Updated: August 7, 2021 8:01:44 am
Lately, it has been argued that if one goes by the recent Pew Research Center survey, “Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation”, Muslims do not behave differently from the Hindus. This is true to some extent, with differences of degree. But in many domains, Muslims are not as willing as Hindus to “live separately”, and their attitudes are more similar to those of other minorities.
In an earlier article, ‘The lines that divide’ (IE, July 22), I had emphasised that the Pew survey suggests Hindus appear as unwilling to mix with others. Muslims are no different from certain standpoints: 78 per cent of them consider that “stopping intermarriage is a high priority” (against 66 per cent on the Hindu side) and 89 per cent of them say that all or most of their friends come from their own community (against 86 per cent on the Hindu side). But only 16 per cent of them would not be willing to accept a Hindu as a neighbour, whereas 36 per cent of Hindus would not be willing to accept a Muslim as a neighbour.
Similarly, Muslims are imbued with Hindu religious notions: 77 per cent of them believe in karma, 27 per cent in reincarnation and 26 per cent in the Ganga’s power to purify. This is a clear legacy of what “unity in diversity” used to mean in India — a concept that was encapsulated in the old formula of “composite culture” or, in Hindustani, “mili juli/mushtarka/Ganga-Jamuni-tehzib”. The resilience of this approach is not unrelated to the fact that in northern India, 37 per cent of Indian Muslims identify with Sufism. Incidentally, many Muslims do not identify to any “sect” — 36 per cent do not even know whether they are Sunni, or Shia or any other sect.
This erosion of sectarian identification has probably something to do with the sentiment that Muslims form a minority. This sentiment is fostered by discriminations: One fifth of Muslims say that they have “personally faced religious discrimination recently” (40 per cent in North India) and 24 per cent – 35 per cent in North India — say “there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims in India today”. Sixty five per cent of them — like among Hindus — consider that communal violence is “a major issue”.
A remarkable finding of the Pew survey pertains to the manner in which minorities — including Muslims — identify with the Indian nation. Asked whether to be a member of their community is only a question of religion or only a matter of ancestry and culture or whether both things matter, Muslims’ responses are 38, 22 and 38 per cent respectively, and those of Christians 29, 34 and 27 per cent. These figures show that though historical roots of their religion is often emphasised — Islam and Christianity were not born in the country — their followers in India see themselves as Indian Muslims and Indian Christians. This is partly because of historical roots and the “Indianness” of their culture. Similarly, 91 per cent of Muslims and 89 per cent of Christians consider that “respecting India is very important to what being a member of their religious group means to them”.
It was found that 49 per cent of Hindus think that one can be a part of their community without believing in God whereas 64 per cent and 59 per cent think that being Hindu and Hindi-speaking are very important for being “truly” Indian. This ethnoreligious definition of the nation is making progress among the minorities as well: 27 per cent of Muslims, 20 per cent of Christians, 31 per cent of Sikhs and 30 per cent of Buddhists think that “being Hindu is important to be ‘truly’ Indian”, and 47, 28, 27 and 43 per cent respectively think that “to be able to speak Hindi is important to be ‘truly’ Indian”. These percentages suggest that languages like Urdu and Punjabi are not seen as good Indian language as Hindi and that some minorities are internalising the majoritarian view of the nation and its implications — the creation of second class citizens.
However, minorities are completely different from the Hindus in matters related to political culture. While the percentage of Hindus who consider that “the country should rely on a leader with a strong hand to solve the country’s problem” is higher than those who think the country should rely on a “democratic form of government” (50 per cent against 45 per cent), among the minorities those believing in democracy outnumber those believing in the strong man theory.
Last but not least, Muslims are equally attached to some traditions as Hindus: 72 per cent of them say that “it is crucial to stop inter-caste marriages” (against 63.5 per cent on the Hindu side) and 74 per cent of them are eager “to go to their own religious courts to solve family disputes”. But 56 per cent of them consider that “Muslim men should not be able to divorce their wives by saying ‘talaq’ three times”, an indication of socio-religious reformism that used to prevail in all communities but has now receded to the background.
This column first appeared in the print edition on August 7, 2021 under the title ‘The majority in minority’. The writer is senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris, professor of Indian politics and sociology at King’s India Institute, London.