Image of prayers at a temple

Have Indians become more religious these days?

Religiosity is mostly determined mostly by socio-political reasons, including financial crises and cultural issues. In recent years, India has been through a socio-economic churn that has left people feeling more insecure about their future.

Shifts in the intensity of religious belief and practice are often based on socio-political reasons. Meera Nanda notes in her book “The God Market: How Globalisation is Making India More Hindu”: “When people grow up in conditions where their survival is not secure, they tend to be more religious.” From the 1990s to now, India has been through a generation of intense socio-economic churn. This may have left people feeling more insecure about their identity and future. Some other events and trends have contributed to growing overt religiosity. These include:

  • The Mandal Commission Report and backlash: The Mandal Commission report in the 1990s created a social upheaval. The report recommended the expansion of caste-based reservations in public employment. This caused major backlash from upper caste communities and ushered in an era of caste insecurity that manifested in more discriminatory and communal behaviour. 
  • Liberalisation: Economic liberalisation policies, that began in the 1990s, led to a widening of income gaps across Indian society. This meant that the difference between the “haves” and the “have nots” soon became glaring and very difficult to bridge. This has given rise to further financial and survival insecurities. 
  • Internationalisation: Due to the liberalisation of the 1990s, it seemed as though India was being opened up to the West and the West to India. To combat this, people and political outfits developed new ways of displaying cultural pride. According to Sukhada Tatke in her essay “Milk”, religion was used as a tool for this cultural revival. Idol worship and practices defined by dominant Hindu caste groups became a key to these efforts. 
  • Ramjanmabhoomi: In 1990, the Bharatiya Janata Party leader LK Advani embarked on a nationwide roadshow in support of the demolition of the historic Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. The mosque was alleged to have been constructed over the land where Lord Ram was born. The conflict that arose from this rally and intensified following the mosque’s destruction in 1992 lasted decades. Beyond its political consequences, the Ramjanmabhoomi issue further deepened the rift between Hindus and Muslims and gave rise to riots and brutal violence around India. The event triggered a belief that India would soon move from being a pluralist state to a Hindu Rashtra, or a nation governed on Hindu principles.
  • Godmen and Spiritual Teachers: The 1980s and 90s saw an influx of godmen and spiritual teachers taking precedence in religious discourse. For example, Sathya Sai Baba was revered to be the reincarnation of the Sai Baba of Shirdi. Devotees flocked to see him performing miracles, which included pulling necklaces, ashes and sarees out of thin air.

All of these trends and events have led to more insecurities and more financial instability, as well as increased social cleavage. Therefore people have been turning to religion for answers.