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Religion in India


Religion in India is characterized by a diversity
of religious beliefs and practices. India is the birthplace of four of the world’s major
religions; namely Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Throughout India’s history, religion
has been an important part of the country’s culture. Religious diversity and religious
tolerance are both established in the country by the law and custom.
According to the 2001 census, 80.5% of the population of India practice Hinduism. Islam,
Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism are the other major religions followed by
the people of India. There are also numerous minor tribal traditions, though these have
been affected by major religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity.
The amount of diversity in the religious belief systems of India today, is a result of both
the existence of many native religions and also, the assimilation and social integration
of religions brought to the region by travellers, immigrants, traders, and even invaders and
conquerors such as the Mughals. Zoroastrianism and Judaism also 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 Bahá’í 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. The Indian diaspora in the West has popularised
many aspects of Hindu philosophy such as yoga, meditation, Ayurvedic medicine, divination,
karma, and reincarnation. The influence of Indian religions has been significant all
over the world. Several organisations, such as the Hare Krishna movement, the Brahma Kumaris,
the Ananda Marga, and others have spread Indian spiritual beliefs and practices.
The Muslim population of India is the third largest in the world. India also has the third
largest Shia population in the world and being the cradle of the Ahmadiyya Islam, it is one
of very few countries in the world with at least 1 million Ahmadi Muslims. The shrines
of some of the most famous saints of Sufism, like Moinuddin Chishti and 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 Mahal and the
Qutb Minar. Civil matters related to the community are dealt with by the Muslim Personal Law,
and constitutional amendments in 1985 established its primacy in family matters.
The Constitution of India declares the nation to be a secular republic that must uphold
the right of citizens to freely worship and propagate any or no religion or faith. The
Constitution of India also declares the right to freedom of religion to be a fundamental
right. History Pre-historic religion
Evidence attesting to prehistoric religion in the Indian “subcontinent” derives from
scattered Mesolithic rock paintings depicting dances and rituals. Neolithic pastoralists
inhabiting the Indus Valley buried their dead in a manner suggestive of spiritual practices
that incorporated notions of an afterlife and belief in magic. Other South Asian Stone
Age sites, such as the Bhimbetka rock shelters in central Madhya Pradesh and the Kupgal petroglyphs
of eastern Karnataka, contain rock art portraying religious rites and evidence of possible ritualized
music. Indus Valley Civilization
The Harappan people of the Indus Valley Civilisation, which lasted from 3300 to 1400 BCE and was
centered around the Indus and Ghaggar-Hakra river valleys, may have worshiped an important
mother goddess symbolizing fertility. Excavations of Indus Valley Civilisation sites show seals
with animals and “fire‑altars”, indicating rituals associated with fire. A linga-yoni
of a type similar to that which is now worshiped by Hindus has also been found.
Evolution of Hinduism in India Hinduism is often regarded as the oldest religion
in the world, with roots tracing back to prehistoric times, over 5,000 years ago. Over time, Brahmanism
gradually became Hinduism. Hinduism spread through parts of Southeastern Asia, China,
Korea, and Japan. Hindus worship a single god with different forms. Hinduism’s origins include the cultural elements
of the Indus Valley Civilisation along with other Indian civilisations. The oldest surviving
text of Hinduism is the Rigveda, produced during the Vedic period and dating to 1700–1100
BCE. During the Epic and Puranic periods, the earliest versions of the epic poems Ramayana
and Mahabharata were written roughly from 500–100 BCE, although these were orally
transmitted through families for centuries prior to this period.
After 200 BCE, several schools of thought were formally codified in the Indian philosophy,
including Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva-Mimamsa and Vedanta. Hinduism, otherwise
a highly theistic religion, hosted atheistic schools and atheistic philosophies. Other
Indian philosophies generally regarded as orthodox include Samkhya and Mimamsa.
