Decoding "secularism" in India: Tolerance in the way of segregation

Indians "live together separately" notes Pew Research Centre
What role does religion play in secular India
What role does religion play in secular IndiaThe Bridge Chronicle

Children born and bought up in India would agree that the one thing they try to imbibe on us since school is that "India is a secular country". We are made to believe, the people in India overlook religion as a factor, and all cohabit the nation like a single human race. However, we seldom are told that this narrative comes *conditions applied.

Despite all the disparity, there is an overall acceptance of different faiths. India's vast population is both multicultural and religious. India is home to the majority of the worlds' Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs. It is also home to millions of Muslims, Christians and Buddhists. Even years after India got freedom from the colonial rulers, the countrymen take pride in the fact that India is a land where followers of many religions can live and practice freely. But as we grow up, the realities of this fact begin to surface, or as I would like to put it, becomes clearer.

Even in a secular nation like ours, there is a distinct bias based on religious sentiments.

Take any small company or a partially local business, for example. There is a heavy monopoly on who secures employment in that business. If a man belonging to a Marwadi community owns a furniture shop, the possibility of other workers in the shop being Marwadi is high. He would not prefer to employ someone belonging to another faith. This bias is not as prevalent when working in larger companies or multinational companies.

Or even if you consider various settlements, there is always a stark distinction between who lives where. On a local level too. Mumbai, considered to be the most cosmopolitan city in India, also has these distinctions. Though the territories are not physically marked, people belonging who share specific faith prefer sharing common spaces. For ex. Mahim west (an area in Mumbai) Christians and Muslims living on one side of the area, and Hindus, living on the other side. Matunga West is a common choice for people from southern India, especially Tamil Nadu. The Gujarati community is known to be living predominantly in the Kandivali area.

Hence, it is clear that even though Indians are tolerant of diverse faiths, there is extreme segregation within people. A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Centre aptly notes that Indians "live together separately". Majorly because, there are contradictions in terms of how we perceive our religion and national identity. According to the survey, almost 80 per cent believe that respecting all religions, was an important part of being Indian since we belong to a secular nation. However, people believe that it is important to keep their communities segregated to maintain

The divide is most felt when it comes to marriages - especially because according to the survey, Indians believe that it is important to keep the community segregated. Especially religions that are considered to be contrasting — Hindus and Muslims, or Hindus and Christians. However, interestingly, the study highlights that the resistance towards inter-faith marriages is not restricted to a certain group but all religious and faith groups equally.

The idea is most prevalent when it comes to arranging marriages. Families usually look for a bride or a groom belonging to the same community when looking for a match for their children. According to the survey, similar notions seem to be shared among people belonging to diverse communities. Almost 64 per cent of Indians believe that it is important for women to stop marrying outside of their caste. Most Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Jains participating in the survey considered this a high priority. Whereas, Christian and Buddhist participants found it to be "somewhat" important.

The reason for this trend has little to do with secularism and is rather closely knit with religion. The notion is deeply rooted in maintaining "caste purity" and "religious honour."

The study titled Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation, shows that Indians are largely tolerant of other religions. But the deep-rooted value for their religion overrules other aspects of their lives — Marriage and the workplace.

The report concludes by saying, "Indians’ concept of religious tolerance does not necessarily involve the mixing of religious communities. While people in some countries may aspire to create a "melting pot" of different religious identities, many Indians seem to prefer a country more like a patchwork fabric, with clear lines between groups."

However, in situations of extreme disparity, we Indians need to learn to detach ourselves from the concept of religion and better adapt the concept of secularism to avoid practices such as honour killing and love jihad.

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