This article explains the role of religion in Indian society. Religion in India holds an important aspect of society. Every tradition, culture, customs, etc, are influenced by their religions in Indian society.

Thus, religion has formed an integral part of every society.  Although India is constitutionally a secular state, the role of religion in Indian society is one of the dominating influences in the social life of its people. Hinduism is the largest religion that originates during the Indus valley but spread throughout the country along with the waves of migrants who were displaced by their successors.

The people in India follow various religions. Major religious communities in India are Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Parsis.

Role of Religion in Indian Society


Hinduism is an inclusive religion in contrast to Islam, Christianity, etc., which are exclusive religions. It is possible to continue in the fold of Hinduism with varying beliefs in the pantheon of Gods and Goddesses with many regional and local modifications or even without believing in any God at all. This is not possible in other religions. Hinduism has a hierarchy of Gods and Goddesses with various incarnations of Vishnu and Siva gaining overall importance. Places of Hindu pilgrimage and worship are located throughout India from Vaishno Devi and Badrinath in the Himalayas to Kanyakumari and Rameswaram in the South, from Somnath on the West Coast to Puri on the East Coast. Hinduism cuts across linguistic barriers. The important and well known Hindu fairs and festivals attract a huge mass of people from many parts of India.

SCs and STs constitute 16.20% and 8.20% respectively of the population and generally regard themselves as Hindus, but some tribal choose to identify their religions with their tribal names such as Oraons, Santhals, Gonds, etc., and Scheduled Castes calling themselves Dalits do not consider themselves Hindus.


The Muslim population of India consists of those of the Islamic faith who had migrated to different parts of India during the period of Mughal rule and others who embraced the faith by conversion from Hinduism.

The partition of India removed large chunks of the Muslim population in the north, north-west and eastern parts of undivided India to form Pakistan. Though Muslims reside in all parts of India, they settle in certain areas.

Besides, they constitute more than 21% in Kerala and West Bengal, 15.3% in Uttar Pradesh, 14.1% in Bihar, 11% in Karnataka, and 10% elsewhere. In Kashmir, they are a majority religious group.

There are two important geopolitical factors about the Muslim concentration they live in selected districts of the various states and they are disproportionately more urban than Hindus and Sikhs. They are also not as cohesive as they may appear.

Muslims on Regional Basis

Muslims in the south-west speak Malayalam and have had ties with Arab countries for a long time. The Kashmiri Muslims have a strong Kashmiri identity rather than a link with Urdu, which however is the official language of Jammu and Kashmir. The Muslims in the Hindi belt from the Ganga-Yamuna Doab to the Ganga delta which was in the mainstream of the successive Turkish, Mughal, and Persian invaders speak Urdu and can be said to be the core of Islamic culture in the sub-continent. The two-nation theory was strongly supported in this area. East of this region, the preferred language is Bengali.

On the other hand, the Urdu speaking Bengali Muslims are a small fraction, they are mainly immigrants from Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh, and Orissa. In Andhra Pradesh, the Muslims formed part of the upper ruling classes when the major region of Andhra Pradesh was Under the Muslim ruler. As such, they largely speak Urdu (and not Telugu). The Muslims of South India have their own political parties, unlike the north Indian Muslims who have joined the mainstream political parties.


Most of the Christians in India are converted to Christianity. During the period of British rule, a large scale of conversion takes place from Hinduism to Christianity. The socially and economically deprived segments of Hindu Society became ideal targets for European missionaries. The main areas of concentration of Christians are in Kerala, parts of Tamil Nadu, and Goa. There are also many Christians amongst the tribal of Chota Nagpur and the eastern states.

Besides, Christians of the north-east tribal areas form a distinctively cultural group. The Christians are more numerous than the Sikhs but less concentrated and assertive. Christians form the majority in Nagaland and Meghalaya society. Christians settle throughout the country and usually speak the language of the India of their residence. Christian missionaries have done a lot towards the spread of education in India. A number of premier educational institutions in the country owe their development to the pioneering work of various Christian missions. In the north-eastern tribal areas, the literacy rate increases from very low levels to above average by the work of Christian missionaries.