Rise of Shramana Religions Mahavira the 24th Jain Tirthankara, stressed
five vows, including ahimsa and asteya. Gautama Buddha, who founded Buddhism, was born to
the Shakya clan just before Magadha rose to power. His family was native to the plains
of Lumbini, in what is now southern Nepal. Indian Buddhism peaked during the reign of
Asoka the Great of the Mauryan Empire, who patronised Buddhism following his conversion
and unified the Indian subcontinent in the 3rd century BCE. He sent missionaries abroad,
allowing Buddhism to spread across Asia. Indian Buddhism declined following the loss of royal
patronage offered by the Kushan Empire and such kingdoms as Magadha and Kosala.
Some scholars think Hinduism expanded between 400 CE and 1000 CE, as the decline of Buddhism
in India continued. Bhakti Movement
During the 14–17th centuries, when North India was under Muslim rule, the Bhakti movement
swept through Central and Northern India. The Bhakti movement was initiated by a loosely
associated group of teachers, or sants. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Vallabhacharya, Surdas, Meera
Bai, Kabir, Tulsidas, Ravidas, Namdeo, Tukaram and other mystics were some of the sants in
the North. They taught that people could cast aside the heavy burdens of ritual and caste,
and the subtle complexities of philosophy, and simply express their overwhelming love
for God. This period was also characterised by an abundance of devotional literature in
vernacular prose and poetry in the ethnic languages of the various Indian states or
provinces. The Bhakti movement gave rise to several different movements throughout India.
During the Bhakti movement, many Hindu groups regarded as outside the traditional Hindu
caste system followed Bhakti traditions by worshipping/following saints belonging to
their respective communities. For example, Guru Ravidas was a Chamar of Uttar Pradesh;
Guru Parsuram Ramnami was a Chura of Chhatisgarh; and Maharishi Ram Naval was a Bhangi of Rajasthan.
In their lifetimes, several of these saints even went to the extent of fighting conversion
from foreign missionaries, encouraging only Hinduism within their communities. In Assam
for example, tribals were led by Gurudev Kalicharan Bramha of the Brahmo Samaj; in Nagaland by
Kacha Naga; and in Central India by Birsa Munda, Hanuman Oaron, Jatra Bhagat and Budhu
Bhagat. Sikhism Guru Nanak was the founder of Sikhism. The
Guru Granth Sahib was first compiled by the fifth Sikh guru, Guru Arjan Dev, from the
writings of the first five Sikh gurus and others saints who preached the concept of
universal brotherhood, including those of the Hindu and Muslim faith. Before the death
of Guru Gobind Singh, the Guru Granth Sahib was declared the eternal guru. Sikhism recognises
all humans as equal before Waheguru, regardless of color, caste or lineage. Sikhism rejects
the beliefs of idol worship and circumcision. Introduction of western religions
Judaism Jews first arrived as traders from Judea in
the city of Kochi, Kerala, in 562 BCE. More Jews came as exiles from Israel in the year
70 CE, after the destruction of the Second Temple.
Christianity The works of scholars and Eastern Christian
writings claim that Christianity was introduced to India by Thomas the Apostle, who visited
Muziris in Kerala in 52 CE and baptised Kerala’s Jewish settlements, who are known as Saint
Thomas Christians today. Although the exact origins of Christianity in India remain unclear,
there is a general scholarly consensus that Christianity was rooted in India by the 3rd
century AD, including some communities who used Syriac liturgically, and it is a possibility
that the religion’s existence in India extends to as far back as the 1st century. Christianity
in India has different denominations, like Roman Catholicism, Oriental Orthodox Christianity
and Protestantism. Catholicism is a faith practised by over 17.3
million people in India which represents less than 2% of the total population. Most Catholics
reside in South India, particularly in Goa and Kerala, there are also large Christian
populations in the North-east Indian states. Christianity in India was expanded in the
15th Century by Catholic Portuguese expeditions and by Protestant British and American missionaries
in the 18th century. Islam Though Islam came to India in the early 7th
century with the advent of Arab traders, it started to become a major religion during
the Muslim conquest in the Indian subcontinent. Islam’s spread in India mostly took place
under the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire, greatly aided by the mystic Sufi tradition.
