Religion in India is characterised by a diversity of religious beliefs &practices. The Indian sub-continent is the birthplace of four of the world’s major religions, namely Hinduism, Buddhism
Jainism, & Sikhism. Throughout India’s history we find that Hindus were in majority.
Most major religious festivals of the main communities are included in the list of national holidays. Although India is an 80% Hindu country, three out of the twelve Presidents of India have been Muslims.
Many scholars and intellectuals believe that India’s predominant religion,Hinduism, has long been a most tolerant religion Rajani Kothari, founder of the Centre of Developmental Studies has written, “India is a country built on the foundations of a civilisation that is fundamentally non-religious”
The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan leader in exile said that religious tolerance of ‘Aryabhoomi,’ a reference to India found in Mahabharata, has been in existence in this country from thousands of years. “Not only Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism which are the native religions but also Christianity and Islam have flourished here. Religious tolerance is inherent in Indian tradition,” the Dalai Lama said.
Freedom of religion in the Indian sub-continent is exemplified by the reign of King Piyadasi (304 BC to 232 BC) (Ashoka). One of King Ashoka’s main concerns was to reform governmental institutes and exercise moral principles in his attempt to create a Just human. Later he promoted the principles of Buddhism, and the creation of a just, understanding and fair society was held as an important principle for many ancient rulers of this time in the East.
The importance of freedom of worship in India was encapsulated in an inscriptionof Ashoka:
King Piyadasi (Ashok) 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. 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.
The initial entry of Islam into South Asia came in the first century after the death of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. When around 1210 AD the Islamic Sultanates invaded India from the north-west, gradually the principle of freedom of religion deteriorated in this part of the world. They were subsequently replaced by another Islamic invader in the form of Babur. The Mughal empire was founded by the Mongol leader Babur in 1526, when hedefeated Ibrahim Lodi, the last of Delhi Sultanate& First battle of Panipat. The word “Mughal” is the Indo-Iranian version of Mongol.
On the main Asian continent, the Mongols were tolerant of religions. People could worship as they wished freely and openly, though the formation of 2 nations i.e. Pakistan and Bangladesh has been on basis of religious intolerance.
After arrival of Europeans, Christians in zeal to convert local as per belief in conversion as service of God, have also been seen to fall into frivolous methods since their arrival. Though by and large there are hardly any reports of law and order disturbance from mobs with Christian beliefs except perhaps in the north-eastern region of India
Freedom of religion in contemporary India is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 25 of the nation’s constitution. Accordingly, every citizen of India has a right to profess, practice and propagate their religions peacefully, Vishwa Hindu Parishadcounters this argument by saying that Christians are forcefully (or through money) converting rural, illiterate populations and they are only trying to stop this.
In September 2010, Indian state Kerala’s State Election Commissioner announced that “Religious heads cannot issue calls to vote for members of a particular community or to defeat the nonbeliever. The Catholic Church comprising Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites used to give clear directions to the faithful on exercising their franchise during elections through pastoral letters issued by bishops or council of bishops. The pastoral letter issued by Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC) on the eve of the poll urged the faithful to shun atheist.
Even today, most Indians celebrate all religious festivals with equal enthusiasm and respect. Hindu festivals like Deepawali and Holi, Muslim festivals likeEid Muharram, Christian festivals like Christmas and other festivals like Buddha Purnima, MahavirjiJayanti, Gur Purab etc. are celebrated and enjoyed by all Indians
Religious diversity and Religious tolerance are both established in the country by the Law & Custom; the Constitution of India has declared the right to Freedom of Religionto be a Fundamental Right
Northwest India was home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations, theIndus valley civilization Today, India comprises around 90% of the global population of Hindus. Most Hindu shrines and temples are in India, as are the birthplaces of most Hindusaints. Allahabadhosts the world’s largest religious pilgrimage, Kumbh Mela, where Hindus from across the world come together to bathe in the confluence of three sacred rivers of India: the Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati. The Indian diaspora in the West has popularised many aspects of Hindu philosophy such as yoga, Meditation, Ayurvedic medicine, divination, karma, reincarnation. The influence of Indian religions has been significant all over the world. Several Hindu-based organisations, such as the Hare Krishna Movement, Brahmakumaris, The Ananda Marg, down south we have Ramana Maharishi of various Sectorian Hindubeliefs and practices were able to spread not only in India but also other countries of the world.
According to the 2011 census, 79.8% of the Population of India practices Hinduism and 14.2% adheres to Islam, while the remaining 6% adheres to other religions (Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism and various Indigenous Etnically bound faiths). Christianity is the 3rd largest religion in India. Zoroastrianism, Judaismalso have an ancient history in India, and each has several thousands of Indian adherents. India has the largest population of people adhering to Zoroastrianism and Bahais faith in the world, even though these religions are not native to India. Many other world religions also have a relationship with Indian spirituality, such as the Baha’i faith which recognises Buddha and Krishna as manifestations of the God Almighty.
India has the third largest Shia population in the world and being the cradle of the Ahmadiya Islam, it is one of the countries in the world with at least 1 million Ahmadi Muslims. The shrines of some of the most famous saints of Sufism like Moinuddin Chishtiand Nizamuddin Auliya, are found in India, and attract visitors from all over the world. India is also home to some of the most famous monuments of Islamic architecture, such as the Taj Mahaland the Qutub Minar. Civil matters related to the community are dealt with by the Muslim Personal Law, and constitutional amendments in 1985 established.
Hindus are most secular straightforward & Reformed to accept all other communities with due respect. The constitution of India has clearly stated that every Individual has the freedom of Right to practice any religion or preach. But in the 20th Century we find that Christian Missionaries pumped their money into to propagate Christianity in rural areas especially for weaker sections of the society, through their tactical developmental Agendas. Many people in rural areas got converted into Christians from Hindus looking for greener pastures in Life. This lead to a new concept called Conversion in the name of developmental Agendas. But still in these years no Hindu leadersobjected were opposing this concept as the money kept on flowing from outside India. But now as in the name of conversion we find lot of Hindus are also getting trapped & converted especially through Missionaries & charity from various churches funded from Rome & other places. But still We recognised the services of Mother Teresa who is epitome of love, compassion, & mother for thousands & thousands of orphaned children throughout India. There are six Religions which are awarded as Minority status—Muslims, Sikhism, Jainism, Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism. In India, the Constitution of India, under its Directive Principles of state policy have clearly stated that India is Socialist, Sovereign, Secular Republic, giving out Freedom of right to practise any religious practices of their will &choice. Our Country is most secular & tolerant country, though 80% of the Population are Hindu.
Though Hindus are in Majority, but still they try to accommodate other religious practices. Freedom to Practice, Propagate, preach any Religion is a Constitutional right in Modern India. Many People felt That our Pm Narendra Modi has a RSS background will create communal ruckus, but He is one of the few Reformed Leaders to think with his Intent & Conviction. He always believes in one slogan Sabka Saath, Sabkaa Vikas. He Wants to Bring into a new law which will benefit Downtrodden Muslim women—Uniform Civil Code- where in Triple talaq is also discussed, PMModi wants to make India an Egalitarian society. This shows how tolerant India is towards every Religion especially for Muslims & Christians. NDA Govt has also introduced the use of Technology in Madrasas. Freedom of Religion/ Freedom of Beliefs is a principle that supports the freedom of an Individual or countrymen. India is most secular & tolerant country for all religions & also considered haven for Muslims & Christians.
Dr Sukanya Iyer**