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Survey on Religious Tolerance and Freedom in India


Recently a nation-wide survey on religious attitudes, behaviours and beliefs in India was conducted by Pew Research Center, a non-profit based in Washington DC.


GS-II: Polity and Governance (Constitutional Provisions, Fundamental Rights), GS-I: Indian Society

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Fundamental Right to Freedom of Religion in India
  2. Secularism in India
  3. Religious Diversity in India
  4. Highlights of the survey on Religious Tolerance and Freedom in India

Fundamental Right to Freedom of Religion in India

Freedom of religion in India is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 25-28 of the Constitution of India.

Article 25: Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion

  • Article 25 is the bedrock of secularism in India and it states that people have the freedom to
    1. Conscience (inner freedom of thought),
    2. Profess (declare one’s religious beliefs openly),
    3. Practice (perform religious worship), and
    4. Propagate (dissemination of one’s religious beliefs) their religion.
  • The Right to Propagate religion does NOT include the right to convert another person to a particular religion.
  • Thus, Article 25 covers not only religious beliefs (doctrines) but also religious practices (rituals).
  • However, the rights guaranteed under Article 25 are subject to reasonable restrictions to maintain public order, morality and health.
  • Religious rights under Article 25 are available to both citizens and non-citizens.

Article 26: Freedom to manage religious affairs

  • Article 25 gives freedom to an individual, while Article 26 deals with an entire religious denomination or any of its section.
  • Under Article 26, every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right to:
    1. establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes;
    2. manage its own affairs in matters of religion;
    3. own and acquire movable and immovable property; and
    4. administer such property in accordance with law
  • The rights guaranteed under Article 26 are also subject to reasonable restrictions to maintain public order, morality and health.

Article 27: Freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion

  • Article 27 prohibits the State from spending any public money collected by way of tax for the promotion of any religion.
  • In other words, the state should not spend the public money collected by way of tax for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion.
  • This provision prohibits the state from favouring, patronizing and supporting one religion over the other.
  • This also means that taxes can be used for the promotion or maintenance of all religions.
  • Article 27 prohibits only the levying of a tax and not a fee. This is because the purpose of a fee is to control secular administration of religious institutions and not to promote or maintain a religion. Thus, a fee can be levied on pilgrims to provide them with some special service or safety measures.

Article 28: Freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions

  • Article 28 prohibits religious instruction (religious teachings) from being provided in educational institutions that are Wholly Maintained by State funds.
  • Article 28 distinguishes between 4 types of religious institutions and has different restrictions on providing religious instructions for different types:
 Type of Educational InstitutionStatus of Religious Instruction
1.Wholly Maintained by StateCompletely Prohibited
2.Administered by the State, but established under some trust or endowmentPermitted – no conditions
3.Just Recognized by StatePermitted – but only with consent (or Guardian’s consent in case of a minor)
4.Just Receiving Aid from StatePermitted – but only with consent (or Guardian’s consent in case of a minor)

Secularism in India

  • Secularism is a principle that advocates separation of religion from civic affairs and the state.
  • The term means that all the religions in India get equal respect protection and support from the state.
Equal protection by the state to all religions. It reflects certain meanings. First secular state to be one that protects all religions, but does not favour one at the cost of others and does not adopt any religion as the state religion.Separation of state and religion as mutual exclusion means both are mutually exclusive in their own spheres of operation.
In the Indian context, secularism has been interpreted as the state maintaining an “arm’s length distance” from ALL religions.Western secularism can be seen as the state refusing to interact with any form of religious affairs.

Religious Diversity in India

  • India is one of the most diverse nations in terms of religion, it being the birthplace of four major world religions: Jainism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.
  • Even though Hindus form close to 80 percent of the population, India also has region-specific religious practices: for instance, Jammu and Kashmir has a Muslim majority, Punjab has a Sikh majority, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram have Christian majorities and the Indian Himalayan States such as Sikkim and Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh and the state of Maharashtra and the Darjeeling District of West Bengal have large concentrations of Buddhist population.
  • The country has significant Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, Jain and Zoroastrian populations.
  • Islam is the largest minority religion in India, and the Indian Muslims form the third largest Muslim population in the world, accounting for over 14 percent of the nation’s population.

