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.

2 thoughts on “Indians—tolerant, but don’t marry my sister”
  1. I spoke with a young doctor today. Born into an affluent family in Pakistan, educated in Britain, now settled in Victoria.

    At some point in our discussion Modi came up. This fellow compared Modi’s transformation of India to Israel’s embrace of the radical rightwing.

    I’m told that, just as Israeli ultranationalists believe that their border should extend northward to incorporate most of Lebanon, Indian ultranationalists believe Pakistan and Bangladesh truly belong to India. He said this is the reason Pakistan will never give up its nuclear arsenal. It’s also why the issue of Kashmir has proven so intractable.

  2. No mention of the endemic caste system in Hinduism, from professional class Brahmins to the Untouchables? Determines your life path completely. My father was born in India a century ago to white parents participating in the British colonial system. Indians are the most class-conscious people out there because of their Hindu religion. Has to factor into Modi and his nonsense, how he got into power in the first place.

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