As of 2011, there were about 177 Million Muslims in India, comprising 14,6% of the total population.
Communalism Communalism has played a key role in shaping
the religious history of modern India. As an adverse result of the British Raj’s divide
and rule policy, British India was partitioned along religious lines into two states—the
Muslim-majority Dominion of Pakistan and the Hindu-majority Union of India. The 1947 Partition
of India led to rioting amongst Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs in Punjab, Bengal, Delhi, and other
parts of India; 500,000 died as a result of the violence. The twelve million refugees
that moved between the newly founded nations of India and Pakistan composed one of the
largest mass migrations in modern history. Since its independence, India has periodically
witnessed large-scale violence sparked by underlying tensions between sections of its
majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities. The Republic of India is secular; its government
recognises no official religion. Demographics Hinduism is an ancient religion, and Hinduism
is also the largest religious grouping in India; its more than 1 billion adherents compose
80.5% of the population. The term Hindu, originally a geographical description, derives from the
Sanskrit, Sindhu,, and refers to a person from the land of the river Sindhu. Islam is a monotheistic religion centered
around the belief in one God and following the example of Muhammad; It is the largest
minority religion in India. According to the 2001 census, India is home to 138 million
Muslims, the world’s third-largest Muslim population after those in Indonesia and Pakistan.
Muslims compose 13.4% of the Indian population. Muslims are a majority in states Jammu and
Kashmir and Lakshadweep, and live in high concentrations in Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh,
Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, and Kerala. There has been no particular census conducted in
India with regards to sects, but sources suggest the largest denomination is Sunni Islam with
a substantial minority of Shiite Muslims and Ahmadi Muslims. Indian sources like Times
of India and DNA reported the Indian Shiite population in mid-2005–2006 to be between
25% and 31% of entire Muslim population of India, which accounts them in numbers between
40 to 50 million of a total of 157 million Muslims in India. Christianity is a monotheistic religion centred
on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in the New Testament. It is the third largest
religion of India, making up 2.3% of the population. St. Thomas is credited with introduction of
Christianity in India. He arrived in Malabar Coast in 52 CE. Christians comprise a majority
in Nagaland, Mizoram, and Meghalaya and have significant populations in Goa and Kerala. Buddhism is an Indian, nontheistic religion
and philosophy. Around 8 million Buddhists live in India, about 0.8% of the population.
Jainism is a non-theistic Indian religion and philosophical system originating in Iron
Age India. Jains compose 0.4% of India’s population, and are concentrated in the states of Gujarat,
Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan. Although Jainism is usually believed to be atheistic/non-theistic,
Paul Dundas writes, “While Jainism is, as we have seen, atheist in the limited sense
of rejection of a creator god and the possibility of the intervention of such a being in human
affairs, it nonetheless must be regarded as a theist religion in the more profound sense
that it accepts the existence of a divine principle, the parmatman, often in fact referred
to as ‘God’, existing in potential state within all beings”.
