Freedom of religion in India
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Freedom of religion in India is a fundamental right guaranteed by the country's constitution. Modern India came into existence in 1947 as a secular nation and the Indian constitution's preamble states that India is a secular state. Freedom of religion is established in tradition as Hinduism does not recognise labels of distinct religions and has no concept of blasphemy or heresy. Every citizen of India has a right to practice and promote their religion peacefully. However, there have been a number of incidents of religious intolerance that resulted in riots and violence. These incidents have been condemned by the governmental administrations, private businesses, and judicial systems.
India is the birthplace of four major world religions: Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Yet, India is one of the most diverse nations in terms of religion. Even though Hindus form close to 80 percent of the population, the country also has large Muslim, Sikh, Christian and Zoroastrian populations. Islam is the largest minority religion in India, and the Indian Muslims form the third largest Muslim population in the world, accounting for over 12 percent of the nation's population.
India has a Hindu President Pranab Mukherjee, Muslim vice-president M. Hamid Ansari, a Sikh Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and an Atheist Defence Minister A. K. Antony. The leader of the largest party, the Indian National Congress, Sonia Gandhi is a Catholic Christian, while the leader of the opposition is Sushma Swaraj, a Hindu. India's ex-President APJ Abdul Kalam was a Muslim. Out of the 12 Presidents of India since Independence, three have been Muslims and one Sikh. India had a prominent former Defence Minister George Fernandes, a Christian. India's Air Force Chief, Fali H. Major, was a Zoroastrian.
- 1 History
- 2 USCIRF indictment of India
- 3 Laws against conversions
- 4 Cases of religious violence
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Historical tradition of religious freedom
The plural nature of Indian society in the 3rd century BCE was encapsulated in an inscription of Ashoka:
- "King Piyadasi (Ashoka) dear to the Gods, honours all sects, the ascetics (hermits) or those who dwell at home, he honours them with charity and in other ways. But the King, dear to the Gods, attributes less importance to this charity and these honours than to the vow of seeing the reign of virtues, which constitutes the essential part of them. For all these virtues there is a common source, modesty of speech. That is to say, One must not exalt one’s creed discrediting all others, nor must one degrade these others Without legitimate reasons. One must, on the contrary, render to other creeds the honour befitting them.”
sava pasa-nd-a-puujako, sava devaayatan-sanskaarako ।
I am worshipper of all sects, restorer of all shrines. ।।
Kharvela's self-description must be contrasted with other rulers around the world, who took pride in calling themselves "but-shikan" or "defender of the (only true) faith".
- "Hindus who, when young, had from pressure become Musalmans, were allowed to go back to the faith of their fathers. No man should be interfered with on account of his religion, and every one should be allowed to change his religion, if he liked. ...People should not be molested, if they wished to build churches and prayer rooms, or idol temples, or fire temples."
Refuge from religious persecution
India, with its traditional tolerance, has served as a refuge for groups that have encountered persecution elsewhere.
- Jews: Jews in India were granted lands and trading rights. The oldest of the three longest-established Jewish communities in India, traders from Judea and Israel arrived in the city of Cochin, in what is now Kerala, 2,500 years ago and are now known as Cochin Jews. According to recordings by Jews, the date of the first arrival is given at 562 BC. In 68 AD, more Jews fled to Kerala to escape attacks by the Romans on Jerusalem.
- Christians: Christianity is believed to have come to India in the 1st century through Saint Thomas who formed the Saint Thomas Christians in Kerala. Later in the 15th and 16th centuries European Missionaries brought in Christianity in places such as Goa and Mangalore.Protestant Missionaries came in 18th and 19th centuries to North-East India.
- Parsi: The Zoroastrians from Greater Persia arrived in India fleeing from religious persecution in their native land in the 9th century. They flourished in India and in 18–19th centuries intervened on behalf of their co-religionists in still in Greater Persia. They have produced India's pioneering industrialist house of s and one of the only two Indian Field Marshals in S. F. Manekshaw.
- Tibetan Buddhists: India is now home to the Dalai Lama, a high lama of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism.
- Baha'i: India now has world's largest Baha'i population who took refuge to India from Iran.
Religious disturbances and conflicts in India before 1947
Notable incidents of religious intolerance, conflicts and riots have occurred at several points in time.
- Islamic invaders such as Mahmud of Ghazni committed iconoclasm and genocide of Hindus.
- Various rulers of the Mughal era (such as Aurangzeb) are regarded as perpetrators of religious intolerance towards Hindus and Sikhs through violent acts, oppression, iconoclasm and imposition of jizya.
