Atheism and agnosticism have a long history in India. Indian religions like Buddhism, Jainism and some schools of Hinduism consider atheism to be acceptable. India has produced some notable atheist politicians and social reformers.
According to the 2012 WIN-Gallup Global Index of Religion and Atheism report, 81% of Indians were religious, 13% were not religious, 3% were convinced atheists, and 3% were unsure or did not respond.
Schools of Philosophy
See also: Indian philosophy
In Hinduism, the religion of majority ofIndians, atheism is considered to be a valid path to spirituality, as it can be argued that God can manifest in several forms with “no form” being one of them. But, the path is considered difficult to follow. The belief in a personal creator God is not required in Jainism andBuddhism, both of which also originated in the Indian subcontinent. Atheistic schools are also found in Hinduism.
Hindu philosophy is divided into schools (darśanam). These schools can be categorized as āstika (orthodox), schools which conforms to the Vedas, and nāstika (heterodox), schools reject the Vedas. The six schools, Sāṃkhya,Yoga, Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, Mimāṃsā, andVedānta, are considered āstika schools. But, Cārvāka, Jainism and Buddhism are considered nāstika.
Main article: Cārvāka
“There is no heaven, no final liberation, nor any soul in another world, Nor do the actions of the four castes, orders, etc., produce any real effect.”
The Cārvāka school originated in India around the 6th century BCE. It is classified as a nāstika school. It is noteworthy as evidence of amaterialistic movement in ancient India. Followers of this school only accepted pratyakşa (perception) as a valid pramāna (evidence). They considered other pramāna like sabda(testinomy), upamāna (analogy), andanumāna (inference) as unreliable.Thus, existence of soul (ātman) and God were rejected, because they could not be proved by perception. They also considered everything to be made of four elements: earth, water, air and fire. Cārvāka pursued elimination of physical pain and enjoyment of life. So, they can be considered hedonistic. All of the original Cārvāka texts are considered lost. A much quoted sūtra(Barhaspatya sutras) by Brhaspati, who is considered the founder of the school, is thought to be lost. TheTattvopaplavasimha by Jayarāśi Bhaṭṭa(8th century CE) and theSarvadarśanasaṅ̇graha by Madhavacarya(14th century) are considered important secondary Cārvāka texts.
Main article: Sāṃkhya
Sāṃkhya is an āstika school, but has some atheistic elements. Sāṃkhya is a radically dualist philosophy. They believed that the two ontological principles, puruṣa (consciousness) andprakriti (matter), to be the underlying foundation of the universe. The objective of life is considered the achievement of separation of pure consciousness from matter (kaivalya).The reasoning within this system led toNir-isvara Sāṃkhya (Sāṃkhya without God) philosophy, which deemed the existence of God unnecessary. There is the opposing reasoning which accepts God, it is called Sesvara Sankhya (Sāṃkhya with God). Samkhya Karika (c. 350 CE) is the earliest known systematic text of this philosophy.
Main article: Mīmāṃsā
Mīmāṃsā (meaning exegesis) is also an astika school. They believed the Vedas to be author-less and self-authenticating. They didn’t accept the Vedas to be composed by any ṛṣi (saint), they considered it to be not authored by anyone (apauruṣeya). They accepted the minor deities of the Vedas but resisted any notion of a Supreme Creator. They only concentrated on upholding the ṛta(order) by following the duties of the Vedas. The foundational text of this school is the Mīmāṃsā Sutra by Jaimini(c. 200 BCE – 200 CE).
Buddhism and Jainism
Gautama Buddha rejected the existence of a creator deity, refused to endorse many views on creation and stated that questions on the origin of the world are not ultimately useful for ending suffering. Buddhisminstead emphasizes the system of causal relationships underlying the universe, pratītyasamutpāda, which constitute the dharma and source of enlightenment. No dependence of phenomena on a supernatural reality is asserted in order to explain the behaviour of matter.
Jainism rejects the idea of a creator deity responsible for the manifestation, creation, or maintenance of this universe. According to Jain doctrine, the universe and its constituents (soul, matter, space, time, and principles of motion) have always existed. All the constituents and actions are governed by universal natural laws and an immaterial entity like God cannot create a material entity like the universe. Jainism offers an elaborate cosmology, including heavenly beings (devas), but these beings are not viewed as creators; they are subject to suffering and change like all other living beings, and must eventually die. Jains define godliness as the inherent quality of any soul characterizing infinite bliss, infinite power, Kevala Jnana (pure infinite knowledge) and Perfect peace. However, these qualities of a soul are subdued due to karmas of the soul. One who achieves this state of soul throughright belief, right knowledge and right conduct can be termed a god. This perfection of soul is called kevalin orbodhi. A god thus becomes a liberated soul – liberated of miseries, cycles of rebirth, world, karmas and finally liberated of body as well. This is calledmoksha.
