The Importance Of Religion In Indian Politics
The Importance of Religion in Indian Politics
India is the largest democratic country in the world, in the last
fifty years it has travelled and been influenced by multiple social
and economic changes. Its independence from Britain in 1947, the
partition creating Pakistan and the Pakistan/ Indian debate over
Kashmir have been fundamental political movements within these years.
As Y.B.Damle states, “Politics is concerned with goal-attainment and
politics is the art of possibility”, the political process cannot
function without structural features. As a country with multiple
religions, a secular state, the political process has been moulded
around not only ethnicity and caste but religion has proved to be a
major factor. India has long been known as a very spiritual, religious
area of the world.
Religion is a way of life, an integral part of Indian tradition,
permeating every aspect of life, from chores to food to education and
A census in 1991 showed Hindu’s made up 82% of the Indian population,
smaller percentages are taken by minority groups such as Buddhists,
Jainists, Christians and Sikhs, while the largest minority group,
calculating for approximately 101.5 million members of the population,
In this last century we have seen the role of religion in Indian
politics enhanced, currently governed by the BJP, Bharatiya Janata
Party, Hindu nationalists. This blatant religious influence effects
the economic and political growth of all south Asian countries,
threatening the cohesion with neighbouring and foreign countries,
threatening the large majority of Indian-Muslims, disharmonising other
When India won its independence from Britain in 1947 Islamic Pakistan
and secular India were torn apart, unleashing intent religious
hatred. A partition based on religion as the congress would not allow
Muslims to sit before 1947. Now, governed by Hindu nationalists
religious nationalism affects the secular state, a state that cannot
foreseeably be secular when it encompasses such a majority of
Hindu’s believe in Dharma, that in accordance to the sacred Hindu
text, every person has their own path to follow and it is better to do
their own duty badly than another’s well. (Hardgrave ch.1) Only by
fulfilling their own predestined duties can they expect a ‘more
favourable rebirth and ultimate salvation’. Therefore for a Hindu a
true democratic state should be against their religion, as it involves
meddling in others affairs. Along with this Hinduism divides and
distances the sub-continent. Each Hindu linguistic area have their own
traditions, way about their different lives and their own God’s. with
an existence without unification how can India politically aspire to
social change and reform? As Gunnar Myrdal...
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Here is an essay on ‘Religion’ for class 11 and 12. Find paragraphs, long and short essays on ‘Religion’ especially written for school and college students.
Essay on Religion
Essay # 1. Meaning of Religion:
Indian society is pluralistic in nature. India is a land of religious pluralism. Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity, and several other religions have been coexisting and growing side by a side in Indian society since ancient times. The Hindus constitute the largest segment of population nearly 73%, the Muslim nearly 12% and the Sikhs about 2%.
Religious diversity is a feature of Indian social structure and it plays an important role in politics. The adoption of secularism incorporating the maxims ‘Equality of all religions’ and ‘Absence of a State religion’ testifies to this reality of Indian politics.
The presence of religious communalism too reflects the harmful side of religious diversity. It is indeed quite perplexing to find that no Indian religion advocates violence and exclusiveness, yet in the name of various religions violence often erupts in different parts of India. We regularly face the loss of human life and precious resources because of aggressive and biotic clashes between the forces of Hindu Communalism, Muslim Communalism and Christian Communalism.
The spirit of secularism and the process of secularisation of political culture are yet to secure a sizeable hold in the polity. Religious tolerance is preached by all yet it is not effectively practiced and cultivated. As such religious factor continues to act as a hindering and harmful factor in the harmonious process of socio-political development.
In sociology, the word religion is used in a wider sense than that used in religious books. It defines religion as those institutionalised systems of beliefs, symbols, values and practices that provide groups of men with solutions to their questions of ultimate being.
A common characteristic found among all religion is that they represent a complex of emotional feelings and attitudes toward mysteries and perplexities of life. As such religion comprises first, systems of attitudes, beliefs, symbols which are based on the assumption that certain kinds of social relations are sacred or morally imperative and second, a structure of activities governed or influenced by these system.
According to Radin, it consists of two parts—physiological and psychological. The physiological part expresses itself in such acts as kneeling, closing the eyes, touching
the feet. The psychological part consists of supernormal sensitivity to certain beliefs and traditions. While belief in supernatural powers may be considered basic to all religions, equally fundamental is the presence of a deeply emotional feeling which Golden Weber called the “religious thrill”.
