Religions in India and Russia

Indian people are very religious. They are also extremely proud of India being secular country and talk about diversity of cultures & religions here a lot.

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But, in the same time, they mostly somehow believe that Russia is one-religion (and one culture) country. That is not true (even though historically it had some religion and even atheism enforcement – about it later in the article). About diversity of the cultures in Russia I will write some other day. Today let’s talk about religions. You will be surprised: India and Russia have similar numbers in religious diversity statistics.

Russian people in general pay much less attention to the religions in their country overall than Indians – religion is considered more as private thing in Russia. While traveling to India, Russians/ other “Western people” (how Indians call us – let’s maybe call it “Westeros”, ha-ha) can hear about the religious diversity from proud Indians a lot, can see many religious parades and notice that most of the National holidays in the country are religious Festivals, that Indians sometimes do celebrate the Festivals of each other’s religions even, most of the weddings have religious rituals – people can feel that it’s not like this in their country – maybe it’s not so diverse? But it’s because people aren’t being focused on it so much like in India, and people don’t know the statistics.

Russia is a democratic country, it is considered a secular country with no state religion so people are free to follow any religion/ religious group/ sect they want and one can be jailed for religious abuse and intolerance. However, religious organization can be closed if they brake Constitutional freedom of other people, suppose conduct extremist activities. Governments in Russia are also prohibited to collect the data about people’s religions, so people don’t have to mention their religion in any government form/ answer about it to anybody. Only some social agencies in their questionnaires can try to collect the data but they surely wouldn’t be able to ask everyone. So the data about religions in Russia is not exact for now, different social agencies have a little bit different numbers.

According to the statistics in Wikipedia (the data of different agencies mentioned there, I will write the data of one of them), in 2010 Russians were:

75% – Orthodox Christians (but according to data, only 18-20% of them are actually very religious, others just identify themselves as Orthodox Christians but barely follow the religion);

5% – Muslims (there are a few states in Russia where most of the population are Muslims. In some of the states most of people don’t follow it strictly but in some they do – especially on the North Caucasus – the area near to my home state – Krasnodar region in Southern Russia);

1% – Catholic Christians;

1% – Jews;

1% – Buddists (3 states of Russia were traditionally following Tibetan Buddhism: Buryatia, Tuva, Kalmykia. Now the number of Buddhists has grown since it became a popular philosophy in Russia);

3% – Spiritual but not religious (people who believe in God but not in religion or believe in all the religions);

8% – Atheists;

6% – Others (Including 140000 of Hindus – 0.1% of Russian population, source:

India also is a secular country, as I have already mentioned, with no official state religion and equal treatment and tolerance to all of the religions. But in India, on the contrary, many government forms require to mention person’s religion, even the form for Indian visa.

According to statistics in Wikipedia, in 2011 Indians were:

79.8% – Hindus

14.2% – Muslims;

2.3% – Christians;

1.7% – Sikhs;

0.7% – Buddhists;

0.4% – Jains;

0.7% – Others;

0.2% – Religion was not stated.

Recently Indian governments passed Citizenship Amendmen Act meant to provide citizenship for immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, discriminated on the basis of their religion in their countries. This act excludes Muslims and it caused many protests all over India, based on different ideologies – but mostly against religious inequality.

About the history of religions in India you can read in this Wikipedia article – The regional religious statistics of India also can be found in that article. And I will tell you a little bit about Russian religious history.

Barely anyone in India, maybe in another countries too, knows that Russia also had the religion of many gods before Christianity was taken in the year of 988. Those gods were connected to the nature: God of Wind, God of Sun, God of Water, etc. In 988 Christianity was forced, yes, by the Russian King (Knyaz’) of those times but according to studies, he had to do it to connect Russian culture to European civilization of those times and to develop international relationships – he adopted Christianity from Byzantium Empire. Christianity already had some followers in Russia by then (mostly in the cities). People in villages, however, couldn’t adapt to it completely for a long time, the result of it was them to start mixing the religious meanings and rituals. For the next almost 1000 years the traditional symbolism was changed a lot or many of its meanings were forgotten but traditional culture (which was mostly kept in villages) still had some elements and beliefs from the old religion. The traditional culture is not there in daily life of Russian people as such already for 100 years, but even now a few mythological things are still there from the old religion – after more than a 1000 years! The old religion is also reborn now in some small groups of Russian population.

When Russia was the part of USSR (1922-1991), the union of 15 countries tried to reach communism (but had socialist form of ruling – communism was their goal), and it promoted atheism. Some churches were destroyed (but not all), people were prohibited to believe in God publicly. But, still, many people kept believing in God in their hearts and passed this belief to their children. I personally don’t know many people who were born in USSR times that believe in atheism. USSR also had Muslim counties in it, such are Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan.

Religion and marriage in India and Russia:

As I have mentioned, In India people mostly do marry religiously. And in most of the cases it doesn’t require them to have a court marriage registration even – they are already considered officially married (but divorce has to be done in court). The couple needs to only have a court marriage when they want to go abroad, they often do it not before but after the religious ceremony. In the cities people do not marry young now but in villages, because of it, people can make their children to get married in teenage, daughters even at 12-13 years old – though by law in India girls are not allowed to marry before 18 years old and guys before 21 years old. Also in India, despite of all the diversity views, people are very unopened for the inter-religious marriages yet (inter-cast also, not even much for unequal financially marriages), most of the marriages are arranged. In the law system India has different Marriage Acts for the people of different religions and Special Marriage Act for inter-religious marriages or marriages of Indians with foreigners (in this case people just can’t avoid court marriage but not every Indian that marries a foreigner knows about it – that in their case documents and not religious ceremony decides everything – they learn about it when a foreigner’s spouse visa is finished). Indian Muslims, suppose, are given different right than others: polygamy and no need for official procedure of divorce (which was only banned recently), even though people of other religions aren’t allowed to do the same.

Not many people know that before the beginning of 20th century Russian people also practiced arranged marriages and even had the system similar to casts in India – it was called “sosloviya”. In the past Russian people got married in teenage as well, inter-sosloviya marriages barely happened. Girls virginity was controlled and if the girl wasn’t a virgin before marriage, it brought a big shame on her family. Traditional Russian wedding dress wasn’t a ‘western’ white but embroidered a lot, even though Russians were already following Christianity for censures. Marriages happened in churches and the churches controlled the lists of married couples, lists of births and deaths of people.

The marriage system in Russia has changed completely in the year of 1917. The whole marriage system from before was cancelled, taking away marriage from the church/ other religious institution to the government. All the previous religious institutions required to give away all their books to the governments. Governments introduced a court marriage (called ZAGS in Russia), made the documentary marriage registration, birth registration and death registration MANDATORY, allowed people of any religion to marry ONLY once (even Muslims), made man and woman marriage rights equal, allowed divorces. People in Russia are prohibited to marry before 18. All of these things are strictly followed because the governments put stamp about marriage in local passport that everyone in Russia has. There are no different Marriage Acts for people of different religions in Russia. Now not many people in Russia go for religious ceremony in their marriages, people consider a court marriage the most important because without it even if they marry religiously, they won’t be considered married – so if they have children, suppose, a woman will be registered as a single mother. Some people marry in Church/ other religious institution already after they got married in court, sometimes after a long time.

Since this law was taken, arranged marriages in Russia have barely happened (when I say it to Indians, especially elder ones that even my grandparents had love marriages, people look at me very suspiciously, but it’s true). Arranged marriages do not happen among Russian people at all, they do happen mainly among local Muslims (but not all of them) or children of big group emigrants – suppose, Armenian people can do it too – even though they are Christians (but not always too).

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