A new 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, finds that Indians of all these religious backgrounds overwhelmingly say they are very free to practice their faiths.
The survey was conducted by Pew Research Center and found that Indians see religious tolerance as a central part of who they are as a nation.
The survey finds that Hindus see their religious identity and national identity as intertwined: 64% of Hindus say it is very important to be Hindu to be “truly” Indian and 59% link Indian identity is connected with being able to speak Hindi.
Also, most Indians say it is very important to respect all religions to be “truly Indian.”
Overall, the majority of Indian adults say they are a member of a Scheduled Caste (SC) – often referred to as Dalits (25%) – Scheduled Tribe (ST) (9%) or Other Backward Class (OBC) (35%).
In terms of core values, majority of Hindus (77%) as well as an identical percentage of Muslims believe in karma. 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.
The survey found that majority of Hindus see themselves as very different from Muslims (66%), and most Muslims (64%) also said that they are very different from Hindus.
Roughly two-thirds of Hindus said they wish 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.
Many Hindus (45%) say they are fine with having neighbours 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 other groups.
955 respondents from the Muslim community, the second-largest religious group in India, express great enthusiasm for Indian culture: 85% agree with the statement that “Indian people are not perfect, but Indian culture is superior to others.”
65% of Muslims, along with an identical share of Hindus, see communal violence as a very big national problem.
Nearly half of Muslim respondents say partition of India hurt communal relations with Hindus (48%), while fewer say it was a good thing for Hindu-Muslim relations (30%). While two-thirds of Sikhs (66%) say partition was a bad thing for Hindu-Muslim relations.
Overall, the survey found that 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%).
The Pew survey covered all states and union territories of India, with the exceptions of Manipur and Sikkim, where the COVID-19 situation prevented fieldwork.