India being the birth place of four religions namely Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism, is a country of diverse religions and cultures. Throughout history, religion has been an important part of India’s cultural diversity. Even though India is majorly Hindu, it holds third largest population of Muslims. Religious freedom is guaranteed by the constitution of India as a fundamental right. As per Article 15 and 21 of the constitution of India, every citizen of India has a right to practice and promote their religion peacefully. However there have been number of instances where religious rights of people have been violated and thousands of lives have been taken during communal fights.

Political leaders have always involved religion as part of their propaganda. Ideology of various parties differ from each other and is highly influenced by the religion and ideology of their political leaders Religion was a decisive factor in politics even before Independence which can be inferred from the existence of Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) etc. The partition of 1947 lead to communal riots, a result of which thousands died and several more were left homeless. Even after Independence, these religious sentiments could not be separated from politics. It is rooted deep inside the nerves of Indian politics and its people.

The demolition of Babri Masjid, Gujarat riots etc. are instances of religious intolerance among people. Volunteers of Bhartiya Janta Party and RSS were involved in organizing rallies near the mosque which lead to outbreak of communal fights between Hindus and Muslims. The agenda of reclaiming the Ram Janmabhoomi meant a clear intolerance for the propagation of Islam in Ayodhya. These riots spread to other cities even after ban of VHP and few BJP leaders eventually resulting thousands of deaths. However it is a common belief that the Hindutva agenda of BJP is accepted by many Hindus across the country. Sikh community in the country has also been the victim of religious intolerance. The 1984 anti-Sikh riots were triggered by the assassination of Indira Gandhi. There are allegations that the riots were organized in well coordination with Delhi police and the then ruling party Indian National Congress. Similarly, there have been more than 200 such incidents against Christians as well. In 2007, the number of attacks on Christians crossed 1000 for the first time since Independence.

With the world having 2 billion Christians, 1.8 billion Muslims, 1.1. Billion Hindus and 488 million Buddhist population, it is very important to maintain religious freedom and peace. Most of the countries uphold religious tolerance as an important aspect of development and have adopted laws for the same. The United Nations upholds the right to free expression of religious belief in articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 2 forbids any discrimination on the basis of religion. While religious tolerance has been accepted in most of the countries, the limits of the same is debatable. Article 18 of UN Declaration of Human Rights allows people to change religion and the same has been adopted by the constitution of India. People convert to a different religion for various reasons which includes free choice, marital conversion, convenience, and forced conversion. Even though religious conversions have been common in the history, it has sparked a lot of attention and has caused hostilities in Indian families including killing. In the past, several Indian states have passed Freedom of Religion bills primarily to prevent conversion happening due to monetary benefits, wrong promises by other religion or threats and force by people from other religion. These bills have sparked a debate about the intentions of passing these bills. The US State Department has claimed that the recent wave of anti-conversion laws is seen as gradual increase in the Hindu nationalism.

As much as a secular government strive for a clean break between religion and politics, the two in reality mix. Religion can strongly impact which party a person votes for. Similarly, political views can play a major role in religious conversion. Politicians organize demonstrations and public meetings and project their views about religion, policies, laws etc. These views of are often accepted by common man without much critical thinking.

It wouldn’t be correct on my part to say that religious intolerance have always made the way for political parties. People have at various times proved their secular behavior and brought down the parties. The fall of INC after the Sikh riots and voices against Modi after the Gujarat riots are a great examples of people respecting other religions and people. What we really need to start doing is to put human rights above religion and caste. In my opinion, people need to understand the importance of other religions in bringing about the culture and diversity in a country. Religious tolerance is very important for the country to grow. It also teaches individuals to be more loving and trusting while enacting the trait of love thy neighbor and thy enemy. Without religious tolerance, members of different religious faiths often find themselves as the target for hatred, disrespect, discrimination and violence.

Uniform civil code has been a topic of discussion for long. Given the diverse nature of personal laws in all religions, it is very difficult to adopt a common law for all religions. Muslim and Christian communities have been against the uniform code which gets support from INC and Communist Party of India. BJP, VHP and RSS are in favor of the uniform code. Indians have always believed in – “Hindu Muslim Sikh Isai, Hum chaaro hai bhai bhai”. This phrase shows the roots of India being a religiously tolerant country. We need to keep this in mind and rise above our individual religious dictates.