Freedom of religion in India

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Freedom of religion in India

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Freedom of religion in India is a fundamental right guaranteed by the country's constitution.[1] 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[2][3] and has no concept of blasphemy or heresy.[4][5] Every citizen of India has a right to practice and promote their religion peacefully. However, there have been few incidents of religious intolerance which have resulted in riots and pogroms. 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 a 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 (though not practicing) and a Hindu minister controlling foreign affairs. India's Air Force Chief, Fali H. Major, was a Zoroastrian.



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.”

Emperor Kharvela (born in the family of Rajarshi Vasu) declares himself in his inscription (approximately 2nd century BCE):[6]

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".

Badayuni in his Muntakhab-ut-Tawáríkh reports that the Mughal Emperor Akbar, who had established the Din-i-Ilahi faith, decreed the following in AH 1000 (1551-1552 CE):

"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, the revered head of the Vajrayana Buddhism of Tibet.
  • 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.[citation needed]
  • 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. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom was criticised by an Archbishop from Orissa who did not doubt the secular credentials of India.[7] USCIRF had referred to the anti-Christian and anti-Muslim riots in Orissa and Gujarat in 2008 and 2002 respectively.[8]

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.[1] 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.

Christian faith enjoins its adherents to practice altruistic acts of charity also. The practice of this precept of Christianity is easily misinterpreted by communal forces that are against conversion from one religion to another. Christian missionaries are accused of using inducements such as schooling, money, and even motorcycles and bicycles to lure poor people to the faith.[citation needed]. However, just how many of such instances are proved beyond reasonable doubt is the question. It should be emphasised here that opposition to genuine acts of charity and peaceful propagation of religious belief are in direct contravention of judicial guarantees of freedom of religion (like Article 25 of the Indian Constitution).

Anti-conversion laws are promulgated to supposedly prevent forced or induced conversions. But given the facts described above, anti-conversion laws in India are very controversial and could be taken as being directed largely at one particular religious block, namely Christians, though the actual wording of the laws is very general in scope. Legal experts[who?] believe that wilful trespass by missionaries upon the sacred spaces of other faiths can be prosecuted under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, and as such there is no need for anti-conversion laws by individual states and they should be repealed.[citation needed]. Even so,arbitrary invocation of Section 295A by communal forces inimical to the freedom granted under Article 25 of the Indian Constitution remains a dangerous possibility.

In a 'rough justice' reaction to supposed induced conversions, 200 tribal Christians in Jharsuguda were 'reconverted' back to Hinduism in Jharsuguda in an event organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) with BJP involvement. [2]

A consolidation of various anti-conversion or so-called "Freedom of Religion" Laws has been done by the All Indian Christian Council.[9]

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, after religious riots in 2002 (see 2002 Gujarat violence), 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.[10]

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.[11]

In February, 2007, Himachal Pradesh became the first Congress Party-ruled state to adopt legislation banning illegal religious conversions.[12]

Most of the anti-conversion laws are brief and leave a lot of ambiguity, which can be misused for inflicting persecution.[citation needed]. 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 and continuous institutionalization of Hindutva.[13]

Cases of religious violence

Situation of Hindus

Militants have murdered and forcibly displaced more than 400,000 Kashmiri Hindus during the Kashmir insurgency.[14] This has been condemned and labeled as ethnic cleansing in a 2006 resolution passed by the United States Congress.[15] 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.[16] In Assam, members of the primarily Christian Hmar ethnic group have placed bloodstained crosses in temples and forced Hindus to convert at gunpoint.[17] Many Hindu holy sites have been regularly attacked by terrorist groups, including Varanasi, Ayodhya, and Akshardham temple.

Situation of Muslims

The 16th-century Babri Mosque in India was destroyed by a mob of Hindu activists in 1992.

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.[18][19] 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.[20][21] 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 .[22] One of the most serious instances of violence was the Best Bakery incident, which incident involved the gruesome killing of 14 people.[23] 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 just a few 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.[24] One Reuters article speaks of more than 2000 dead Muslims.[25]

Situation of Christians

Attacks against Christians in Orissa, have occurred in recent years in response to missionary activity by Christians.

See also


  1. ^ article 15 of India Constitution
  2. ^ (Rigveda 1:164:46) “Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti” - Truth is one; sages call it many names
  3. ^ (Maha Upanishad: Chapter 6, Verse 72) "Vasudhaiva kutumbakam" - The entire world is a one big family
  4. ^ de Lingen, John; Ramsurrun, Pahlad. An Introduction to The Hindu Faith. Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd. p. 2. ISBN 978-81-207-4086-0.
  5. ^ Murthy, BS (2003). Puppets of Faith: theory of communal strife. Bulusu Satyanarayana Murthy. p. 7. ISBN 978-81-901911-1-1.
  6. ^ http://listserv.liv.ac.uk/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0103&L=INDOLOGY&P=R6520&I=-3
  7. ^ Orissa Christians reject USCIRF report and defend India
  8. ^ "India hit over religious violence". BBC News. 2009-08-13. Retrieved 2010-05-02.
  9. ^ "Laws & Policies". All India Christian Council. Retrieved 2007-12-29.
  10. ^ Conversions harder in India state 26/07/2006
  11. ^ Christian anger at conversion law 04/08/2006
  12. ^ WorldWide Religious News-Himachal enforces anti-conversion law
  13. ^ TOI on International Religious Freedom Report 2003, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour of the US State Department
  14. ^ Pallone introduces resolution condemning Human rights violation against Kashmiri Pandits, United States House of Representatives, 2006-02-15
  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
  16. ^ Bhaumik, Subhir (April 18, 2000). "'Church backing Tripura rebels'". BBC News. Retrieved 2006-08-26.
  17. ^ Christianity threat looms over Bhuvan Pahar Assam Times - June 23, 2009
  18. ^ Sociology of religion in India Rowena Robinson - Social Science - 2004
  19. ^ The legacy of Muslim rule in India Kishori Saran Lal - History - 1992
  20. ^ "Godhra verdict: 31 convicted in Sabarmati Express burning case". The Times Of India. 22 February 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  21. ^ Burke, Jason (22 February 2011). "Godhra train fire verdict prompts tight security measures". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 24 February 2011.
  22. ^ BBC News: Gujarat riot death toll revealed
  23. ^ www.pucl.org: bakery case
  24. ^ http://hrw.org/reports/2002/india/ Hrw.org Retrieved on 05-24-07
  25. ^ www.uk.reuters.com: Indian film on sectarian violence wins Asia awards

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