Paul Dundas writes that most British judges of the 19th century “had no doubts about the
independent nature and origin of Jainism”. In 1847, one judge wrote that religious minorities
like Jains, Parsis, and Sikhs “Had nothing or next to nothing in common with brahmanical
worship”. Another judge noted in 1874 that Jains could not be subject to Hindu law because
“the term Hindoos means persons within the purview of the shastras, which shastras are
at the bottom of Hindu law. If a person is out of that purview, Hindoo law cannot be
applied to him” He does note, “the earliest censuses of India suggest that many Jains
and members of other religious groups saw themselves as in fact constituting varieties
of Hinduism and, according to the Census Report for the Punjab of 1921, ‘in view of the unwillingness
of large number of Jains and Sikhs to be classed separately from Hindus, permission was given
to record such persons as Jain-Hindus and Sikh-Hindus”. He does recognise the “preconceptions
of the census enumerators” influenced the census. Furthermore he adds the term “Jain-hindu”
was an ‘unhappy and artificial compromise”. Sikhism began in sixteenth century North India
with the teachings of Nanak and nine successive human gurus. As of 2001, there were 19.2 million
Sikhs in India. Punjab is the spiritual home of Sikhs, and is the only state in India where
Sikhs form a majority. There are also significant populations of Sikhs in neighbouring Delhi
and Haryana, both of which were historically part of Punjab. As of the census of 2001, Parsis represent
approximately 0.006% of the total population of India, with relatively high concentrations
in and around the city of Mumbai. Parsis number around 61,000 in India. There are several
tribal religions in India, such as Donyi-Polo. Santhal is also one of the many tribal religions
followed by the Santhal people who number around 4 million but only around 23,645 follow
the religion. About 2.2 million people in India follow the Bahá’í Faith, thus forming
the largest community of Bahá’ís in the world. Judaism is also present in India, a monotheistic
religion from the Levant. There is today a very small community of Indian Jews. There
were more Jews in India historically, including the Cochin Jews of Kerala, the Bene Israel
of Maharashtra, and the Baghdadi Jews near Mumbai. In addition, since independence two
primarily proselyte Indian Jewish communities in India: the Bnei Menashe of Mizoram and
Manipur, and the Bene Ephraim, also called Telugu Jews. Of the approximately 95,000 Jews
of Indian origin, fewer than 20,000 remain in India. Some parts of India are especially
popular with Israelis, swelling local Jewish populations seasonally.
Around 0.07% of the people did not state their religion in the 2001 census.
Statistics Population trends for major religious groups The following is a breakdown of India’s religious
communities: Characteristics of religious groups
Irreligion Though followed by a minor portion of the
Indian population, irreligion has a strong tradition in India. Atheism has historically
been propounded within the Hindu philosophy. Followers usually like to call themselves
Hindu atheists. Law The preamble to the Constitution of India
proclaims India a “sovereign socialist secular democratic republic”. The word secular was
inserted into the Preamble by the Forty-second Amendment Act of 1976. It mandates equal treatment
and tolerance of all religions. India does not have an official state religion; it enshrines
the right to practise, preach, and propagate any religion. No religious instruction is
imparted in government-supported schools. In S. R. Bommai vs. Union of India, the Supreme
Court of India held that secularism was an integral tenet of the Constitution.
Freedom of religion is a fundamental right according to the Indian Constitution. The
Constitution also suggests a uniform civil code for its citizens as a Directive Principle.
This has not been implemented until now as Directive Principles are Constitutionally
unenforceable. The Supreme Court has further held that the enactment of a uniform civil
code all at once may be counter-productive to the unity of the nation, and only a gradual
progressive change should be brought about. In Maharishi Avadesh v Union of India the
Supreme Court dismissed a petition seeking a writ of mandamus against the government
to introduce a common civil code, and thus laid the responsibility of its introduction
on the legislature. Major religious communities not based in India
continue to be governed by their own personal laws. Whilst Muslims, Christians, Zoroastrians,
and Jews have personal laws exclusive to themselves; Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs are governed
by a single personal law known as Hindu personal law. Article 25(b) of the Constitution of
India states that references to Hindus include “persons professing the Sikh, Jain or Buddhist
religion”. Furthermore the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 defines the legal status of Jains,
Buddhists and Sikhs as legal Hindus but not “Hindus by religion”. The only Indian religion
exclusively covered under the secular law of India is Brahmoism starting from Act III
of 1872. Aspects
Religion plays a major role in the Indian way of life. Rituals, worship, and other religious
activities are very prominent in an individual’s daily life; it is also a principal organiser
of social life. The degree of religiosity varies amongst individuals; in recent decades,
religious orthodoxy and observances have become less common in Indian society, particularly
amongst young urban-dwellers. Rituals The vast majority of Indians engage in religious
rituals on a daily basis. Most Hindus observe religious rituals at home. Observation of
rituals vary greatly amongst regions, villages, and individuals. Devout Hindus perform daily
chores such as worshiping puja, fire sacrifice called Yajna at the dawn after bathing, recitation
from religious scripts like Vedas, Puranas singing hymns in praise of gods etc.