- The Goa Inquisition was carried out against the Hindu, Muslim and Jewish populations of Goa by Portuguese Rule.
USCIRF indictment of India
A US congressional body has put India on a list of countries which have failed to protect its religious minorities adequately. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom says India was added to the list because of a "disturbing increase" in religious violence. USCIRF had referred to the anti-Christian and anti-Muslim riots in Odisha and Gujarat in 2008 and 2002 respectively.
Laws against conversions
The Indian Constitution in Article 25 grants to citizens of India of all religious persuasions freedom to profess, practise and propagate their faith in a way that does not disrupt public order and does not affect public health and morality adversely. The Article 25 of the Indian Constitution is a basic human rights guarantee that cannot be subverted or misinterpreted in any manner. It is in this context that the anti-conversion laws in India must be viewed.Anti-conversion laws are promulgated on the premise that forced or induced conversions happen and need to be prevented. Such laws are controversial because they run the risk of being abused by communal forces who may have the tacit approval of the dominant political party in the state or country.
In the past, several Indian states passed Freedom of Religion Bills primarily to prevent people from converting to Christianity. Arunachal Pradesh passed a bill in 1978. In 2003, Gujarat State, passed an anti-conversion bill in 2003.
In July 2006, the Madhya Pradesh government passed legislation requiring people who desire to convert to a different religion to provide the government with one month's notice, or face fines and penalties.
In August 2006, the Chhattisgarh State Assembly passed similar legislation requiring anyone who desires to convert to another religion to give 30 days' notice to, and seek permission from, the district magistrate.
The US State Department has claimed that the recent wave of anti-conversion laws in various Indian states passed by some states is seen as gradual increase in the traditional nationalism(Hindutva).
Cases of religious violence
- The murder of Indira Gandhi had triggered a riot against the Sikhs, often regarded as a Congress Party and its then leader Rajiv Gandhi supported pogrom. (See 1984 anti-Sikh riots.)
- The riots against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, triggered by Godhra train burning. (See 2002 Gujarat violence.)
Situation of Hindus
Militants have murdered and forcibly displaced more than 400,000 Kashmiri Hindus during the Kashmir insurgency. This has been condemned and labelled as ethnic cleansing in a 2006 resolution passed by the United States Congress. In Northeastern India, Christian extremist groups have harassed, murdered and forcibly converted Hindus, and attacked temples. In 2000, Tripura police discovered that The Baptist Church of Tripura supplied the NLFT with arms and financial support and to have encouraged forced conversion and murder of Hindus. NLFT has issued a ban on the Hindu festivals of Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja, and declared it their mission to expand what they describe as the kingdom of God and Christ in Tripura. In Assam, members of the primarily Christian Hmar ethnic group have placed bloodstained crosses in temples and forced Hindus to convert at gunpoint. Many Hindu holy sites have been regularly attacked by terrorist groups, including Varanasi, Ayodhya, and Akshardham temple.
Situation of Muslims
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There were widespread riots during the Partition of India in 1947, with attacks on Muslim minorities by Hindu and Sikh mobs in response to attacks, killing, raping of, and violence .
In 1992, the Babri Mosque was demolished by Hindu mob on the basis of their assertion that this was built on the birthplace of God Raam (one of the most revered avatar of Vishnu) and a temple existed at the site before the erection of the Mosque.
The Sangh Parivar family of organisations, has allegedly been involved in encouraging negative stereotyping of Muslims. However most of these allegations were founded on historic facts where Muslim rulers had destroyed temples and places of religious importance to Hindus. The 2002 Gujarat violence was result of the Godhra train burning, in which 58 Hindus, returning from pilgrimage and including 25 women and 15 children, were burnt alive, after the train had been stopped by a Muslim mob. However it was one such case where attacks were carried out against the indigenous Gujrati Muslim population. According to the official report, in total the riots led to the death of 1044 people in total (including those from the train fire), 754 Muslims and 290 Hindus . One of the most serious instances of violence was the Best Bakery incident, which involved the killing of 14 people. This act of extreme violence is not a one off incident. Since the independence, the Muslim population has had to deal with sense of insecurity arising from such mass scale riots. The Jamshedpur riots of 1964 and 1979, the Bhagalpur riots of 1989, 1992 Bombay riots, are some of the examples where Muslims were categorically targeted and persecuted.
Human Rights Watch puts the death toll at higher figures, with 2000 deaths, mostly Muslim, but with attacks against Hindus by Muslim mobs as well. One Reuters article speaks of more than 2000 dead Muslims.
