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Religious Tolerance in India: Myth vs Reality

India is often presented by western media in a negative shade whenever question of religious tolerance arise. With the change in guard at centre (Congress to BJP), many predicted difficult days ahead for religious minorities in India. The speculations appear to be true if WhatsApp forwards, Facebook posts and tweets are to be believed. However, a recent research based study by Pew Research Centre (a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world) busted all the myths related to the so called religious intolerance in India.

A recent fact based and myth busting survey by Pew Research Centre encompassing all major religions 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. Karma is generally considered as a part of Hindu theology, however, apart from Hindus, more than 75% of Muslims in India also believe in the concept of Karma. To add to it, in northern India, 12% of Hindus and 10% of Sikhs, along with 37% of Muslims, identify with Sufism, a mystical tradition most closely associated with Islam.

Two-thirds of Jains and about half of Sikhs say they have a lot in common with Hindus and nearly all Jains (92%) say they would be willing to accept a Hindu neighbor. Many Hindus (45%) say they are fine with having neighbors of all other religions – be they Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist or Jain. Indian displaying a unique but mutually understanding mentality believe in religious tolerance and a consistent preference for keeping their religious communities in segregated spheres – they live together but separately. Indians who favor a religiously segregated society also overwhelmingly emphasize religious tolerance as a core value. As Pew Research Centre pointed out, concept of religious tolerance in India does not necessarily involve the mixing of religious communities. While people in some countries may aspire to create a “melting pot” of different religious identities, many Indians seem to prefer a country more like a patchwork fabric, with clear lines between groups. Politically motivated and TRP hungry media houses present this beautiful segregation as religious intolerance, which is against the core values of India.

Professors of WhatsApp and Facebook university might not be aware of the term Dar-Ul-Qaza- an institution whose mere existence is proof of deep rooted religious tolerance in India. Since 1937, India’s Muslims have had the option of resolving family and inheritance-related cases in officially recognized Islamic courts, known as Dar-Ul-Qaza. These courts are overseen by religious magistrates known as Qazi and operate under Islamic principles. As of 2021, there are roughly 70 Dar-Ul-Qaza in India. Dar-ul-Qaza are overseen by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board- an organization solely devoted to look after Muslim affairs based on religious laws. Although, in its 2019 political manifesto, BJP proclaimed a desire to create a national Uniform Civil Code, saying it would increase gender equality. Many cited this an example of religious intolerance, however, they failed to appreciate the fact that the very basis of UCC is addressing the issue of gender inequality and also to address the fact that institutions like Dar-Ul-Qaza has the potential to undermine the Indian judiciary as a portion of the population is not bound to the same laws as everyone else; a pre-requisite for the survival of a young democracy.

There is no end to imagination. Points and counterpoints can be given to portray something as right or wrong. Those backed by facts have general acceptance and are long lasting. Religious tolerance in India is tangible and can’t be overlooked on the basis of mere whims and fancies.

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