A notable feature in religious ritual is the division between purity and pollution. Religious
acts presuppose some degree of impurity, or defilement for the practitioner, which must
be overcome, or neutralised, before or during ritual procedures. Purification, usually with
water, is thus a typical feature of most religious action. Other characteristics include a belief
in the efficacy of sacrifice and concept of merit, gained through the performance of charity
or good works, that will accumulate over time and reduce sufferings in the next world.
Devout Muslims offer five daily prayers at specific times of the day, indicated by adhan
from the local mosques. Before offering prayers, they must ritually clean themselves by performing
wudu, which involves washing parts of the body that are generally exposed to dirt or
dust. A recent study by the Sachar Committee found that 3–4% of Muslim children study
in madrasas. Diet Dietary habits are significantly influenced
by religion. Almost one-third of Indians practice lacto-vegetarianism; it came to prominence
during the rule of Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Empire, a promoter of Buddhism. Vegetarianism
is much less common amongst Sikhs and almost uncommon amongst Muslims, Christians, Bahá’ís,
Parsis and Jews. Jainism requires monks and laity, from all its sects and traditions,
to be vegetarian. Furthermore, the religion also bars jains from eating any vegetable
that involves digging it from the ground. This rule, therefore, excludes potatoes, sweet
potatoes, carrots, garlic, peanuts, raddish etc. from Jain diet. Hinduism bars beef consumption,
whilst Islam bars pork. Ceremonies Occasions like birth, marriage, and death
involve what are often elaborate sets of religious customs. In Hinduism, major life-cycle rituals
include annaprashan, upanayanam, and shraadh. According to the findings of a 1995 national
research paper, for most people in India, a betrothal of a young couple placing an expectation
upon an exact date and time of a future wedding was a matter decided by the parents in consultation
with astrologers. A significant reduction in the proportion of arranged marriages has
however taken place since 1995, reflecting an incremental change.
Muslims practise a series of life-cycle rituals that differ from those of Hindus, Jains, and
Buddhists. Several rituals mark the first days of life—including whispering call to
prayer, first bath, and shaving of the head. Religious instruction begins early. Male circumcision
usually takes place after birth; in some families, it may be delayed until after the onset of
puberty. Marriage requires a payment by the husband
to the wife and the solemnization of a marital contract in a social gathering. On the third
day after burial of the dead, friends and relatives gather to console the bereaved,
read and recite the Quran, and pray for the soul of the deceased. Indian Islam is distinguished
by the emphasis it places on shrines commemorating great Sufi saints.
Pilgrimages Many Hindu families have their own family
patron deity or the Kuladaivat. This deity is common to a lineage or a clan of several
families who are connected to each other through a common ancestor. The Khandoba of Jejuri
is an example of a Kuladaivat of some Maharashtrian families; he is a common Kuladaivat to several
castes ranging from Brahmins to Dalits. The practice of worshiping local or territorial
deities as Kuladaivats began in the period of the Yadava dynasty. Other family deities
of the people of Maharashtra are Bhavani of Tuljapur, Mahalaxmi of Kolhapur, Renuka of
Mahur, and Balaji of Tirupati. India hosts numerous pilgrimage sites belonging
to many religions. Hindus worldwide recognise several Indian holy cities, including Allahabad,
Haridwar, Varanasi, Ujjain, Rameshwaram and Vrindavan. Notable temple cities include Puri,
which hosts a major Jagannath temple and Rath Yatra celebration; Tirumala – Tirupati, home
to the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple; and Katra, home to the Vaishno Devi temple.
The Himalayan towns of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri compose the Char Dham
pilgrimage circuit. The Kumbh Mela is one of the holiest of Hindu pilgrimages that is
held every four years; the location is rotated amongst Allahabad, Haridwar, Nashik, and Ujjain.
