (14.4%) and Christian (2.5%)3 and 80% of the population say that religion is important to them4. Only 3% don't believe in god(s)4. Belief in heaven and hell is at 20%5. Hinduism was originally a wildly varied mix of traditional local beliefs and practices which only became grouped as "Hinduism" due to Western powers' simplistic descriptions6. In addition to Hinduism, a number of religions and movements have begun in India, including Buddhism and Sikhism7. From the 1960s, Western spiritualists took home some interpretations of Hindu beliefs and the result was the range of small movements called the New Age.

Religion in India is no longer a peaceful affair. The Hindutva movement has seen the rise of intolerant right-wing Hinduism-first parties encourage and instigate a long and bloody series of mob conflicts with Christian and Muslim communities8,9,10, which has seen many hundreds of churches and mosques destroyed, and a great number killed and displaced. Incompatibility between Hinduism and Islam lead to the breakoff of Pakistan amidst fighting that saw over a million people lose their lives11, and, three subsequent wars and a nuclear arms race, with the disputed territory of Kashmir as the flashpoint. During this cultural and religious conflict, Hindu extremism has become "an impediment to... human rights"9.

1. Adherents and Beliefs

#afterlife #belief #buddhism #christianity #god #heaven #hell #hinduism #islam #judaism #religion #religiosity #secularisation #universalism

Religiosity (2018)12
Pos.Lower is better
77=El Salvador85
85Congo, DR88
World Avg54.3
Disbelief In God (2007)4
Pos.Higher is better
63=Congo, (Brazzaville)3
68=Central African Rep.2
74=Costa Rica1
World Avg9.9

Data from the Pew Forum, a professional polling outfit, states that in 2010 the religious makeup of this country was as follows in the table below3:

Folk Religion0.5%

In the 50 years since 1961, the religious balance has only slightly changed, with a 3% drop in Hinduism, and a 3% increase in Islam7. Between 2001 and 2010, the same trend continued by another one percent3.

It appears that when asked "What religion are you" many give pollsters the 'correct' answer despite how they actually feel, and despite what they actually believe. Although 97.8% of the populace say they belong to a religion, only 80% say that they are religious when the question is phrased as "Is religion an important part of your daily life?".

For more on this phenomenon, see:

In additional to the inflation of numbers caused by the reaction of being asked, another factor skews the number of Hindus in particular. Poor Christians identified as being part of the Scheduled Caste (previously called 'untouchables') who need financial support can only claim caste-based support it if they happen to be Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist13. Therefore, that's what they put on official forms. This situation is caused by a government that is trying to help, but doesn't understand that the best way to proceed is to ignore religious affiliation, and treat people individually according to their circumstances, not according to their beliefs (the approach called secularism14).

The CIA World Factbook has slightly different data, and states: Hindu 80.5%, Muslim 13.4%, Christian 2.3%, Sikh 1.9%, other 1.8%, unspecified 0.1% (2001 census)15.

The Afterlife: Ipsos-NA in 2011 gathered some statistics on India5. Belief in heaven and hell is at just 20%. More people don't know what to believe (22%). Some believe that upon death, you simply cease to exist (20%). Also, 3% specifically believe in heaven but not in hell (which is nice - making them possible "universalists"). 5% believe in reincarnation, which seems very low compared to the numbers of Hindus.

2. Freedom of Religion and Belief

#blasphemy #christianity #free_speech #hinduism #hinduism_extremism #india #islam #religion_in_india

India's constitution gives some protections for freedom of belief and religion16,17, however, some states and some laws create restrictions that create unfair legal prejudices towards, or against, certain religious groups16,17. The 'Hindutva' movement seeks to place "Hinduism first" and is responsible for stoking intolerance and Hindu extremism18. There is a steady stream of violent events between Muslim, Hindu and Christian communities. In 2017, vigilante violence aimed at religious minorities, marginalized communities, and critics of the government–often carried out by groups claiming to support the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)–became an increasing threat"19. Section 295 of Indian Penal Code allows convictions for intentionally causing offense, which is frequently abused by religious communities in a way that prevents free speech and intellectual criticism, in the same manner that blasphemy laws come to be used elsewhere too.16. Hindu extremism has become 'an impediment to the exercise and enjoyment of internationally recognized human rights'9.

