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Explained: Religions in India, ‘living together separately’

A study by Pew Research Center has found that most Indians respect religious diversity. Yet they prefer to live in separate spheres, and frown on interfaith marriages.

Written by Kabir Firaque | New Delhi |
Updated: July 13, 2021 9:43:26 am
The Pew Research Center study, 'Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation', suggests that most Indians respect religious diversity.

A recent survey of nearly 30,000 individuals by the Pew Research Center (‘Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation’) suggests that most Indians respect religious diversity, and yet draw clear lines between communities when it comes to marriage.

Segregated spheres

More Indians see diversity as a benefit (53%) than view it as a liability (24%) for their country; the rest do not take a clear position. Again, 84% of Indians believe that respecting all religions is very important to being truly Indian, and 80% believe respecting other religions is a very important part of their religious identity (Chart 1). And yet, about two in every three Indians put a high priority on stopping interfaith and inter-caste marriages (Chart 2, Table 1).

Chart 1 (Source: Pew Research Center)

“Indians do simultaneously express commitment to religious tolerance and a consistent preference for keeping their religious communities in segregated spheres — they live together separately. While people in some countries may aspire to create a ‘melting pot’ of different religious identities, our data suggest that many Indians prefer a country more like a patchwork fabric or thali, with clear lines between groups,” Jonathan Evans, primary project manager on the study, said in an email.

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Chart 2 (Source: Pew Research Center)

For all the new laws aimed at stopping inter-community marriages, the survey found very little change caused by conversion to the size of various religious groups among the respondents (Table 2).

When it comes to neighbours, large sections among the minority communities say they would be willing to live near a Hindu. Most Hindus, too, say they would be willing to live near a Muslim, a Christian or a Jain. But many Hindus also have reservations: for example, 36% would not be willing to live near a Muslim.

Chart 3 (Source: Pew Research Center)

Triple talaq

A majority of Muslims say they are against triple talaq, with women more opposed to it than men. The survey also found three-quarters of Muslims in favour of having access to their own religious courts for family disputes (Charts 4 & 5).

Chart 4 (Source: Pew Research Center) Chart 5 (Source: Pew Research Center)

“Muslim opinions of triple talaq also differ based on several other factors. For example, Muslims with college degrees are more supportive of triple talaq than are Muslims with less education (46% vs 37%). And Muslims who say religion is very important in their lives are more likely to support triple talaq than those who say religion is less important (39% vs 26%),” Evans said.

Being Hindu or Muslim

For most Hindus and Muslims, avoiding beef and pork respectively is central to their idea of who is truly Hindu or Muslim. 72% of Hindus say a person who eats beef cannot be Hindu; 77% of Muslims say a person cannot be Muslim if he or she eats pork (Tables 5 & 6).

A majority of both groups also says a person cannot be Hindu or Muslim, respectively, if they celebrate each other’s festivals.

The two groups diverge to an extent on religiosity as a marker on identity. The shares of Muslims who say namaz and visiting mosques are essential to being Muslim (67% and 61% respectively) are higher than the shares of Hindus who say a person cannot be Hindu if they don’t say their prayers or don’t visit temples (48% each).

Survey and backdrop

The survey was conducted between November 17, 2019 and March 23, 2020 among 29,999 adults (22,975 Hindus, 3,336 Muslims), interviewed face-to-face in 26 states and three UTs. Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep (remoteness), Kashmir (shutdown), and Manipur and Sikkim (Covid-19) were excluded.

Six groups were targeted for oversampling: Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and those living in the Northeast. Sampling was conducted through a design that sought to increase diversity in religious representation.

When protests broke against the Citizenship Amendment Bill in December-January, the survey was in progress.

“…Tensions over the new citizenship law may have slightly depressed participation… by potential Muslim respondents. We also were unable to survey in the Kashmir Valley….” Evans said. “Still, the survey does represent the beliefs, behaviours and attitudes of around 95% of India’s overall Muslim population.”

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