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Freedom of religion in India is a fundamental right guaranteed by the country's constitution. Modern India came into existence in 1947 as a secular nation and the Indian constitution's preamble states that India is a secular state. Freedom of religion is established in tradition as Hinduism does not recognise labels of distinct religions and has no concept of blasphemy or heresy. Every citizen of India has a right to practice and promote their religion peacefully. However, there have been a number of incidents of religious intolerance that resulted in riots and violence. These incidents have been condemned by the governmental administrations, private businesses, and judicial systems.
India is the birthplace of four major world religions: Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Yet, India is one of the most diverse nations in terms of religion. Even though Hindus form close to 80 percent of the population, the country also has large Muslim, Sikh, Christian and Zoroastrian populations. Islam is the largest minority religion in India, and the Indian Muslims form the third largest Muslim population in the world, accounting for over 12 percent of the nation's population.
India has a Hindu President (Pranab Mukherjee), Muslim vice-president (M. Hamid Ansari), a Sikh Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh) and an Atheist Defence Minister A. K. Antony. The leader of the largest party, the Indian National Congress, Sonia Gandhi is a Catholic Christian, while the leader of the opposition is Sushma Swaraj, a Hindu. India's ex-President APJ Abdul Kalam was a Muslim. Out of the 12 Presidents of India since Independence, three have been Muslims and one Sikh. India had a prominent former Defence Minister (George Fernandes), a Christian (though not practising) and a Hindu minister controlling foreign affairs. India's Air Force Chief, Fali H. Major, was a Zoroastrian.
The plural nature of Indian society in the 3rd century BCE was encapsulated in an inscription of Ashoka:
sava pasa-nd-a-puujako, sava devaayatan-sanskaarako ।
I am worshipper of all sects, restorer of all shrines. ।।
Kharvela's self-description must be contrasted with other rulers around the world, who took pride in calling themselves "but-shikan" or "defender of the (only true) faith".
India, with its traditional tolerance, has served as a refuge for groups that have encountered persecution elsewhere.
Notable incidents of religious intolerance, conflicts and riots have occurred at several points in time.
A US congressional body has put India on a list of countries which have failed to protect its religious minorities adequately. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom says India was added to the list because of a "disturbing increase" in religious violence. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom was criticised by an Archbishop from Odisha who did not doubt the secular credentials of India. USCIRF had referred to the anti-Christian and anti-Muslim riots in Odisha and Gujarat in 2008 and 2002 respectively.
The Indian Constitution in Article 25 grants to citizens of India of all religious persuasions freedom to profess, practise and propagate their faith in a way that does not disrupt public order and does not affect public health and morality adversely. The Article 25 of the Indian Constitution is a basic human rights guarantee that cannot be subverted or misinterpreted in any manner. It is in this context that the anti-conversion laws in India must be viewed.Anti-conversion laws are promulgated on the premise that forced or induced conversions happen and need to be prevented. Such laws are controversial because they run the risk of being abused by communal forces who may have the tacit approval of the dominant political party in the state or country.
In a reaction to supposed induced conversions, 200 tribal Christians in Jharsuguda were 'reconverted' back to Hinduism in Jharsuguda in an event organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) with BJP involvement.
In the past, several Indian states passed Freedom of Religion Bills primarily to prevent people from converting to Christianity. Arunachal Pradesh passed a bill in 1978. In 2003, Gujarat State, passed an anti-conversion bill in 2003.
In July 2006, the Madhya Pradesh government passed legislation requiring people who desire to convert to a different religion to provide the government with one month's notice, or face fines and penalties.
In August 2006, the Chhattisgarh State Assembly passed similar legislation requiring anyone who desires to convert to another religion to give 30 days' notice to, and seek permission from, the district magistrate.
Militants have murdered and forcibly displaced more than 400,000 Kashmiri Hindus during the Kashmir insurgency. This has been condemned and labelled as ethnic cleansing in a 2006 resolution passed by the United States Congress. In Northeastern India, Christian extremist groups have harassed, murdered and forcibly converted Hindus, and attacked temples. In 2000, Tripura police discovered that The Baptist Church of Tripura supplied the NLFT with arms and financial support and to have encouraged forced conversion and murder of Hindus. NLFT has issued a ban on the Hindu festivals of Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja, and declared it their mission to expand what they describe as the kingdom of God and Christ in Tripura. In Assam, members of the primarily Christian Hmar ethnic group have placed bloodstained crosses in temples and forced Hindus to convert at gunpoint. Many Hindu holy sites have been regularly attacked by terrorist groups, including Varanasi, Ayodhya, and Akshardham temple.
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There were widespread riots during the Partition of India in 1947, with attacks on Muslim minorities by Hindu and Sikh mobs in response to attacks, killing, raping of, and violence .
In 1992, the Babri Mosque was demolished by Hindu mob on the basis of their assertion that this was built on the birthplace of God Raam (one of the most revered avatar of Vishnu) and a temple existed at the site before the erection of the Mosque.
The Sangh Parivar family of organisations, has allegedly been involved in encouraging negative stereotyping of Muslims. However most of these allegations were founded on historic facts where Muslim rulers had destroyed temples and places of religious importance to Hindus. The 2002 Gujarat violence was result of the Godhra train burning, in which 58 Hindus, returning from pilgrimage and including 25 women and 15 children, were burnt alive, after the train had been stopped by a Muslim mob. However it was one such case where attacks were carried out against the indigenous Gujrati Muslim population. According to the official report, in total the riots led to the death of 1044 people in total (including those from the train fire), 754 Muslims and 290 Hindus . One of the most serious instances of violence was the Best Bakery incident, which involved the killing of 14 people. This act of extreme violence is not a one off incident. Since the independence, the Muslim population has had to deal with sense of insecurity arising from such mass scale riots. The Jamshedpur riots of 1964 and 1979, the Bhagalpur riots of 1989, 1992 Bombay riots, are some of the examples where Muslims were categorically targeted and persecuted.
Human Rights Watch puts the death toll at higher figures, with 2000 deaths, mostly Muslim, but with attacks against Hindus by Muslim mobs as well. One Reuters article speaks of more than 2000 dead Muslims.
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Attacks against Christians in Odisha, have occurred in recent years in response to missionary activity by Christians.
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