Philosophers and ancient texts
Ajita Kesakambali was amaterialist philosopher. He is mentioned in the Samaññaphala Sutta. He rejected gods, afterlife and karma.Payasi is a character, referred to as a prince, who appears in the Buddhist textDigha Nikaya in the Payasi Sutta. He didn’t believe in rebirth or karma. He debated Kassapa, a disciple of Buddha and lost, and then converted to Buddhism.
Jabali’s speech from the Ramayana
See also: Jabali
In the Hindu epic Ramayana (Ayodhya Khanda), when Bharata goes to the forest to convince Rama to return home, he was accompanied by a sophistcalled Jabali (“जाबालिः”). Jabali usesnihilistic reasoning to convince Rama. He also said that rituals are a waste of food and scriptures were written by smart men so that people would give alms. But, Rama calls him a deviant from the path of dharma(“धर्मपथात्”), refuses to accept his “nastika” views and blame his own father for taking Jabali into service. He also equates the Buddha to a thief. On hearing Rama’s retort, Jabali retracts his statements, saying that he was merely arguing like a nihilist. However, these verses referring to the Buddha are considered a later interpolation, as those verses use a different metre.
The Carvaka incident in the Mahabharata
A character described as a Carvaka briefly appears in theMahabharata (in the Shanti Parva). AsYudhisthira enters the city of Hastinapur, a brahmin, referred to as Carvaka, accuses him of killing his own kinsmen and says that he would suffer for it. The accuser is revealed to a rakshasa in disguise, who was a friend ofDuryodhana. He had existed since theKrita Yuga virtue of a boon from the godBrahma, that he could only be killed when he is showing contempt towards brahmins. He was promptly killed by other brahmins by the chanting of sacred hymns and Yudhisthira was assured that his actions were the within the kshatriya code. This event may be a possible denigration of the Carvakaphilosophy.
“Some foolish men declare that a creator made the world. The doctrine that the world was created is ill-advised, and should be rejected. If god created the world, where was he before creation? If you say he was transcendent then, and needed no support, where is he now?”
This quote was also featured later inCarl Sagan‘s book, Cosmos. In the 14th century, philosopher Madhavacarya wrote the Sarvadarśanasaṅ̇graha which is a compilation of all Indian philosophies, including Carvaka which is described in the first chapter.
Between 1882 and 1888, the Madras Secular Society published a magazine called The Thinker(Tattuvavivesini in Tamil) from Madras. The magazine carried articles written by anonymous writers and republished articles from the journal of the London Secular Society, which the Madras Secular Society considered itself affiliated to.
Goparaju Ramachandra Rao (1902-1975), better known by his nickname“Gora”, was a social reformer, anti-caste activist and atheist. He and his wife,Saraswathi Gora (1912-2007) who was also an atheist and social reformer, founded the Atheist Centre in 1940.The Atheist Centre is an institute working for social change. Gora expounded his philosophy of positive atheism as a way of life. He later wrote more about positive atheism in his 1972 book, “Positive Atheism”. Gora also organized the first World Atheist Conference in 1972. Subsequently, the Atheist Centre has organised several World Atheist Conferences inVijayawada and other locations.
In 2009, historian Meera Nandapublished a book entitled the “The God Market”. It examines how Hindu religiosity is gaining more popularity in the rising middle class, as India is liberalizing the economy and adoptingglobalization.
In March 2009, in Kerala, a pastoral letter addressing the laity was issued by the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Councilurging the members to not vote for political parties who advocate atheism. In July 2010, another similar letter was issued.
On 10 March 2012, Sanal Edamarukuinvestigated a so-called miracle in Vile Parle, where a Jesus statue had started weeping and concluded that the problem was caused by faulty drainage. Later that day, during a TV discussion with some church members, Edamaruku accused the Catholic Church of miracle-mongering. On 10 April, Angelo Fernandes, President of the Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum, filed a police complaint against Edamaruku under the Indian Penal Code Section 295A. In July while on a tour in Finland, Edamaruku was informed by a friend that his house was visited by the police. Since, the offence is not bailable, Edamaruku stayed in Finland.
Legal status, rights and laws
Atheism and irreligion are not officially recognized in India. Apostasy is allowed under the right to freedom of religion in the Constitution, and the Special Marriage Act, 1954 allows the marriage of people with no religious beliefs, as well as non-religious and non-ritualistic marriages. However, there are no specific laws catering to atheists and they are considered as belonging to the religion of their birth for administrative purposes.
