The survey by Pew Research Center also found that Indians of all religious backgrounds overwhelmingly say they are very free to practice their faiths in the country.

File photo of a person waving the Indian flagImage for representation: PTI
news Survey Thursday, July 01, 2021 - 14:35

A major new Pew Research Center survey of religion and religious identities across India, has said that Indians of all religious backgrounds, overwhelmingly, say they are very free to practice their faiths in the country. The survey, which was based on around 30,000 respondents and conducted in 17 languages between late 2019 and early 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic, also found that people in the south of India differ from the rest of the country in their views of religion and national identity. “The survey consistently finds that people in the south (the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana, and the Union Territory of Puducherry) differ from Indians elsewhere in the country in their views on religion, politics and identity,” the Pew survey said.

The survey said that people in the south were less religious than those in other regions, with 69% of respondents saying that religion is very important in their lives, versus 92% in the central part of India. “People in the south also are less segregated by religion or caste — whether that involves their friendship circles, the kind of neighbors they prefer or how they feel about intermarriage,” the survey said.


The survey found that south India was the only region in the country where fewer than half of people said that they would pray daily (37%). “While Hindus, Muslims and Christians in the south are all less likely than their counterparts elsewhere in India to say religion is very important to them, the lower rate of prayer in the south is driven mainly by Hindus: Three-in-ten southern Hindus report that they pray daily (30%), compared with roughly two-thirds (68%) of Hindus in the rest of the country,” the survey noted.

The states of southern India also saw the biggest downward trend in the perceived importance of religion over the lifetimes of the respondents, the survey said. In the south, 76% of Indians said religion was very important to their family growing up, and 69% said religion is personally very important to them now.

On beef eating, the survey found that, “Southern Indian Hindus are considerably less likely than others to disqualify beef eaters from being Hindu (50% vs 83% in the northern and central parts of the country).”

The survey also said that triple talaq seemed to have the most support among Muslims in the southern (58%) and northeastern (50%) regions of India, while 12% of Muslims in the south did not take a position on the issue either way. “When it comes to their religious beliefs, Indian Muslims in some ways resemble Indian Hindus more than they resemble Muslims in neighboring countries,” the survey said.

Pointing out that several people from marginalised castes have converted to Christianity, the survey said, “Conversion has a minimal impact on the overall size of India’s religious groups...Other groups display similar levels of stability.”

The survey found that Muslims in India are just as likely as Hindus to say that they believe in karma (77% each), while the number was 54% among Indian Christians. Nearly three-in-ten Muslims (27%) and Christians (29%) also believed in reincarnation. A third of Christians surveyed across India (32%) also said that they believe in the purifying power of the Ganga river.

“While these may seem like theological contradictions, for many Indians, calling oneself a Muslim or a Christian does not preclude believing in karma or reincarnation – beliefs that do not have a traditional, doctrinal basis in Islam or Christianity,” the survey said.

The survey also found that among Muslims, Christians and Sikhs across India, “About one-in-five or more say that god has many manifestations, a position closer to their Hindu compatriots’ concept of god.”


The survey found that Hindu nationalist sentiments also appear to have less of a foothold in the south. It found that 42% of people in the south said that being Hindu is very important to be truly Indian, against 83% of people in the central states and 69% in the north.

“In the 2019 parliamentary elections, the BJP’s lowest vote share came in the south. In the survey, just 19% of Hindus in the region say they voted for the BJP, compared with roughly two-thirds in the northern (68%) and central (65%) parts of the country who say they voted for the ruling party,” it said.

The survey added that the BJP’s appeal was greater among Hindus, who closely associated their religious identity and the Hindi language with being truly Indian. “Three-in-ten Hindus take all three positions — saying it is very important to be Hindu to be truly Indian, saying the same about speaking Hindi, and casting their ballot for the BJP. These views are considerably more common among Hindus in the largely Hindi-speaking northern and central regions of the country, where roughly half of all Hindu voters fall into this category, compared with just 5% in the south,” it said.

“Culturally and politically, people in the south have pushed back against the BJP’s restrictions on cow slaughter and efforts to nationalise the Hindi language. These factors may contribute to the BJP’s lower popularity in the south, where more people prefer regional parties or the Indian National Congress party,” it added.


A higher share of Dalits in the south (30%) and northeast (38%) than elsewhere in the country, told Pew that they had personally faced discrimination in the last 12 months because of their caste. “Among southern Indians, 30% see widespread discrimination against Dalits, compared with 13% in the central part of the country. And among the Dalit community in the south, 43% say their community faces a lot of discrimination, compared with 27% among southern Indians in the General Category who say the Dalit community faces widespread discrimination in India,” the survey said. It added that, “People (in the south) see greater caste discrimination in their communities, but they also raise fewer objections to inter-caste marriages than do Indians overall.”

The survey said that the differences in attitudes between south India and other regions of the country, exist in a wider context of ‘economic disparities’.

“Over time, southern states have seen stronger economic growth than the northern and central parts of the country. And women and people belonging to lower castes in the South have fared better economically than their counterparts elsewhere in the country. Even though three-in-ten people in the south say there is widespread caste discrimination in India, the region also has a history of anti-caste movements,” the survey stated. Read the full survey here

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