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Religion in India - Statistics and Facts

India is a south Asian country known to be the largest democracy in the world. It is home to the second largest number of people after China. With over a billion residents, India boasts of diversity - in culture, lifestyle, languages and religions.

The Indian constitution guarantees secularism in religion, which means the freedom of religion is recognized as a fundamental right. Even though the north west portion of the country hosted the Indus Valley civilization and has the highest number of Hindus in the world, India is also known to be the birthplace of several religions, along with being home to followers of other faiths from around the world.

One of the oldest religions that originated in this sub-continent is Jainism - believed to have taken roots in the Indus Valley civilization. Some historians consider that the faith reflects native spirituality of the Indo-Aryan migration, while others suggest a connection with the Shramana traditions. In 2014, the government awarded a minority status to Jains. As per the 2011 census, there are about 4.5 million people in the country who identity with this faith.

Buddhism, on the other hand is traced back to the 9th century BC. Buddhism, founded by Gautama Buddha was a native of Lumbini plains that are now part of present day Nepal. Buddhism was popular during the reign of the Mauryan empire, but later declined due to the rise of other kingdoms and the aggressive resurgence of Hinduism. The share of population that identifies with Buddhism as their faith, makes up less than one percent of the current population in the country.

Sikhism originated in the Punjab region towards the end of the 15th century. It continues to be the prominent faith among Punjabis in the northern part of the country, with under two percent of the population identifying Sikhism as their religion.

Islam became a dominant religion when the Arab traders came through the Malabar coast in the early 7th century. The Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal empire greatly influenced the acceptance of the faith. As per the latest census, Muslims account for the second largest population in India with about 172 million people.
Interestingly, one of the first foreign religions to enter India was Judaism. Jewish refugees entered India through sea routes from Judea (present day Southern Palestine) as far back as 2,100 years ago. Today this religious community enjoys a minority status in the country. The sea routes also brought with them another religious group to the sub-continent- Christianity. Sea traders from the west and later English colonization led to the adoption and growth of Christianity and today, most Christians reside in the south and north-east parts, accounting for over two percent of the total population and the third largest religion.

Although largely at peace, the country's populace does experience communal disturbances from time to time. In spite of being home to different faiths, India has witnessed religious and communal violence. Some sensitive issues include the growing calls for India's identity as a Hindu nation, the ban on beef consumption, and communal violence against people of other faiths- especially Muslims, Dalits and Christians. Such incidents, even if part of the minority, indicates a testing time for the country and its leadership, and India's reputation as a peace-loving, pluralist country could be at stake.


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