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  • Writer's pictureAslam Abdullah

Religion in India by Pew Research Center

Updated: Jun 29, 2021

Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation Indians say it is important to respect all religions, but major religious groups see little in common and want to live separately WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 29, 2021) –

The following is the synopsis on Religion In India by the Pew Research Center.

More than 70 years after India became free from colonial rule, Indians generally feel their country has lived up to one of its post-independence ideals: a society where followers of many religions can live and practice freely. It is the major finding of a new Pew Research Center survey. India's massive population is diverse as well as devout. Not only do most of the world's Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs live in India, but it also is home to one of the world's largest Muslim populations and millions of Christians and Buddhists.

The survey of religion across India, based on nearly 30,000 face-to-face interviews of adults conducted in 17 languages between late 2019 and early 2020 (before the COVID-19 pandemic), finds that Indians of all these religious backgrounds overwhelmingly say they are very free to practice their faiths. Moreover, Indians see religious tolerance as a central part of who they are as a nation.

Across the major religious groups, most people say it is essential to respect all religions to be "truly Indian." And tolerance is a religious and civic value: Indians have unity in the view that respecting other religions is an important part of what it means to be a member of their religious community.

Apart from these shared values, several beliefs cross religious lines. Not only do a majority of Hindus in India (77%) believe in karma, but an identical percentage of Muslims do, too. A third of Christians in India (32%) – together with 81% of Hindus – say they believe in the purifying power of the Ganges River, a central belief in Hinduism. In Northern India, 12% of Hindus and 10% of Sikhs, along with 37% of Muslims, identity with Sufism, a mystical tradition most closely associated with Islam. And the vast majority of Indians of all major religious backgrounds say that respecting elders is very important to their faith. Yet, despite sharing certain values and religious beliefs – and living in the same country, under the same constitution – members of India's major religious communities often don't feel they have much in common with one another. Most Hindus see themselves as very different from Muslims (66%), and most Muslims return the sentiment, saying they are very different from Hindus (64%). There are a few exceptions: Two-thirds of Jains and about half of Sikhs say they have a lot in common with Hindus. But generally, people in India's major religious communities tend to see themselves as very different from others. This perception of difference reflects in traditions and habits that maintain the separation of India's religious groups. Many Indians, across a range of religious groups, say it is very important to stop people in their community from marrying into other religious groups. Roughly two-thirds of Hindus in India want to prevent interreligious marriages of Hindu women (67%) or Hindu men (65%). Even larger shares of Muslims feel similarly: 80% say it is very important to stop Muslim women from marrying outside their religion, and 76% say it is very important to stop Muslim men from doing so. Indians also overwhelmingly form friendships within their religious community – this is true not only among Hindus and Muslims but also among small religious groups like Sikhs and Jains. A large majority (86% of Indians overall, 86% of Hindus, 88% of Muslims, 80% of Sikhs, and 72% of Jains) say their close friends come mainly or entirely from their religious community.

In many ways, Indian society resembles a "patchwork fabric" with clear lines of separation between religious communities. Fewer Indians go so far as to say that their neighborhoods should consist only of people from their religious groups. Still, many would prefer to keep people of certain religions out of their residential areas or villages.

For example, many Hindus (45%) say they are fine with having neighbors of all other religions – be they Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, or Jain. But an identical share (45%) say they would not be willing to accept followers of at least one of these groups, including more than one-in-three Hindus (36%) who do not want a Muslim as a neighbor. Likewise, among Jains, most (61%) say they are unwilling to have neighbors from at least one of these groups, including 54% who would not accept a Muslim neighbor.

Additional key findings include:

•The survey finds that Hindus tend to see their religious identity and Indian national identity as closely intertwined: Nearly two-thirds of Hindus (64%) say it is very important to be Hindu to be "truly" Indian.

•Most Hindus (59%) also link Indian identity with Hindi – one of the dozens of widely spoken languages in India. And these two dimensions of national identity – being able to speak Hindi and being a Hindu – are closely connected. Among Hindus who say it is very important to be Hindu to be truly Indian, fully 80% also say it is very important to speak Hindi to be truly Indian.

•On balance, more Indians see diversity as a benefit than view it as a liability for their country: Roughly half (53%) of Indian adults say India's religious diversity benefits the country, while about a quarter (24%) see diversity as harmful, with similar figures among both Hindus and Muslims. • India's Muslims almost unanimously say they are very proud to be Indian (95%). They express great enthusiasm for Indian culture: 85% agree with the statement that "Indian people are not perfect, but Indian culture is superior to others."

•About a quarter of Muslims say their community faces "a lot" of discrimination in India (24%). The share of Muslims who see widespread discrimination against their community is similar to the share of Hindus who say Hindus face widespread religious discrimination in India (21%).

•Sikhs are overwhelmingly proud of their Indian identity. A near-universal share of Sikhs say they are very proud to be Indian (95%), and the vast majority (70%) say a person who disrespects India cannot be a Sikh. And like India's other religious groups, most Sikhs do not see evidence of widespread discrimination against their community – just 14% say Sikhs face a lot of discrimination in India.