Highlights of the survey on Religious Tolerance and Freedom in India

  • The report found that 91% of Hindus felt they have religious freedom, while 85% of them believed that respecting all religions was very important ‘to being truly Indian’.
  • Also, for most Hindus, religious tolerance was not just a civic virtue but also a religious value, with 80% of them stating that respecting other religions was an integral aspect of ‘being Hindu’.
  • Other religions showed similar numbers for freedom of religion and religious tolerance. While 89% of Muslims and Christians said they felt free to practice their religion, the comparative figures for Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains were 82%, 93%, and 85% respectively.
  • On the question of religious tolerance, 78% of Muslims felt it was an essential aspect of being Indian, while 79% deemed it a part of their religious identity as Muslims. Other religious denominations scored similarly high on religious tolerance.
  • The survey also revealed a number of shared beliefs that cut across religious barriers. For example, while 77% of Hindus said they believed in karma, an identical percentage of Muslims said so as well.

Sad news regarding religious segregation

  • Despite shared values and a high regard for religious tolerance, the majority in all the faiths scored poorly on the metrics for religious segregation: composition of friends’ circle, views on stopping inter-religious marriage, and willingness to accept people of other religions as neighbors.
  • Relatively few Indians (13%) had a mixed friends circle – people belonging to smaller religious groups were less likely than Hindus and Muslims to say that all their friends were of the same religion.
  • On the question of inter-religious marriage, most Hindus (67%), Muslims (80%), Sikhs (59%), and Jains (66%) felt it was ‘very important’ to stop the women in their community from marrying outside their religion (similar rates of opposition to men marrying outside religion). But considerably fewer Christians (37%) and Buddhists (46%) felt this way.
  • The majorities in all the religious groups were, hypothetically, willing to accept members of other religious groups as neighbours, but a significant number had reservations. About 78% of Muslims said they would be willing to have a Hindu as a neighbour. Buddhists were most likely to voice acceptance of other religious groups as neighbours, with roughly 80% of them wiling to accept a Muslim, Christian, Sikh or Jain as a neighbour, and even more (89%) ready to accept a Hindu neighbour.

Political Factor

  • Interestingly, the survey found that Hindus who voted for the BJP in the 2019 elections tended to be less accepting of religious minorities in their neighbourhood.
  • Only about half of the Hindus who voted for the BJP said they would accept a Muslim (51%) or a Christian (53%) as neighbours, compared with higher shares of those who voted for other parties (64% and 67% respectively).
  • About 60% of Hindu voters who linked Indian identity to being Hindu and speaking in Hindi voted for the BJP, compared with only a third among Hindu voters for whom these aspects did not matter for national identity.

Geographical Factor

  • Geography was a key factor in determining attitudes, with people in the south of India more religiously integrated and less opposed to inter-religious marriages.
  • People in the South “are less likely than those in other regions to say all their close friends share their religion (29%),” noted the report.
  • Also, Hindu nationalist sentiments were less prevalent in the South. Among Hindus, those in the South (42%) were far less likely than those in Central states (83%) or the North (69%) to say that being Hindu was very important to being truly Indian.
  • Also, people in the South were somewhat less religious than those in other regions: 69% said religion was very important to their lives, while 92% in Central India held the same view.

Religious identity and nationalism

  • The survey also found that Hindus tend to see their religious identity and Indian national identity as closely intertwined, with 64% saying that it was ‘very important’ to be Hindu to be “truly” Indian.
  • Most Hindus (59%) also linked Indian identity with being able to speak Hindi. And among Hindus who believed it was very important to be Hindu in order to be truly Indian, a full 80% also believed it was very important to speak Hindi to be truly Indian.

-Source: The Hindu

December 2023