BELGRADE – India is popularly known as a land of believers. In India, religion is characterised by a diversity of religious beliefs and practices. Unlike developed countries where atheism replaces religion, religious diversity has no great impact on India’s economic development. As the South Asian country has been developing since independence (1947), it is difficult to deny the fact that India has accepted changes. However, the economic development has failed to change the traditional Indian culture. The 2012 Global Religiosity Index has estimated that only 3% of India’s 1.2 billion population does not believe in God.
As per the index, only 33,000 Indians call themselves atheists. The census figures are just half of the 66,000 people from India who counted themselves as atheists in the global online census (each vote identified on the basis of an email address).
As far as the percentage of atheists in each country’s population is concerned, “communist” China has 47% such people, while Japan has 31% atheists, Czech Republic 30%, France 29%, Germany 15%, South Korea 15%, The Netherlands 14%, Iceland 10%, Australia 10% and Austria has 10% atheist people.
Data, released last week, shows that seven of every 10 Indian atheists live in rural areas. This is the first time in recent years when census data in public domain puts a number on atheists. A 2001 report had revealed that “only a handful few claim to be atheist”.
At 9,652, western Indian province of Maharashtra is home to the highest number of atheists. North-eastern province of Meghalaya comes next with 9,089, while southern province of Kerala has 4,896 atheists in all, six times more than eastern province of West Bengal’s 784. The national capital of New Delhi has just 541 atheists.
Commenting on the issue, President of Rationalists Association of India Prabir Ghosh said: “Census enumerators often do not ask people their religion, but make their assumptions on the basis of the person’s name.” According to Ghosh, atheist does not have a preset category, as a person is called an atheist only if he/she says so. It’s not the same as identifying oneself as having no religion.
Meanwhile, the Census data has revealed that every fourth person categorised as ‘beggar’ in India is a Muslim. Data shows that the share of Muslims in official 370,000 ‘beggar’ population is disproportionately larger than the community’s share in India’s total population. Muslims, who make up 14.23% of India’s population, are nearly 25% of the 370,000 individuals (or 92,760) who have been listed as beggars by the Indian government.
As per the Census, of the total 728,900,000 ‘non worker’ Indians, 370,000 are beggars. In the Census, non workers are defined as individuals who do not take part in any economic activities (paid or unpaid), household duties or cultivation.
Although Hindus are 79.8% of India’s population, only 268,000 of them are beggars. Hindus make up 72.22% of its beggar population, while Christians, who are 2.3% of the Indian population, make up 0.88% (or 3,303 people) of the beggar population, Buddhists 0.52%, Sikhs 0.45%, Jains 0.06% and others make up 0.30% of the beggar population. It means that the Indian government will have to work hard to improve the condition of minority communities.