•Sikhs are more likely than other religious communities to see communal violence as a huge problem. Nearly eight-in-ten Sikhs (78%) rate communal violence as a major issue, compared with 65% of Hindus and Muslims.

•The survey finds that most Indians do not perceive widespread caste-based discrimination. Just one in five Indians say there is a lot of discrimination against members of Scheduled Castes, while 19% say there is a lot of discrimination against Scheduled Tribes, and somewhat fewer (16%) see high levels of discrimination against Other Backward Classes. Members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are slightly more likely than others to perceive widespread discrimination against their two groups. •Most Indians from other castes say they would be willing to have someone belonging to a Scheduled Caste as a neighbor (72%). But a similarly large majority of Indians overall (70%) say that most or all of their close friends share their caste.

•Overall, 64% of Indians say it is very important to stop women in their community from marrying into other castes. About the same share (62%) say it is very important to stop men in their community from marrying into other cultures' castes.

•The vast majority of Indians, across all major faiths, say that religion is very important in their lives. And at least three-quarters of each major religion's followers say they know a great deal about their religion and its practices. Indian Muslims are slightly more likely than Hindus to consider religion very important in their lives (91% vs. 84%). Muslims also are modestly more likely than Hindus to say they know a great deal about their own religion (84% vs. 75%).

•Significant portions of each religious group also pray daily, with Christians among the most likely to do so (77%) – even though Christians are the least likely of the six groups to say religion is very important in their lives (76%). Most Hindus and Jains also pray daily (59% and 73%, respectively) and say they perform puja daily (57% and 81%), either at home or at a temple.

•Nearly all Indians say they believe in God (97%), and roughly 80% of people in most religious groups say they are certain that God exists. The main exception is Buddhists, one-third of whom say they do not believe in God. Still, among Buddhists who do think there is a God, most say they are certain in this belief.

•While belief in God is close to universal in India, the survey finds a wide range of views about the deity or deities that Indians believe in. The prevailing view is that there is one God "with many manifestations" (54%). But about one-third of the public says: "There is only one God" (35%). Far fewer say there are many gods (6%). •The survey asked all Indian Hindus who say they believe in God which god they feel closest to, and the vast majority of Hindus selected more than one God or indicated that they have many personal gods (84%). It is true not only among Hindus who say they believe in many gods (90%) or in one God with many manifestations (87%) but also among those who say there is only one God (82%). The God that Hindus most commonly feel close to is Shiva (44%). In addition, about one-third of Hindus feel close to Hanuman or Ganesha (35% and 32%, respectively).

•Many Indians embrace beliefs not traditionally associated with their faith: Muslims in India are just as likely as Hindus to say they believe in karma (77% each), and 54% of Indian Christians share this view. In addition, nearly three in ten Muslims and Christians say they believe in reincarnation (27% and 29%, respectively).

•Most Muslims and Christians say they don't participate in Diwali celebrations, the Indian festival of lights, traditionally celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists. But substantial minorities of Christians (31%) and Muslims (20%) report that they celebrate Diwali.

These are among the key findings of a Pew Research Center survey conducted face-to-face nationally among 29,999 Indian adults. Local interviewers administered the survey between November 17, 2019, and March 23, 2020, in 17 languages.

The survey covered all states and union territories of India, with the exceptions of Manipur and Sikkim, where the rapidly developing COVID-19 situation prevented fieldwork from starting in the spring of 2020, and the remote territories of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep; these areas are home to about a quarter of 1% of the Indian population.

The union territory of Jammu and Kashmir was covered by the survey, with no fieldwork conducted in the Kashmir region itself due to security concerns. Therefore, the margin of sampling error for the full sample of 29,999 respondents is plus or minus 1.7 percentage points.

This study, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation, is part of a larger effort by Pew Research Center to understand religious change and its impact on societies worldwide. The remainder of the new report explores the survey's findings in more detail. Chapter 1 describes Indians' views on religious freedom and discrimination.

Chapter 2 examines religious diversity and pluralism in India.

Chapter 3 explores religious segregation and views on interreligious marriage.

Chapter 4 reports on Indian attitudes about caste.

Chapter 5 examines components of religious identity in India.

Chapter 6 looks more closely at the role religion plays in Indian nationalism and politics.

Chapter 7 describes religious practices in India.

Chapter 8 analyzes how religion passes on to children.

Chapter 9 offers details about the survey's findings on religious clothing. Chapter 10 takes a closer look at food and religion.

Chapter 11 explores religious beliefs in India.

Chapter 12 describes Indians' beliefs about God.

To read the full report in English, go to: To read the report’s overview in Hindi, go to: Methodology (in English): Survey topline (in English): For more information about the study or to arrange an interview with the lead researchers, Associate Director of Research Dr. Neha Sahgal and Research Associate Jonathan Evans, please contact Anna Schiller at or 202-419-4514.
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