Different Definitions of Religion:
Religion is one of the most influential forces of social control. Different writers have defined religion in different ways.
(1) According to Ogburn, “Religion is attitude towards super human powers.”
(2) James G. F. Frazer considered religion as a belief in “powers superior to man which are believed to direct and control the course of nature of human life.”
(3) According to Maclver, “Religion, as we understand the term, implies a relationship not merely between man and man but also between man and some higher power.”
(4) W. Robertson maintained that religion is not a vague fear of unknown powers, nor the child of terror, but rather a relation of all the members of a community to a power that has well of community at heart, and protects its law and moral order.
(5) Durkheim defined religion as a “unified system of beliefs’ and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden.”
(6) According to Gillin and Gillin, “the social field of religion may be regarded as including the emotinalised belief prevalent in a social group concerning the super-natural plus the overt behaviour, material objects and symbols associated with such belief.”
(7) According to Sapir, “Religion is man’s never- ceasing attempt to discover a road to spiritual serenity across the perplexities and dangers of daily life.”
(8) According to Arnold W. Green, “Religion is a system of beliefs and symbolic practices and objects governed by faith rather than by knowledge, which relates man to an unseen supernatural realm beyond the known and beyond the controllable.”
(9) According to M. M. Johnson, “Religion is more or less coherent system of beliefs and practices concerning a supernatural order of beings, forces, places or other entities.” According to Malinowski, “Religion is a made of action as well as system of belief, and a sociological phenomenon as well as a personal experience.”
In this way there are numerous definitions of religion given by thinkers according to their own conceptions. As a matter of fact the forms in which religion express itself so much that it is difficult to agree upon a definition. Some maintain that religion includes a belief in supernatural or mysterious powers and that is expressing itself in overt activities designed to deal with those powers. Some regard religion as belief in the immortality of soil. While it is possible to define as belief in God or some supernatural powers, it is well to remember that there can also be a Godless religion as Buddhism is. The Buddhism rejects belief in the immortality of the soul and the life hereafter.
The ancient Hebrews did not have a definite concept of immortal soul. They seem to have had no conception of post-mortem rewards and punishments. Others regard religion as something very earthly and materialistic designed to achieve practical ends.
But as Ruth Benedict wrote, “Religion is not to be identified with the pursuit of ideal ends. Spirituality and the virtues are two social values which were discovered in the process of social life. They may well constitute the value of religion in man’s history just as the pearl constitutes the value of the oyster. Nevertheless the making of the pearl is a by-product in the life of oyster and it does not give a clue to the evolution of the oyster.” Summer and Keller asserted that “Religion in history from the earliest to very recent days has not been a matter of morality at all but of rites, rituals, observance and ceremony.”
Essay # 2. Relationship between Religion and the Constitution of India:
The constitution of India embodies secularism in letter and spirit and it is accepted as a principle affirming I. No religion of the state as such II Equality of all religions in the eyes of law III Freedom of religion for all citizen IV No discrimination on the basis of religion V Freedom of the individual to accept and follow voluntarily any religion or faith or creed VI freedom of the each religious group to establish and maintain religious and philanthropic institutions, with their own organisational set up VII prohibition of religious instructions in recognized, government and government aided educational institutions.
The role of state in religious matters has been kept limited to the preventing violations of public order, morality and health and for eliminating social evils being practised in the name of any religion. The Preamble of the constitution while defining the scope of the ideal of liberty holds that it includes liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship. Right to freedom of religion stands enhanced in the constitution as one of the Fundamental rights of an Indian citizen and as such enjoys a constitutional guarantee.
In spite of all these constitutional provisions, secular political culture has not been developed in Indian political system since independence. Unfortunately there is gap in theory and practice. The Indian state does not prefer any religion and yet maintains its relationship with all religions. Communalism in all its ugly forms continues to be present and even appears to be spreading its fangs. The emotional integration of people is yet to take place.
The role of religion can be analysed by focusing on the following points:
1. Existence of Religion based Political Parties:
Like every other liberal democratic constitution, the constitution of India guarantees to the citizens the freedom to form their associations as well as the right to freedom of religion. These two freedoms have, however, led to the organisation of several political parties on the basis of various religions. Muslim League, Hindu Maha Sabha, Shiv Sena, Akali Dal besides several other ‘Politically active Jamayats’ and other organisation, are at work in the environment of Indian political system. The parties, being organised on narrow foundations, tend to remain away to get partially and parochially attached to the national mainstream.