The Thalaimaippathi at Swamithope is the leading pilgrim center for the Ayyavazhis.
Amongst the Eight Great Places of Buddhism, seven are in India. Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and
Kushinagar are the places where important events in the life of Gautama Buddha took
place. Sanchi hosts a Buddhist stupa erected by the emperor Ashoka. Several Tibetan Buddhist
sites in the Himalayan foothills of India have been built, such as Rumtek Monastery
and Dharamsala. For Muslims, the Dargah Shareef of Khwaza
Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer is a major pilgrimage site. Other Islamic pilgrimages include those
to the Tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti in Fatehpur Sikri, Jama Masjid in Delhi, and to Haji Ali
Dargah in Mumbai. Dilwara Temples in Mount Abu, Palitana, Pavapuri, Girnar and Shravanabelagola
are notable pilgrimage sites in Jainism. The Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar is the most
sacred gurdwara of Sikhism, while the Lotus Temple in Delhi is a prominent house of worship
of the Bahá’í faith. Relatively new pilgrimage sites include the
samadhi of Meher Baba in Meherabad, which is visited by his followers from around the
world and the Saibaba temple in Shirdi. Minority Beliefs and Sects
Hinduism contains many different sub-cultures just like most other religions. The major
aspects outlined above hold true for the majority of the Hindu population, but not all. Just
as each state is home to an individual language, Hinduism harbors various sub-cultures whose
traditions may or may not be shared by other Indians. A sect from Gujarat called the Prajapatis
for example, hold water as the sacred ornament to every meal. Before and after a meal, an
individual is expected to pour water in the palms of their right hand and sip the water
three times. This is often seen as a purification gesture: food is regarded as being holy and
every individual must purify themselves before touching their food.
Other minor sects in India carry no specific name, but they are uniquely identified by
the last names of each family. This convention is used more frequently in South India than
North India. For example, a relatively prominent sect in southern India prohibits making important
decisions, commencing new tasks, and doing other intellectually or spiritually engaged
actions after sunset. Historians believe that this tradition was derived from the concept
of Rahukaalam, in which Hindus believe that a specific time period of the day is inauspicious.
Stringent family beliefs are thought to have led to the development of a more constrained
religious hierarchy. Over time, this belief was extended to discourage taking major actions
and even staying awake for long periods of time after sunset. Examples of families which
follow this tradition include Gudivada, Padalapalli, Pantham, and Kashyap.
Religion and politics Politics
Religious ideology, particularly that expressed by the Hindutva movement, has strongly influenced
Indian politics in the last quarter of the 20th century. Many of the elements underlying
India’s casteism and communalism originated during the rule of the British Raj, particularly
after the late 19th century; the authorities and others often politicised religion. The
Indian Councils Act 1909, which established separate Hindu and Muslim electorates for
the Imperial Legislature and provincial councils, was particularly divisive. It was blamed for
increasing tensions between the two communities. Due to the high degree of oppression faced
by the lower castes, the Constitution of India included provisions for affirmative action
for certain sections of Indian society. Many states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party
introduced laws that made them more difficult; they assert that such conversions are often
forced or allured. The BJP, a national political party, also gained widespread media attention
after its leaders associated themselves with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and other prominent
religious issues. A well known accusation that Indian political
parties make for their rivals is that they play vote bank politics, meaning give political
support to issues for the sole purpose of gaining the votes of members of a particular
community. Both the Congress Party and the BJP have been accused of exploiting the people
by indulging in vote bank politics. The Shah Bano case, a divorce lawsuit, generated much
controversy when the Congress was accused of appeasing the Muslim orthodoxy by bringing
in a parliamentary amendment to negate the Supreme Court’s decision. After the 2002 Gujarat
violence, there were allegations of political parties indulging in vote bank politics.
During an election campaign in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP released an inflammatory CD targeting
Muslims. This was condemned by the Communist Party of India as playing the worst kind of
vote bank politics. Caste-based politics is also important in India; caste-based discrimination
and the reservation system continue to be major issues that are hotly debated.