Hate speech laws and irreligion
Main article: Hate speech laws in India
On 29 October 2013, the Bombay High Court judged in favour of an atheist school teacher from Nashik. Sanjay Salve had been employed by the state-funded Savitribai Phule Secondary School since 1996. In June 2007, during a prayer session, Salve didn’t fold his hands during the pledge or prayer. The school management called this indiscipline and refused him a higher pay grade in 2008 when Salve became eligible for it. Salve sought legal recourse citing the Section 28 (a) of the Constitution which states “no person attending any educational institution recognised by the State or receiving aid out of State funds shall be required to take part in any religious instruction that may be imparted in such institution or to attend any religious worship that may be conducted in such institution”. The court ruled in Salve’s favour and directed the school to release his dues by 31 January 2013.
On 23 September 2014, the Bombay High Court declared that the government cannot force a person to state a religion on any document or form. The court also stated any citizen has the right to declare that he/she doesn’t belong to any religion. The decision came in response to a Public Interest Litigation(PIL) filed by Ranjit Mohite, Kishore Nazare and Subhash Ranware, representing an organisation called Full Gospel Church of God, after the Maharashtra state printing press refused to issued them a gazette notification stating that they belonged to no religion. The petitioners stated that the organisation had 4000 members, and that they believe in Jesus Christ but they do not follow Christianity or any religion. Responding to the petition, the Maharashtra and the central governments had stated that “no religion” cannot be treated as a religion on official forms. The court cited the Article 25 of the Constitution, which guarantees right to freedom of conscience, while passing the verdict.
Persecution and attacks
Narendra Nayak has claimed to have been attacked thrice and twice his scooter has been damaged, one of the attack left him with head injuries. This compelled him to take self-defence lessons and carry a nunchaku. Megh Raj Mitter‘s house was surrounded a mob, after he debunked the Hindu milk miracle, forcing him to call the police.
On 15 March 2007, a bounty of ₹7 lakhwas announced on atheistBangladeshi author, Taslima Nasrin, living in India by a Muslim cleric named Maulana Tauqeer Raza Khan for allegedly writing derogatory statements about Mohammad in in her work. In December 2013, a FIR was filed against Nasrin in Bareilly by a cleric named Hasan Raza Khan for hurting religious sentiments. Nasrin had allegedly tweeted on Twitter, that “In India, criminals who issue fatwas against women don’t get punished”. Raza Khan said that by accusing clerics of being criminals, Nasrin had hurt religious sentiments.
On 2 July 2011, the house of U. Kalanathan, secretary of the Kerala Yukthivadi Sangham, was attacked inVallikunnu after he suggested on television that the temple treasures ofPadmanabhaswamy Temple should be used for public welfare. On 20 August 2013, Narendra Dabholkar, a rationalist and anti-superstition campaigner, was assassinated.
The Indian census does not explicitly count atheists. In the 2011 Census of India, the response form required the respondent to choose from six options under religion. The “Others” option was meant for minor or tribal religions as well as atheists and agnostics.
World Values Survey (2006)
WIN-Gallup Global Index of Religion and Atheism
According to the 2005 Global Index of Religion and Atheism report from WIN-Gallup, 87% of Indians were religious and 4% called themselves atheists. According to the 2012 report by the same organization, 81% of Indians were religious, 13% were not religious, 3% were convinced atheists and 3% were unsure or did not respond.
Worldviews and Opinions of Scientists in India (2007)
In 2007, a survey was conducted by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture of theTrinity College with the help of Center for Inquiry (India) called Worldviews and Opinions of Scientists in India. 1100 scientists surveyed from 130 institutes. Most of them identified themselves assecular (59%) or somewhat secular (16%) but refused to be labelledirreligious. 83% defined secularism, as it appears in the Indian constitutions, as the separation of state and religion. But, 93% also defined it as tolerance of other religious philosophies. 20% equated secularism to atheism. Only 11% called themselves completely not spiritual. However, only 8% reportedly said they would refuse to do stem cell researchbased on religious or moral convictions. Y. S. Rajan commented on this saying that most Indians don’t feel there is a conflict between science and religion. Other the hand, Innaiah Narisetti, chairman of Center for Inquiry (India) and Pushpa Bhargava, the former director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, pointed out the lack of scientific temper among Indian scientists.
Religion Among Scientists in International Context (2014)
More information: India, United Kingdom …
The ongoing study has surveyed 1,581 scientists from UK and 1,763 from India.
