For a bigger picture
The Pew Research findings around religion in India are reassertion of many of the facts that we already know in hindsight. At the same time, it also reassures us on certain counts and sends troubling signs on others. The study gives overall clarity on the subjects it has dealt with. The areas covered under the survey can safely be counted among the most hotly debated issues in the country. Before discussing its details, it will be pertinent to note the reliability and the extensiveness of the survey. The published results are derived from 2,999 face-to-face interviews conducted across 26 states and three union territories. The sample size includes Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists and persons from other religions. Zone-wise compilation was also made. Nothing could be more heartening for a country like India when 84 per cent of its population believe that to be 'truly Indian', it is important to respect all the religions. In fact, 80 per cent of Hindus and 79 per cent of Muslims are aware that respecting other religions is part of their own religious identity. The ratio fluctuated only by a bit among other religions. This overwhelming finding is however shadowed by the prevailing sentiment of religious segregation in the country. The research found that 86 per cent of Indian Hindus had close friends mainly or entirely from within their own community. 80 per cent of Sikhs and 72 per cent of Jains also confirmed the same. Despite the respect shown to other religions, there is segregation — this gap is likely to be used by divisive forces for their own benefit. There has to be bridging of this gap so that the religiously diverse fabric of the nation remains intact. Further, this is no hidden fact that inter-religious and Inter-caste marriages are oddities in our society. Around two-thirds of Indian Hindus believe that members of their community — both men and women — must be forbidden from marrying in other religions. In the case of Muslims, 80 per cent found it very important to stop the women from their community from marrying in other religions; and 76 per cent of Muslim respondents believed the same way in the case of men. It must be noted here that these divisions get starker in rural India where, in most places, even contemplation and articulation of such thoughts is a taboo. Given that rural areas make up a large part of Indian territory, sentiments against inter-religion marriages could be largely concentrated in rural pockets in comparison to urban areas. The situation is no different for inter-caste marriages. Around 64 per cent of Indians believe that women from their caste must be forbidden from marrying in the other caste, and 62 per cent of Indians believe that men from their caste must be forbidden from marrying in the other caste. The caveat applies here as well; the caste lines are more strictly drawn in rural India as compared to urban India. Closely related to the discourse of inter-religion marriages is the issue of religious conversion. Issues of love jihad and 'demographic change' are also debated in the country. On this front, Pew Research found that 0.8 per cent of the Hindu respondents said they were raised as 'something else' but now identify as Hindu; those confirming the other way round are 0.7 per cent of the Hindu respondents. The corresponding figures for Muslims remain the same (0.3 per cent) in both cases — effectively meaning the conversions into and from the respondents of the community remained the same. This is equally true for Hindus. Apart from these things, the linkage of religion with national identity, language and politics were also dealt within the research study. Although the sample size of the survey is considerable, findings may deviate from the reality on the ground as no research is purely accurate. But still, it can certainly be used as a tool to draw significant insight. The findings of the research have clearly given more clarity on very complex issues that India is dealing with at the present moment. Some of these issues are awaiting concrete and long-term solutions. The policymakers and, most importantly, the citizens must take note of the findings to draw a larger picture for themselves, their community, other communities and the nation at large. In this larger picture, the communities will go much beyond showing respect for other communities and live with harmony; to make India look like what it has always been!