For more, see:

3. The Historical Kaleidoscope of Culture and Religion

#hinduism #india #india_history #india_religion #islam

Book CoverSpirituality is the common thread that weaves its way through the complex tapestry that is contemporary India. The multitude of sacred sites and time-honoured rituals are testament to the country's long, colourful and sometimes tumultuous religious history. And then there are the festivals! India hosts some of the world's most spectacular devotional celebrations - from city parades celebrating auspicious events on the religious calendar to simple harvest fairs that pay homage to a locally worshipped deity.

"The World" by Lonely Planet (2014)1

The cultural practices and beliefs of ancient India were historically decentralized and disparate rather than comprising a single belief system, with no differentiation between cultural practices and religious ones, and "no sharp dividing lines between religion, social structure, and political power"6. Together, the ensemble of beliefs can be called santana dharma (eternal truth)20. Before Western powers arrived on the scene, a gradual process of homogenisation had began due to the development of "shrines and pilgrimage centers [which] created a continent-wide network of transport and communication, over which people, goods, and ideas continuously flowed"21. Also, Muslim encroachment had already stimulated a more self-organized approach especially for military defence10. But real change came under the influence of Western categorisers from the 18th century, who simplified all of India's culture under the single title of "Hinduism", an identity which Hindus now accept.

For more, see:

4. The Hindu Caste System of India 22

#hinduism #india #india_castes #india_culture

Classical Hindu scriptures divided society into brahmins (priests), kshatriyas (warriors), vaishyas (merchants) and shudras (crafts)23; it resulted in long-term awful social injustice in India, especially upon the creation of a fifth class, the dalit (downtrodden) who perform menial and unpleasant tasks. They became known as the 'untouchables', although the concept was made illegal in 1950 it did little to actually remove class prejudice. The dalit are now known as the 'scheduled' caste. Being identified with a caste prevents access to 'wrong' professions and inappropriate places, but also, does allow access to internal caste support.23

Modern and secularist projects at government level have tried to dismantle these old Hindu concepts through reforms and rebalances24, but the fundamental concept of the division of society into strata remains part of the cultural inheritance of Hindu India. Emancipation will come best with a wholesale break from the past, and from Hinduism.

For more, see:

5. Religious Wars: Hinduism Versus Islamic Pakistan and Bangladesh

#Bangladesh #Hinduism #India #Islam #nuclear_war #Pakistan #Religion_Intolerance #religious_conflict #religious_war #Sikhism

During the early 20th century, Muslim communities grew in strength especially in the north-west, and north-east, edges of India. Mass intolerance and misunderstandings borne from religious differences caused gradually worsening relations between Hindus and Muslims. The CIA World Factbook describes the 1940s as a period where 'large-scale communal violence took place'25. After India achieved independence from Britain in 1947, violent demands for Hindu and Muslim states led to the breakoff of Pakistan as an Islamic state in the north-west of India25,11, and "East Pakistan" in the north-east, which became Bangladesh.7

The division led to a flood of 'left-behind' Hindu and Sikh migrants into India, and of Muslim migrants into Pakistan. Approximately 15 million such people moved, and 'many engaged in a vengeful bloodletting'11 as they went, with the estimates of the total lives lost starting at one million11.

Some regions did not clearly fall into either Pakistan nor India; there are have been three wars and enduring conflicts, especially over the Kashmir region.

Through the 1990s the spectre of inter-communal religious violence continued, with 1995 being a particularly bloody year in many Indian towns and cities "in which people have been brutally killed simply for belonging to the 'wrong' religious community"6. These attacks have been encouraged by political parties such as the BJP and its ally, the Shiv Sena, who "have been complicit in attacks on religious minorities"6.