Sikhs constitute about 2% of the population of India. The Sikh population has more than proportionally increased (in 1961 it was 1.8% and in 1981 and 1991 it constituted nearly 2%). The Sikh religion like Buddhism and Jainism has its origin in Hinduism.  The search for a separate Sikh identity became an important question, with far-reaching implications. The partition of India in 1947 divided the Sikh population into two almost equal parts.

Although Sikhs have settled in many parts of India, Punjab is in many ways their homeland, where their holiest shrine, the Golden Temple, is situated at Amritsar and which is also the seat of their highest religious body, the Akal Takt.

Even though Punjabi as a language is the mother tongue of both Sikhs and Hindus living in Punjab, the two religious groups started to distinguish themselves linguistically when the call for a Punjabi speaking state was made initially by the Sikhs. Punjab was divided into the states of Punjab and Haryana on a linguistic basis. Out of the 16 million Sikhs in India, one-fifth lives outside Punjab mostly in Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and the National Capital Territory of Delhi. There are also a substantial number of Sikhs in the US, Canada, the UK, and Germany.


Though Buddhism originated in India, it has more adherents outside this country in many parts of Asia where it spread rapidly. In India, Buddhists form a very small community. There have been conversions to Buddhism in recent years mainly from the lower castes. These have been mostly in Maharashtra and these people are called neo- Buddhists.


Jains are another small religious community. We can find Jains over the whole of India. They are mostly live in Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Maharashtra. Jains are mainly practice trading and financing as a source of living.


Parsis are another small religious group that practices Zoroastrianism of which fire worship is an important part. This religion came with the migrants from Persia in about the 8th century AD. Parsis mostly practice business and industry as a living. They mostly live in Mumbai and certain areas of Gujarat.

Besides the above religions of India, we can even see Anglo-Indians form a distinct group. Although they are all Christians, they retain a separate identity that has come down from the British period. They are a racial mixture of English and Indian parentage.

Major Religions in India

Below is the list of the population according to the Major Religions of India

Percentage to total population in terms of percentage                      1961       1971       1981       1991       2001       2011


Hindus                                                                                                             83.5        82.8        82.6        82.41     82.0        80.5


Muslims                                                                                                           10.7        11.2        11.4        11.67     12.0        13.4


Christians                                                                                                         2.4          2.6          2.4          2.32        2.2          2.3


Sikhs                                                                                                                  1.8          1.9          2.0          1.99        2.2          1.9


Buddhists                                                                                                         0.7          0.7          0.7          0.77        0.8          0.8


Jains                                                                                                                  0.5          0.5          0.5          0.41        0.4          0.4


Others                                                                                                                0.4          0.4          0.4          0.43        0.6          0.6


Caste is a very powerful institution in India. It influences social life, though it generally has a negative role. Though based on Hinduism, the caste hierarchies have spread among Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians. There is a saying in India that one may lose his role of religion in Indian society by conversion but not his caste.

The hierarchical caste system increased and encouraged the higher castes to exploit the lower caste, artisans, etc. The higher castes were generally non-cultivating land-owners, administrators, traders, and moneylenders. The lower castes were cultivating tenants and artisans. The Scheduled Castes were landless toilers, agricultural laborers, or engaged in “polluting” or “dirty” services.

Highest Number of Schedule Castes in India

The highest number of Scheduled Castes is found in the States of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Orissa, and West Bengal.

Scheduled Caste concentration is low in the Vindhya regions, Chota Nagpur, western dry region, hilly tracts of Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh, and the northeastern regions.

Further, in rural areas, the percentage of Scheduled Castes is less, where Muslims, Sikhs. Christians or tribal populations are dominant, indicating a marginal improvement in their position. However, the low socio-economic status of Scheduled Castes is not related to their religion but to their position in the agrarian structure.

About one-third of the Scheduled Caste’s agricultural work-force consists of agricultural laborers. The problems of regional development in India are dependent on agrarian reforms where a lot remains to be done particularly in the area of scheduled caste concentration.

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