Education Several political parties have been accused
of using their political power to manipulate educational content in a revisionist manner.
During the Janata Party government, the government was accused of being too sympathetic to the
Muslim viewpoint. In 2002, the BJP-led NDA government tried to change the National Council
of Educational Research and Training school textbooks through a new National Curriculum
Framework. Some media referred to it as the “saffronisation”
of textbooks, saffron being the color of BJP flag. The next government, formed by the UPA
and led by the Congress Party, pledged to de-saffronise textbooks. Hindu groups alleged
that the UPA promoted Marxist and pro-Muslim biases in school curricula.
Conflicts Communal conflicts have periodically plagued
India since it became independent in 1947. The roots of such strife lie largely in the
underlying tensions between sections of its majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities,
which emerged under the Raj and during the bloody Partition of India. Such conflict also
stems from the competing ideologies of Hindu fundamentalism versus Islamic fundamentalism
and Islamism; both are prevalent in parts of the Hindu and Muslim populations. This
issue has plagued India since before independence. The lack of education among the masses and
the ease with which corrupt politicians can take advantage of the same has been attributed
as the major reason for religious conflicts in India. Even though Freedom of religion
is an integral part of the India constitution, the inability to hold communal mob’s accountable
has limited the exercise of religious freedom in India.
Alongside other major Indian independence leaders, Mahatma Gandhi and his shanti sainiks
worked to quell early outbreaks of religious conflict in Bengal, including riots in Calcutta
and Noakhali District that accompanied Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s Direct Action Day, which was
launched on 16 August 1946. These conflicts, waged largely with rocks and knives and accompanied
by widespread looting and arson, were crude affairs. Explosives and firearms, which are
rarely found in India, were far less likely to be used. Major post-independence communal conflicts
include the 1984 Anti-Sikh riots, which followed Operation Blue Star by the Indian Army; heavy
artillery, tanks, and helicopters were employed against the Sikh partisans inside the Harmandir
Sahib, causing heavy damage to Sikhism’s holiest Gurdwara. According to the Indian government
estimations, the assault caused the deaths of up to 100 soldiers, 250 militants, and
hundreds of civilians. This triggered Indira Gandhi’s assassination
by her outraged Sikh bodyguards on 31 October 1984, which set off a four-day period during
which Sikhs were massacred; The Government of India reported 2,700 Sikh deaths however
human rights organisations and newspapers report the death toll to be 10,000–17,000.
In the aftermath of the riot, the Government of India reported 20,000 had fled the city,
however the PUCL reported “at least” 50,000 displaced persons.
The most affected regions were neighbourhoods in Delhi. Human rights organisations and the
newspapers believe the massacre was organised. The collusion of political officials in the
massacres and the failure to prosecute any killers alienated normal Sikhs and increased
support for the Khalistan movement. The Akal Takht, the governing religious body of Sikhism,
most definitely considers the killings to be a genocide.
Other incidents include the 1992 Bombay Riots that followed the demolition of the Babri
Mosque as a result of the Ayodhya debate, and the 2002 Gujarat violence that followed
the Godhra Train Burning—in the latter, more than 2,000 Muslims were killed. Terrorist
activities such as the 2005 Ram Janmabhoomi attack in Ayodhya, the 2006 Varanasi bombings,
the 2006 Jama Masjid explosions, and the 11 July 2006 Mumbai Train Bombings are often
blamed on communalism. Lesser incidents plague many towns and villages; representative was
the killing of five people in Mau, Uttar Pradesh during Hindu-Muslim rioting, which was triggered
by the proposed celebration of a Hindu festival. Major religious riots, since Independence
Notes Footnotes Citations References External links
Religions in India “History of Religions in India”. www.indohistory.com.
Retrieved 2008-01-01.  Statistics
“Census of India 2001: Data on religion”. Government of India. Retrieved 2007-05-28. 
Reports “International Religious Freedom Report 2006:
India”. United States Department of State. Retrieved 2007-05-28. 

Otis Rodgers

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