The Economics of Religion in India
Author : Sriya Iyer
Publisher : Harvard University Press, RS 2,999
Sriya Iyer’s recent book does an excellent job at showing how a nation’s approach to religion is intertwined with the overall development of its economy and can thus play a big role in shaping the destiny of its people, writes Kumar Chellappan
Auguste Comte, the 19th century French philosopher who gave shape to the ‘Religion of Humanity’ is believed to have said that “Demography is Destiny”. When Lal Krishna Advani, the then Deputy Prime Minister and the then Union Minister of Home Affairs was requested by the scientists of the Centre For Policy Studies to write a foreword to their comprehensive volume Religious Demography of India, the former began by quoting Comte to drive home the significance and influence wielded by demography in the destiny of nations. As the demography undergoes major changes, everything associated with the culture, heritage and tradition of the country undergoes a change, sometimes an irreversible change.
Religious Demography of India authored by AP Joshi, MD Srinivas and JK Bajaj had scientifically proven that the changes in the relative share of different religions registered between 1881 and 1991 were so sharp that “If the trend continued then the Muslims and Christians together would come to form a majority of the population of the Indian subcontinent sometime in the second half of the twenty-first century. Correspondingly, the Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and others who were collectively referred to as ‘Indian religionists’, would be reduced to a minority in their own civilisational region.”
This was substantiated by the Prime Minister’s High Level Committee for the preparation of Report on the Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslims of India, commonly known as the Sachar Committee. The Committee, in its report submitted in November 2006 to the then Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, accepted the findings in the Religious Demography of India but countered the possibility with questions like “so what” and “how does it matter”.
A demography study by an international research team of World Christian Encyclopedia in 2001 had found out that Christians constitute 6.15 per cent of the Indian population based on the 2001 census though the Union Government’s estimate was 2.07 per cent only. The above points are mentioned in the prelude to Sriya Iyer’s recent book Economics of Religion in India. Iyer is a lecturer at the faculty of economics, University of Cambridge. Iyer, who also has Demography and Religion in India to her credit, claims that this is the first book on the economics of religion in India. Regarding her new book, Iyer says that she was trying to establish the link between income inequality, demographic characteristics, socio-economic status and religion in India. She also tries to explain the relation between economic growth and religion, the influence wielded by religions over economic growth and vice versa. Iyer says that the competition between various religions reminds her of the turf war between corporate groups to market their products. While rich countries are getting more secular, the world overall is getting more religious,” she says in the book.
Well, when one puts on the TV, there are more than a dozen channels marketing religions with claims that salvation is possible only through our religion. The programmes repudiate all that is known as scientific temper. The programmes have titles like “Miracle Crusade” and “Music Therapy’ where participants claim they have been cured of all diseases and ailments by the pastor or the evangelist. It is another thing that the same pastors and evangelists fly away to the USA and Europe for specialised treatment if they themselves are suffering from mild ailments.
Iyer attempts to portray the non-religious services offered by some of the religions as act of philanthropy and claims that such acts are not done with an eye on religious conversion. She doesn’t find anything wrong in religious conversion and has no doubt about the non-religious services offered by some of the religions. “Provision of social services may arise in response to economic inequality, or even as a means of survival in multi religious communities in which religions that do not provide these services may face declining numbers of adherents,” writes Iyer.
She should be aware that all minority communities enjoy special privileges in India and they get the first preference in opening educational institutions while for the majority community it is a Herculean task to get permission to open even a Lower Primary School. Dr T P Senkumar, former Chief of Kerala Police who is a highly respected police officer in this part of the country declared that the majority community should be give the same rights enjoyed by the minority communities and that it should be incorporated in the Indian Constitution. This sums up the ground reality in India and the role of demography and economic development.
Some of the surveys held in India by social research organisations which have been quoted by Iyer to substantiate her observations need to be studied further. Quoting from World Value Survey, Iyer has said that 14.57 per cent of the Hindus strongly believe that using violence for political goals is not justified. Does it mean that 85 per cent of the majority community stands for using violence for political goals? The author is silent about this factor.
An interesting conclusion made by Iyer and her team of researchers is that riots are more likely to happen in State election years. Iyer’s mission at times seems to be propagating the observations and ideologies espoused by economists and sociologists with discernible Left leaning. This she makes clear by pointing out that “religious riots were more pervasive in the 1980s and 1990s relative to 1950-1981”.
“Hindu fundamentalism has all of the most important characteristics of religious fundamentalism. It is a reaction to secularisation by the British Empire and the Congress movement. It may be a reaction to the threat from other religions and possibly western values,” says Iyer. The fact that this book has been written entirely on the façade built by Left ideology makes it somewhat lopsided in certain parts. But, that does not discount the fact that it unearths a very significant connection between religion and the economic development of a country.