Alistair McLeay: Religion in India

India is a melting pot of different religions, cultures, beliefs, and ways of life. It really is hard to overstate the diversity present here. The Reimagining India Program has exposed us to the impact of a wide range of religions across so far. This is hardly surprising when you realise that almost every facet of Indian society is connected to religion in some way. Well over 99% of Indians are religious, the government has fairly strong Hindu favouritism in its policy decisions, and the country has a history of being at the centre of humanity for Millenia. 

So far on the program we have been inside Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh temples, Christian churches, Islamic Mosques, and have seen Jane temples, Jewish synagogues, and Zoroastrian fire temples.

 

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Not only have we visited diverse places of religious worship, but we have seen the influence of religion everywhere we have gone in this country. We have seen state-wide issues in play like the Hindu populist government enforcing a ban on all beef products, and recently and controversially pushing for a bill to be passed that grants residency to refugees from neighbouring countries from all faiths except Islam. We have seen technology company and startups with values based on different religious ideologies. The impact of religion is evident in the architecture everywhere, in the way people dress, and even in the way society organises itself.

Religion has been used to justify countless evils throughout history, but it has also been an incredibly powerful unifier. A source of common morality, of community, of purpose, and of oneness. This oneness is exemplified in India, where the fabric of society is built of seemingly infinite diversity of beliefs, all co-existing in a strangely harmonious way. India is chaotic unity, and this is driven by religion. 

I wonder as India progresses over the coming decades and catches up with the West in terms of development, education, wealth, and infrastructure – will religion slowly lose its significant and popularity, as it has done in the West? Will atheism eventually become the norm, as it is increasingly in New Zealand? And if it does, will this be a good thing for India? Yes religious conflicts will likely decrease, and the state may become more secular and therefore more equal and just, but also the chaotic unity, the community, and the oneness that makes India so special, may be lost.

We have a loneliness epidemic in the West. We are becoming more and more insular. With the death of religion we are seeing an increase in suicide, and in mental health disorders. Communities are weakening, we increasingly turning inward, and a common sense of purpose and unity with millions of other people no longer exists.

Will India copy the path the West has taken and become more and more insular as development occurs and faith is lost, or will it hold onto its religious roots throughout its transformation? Religion is incredibly deeply rooted here after all. 

I tend to think the latter is true. I sure hope it is.

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