An ongoing arms race led to both India and Pakistan becoming nuclear-armed states11, with both places conducting nuclear weapons tests in 199825,26. It is often stated that this conflict marks the place where nuclear armaments are most likely to be used27.

In November 2008, terrorists originating from Pakistan conducted a series of coordinated attacks in Mumbai, India's financial capital.

CIA's The World Factbook (2013)25

For more, see:

From Kashmir, to Bangladesh, the only hope for peace is to remove the burning embers: Hindus must forget about Hindu identity, and Muslims must forget about Islam.

6. Hinduism

#christianity #hinduism #india #islam #polytheism #vedic_faiths

Hinduism dominates India. Here is an introduction to that religion: Hinduism is the name given to the cultural religions28 of India and encompasses a wide variety of beliefs and practices20 which are similar to those of other Vedic Faiths. It is polytheist, with many gods taking many forms29, and represented by many names in a kaleidoscope of symbolism and meaning. All living creatures embody a spark of the divine ('atman') which is carried into a new body after death29. There are many shrines, points of pilgrimage and places of reverence, such as the river Ganges, "especially where it flows through the city of Varanasi (Benares)"29. There are also many texts and scripts that are considered sacred, mostly written in Sanskrit29, one of the oldest written languages of mankind. In fact, most things about Indian religion are sourced from pre-history, and thus it represents one of the oldest traditions of belief that humanity possesses. Hinduism is counted as one of the great world religions30,31,32.

Historically, religion in India was decentralized and disparate rather than a single belief system, with no differential between cultural practices and 'religious' ones6. A process of cultural homogenisation had already centered along trade and pilgrimage routes21 but real change came under the influence of Western categorisers from the 18th century, who simplified all of India's culture under the single title of "Hinduism", an identity which Hindus now accept. During the period of colonial rule Christian powers at first tolerated Hinduism but over time used harsher and harsher language towards it, labelling it as heretical10. Over the last decade or two a "Hindu-ness" movement, Hindutva, has seen a rise in intolerance of non-Hindu culture10 including physical attacks on Muslims and Christians33,9,34.

For more, see:

7. Fundamentalism and Violent Extremism

#christianity #extremism #fundamentalism #hindu_extremism #hindu_fundamentalism #hindu_violence #hinduism #india #islam #nationalism #religion #religious_violence #violence

Hindu extremism has somewhat increased over the past few decades8 by right-wing Hindu nationalists9, with the popularist Hindutva movement wanting to make India a more exclusively Hindu nation10. There are thousands of attacks against religious minorities every year. Violence nearly always involves anti-Muslim attacks, in India, with any reaction by their victims then stimulating Hindu mobs to enact further property damage and murder. For example, when the Babri Masjid mosque was destroyed by Hindu activists in 1992, thousands of protesting Muslims lost their lives in a very one-sided series of mob fights34,35. Hindu nationalists also sometimes target Christians33,36,37, for example, over Christmas 2007 in one state, a hundred churches were damaged and 700 Christian homes destroyed7.

Complicit in the discord are political parties that use race and religion to divide people and stoke hatred; since 1999 the most popular of these are the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who have orchestrated and encouraged some of the worst scenes of violence and destruction38, and are most involved in states where persecution by Hindus is highest7, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP)39 and Shiv Sena38. Hindu extremism has become "an impediment to the exercise and enjoyment of internationally recognized human rights"9.

The Bhagavad Gita can easily be searched for content that condones the righteous murder of enemies, right from its second chapter40. Despite all this, a common argument of Hindu academics is to point out, quite correctly, that Hinduism has a per-capital rate of violence far lower than Christianity or Islam, and that polytheism is more naturally inclined to be tolerant and accepting of others' beliefs41.

For more, see: