Tag Archives: #christianity

The Significance of Pew’s ‘Religions of India’ Survey

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

When the US-based Pew Research Center published the findings of its Religions of India survey, it left many elite journalists, Marxist and “South-Asia” scholar-activists scratching their heads. Most Indians, including Indian-Americans, however, felt vindicated. 

At the heart of such polar reactions is the disconnect between perception and reality in the presentation of India, both in media and academia. There is this false perception of India deliberately and painstakingly crafted by the Indologists, Orientalists-Colonialists, and Marxists. And then, there is the real India, that is Bharat.

In a massive undertaking spanning over several months, Pew surveyed nearly 30,000 respondents in face-to-face interviews. These interviews were conducted in 17 languages across the length and breadth of India just before the Pandemic (2020). Pew, one of the most reputable polling agencies in the world, conducts “opinion polling, demographic research, content analysis, and other data-driven social science research.”

It came as no surprise to most that the survey found India to be a deeply “religious” country, even though the Indic notion of “religion” is quite different (for example, it is not dogmatic) from the Abrahamic one. Native Hindus have preserved and nurtured their indigenous notion of Dharma for over 5,000 years despite foreign invasions, colonization, and Marxist hegemony over India’s educational institutions. 

One of the key findings of the Pew survey was that Indians deeply value “religious tolerance.” The survey reported that it was essential for Indians to respect other faiths. Almost 84% (85% Hindus) of the respondents said that to be “truly Indian,” it is crucial not just to tolerate but also “respect” all religions. Remarkably, 80% of the respondents believed that respecting other religions is a “very important part of what it means to be a member of their own religious community.” 

This “Religious tolerance” is a Western and liberal representation and interpretation of a more nuanced Indic notion of sambhāva. “Respect” for ‘other’ religions is ingrained in the Indic value system. It comes from the quintessential Indic belief that there are many truths but only one Reality. The Rig Veda, one of the most ancient texts of the Hindus, proclaims:

ekaṁ sad viprā bahudhā vadanti 

(Truth is one, wise speak of it differently.)

Another critical finding of the Pew survey was that an overwhelming majority of Indians, almost 80% members of every faith community, reported that they felt free to practice their religion. In an overwhelmingly Hindu majority (80.5%) country of about 1.4 billion people, 89% of Muslims and Christians (each comprising 13.4% and 2.3% of the total Indian population, respectively) also said they were free to practice their religion. 

However, suppose one pays attention to the commentary in the Western media, including the Left-dominated American press and religious/human rights advocates. In that case, it is hard to reconcile with the findings of the Survey. The survey results were in sharp contrast to the portrayal of India in Western media; and seminars and conferences in various centers of South Asian Studies, think tanks, etc.

SN Balagandhar (Balu), a professor of Comparative Science of Cultures at the Ghent University in Belgium, alluded to this chasm in perception and reality in his address to the 2014 Maulana Azad Memorial Lecture organized by the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR). While recounting his 40-year academic research journey, Balu said that he discovered very early that there were many problems in his understanding of Indian history. Most of the knowledge about India that makes it to Indian textbooks is a description of India by foreign traders, travelers, and the Christian Missionaries, he noted. He further said that the perception of India these textbooks gave based on those accounts was not the India he “lived in.” Most Indians can easily relate to this statement.

In the last 200 years or so, foreigners and Marxists have dominated the study of India, its culture, traditions, texts, religions, and more. Indology, once a foremost enterprise for the study of India, for example, was based on neo-Protestant theology and their debates over scriptures and their racial prejudices. These prejudices over time, but consciously, were applied to the study of Indian texts where one can easily trace the antecedent of “anti-Brahmanism.” 

The British colonizers played an essential role in, first, creating and then institutionalizing their perception of India based on their understanding and prejudices. In British presentations, Hindus were condemned as “degenerate” and as “slaves.” The need to portray Hindus as primitive, savage, uncivilized, or vicious arose from the urgency of the colonizers to present themselves as civil and enlightened. As a result, what we ended up getting, according to Arvind Sharma, is a “situation in which a people were made more primitive than they were, or presented as more primitive than they were, or perceived as more primitive than they were, either deliberately or out of ignorance.”

On the other hand, Marxist historiography distorted and weaponized Indian history and the idea of India with its ideology of conflicts and divisions. 

The Pew Survey is one crucial step in setting the record straight and reclaiming the agency in representing and defining India and Indian culture.


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic knowledge, and current affairs in several media outlets.