Situation of Christians
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From 1964 to 1996, at least 38 incidents of violence against Christians were reported. In 1997, 24 such incidents were reported. Since 1998, Christians in India have faced a wave of violence. In 1998 alone, 90 incidents were reported. According to a Human rights Watch report that was published in September 1999, the number of incidents of anti-Christian violence rose in the months following the victory of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in March 1998. Attacks against Christians in Odisha, have occurred in recent years in response to missionary activity by Christians. In a well-publicised case, Graham Staines, an Australian Christian missionary was burnt to death along with his two sons Timothy (aged 9) and Philip (aged 7), while they were sleeping in his station wagon at Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district in Orissa in January 1999. He was running the Evangelical Missionary Society of Mayurbhanj, an Australian missionary society. His "distribution of beef & desecrating Hindu Deities" was the root cause of this attack. In 2003, Dara Singh was convicted of leading the gang responsible.
- Freedom of religion
- Hate speech laws in India
- Partition of India
- 2002 Gujarat violence
- Persecution of Hindus
- Persecution of Muslims
- Persecution of Christians
- article 15 of India Constitution
- (Rigveda 1:164:46) “Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti” – Truth is one; sages call it many names
- (Maha Upanishad: Chapter 6, Verse 72) "Vasudhaiva kutumbakam" – The entire world is a one big family
- de Lingen, John; Ramsurrun, Pahlad. An Introduction to The Hindu Faith. Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd. p. 2. ISBN 978-81-207-4086-0.
- Murthy, BS (2003). Puppets of Faith: theory of communal strife. Bulusu Satyanarayana Murthy. p. 7. ISBN 978-81-901911-1-1.
- "INDOLOGY archives – March 2001 (#143)". Listserv.liv.ac.uk.
- "India hit over religious violence". BBC News. 13 August 2009. Retrieved 2010-05-02.
- "Laws & Policies". All India Christian Council. Retrieved 2007-12-29.
- "Conversions harder in India state 26/07/2006". BBC News. 26 July 2006.
- Mohammad, Faisal (4 August 2006). "Christian anger at conversion law 04/08/2006". BBC News.
- "WorldWide Religious News-Himachal enforces anti-conversion law". Wwrn.org. 22 February 2007.
- TOI on International Religious Freedom Report 2003, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour of the US State Department
- Pallone introduces resolution condemning Human rights violation against Kashmiri Pandits, United States House of Representatives, 2006-02-15
- Expressing the sense of Congress that the Government of the Republic of India and the State Government of Jammu and Kashmir should take immediate steps to remedy the situation of the Kashmiri Pandits and should act to ensure the physical, political, and economic security of this embattled community. HR Resolution 344, United States House of Representatives, 2006-02-15
- Bhaumik, Subhir (18 April 2000). "'Church backing Tripura rebels'". BBC News. Retrieved 2006-08-26.
- Christianity threat looms over Bhuvan Pahar Assam Times – 23 June 2009
- Sociology of religion in India Rowena Robinson – Social Science – 2004
- The legacy of Muslim rule in India Kishori Saran Lal – History – 1992
- "Godhra verdict: 31 convicted in Sabarmati Express burning case". The Times of India. 22 February 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
- Burke, Jason (22 February 2011). "Godhra train fire verdict prompts tight security measures". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 24 February 2011.
- BBC News: Gujarat riot death toll revealed
- www.pucl.org: bakery case
- http://hrw.org/reports/2002/india/ Hrw.org Retrieved on 05-24-07
- www.uk.reuters.com: Indian film on sectarian violence wins Asia awards
- Stanley, Alessandra (6 November 1999). "Pope Lands in India Amid Rise in Anti-Christian Violence". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 April 2010.
- Vinay Lal. "Anti-Christian Violence in India". Manas: India and Its Neighbors. UCLA College of Letters and Science.
- "Anti-Christian Violence on the Rise in India". Human Rights Watch. 29 September 1999. "Attacks Against Christians in India, details violence against Christians in the months ahead of the country's national parliamentary elections in September and October 1999, and in the months following electoral victory by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's Party, known as the BJP) in the state of Gujarat. Attacks against Christians throughout the country have increased significantly since the BJP began its rule at the center in March 1998. They include the killings of priests, the raping of nuns, and the physical destruction of Christian institutions, schools, churches, colleges, and cemeteries."
- The Staines case verdict V. Venkatesan, Frontline Magazine, 11–23 Oct 2003
- "International Religious Freedom Report 2006 – India". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 2006-11-08.
- US REPORT ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN INDIA, a critique
- International Religious Freedom Report – India
- Hindu Genocide
- Christians convert back to Hinduism – http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/south_asia/3534071.stm