A recent Pew Research survey of religious attitudes in India revealed some interesting insights into a society tolerant of, yet divided by, religion.
First, Indians are a very religious people. Ninety-seven percent believe in God and the vast majority say religion is very important in their lives.
Second, they are tolerant. Eighty percent believe tolerating other faiths is important to be a good member of their own. Even more say religious tolerance is central to who they are as a nation.
Third, their tolerance does’t apply to romance. Except for Christians and Budhists, solid majorities say it is very important to stop people marrying outside their religion. (Similar majorities say it is very important to stop people marrying outside their castes.) Marriages across religious lines are rare. Indians also tend to confine their friendships to those of the same religion.
Fourth, religious tolerance not only breaks down with romance, but as far as the majority faith is concerned, with politics also. Hindus make up over 80 percent of India’s population, and two-thirds of them say it is very important to be Hindu to be truly Indian. This statistic reveals why a seemingly tolerant society can succumb to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu-supremacy Bharatiya Janata Party.
Indians support for religious tolerance while maintaining religious segregation has been described as “living together separately.” Given the entrenched nature of these attitudes, Indians will be living together separately well into the future.
And given the number of Hindus with the attitude “I tolerate you but you aren’t really one of us,” opportunities for demagogues like Modi will persist.