Global Restrictions on Religion
For India, international recognition of its free and pluralistic society has always been hard to come by and while things are changing, they are clearly changing slowly. A study carried out by Washington-based Pew Research Centre, the highly respected US thinktank, India is next only to Iraq when it comes to social hostility and religious discrimination perpetrated by individuals and groups. The study titled ‘Global Restrictions on Religion’ took into account the situation in as many as 198 countries, North Korea being the only notable exception, to derive the conclusion. India was just below Iraq and well above countries like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan when it came to social hostility in the country. Pakistan is at the third place right below India. The study, which claims to cover 99.5% of the world population, deals with restrictions imposed on religion not just by social groups and individuals but also by the government. Even in the case of government induced restrictions, India fares badly with its position in the top 40 countries out of the 198 mentioned. Even though the report says that “the highest overall levels of restrictions are found in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran, where both the government and society at large impose numerous limits on religious beliefs and practices’’ India is ranked well above them in the social hostility index. While India has fared badly on both, China has done remarkably well when it comes to social hostility even though it has done badly in the government imposed restrictions section. “Vietnam and China, for instance, have high government restrictions on religion but are in the moderate or low range when it comes to social hostilities. Nigeria and Bangladesh follow the opposite pattern: high in social hostilities but moderate in terms of government actions,’’ it says. The report clubs India with Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and Bangladesh as countries where large segments of the population want to protect the special place of one particular religion. This is how it explains the high social hostility index for these countries. “Many of the restrictions imposed in these countries are driven by groups pressing for the enshrinement of their interpretation of the majority faith, including through Shariah law in Muslim societies and Hindutva movement in India that seeks to define India as a Hindu nation,’’ says the report. In preparing this study, the Pew Forum devised a battery of measures, phrased as questions, to gauge the levels of government and social restrictions on religion in each country.