JUST BEFORE INDIA went into lockdown, Pew Research, a US-based ‘fact tank’, carried out an extensive survey of religion and attitudes towards religion and nationalism in India between late 2019 and 2020. A large survey, involving 30,000 respondents of all faiths, found some interesting facts about the religious and political life of Indians. Three are noteworthy. One, irrespective of their faiths, Indians are a deeply conservative people. From food habits to marriage and from maintaining the boundaries of their religion to politics associated with the process, Indians have little room for allegedly liberal ideas. Two, unlike the secular myth, India is not a ‘melting pot’. People of all faiths live together but are very strongly committed to maintaining their identities. Three, these conservative ideas rub-off on the political preferences of Indians.
Some of the noteworthy findings in the report include the fact that a majority of religious groups don’t see much in common with other religious groups. At the same time, a majority of Indians feel that respect for other religions is an essential part of being Indian. Another interesting observation is that nearly half (48 per cent of the general population) believes in a “leader with a strong hand” over “democratic form of government”. The split is in the range of 45-50 per cent in favour of a “strong leader” among Hindus, Muslims and Christians. Only Sikhs have a lower level of preference for a strong leader (37 per cent). This fact should be contrasted with another Pew survey that found 70 per cent of Indians were satisfied with the way democracy worked in India.
It is well-known that India defies binaries. The new Pew survey confirms it.