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India: The land of shared cultural values cutting across religions

A recent research by PEW Research Center (PRC) has found that at least three quarter of each major religion’s followers in India (Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains) consider religion very important in their life. More than three quarter of them knew a lot about their own religion and its practices. Except Buddhists (38%), more than 50% of the adherents of all the major religions pray daily.

With such strong belief in one’s own religion and a strong desire for religious segregation, an outsider with little knowledge of Indian culture would perceive India to be a divided country with little shared values in common. A survey conducted between November 2019 to March 2020 by PRC revealed something in stark contrast to the popular imagination. India’s diverse groups cutting across religious lines share patriotic feelings, cultural values and some religious beliefs. The best finding during the research was that more than 2/3rd Indians irrespective of religion say that they are very proud to be Indian, and most of them agree that Indian culture is superior to others. For example, approx. 90% of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Jains say that respecting elders is very important to their religious identity: a trait typically found in the Indian continent.

Most of the western European countries are represented by people having similar traditions and a single religion (barring a few) demarcated intermittently by international borders. India on the other hand represents people with mix traditions from multiple religions representing a vast swathe of geographical terrain. As found out by PRC, India’s minority groups often engage in practices that are more closely associated with Hindu traditions than their own. As hard as it is to believe, “Bindi”, mostly worn by Hindu married women is also used by married women of other major religions in India including Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. Not only this, Muslims in India just like Hindus say that they believe in karma (77% each). As pointed out by PRC, nearly three-in-ten Muslims and Christians say they believe in reincarnation. While these may seem like theological contradictions, for many Indians, calling oneself a Muslim or a Christian does not preclude believing in karma or reincarnation – beliefs that do not have a traditional, doctrinal basis in Islam or Christianity.

When it comes to celebrating religious festivals, India becomes one of the most accommodative country. Diwali is often celebrated as one of the most happening festivals in India especially in north India. Apart from 95% of Hindus, 31% Christians and 20% Muslims celebrate Diwali: A Hindu festival to celebrate return of lord Ram to Ayodhya. Celebrating Diwali is especially common among Muslims in the West, where 39% say they participate in the festival, and in the South (33%). Similarly, some members of the majority Hindu community celebrate Muslim and Christian festivals too: 7% of Indian Hindus say they celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid, and 17% celebrate Christmas.

Some standalone criminal incidents are often given communal colour by media for generating TRPs. Before forming an opinion, the intelligentsia must do fact check based on authentic data available (and certainly not the Social Media data). As pointed out by the recent research of PEW, the truth is often against the popular public imagination.

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