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Indians Support Religious Tolerance But Keep Integration at Bay, Finds Pew Survey

Indians simultaneously express enthusiasm for religious tolerance and a consistent preference for keeping their religious communities in segregated spheres.

Indians live together separately, Finds new PEW study. (Source: Pexels)

New Delhi: A new Pew Research Center survey of major religious groups across India, based on nearly 30,000 face-to-face interviews of adults conducted in 17 languages between late 2019 and early 2020 (before Covid-19 pandemic) revealed that the majority of Indians across all religious lines support religious tolerance but in contradiction, show a marked preference for religious segregation and “want to live separately”.

The analysis of the data shows, almost all religions majority of the population (Above 80 per cent) believe that they have the right and freedom to practice their religion and all (above 75 per cent) agree that its is a part of their identity as an Indian and as a devout person.


In contradiction members of India’s major religious communities do not to see much in common with one another. The study said, the majority of Hindus see themselves as very different from Muslims (66 per cent), and most Muslims return the sentiment, saying they are very different from Hindus (64 per cent). There are a few exceptions: Two-thirds of Jains and about half of Sikhs say they have a lot in common with Hindus. But generally, people in India’s major religious communities tend to see themselves as very different from others.

Inter-religious marriages

A majority of religious groups expressed their reservation against inter-religious marriages too. For example, 67 per cent of Hindus, 80 per cent of Muslims, 59 per cent of Sikhs and 66 per cent of Jains  said that is ‘very important’ to stop women of their community from marrying outside their religion (similar rates of opposition to men marrying outside religion). Except Christians (37 per cent) and Buddhists (46 per cent) almost all felt this way.

In the third metric, all religious groups were willing to welcome or accept other religious group members as neighbours, but a significant number did have reservations.

For example, many Hindus (45 per cent) say they are fine with having neighbors of all other religions – be they Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist or Jain – but an identical share (45 per cent) say they would not be willing to accept followers of at least one of these groups, including more than one-in-three Hindus (36 per cent) who do not want a Muslim as a neighbor. Among Jains, a majority (61 per cent) say they are unwilling to have neighbors from at least one of these groups, including 54 per cent who would not accept a Muslim neighbor, although nearly all Jains (92 per cent) say they would be willing to accept a Hindu neighbor, revealed the study.

Hindu nationalism in India

The survey found that Hindus have closely intertwined their religious identity and Indian national identity. Nearly two-thirds of Hindus (64%) say it is very important to be Hindu to be “truly” Indian.

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Most Hindus (59 per cent) also link Indian identity with being able to speak Hindi – one of dozens of languages that are widely spoken in India. And these two dimensions of national identity – being able to speak Hindi and being a Hindu – are closely connected.


The BJP’s appeal is greater among Hindus who closely associate their religious identity and the Hindi language with being “truly Indian.” In the 2019 national elections, 60 per cent of Hindu voters who think it is very important to be Hindu and to speak Hindi to be truly Indian cast their vote for the BJP, compared with only a third among Hindu voters who feel less strongly about both these aspects of national identity.

Southern Deviation

The study revealed a Geographical deviation when it comes to Soth India. People in south were found more religiously integrated and more tolerant to inter-religious marriages. People in south “are less likely than those in other regions to say all their close friends share their religion (29 per cent),” said the report. 31 per cent of Hindus in the South said that all their close friends were Hindu, compared to 47 per cent of Hindus nationally. On the contrary, 19 per cent of Muslims in the South said that all their friends were Muslim, while 45 per cent of Muslims across the country said all their close friends were fellow Muslims.

However, Indians in South and Northeast see greater caste discrimination in their communities.

Three-quarters of India’s Hindu converts to Christianity (74 per cent) are concentrated in the Southern part of the country – the region with the largest Christian population. As a result, the Christian population of the South shows a slight increase within the lifetime of survey respondents: 6 per cent of Southern Indians say they were raised Christian, while 7 per cent say they are currently Christian.

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