A political reading of the Pew survey

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Indians are deeply devout people, a major new Pew Research Centre survey finds perhaps to no great surprise. 60% of them, whether in cities or villages, pray daily.

The really good news for Indian-style secularism is that religious tolerance gets a big thumbs up. Respect for all religions is identified at the core of both national and religious identity by all the six major religious groups, which also overwhelmingly say they are very free to practise their faiths.

But the survey, ‘Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation’, based on nearly 30,000 face-to-face interviews conducted in 17 languages between late 2019 and early 2020, also identifies big majoritarian strands.

64% of Hindus say it is very important to be Hindu to be truly Indian. 59% of Hindus tie speaking Hindi to the national identity. Those who say these two things and also voted for BJP in the 2019 parliamentary elections, make up 30% of the total Hindus (Table 1).

Granted wide regional variations, this would be very cheery reading for north-centric Hindutva politics.

Indians who say politicians should exercise influence on religious matters forming the majority will similarly gladden right-of-centre politicians (Table 2). Indian politics since 2014 has also taken definitive strides in this direction. Ram Mandir construction, state laws criminalising interfaith marriages and the gau raksha slogan showed BJP recognising these sentiments.

Even educated Indians agree with state intervention in religion. But if they are also conservative, what does this mean for popular reception of a Uniform Civil Code? It would be the progressive political intervention taking matters like marriage, succession and divorce out of the sphere of personal laws.

Table 3 shows very high caste consciousness across Indians, including among Muslims and Christians. Large self-identification in OBC category buttresses some netas’ demand that the decennial Census reveal OBC data – even as successive central governments have been chary of opening new political minefields.

In this Pew survey 69% of those sampled self-identified as SC/ST/OBC-MBC but were underrepresented among college graduates (56%).

A shared experience across caste groups was that among those reporting recent financial hardship were 27% general category, 27% SC, 10% ST and 35% OBC, largely correlating with their share in the general population. Irrespective of caste, all of India craves an economic recovery.

A majority of those surveyed, hypothetically, had no reservations to neighbours being from other religions. But the India seen here bears little resemblance to a melting pot. All communities cling to their segregations.

As Table 4 shows there is marked disinterest among Indians in drawing people from other communities into inner friendship circles, reflecting also as endogamy. Among married adults, 99% of Hindus, 98% of Muslims and 95% of Christians shared the same religion with their spouse.

67% of Hindus, 80% of Muslims, and 54% of college graduates said it is very important to stop women in their community from marrying into another religion. All cohorts also largely concurred on stopping inter-caste marriages, whether by women or by men.

Like Hindus, 77% of Muslims believe in karma.  Modern India remains a work in progress.




Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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