2.Religion and Electoral Politics:
Religion plays a crucial role in the Indian elections. Right from the process of political socialisation and leadership recruitment till the making of authoritative values, religious factor constitutes an important factor in Indian politics. It is operative in all spheres of electoral politics—the selection of candidates for contesting elections, the allocation of constituencies to various party candidates, the election campaigns organised by almost all political parties and even the independents, the casting of votes, the formation of ministries and the process of policy making. Ram Janam Bhumi vs. Babri Masjid issue was definitely an important issue in the November 1989 and June 1991 elections.
3.Appeasement of Religious Minorities:
The political parties in India try to develop their vote banks among the minority religious groups. These parties continuously follow the policy of appeasement of religious minorities. They support and encourage the forces of religious fundamentalism, which are always present in all religious groups, but more particularly in minority religious groups for furthering their chances of success in elections. The political parties always try to establish a rapport and connection with religious organisations, particularly the ones which are functioning in their respective areas.
The religious group which enjoys numerical majority feels greatly disturbed by the policy of appeasement of the minority religious groups and as a reaction or even otherwise tends to organise and support a party that commits itself to the majority religious tenets.
The success of the B. J. P in the November 1989 Lok Sabha elections and 1990 state elections has been largely due to this factor. In fact, in some of the States like Punjab which has been having religion based political parties; religion has been a determining factor of state politics. It acts as a major determinant of electoral behaviour.
4. Religion of Government-Making:
In the organisation of governments, both at the Centre and State levels, the political leaders always keep in mind the religious factor. They try to appease or accommodate religious leaders by giving ministerial berths to the candidates who stand elected as representatives of the people.
The search for inducting a Sikh minister or the exercise involved in the appointment of a Muslim to a high office tend to reflect the presence of religious factor in the process of government making. Shiv Sena Government in Maharashtra reflects an increasing role of religion in government making at least in some of the Indian states.
5.Religion as a Determinant of Voting Behavior:
All voting behaviour studies in India fully bring out the fact that religion always acts as an important determinant of people’s choice of candidates in elections. The political parties, both which are based on a particular religion as well’ as one which are secularist, do not hesitate to canvass for their candidates in the name of religion.
In Kerala communists have always used religious factor to gain majority in the state legislature. The voting behaviour of the minorities in particular is always determined by this factor. ‘Vote for Panth’ or ‘Islam is in danger’ etc. are the usual slogans which the electorate in Punjab and Kerala always listen during election days.
6.Religious Interest Group:
Religious interest/pressure groups play a key role in Indian Politics. Arya Samaj, Jamait-lslami, Sikh intellectual Forum, Sikh Students Federation, Hindu Suraksha Samiti, Anti-cow Slaughter Movement, Brahmin Sabhas etc. all act as interest/pressure groups in Indian political system. These are involved in all processes of politics as political socialisation, leadership recruitment, interest articulation, interest aggregation, political communication etc.
These groups use political parties for securing their interests and in turn political parties use them for strengthening their support basis. Some of these forces act as forces of religious fundamentalism and seriously strain the secular forces. The Muslim interest groups are currently engaged in safeguarding the interest of Muslims regarding Babri Masjid while Hindu interest groups are determined to build the Ram Janam Bhumi Temple in Ayodhaya. The issue of Ram Janam Bhumi vs. Babri Masjid has been a major active issue in Indian politics for the last ten years.
In this way it is clear that religion plays a very important role in the socio-political life of the people of India. This is something natural for a society inhabited by religious people believing in various religions. Unfortunately the religious symbols, practices, rituals and non-religious values serve as the basis of antagonism. All religions preach the gospel brotherhood of man and Fatherhood of God. All stand for human values and humanism. All uphold similar values and hence can safely co-exist and develop side by side.
The adoption of religious values over and above the religious symbols or rituals is what is needed most in Indian Society. This has been what Mahatma Gandhi had meant while advocating the need for making religion as the basis of politics. Unless and until it is accepted and adopted, the Indian policy shall continue to suffer from communalism and dangers of disintegration. The forces of religious fundamentalism must realise that progress and development can be possible only by accepting secularism.
The Muslims and the Hindus must accept that the religious factor was not the only factor behind the partition. The creation of Pakistan must bring home the fact those religious differences when got politicised lead to division and disintegration. The separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan must bring home the fact that religion alone cannot be the basis of nationhood. Ethnic wars among people belonging to the same religion and wars among people belonging to same religion but different nationalities must make us realise the limited nature of religion as a factor of nationhood.
