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How liberal is South Asia ?

Religious freedom and human rights have been subjects of significant discussion in the South Asian region, prompting an examination of the status of religious minorities in major countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.

India is home to a sizable Muslim population, constituting approximately 15% of the total population, with over 213 million individuals. Indian Muslims have a notable presence in various domains, including Bollywood, politics, and industries. India has witnessed Muslim individuals holding prestigious positions such as Presidents, Vice Presidents, and Chief Ministers. Renowned Indian Muslims like Shah Rukh Khan, Asaduddin Owaisi, Sania Mirza, and Zaheer Khan have made significant contributions. Additionally, India boasts several institutions catering to the Muslim community, such as Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, and noteworthy organizations like AIMIM, IUML, IAMC, JUeH, and Waqf. Despite these advancements, there have been concerns about certain attacks and laws that have caused discontent among the Muslim community.

In Pakistan, the largest minority group comprises Pakistani Hindus, making up around 2.14% of the total population, totaling more than 4.4 million individuals. Unfortunately, Pakistani Hindus have been underrepresented in various spheres of society. The community has not seen a Hindu President, Governor, or even a District Magistrate in the country’s history. Although a few Hindu MPs exist, issues like suppression, kidnappings, and forced conversions have caused distress within the community. Notable Pakistani Hindus, including Danish Kaneria, Deepak Perwani, RK Vankwani, and Danesh Kumar, have achieved recognition in their respective fields.

Bangladesh’s largest minority group is composed of Bangladeshi Hindus, comprising approximately 7.95% of the total population, with over 13.3 million individuals. While there has been some progress, Bangladeshi Hindus still face challenges in achieving full representation. Communal violence and suppression under non-Awami League regimes have affected the community, but steps taken by the Awami League’s government to promote secularism, brotherhood, and equality have been noteworthy. Some financially and educationally advanced Bangladeshi Hindus are leading good lives. Prominent Bangladeshi Hindus like CR Dutta, Jaya Sengupta, Justice SK Sinha, and Liton Das have contributed to society.

Sri Lanka’s largest minority group comprises Sri Lankan Hindus, primarily Tamils, accounting for 12.6% of the total population, with more than 2.6 million individuals. Historically, Sri Lankan Hindus, especially Tamils, have excelled economically and educationally. However, religious and linguistic differences with the majority population have led to severe suppression, exacerbated by the Sri Lankan Civil War, which resulted in the loss of lives, homes, and belongings for many Sri Lankan Hindus. Human rights activists and Sri Lankan Hindus have faced suppression for an extended period. Prominent Sri Lankan Hindus like Indrajit Coomaraswamy and Maravanpulavu Sachchithananthan have made significant contributions. Noteworthy Sri Lankan Hindu organizations include All Ceylon Hindu Congress and Siva Senai.

Based on research and a comparison of the religious groups in the four countries across various parameters such as economics, education, social acceptance, political representation, and migration, we rate the nations’ religious freedom as follows:

India – 9/10

Pakistan – 2/10

Bangladesh – 7/10

Sri Lanka – 6/10

It is important to approach discussions about religious freedom and minority rights with sensitivity and respect for diverse perspectives and experiences in each country.

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