A middle class is emerging in India that is more religious that has generally been predicted, but not very orthodox.
Hinduism Today magazine (February) devotes a cover story to the beliefs and practices of the middle class Indians and finds that those of all faiths — Hindu, Christian and Muslim — do not largely discard their beliefs as much as adapt them according to a modern mind-set that disdains ritual and magic. In interviews with Indians throughout the various states, the reporters find that “to a significant extent, they have seen through and rejected the anti-religion beliefs of the communists, rationalists and secularists.”
Even in the communist state of West Bengal, an atheistic middle class has not emerged. One doctor explains, “I see that everybody, including doctors, are God-fearing people. We may not be observing all the rituals, due to shortage of time, nuclear family, working wife, etc., but we are religious.”
In Kerala, where there is a strong Christian and Muslim presence, there is more variation in religious belief. The emerging Christian and Muslim middle class “is enjoying an unprecedented improvement in their standard of living and becoming more religious too. Once Mass was conducted in the Catholic churches only on Sundays. Now it is done almost every day,” writes V.S. Gopalakrishnan. Middle class Hindus in Kerala “revealed religion to be much less important in their lives than it was in the lives of their Christian and Muslim neighbors.
They unanimously said they do not read any of the scriptures . . . they never recite hymns . . . Instead television provides the main activity . . . In fact, one can postulate that it is television which has replaced ritual observances in many Hindu homes.”
Bangalore’s middle class, meanwhile, is more religious, with a home-based ritual combining religion and social life, known as “vrats,” becoming a fad. The editors conclude that the middle class is seeking a more “logical” and inward form of religion than their parents “They are unable, it seems, to feel the very real contact between the human world and God’s world which is facilitated by ritual.” While Hinduism has entire branches that accommodate such a “ritual-less” devotee, the religion also faces a major obstacle.
Unlike the Muslims and Christians, Hindus do not have the structures and comprehensive systems to educate their youths outside of the family, which is now too strained to provide such a function.
(Hinduism Today, 107 Kaholalele Road, Kapaa, HI 96746-9304)