Adoption of secularism as a principle of healthy and prosperous living and the integration of minorities in the national mainstream but neither by force nor by appeasement but voluntarily by dependence upon reason, science and education can go a long way to channelise the role of religion in a healthy direction. Religious fanaticism and fundamentalism must be met by recourse to the religious values and not by counter-fanaticism and counter- fundamentalism.
Religion is therefore, a reality and integral part of Indian social structure. It can neither be ignored nor overlooked nor even eliminated. But through secularisation and by cultivating a rational love for religious value, which fortunately happen to be same in all religions, the harmful and negative role of religion can be replaced by a positive, healthy and unifying role of religion in Indian society. Without doing this no one can or should expect a bright and better future of India.
Essay # 3. Social Functions of Religion in India:
One of the clearest formulations of the hypothesis of the social function of religion was made by Red Cliffe Brown in his work on the Andamanese (1922) and restated in his essay on “Religion and Society” (1952) where he says – “Stated in the simplest possible terms the theory is that an orderly social life amongst human beings depends upon the presence in the minds of members of a society of certain sentiments, which control the behaviour of the individual in his relation to others. Rites can be seen to be regulated symbolic expressions of certain sentiments. Rites can, therefore, be shown to have a specific social function, when and to the extent that, they have for the effect to regulate, maintain and transmit from one generation to another sentiment on which the constitution of the society depends.”
Taking two different types of religion, ancestor worship in ancient China and Australian Totemism, he shows how in both it is possible to demonstrate the close correspondence of the form of the religion and the form of social structure, and how in each case the religion contributes to the social cohesion of the society.
Because religion is a complex institution, the social functions it performs are quite diverse. If a religious function produces beneficial consequences, then we normally refer to it as a positive function—as, for example, when religion stimulates tolerance, peaceful cooperation or love.
Religion can also generate harmful or dysfunctional effects. The religiously approved human sacrifices practiced by some tribe are an obvious example. Thus religion can exert both a positive, cohesive and comforting influence and a negative, disintegrating influence. Furthermore, some religious functions are manifest—intended and immediately observable—and some are latent—unintended and not immediately discernible.
(i) Integrative Function:
Most sociologists of religion consider integrative function as most valuable social function. Kingsley Davis (1949) goes so far as to say that religion makes an “indispensable contribution to the social integration”. Any ongoing group is somewhat integrated if its members perform specialised but interrelated activities and are, therefore, dependent on one another. Religion often produces a special kind of group unity and a strong social cohesion. It can supply the bond or force that holds members of a group together, and it can give them strong, positive feelings toward the group.
(ii) Social Support:
Religion provides support, consolation and reconciliation. In doing so it strengthens group morale. Human beings need emotional support when they are uncertain and disappointed and they need reconciliation with their society when they are alienated from its goals.
Religion acts as a mechanism through which people adjust to the inevitable facts of human existence contingency, powerlessness and scarcity, frustration and deprivation, death , suffering and coercion, largely direct human lives. But the regular norms of society provide no comfort during these exigencies and no guide for correct behaviour to circumstances that seem neither just not meaningful. It is in these circumstances that religion provides support to the individual.
(iii) Social Control:
Religion not only defines moral expectations for members of the religious group but usually enforces them. In addition to supernatural sanctions in the afterlife, there are frequently supernatural sanctions in this life, such as the threat of disease for violators of magical property taboos. To the extent that moral norms supported within religious group are at the same time norms of the society, social control within the religious group has functional importance for the wider society as well.
Religion is an adjunct of the process of socialization. Because socialization is never perfect deviance from societal norms is frequent. Religion supports the norms and values of established society by making them divine laws. The deviant, when breaks a norm, is made to believe that he faces not only the anger of his fellow humans, but that he can also be punished by a supernatural all powerful being.
(v) Legitimization of Social Values:
Religion can forcefully help to legitimize society’s most cherished values. When religion justifies and affirms a system of values, a compelling dimension is added to value system. Religions endorse and reinforce our society’s norms of honesty and personal rights. Guides to action and standards for judging one’s own and others’ behaviour in the natural world are infused with beliefs about the supernatural. So, by offering the highest-order explanation for group values, religion can persuade members to agree with and accept the group norms and goals.
(vi) Legitimization of Power:
To use, Berger’s example, every society is faced with the necessity of distributing power, for which purpose political institutions emerge. In legitimizing these institutions, the society has to justify the use of physical violence, which underlies power. Religion mystifies the institution by giving it extra human qualities.