New Delhi: Washington-based Pew Research Centre is considered one of the most credible survey agencies of the world and its findings are cited as authentic sources of information on a plethora of topics. Pew findings find equal importance in academia and media. In this context, the recent Pew study on Indian population titled Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation has drawn conclusions that please and surprise those who have studied Indian society for long.
Interestingly, the Pew study is based on a survey of 3,505 Indians that was conducted between September and October 2018. So, the sample size of the survey is too concise to come to any definite conclusion, yet this is the only such study that has been done across India in recent times. It was conducted prior to the widespread anti-CAA movement in India.
On one hand, the survey proves that unlike popular perception, India is largely a tolerant society when it comes to religious diversity that is prevalent in the country. “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 to millions of Christians and Buddhists,” it says.
However, when it comes to showing religious trends among Muslims of India, the study reveals some startling facts.
According to the survey 70 percent of Muslims frequently or occasionally interact with Hindus in India, while only 56 per cent Hindus interact with their Muslims counterparts. Based on this interaction and related queries, the survey concludes that a number of Indian Muslims (every 4th one) believe in re-incarnation (re-birth) as their Hindu compatriots do. For Indian Muslims, even those living in very far off corners of the country, it is unfathomable that they have faith in re-birth. One can go from Kanyakumari to Kashmir and interview as many Muslims as possible, but to find people with belief in re-birth will be a sort of discovery. Yes, there can be some groups like tribals that might nurture such beliefs, but they should be treated only as exceptions in a serious study like that of Pew.
Another startling fact about Indian Muslims is that they hold the river Ganges holy, as do Hindus. Even this fact is quite contestable as Muslims do really care about the cleanliness of the river and have been part of many such cleanliness drives and they also respect Hindus’ belief in the holiness of Ganga, but their respect can’t be construed as part of faith because of living in India. Ganga is dear to them, but it certainly is not like a deity to them.
Third contestable facts about Indian Muslims that the study establishes is that they prefer living a segregated lives and don’t like intermixing with other faiths as other faiths (Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, etc) do with them. The study also says that Muslims enthusiastically stop their women from marrying into other faiths and their men are desisted from doing so. This fact, though may be partially true, doesn’t make a watertight generalisation about Indian Muslims. Yes, not many Muslim women are seen marrying Hindus, Sikhs and Christians, but it’s not the case that it doesn’t happen and that Muslims have been found to be opposing girls choosing boys of other faiths. In fact, such opposition is largely seen in the Hindu community. Even there have been cases of intra-religious and inter-caste conflicts noticed within Hindus and cases of honour killings are reported rampantly. Besides, there is hardly any such case where a Muslim man has been prevented from marrying a Hindu, Sikh or Christian girls. Actually, the scenario in India is quite the opposite. The whole love jihad phenomenon revolves around preventing Muslim men marrying Hindu girls.
Similarly, the charge that Muslims live in segregated colonies is true but the reasons are not Muslims. There have been myriad examples cited in the media that even Muslims celebrities like Shabana Azmi have been denied rented accommodations in Hindu-dominated colonies. Muslims, in almost all Indian cities, have had their separate colonies since 1947.