Multi Religious India

Multi Religious India

Thu, 01 Sep 22 Ecumenical initiatives Knowing the church

Peaceful Co-existence in Multi-religious India through Interreligious Dialogue: The Mode of being the Church in India today with Special Reference to ‘Dialogue of Life’

India is the birthplace of multiple mainstream religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, along with many tribal communities, some of which follow pantheistic traditions.

During the course of its history, India has become home to many foreign-born religions as well, such as Judaism, Zoroastrianism (today known as the religion of the Parsees in India), Christianity, and Islam. It is generally believed that people of different faiths in ancient India co-existed peacefully under their local rulers, although sporadic tensions between Buddhists and Brahmin1 Hindus, and among different castes of Hindus, occasionally erupted into riots. More frequent religious conflicts began with the arrival of Islam in the early middle ages in north India, although Islam had already spread into the south by the 7th century.

Taking a broad view of Indian history from ancient to modern times, one may admit that by and large, dissimilar cultures and religions have co-existed peacefully in India. India has produced sacred books that promote tolerance, such as the Vedas, Upanishads, Dhammapada, and Bhagavad-Gita, and many eminent individuals have arisen in the country, for instance, the Buddha, Emperor Ashoka, Guru Nanak, Emperor Akbar the Great, Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Narayana Guru and others.

However, its relatively peaceful history changed with the nation’s partition into India and Pakistan in 1947, wherein around one to two million people were reportedly killed (The New Yorker, June 29, 2015). Ever since that partition, India has witnessed an increase in religious intolerance, and religious minorities, especially Muslims and Christians have experienced systematic persecution. In the nation’s recent history, however, incidents targeting Muslims and Christians intensified after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power under. A member of the highest caste of traditional Hindu society. Thomas Varkey Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in 2014. According to the National Catholic Reporter (May 29, 2015), within 300 days of Modi’s governance over 600 cases of violence against religious minorities ― 149 targeting Christians and the rest targeting Muslims ― had been reported, with 43 people killed. The BBC (22 April, 2011) reported that over 1,000 people were killed in the 2002 Gujarat violence that arose when Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, and the majority of the victims were Muslims.

The BBC has also reported Modi as having stated, following the incident, that “Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger” (22 April, 2011). This riot began after a train arson incident, in which 60 Hindu pilgrims were killed. According to Fox News (March 14, 2016), 26 cases of religiously motivated violence against Christians have taken place since January 1, 2016, and despite the spread of violence the Hindu radicals enjoyed “near complete impunity for their actions” (Fox News March 14, 2016). Today, religious minorities, in particular Christians, who constitute merely 2.3% of the total population, live in almost constant fear, with Christian institutions often being attacked, nuns raped, and villages set on fire by Hindu fundamentalists (The Huffington post, May 27, 2015). Protecting the lives, properties, and rights of the religious minorities in India is first and foremost the responsibility of the government, as articles 25-28 of the Indian Constitution grant assurance of religious freedom and equal treatment to all citizens, regardless of caste, creed, or religion, and yet minority communities, and in particular Christians, have been discriminated against and systematically persecuted in India’s recent past.

Although leaders of the Church requested the state and the national governments to intervene in the targeted attacks against them and assure them security, the situation has not seen much improvement, and people continue to live in fear and insecurity (Pasricha, 2016). In this context, this paper assesses the role of interreligious dialogue as a means towards peace-building, and highlights ways the Church could further its attempts towards peaceful co-existence with people of other faiths in India, through ‘dialogue of life’ ― one of the forms of interreligious dialogue.