 

Love, Let Us Look At It Again

Love is supposed to be a generic term but we usually associate it with romantic love. Romantic love is distinguished from the rest of its cohorts because of the specificity of the age and stage of life when it arrives, its overwhelming tidal force when it takes over, the creative outflow it unleashes, and the subjective blindness it induces by a combination of myopia and presuppositions. There is no sense in fighting it since it holds our genetic reins.

Is it bad and harmful? The answer will depend on whether you are holding a knife by its handle or its cutting edge. Holding by handle implies your ability to master the hormonal storm by which the romantic love has besieged you, and tame it until your navigation comes under control. It is more difficult than what it appears to be because the tempest is blown by Mother Nature herself who wants you to multiply without any further procrastination. Delay for her is dangerous!

We still have a choice…

Our reproductive instinct has to be tempered by our long-term thinking. That perhaps is how we have learned to curtail unwanted pregnancies all across the planet. On the flip side, however, our divorce rate continues to mount even in our tradition-bound orthodox world. That conflict between the joy of procreation and the responsibility of reproduction continues unabated. The topic of LOVE, therefore, demands continued attention. Smart children, meanwhile, will not be trapped in this parental conflict but seek a profitable exit.

Can love turn into a redeeming experience?

The answer is a qualified yes.

“Love is whole, we are pieces,” said Rumi.

If the right, matching pieces come together, they will help towards building a possibility of wholeness. Love requires every person to strive towards being better than he/she is. Thus, the missing pieces are not pre-calibrated but indeed honed and shaped by deliberation.

The two most widely used expressions – “then they fell in love” and “then they lived happily ever after” – need to have a cautious halt. One has to be watchful not to “fall in love” simply by the force of gravity. Happiness is a learned behavior so the end of the fairy tales need to be modified as: “then they learned to live happily ever after.”

Love, at first sight, is not a falsehood if it does not supplement foresight and hindsight to ensure that love does not proceed blindly. 

Where is the help when you need it the most?

Parents are subjective.

Teachers could be harsh and instructive.

Friends, though supportive, are inexperienced.

Clergy, often, carry a religious bias.

Basically, you are on your own when you take the plunge, unsure whether you will swim or sink.

As a member of the faculty in a school with young and vulnerable people, I decided to take the plunge and cheer up those who will swim and help those who may sink. I was qualified to be a Priest so I started officiating weddings, same faith or interfaith. My mission was to create faith in love and marriage at a time when young people march away from it. They need to know that even a powerful love can perish and mighty marriages can melt when a tough time tests it. 

Premarital Counseling

I know about the premarital meetings required by certain religions and that it remains constrained to religious discourse. Among young people of today, identification by religion is somewhat thinning out. I, therefore, explore with couples, through spiritual and practical exercise, how to unfold their insights. I am told repeatedly how helpful they find this experience to be. 

Young people from a similar age group talking about their own experiences can furnish some acceptably useful hints. In all professional schools, seniors help the juniors. It is amazing how little help we solicit in this way. I have seen several examples of young people in college who have uprooted their social and educational careers when they reach the critical phase of Love. Shakespeare created Romeo and Juliet to highlight a tragedy of volatile love eclipsing young people. Parenthetically, I should add that Saint Valentine was beheaded for his uniting couples in marriage!

Nevertheless, I continue to support and guide young couples determined to tie their sacred knots.

Christian and Hindu Concepts of Love

C.S. Lewis wrote a classical book on The Four Loves to reflect a Christian and a philosophical perspective of this subject. He identified four loves: Empathy Bond, Philia or Friend Bond, Eros or Romantic Love, and Agape or Godward Love. 

It comes close to our Indian concept of love in some areas. Our concept of Romantic Love leading to Agape is best illustrated in Bilvamangal, the story of the famous poet Tulsidas whose Romantic love got converted into Agape. There are numerous stories in India illustrating the metamorphosis of Romantic Love into Godward Love or Agape. That is the very direction to which marrying couples are guided in a classic Indian wedding ceremony.

It is impossible to finish writing all about LOVE. I would sum up by saying that True Love does not divide, but unites and builds bridges rather than walls. I will therefore end by quoting Mother Teressa: “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come without being happier.”


Bhagirath Majmudar, M.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Pathology and Gynecology-Obstetrics at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. Additionally, he is a priest, poet, playwright, Sanskrit Visharada, and Jagannath Sanskrit Scholar. He can be contacted at bmajmud1962@gmail.com.