Rationalism and atheism by region
There is a sub-group of atheists inKerala who are members of theCommunist Party of India (Marxist). There are others who support atheism because of rationalist ideals: these include supporters of the Indian Rationalist Association. The Kerala Yukthivadi Sangham is an organization that supports atheism and rationalism in the Malayali community throughout Kerala. The Yukthivadi was the first atheist/rationalist magazine published in Malayalam.
Some notable atheists from Kerala include Sahodaran Ayyappan, V. S. Achuthanandan, A.K. Antony, Sreeni Pattathanam, Abu Abraham, A. K. Gopalan, Mookencheril Cherian Joseph,Joseph Edamaruku, Sanal Edamarukuand others. Sanal Edamaruku is the founder-president of Rationalist International and the president of theIndian Rationalist Association.
Notable irreligious indians
More information: Name, Dates …
NameDatesAboutReferencesA. K. Antony1940-Former Defence Minister and former Chief Minister of KeralaJohn Abraham1972-Actor”I consider myself a spiritual person but I don’t follow any particular religion. From the age of four, my father always told me that ‘to be a good man, you don’t need to go to a temple, church or a mosque. You just need to do good’. This is very true. So, while I believe in the presence of a supreme being, I am agnostic.”Anurag Kashyap1972-Director,Producer andScreenwriter“I am an atheist. Cinema is the only religion I believe in.”Amartya Sen1933-Economist andNobel laureate“If you ask me whether I believe in god, my answer is No. But that does not compromise the profundity of my respect for the self-sacrifice of those who do so for the people as a result of their faith like Mother Teresa.”Amol Palekar1944-Bollywood andMarathi film actor”Personally, I am an atheist and have no faith or belief in supernatural forces.”Ajita Kesakambali6th century BCEAncient Indianmaterialistphilosopher”Fools and wise alike, on the dissolution of the body, are off, annihilated, and after death they are not.”Ashok Vajpeyi1941-Hindi poet and recipient ofSahitya Akademi Award“I am a non-believer; I don’t have the gift of belief. But I read the two epics (Ramayana and Mahabharata) as great literary epics. I am not concerned with the divinity of it, and there are many others who aren’t either.”Baba Amte1914-2008Social activistBaichung Bhutia1976-Football player”I am neither religious nor spiritual. But my being an atheist is more a matter of chance. I have been away from my family ever since I was a child and never really got a chance to imbibe the religious values of my parents. Usually, it is the family that teaches a child about religion.”Bhagat Singh1907-1931A well-known figure in theIndian independence movement“As regard the origin of God, my thought is that man created God in his imagination when he realized his weaknesses, limitations and shortcomings.”C. P. Joshi1950-Former minister of Road Transport and Highways and former Railway MinisterDebashis Rationalist19xx-English Writer, Magician and General Secretary of RHFI”The concept of God and Religion has caused more harm to mankind than good. Whatever claimed to be miracle are nothing but cleverly performed tricks.E. M. S. Namboodiripad1909-1998First Chief Minister of KeralaE. K. Nayanar1918-2004Former Chief Minister of KeralaGoparaju Ramachandra Rao1902-1975Atheist activist, participant in the Indian independence movement and founder ofAtheist Centre“Religious belief prevented the growth of a sense of realism. But atheism at once makes man realistic and alive to the needs of morality.”Har Dayal1884-1939Indian nationalist revolutionary, polymath and founder of theGhadar Party“If God loves virtue, why has he not made Man wholly virtuous?”Innaiah Narisetti1937-Journalist, translator, president ofCenter for Inquiry, India and author of the book “Forced into Faith””Scientific temper demands proof and evidence. The god proposition came from religious persons. The burden of proof lies with the proposer.”Irfan Habib1931-Marxist historian“No. I have not found any reasonable argument for the existence of any supernatural power. I came to this conscious realisation in my student days in the late 1940s, through the influence of Marxist literature.”J. B. S. Haldane1892-1964British born biologist who took Indian citizenship”My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.”Jagadish Shettar1955-Bharatiya Janata Partypolitician, 21stChief Minister of KarnatakaJames Michael Lyngdoh1939-Former Chief Election Commissioner of India“I have no religion, I am an atheist.”Javed Akhtar1945-Poet, lyricistand scriptwriter“Religion is based on faith – you aren’t allowed to question or discuss it, and there is no logic or reason behind it. What is the difference between faith and stupidity?”Jawaharlal Nehru1889-1964First Prime Minister of India“What the mysterious is I do not know. I do not call it God because God has come to mean much that I do not believe in.”Jyoti Basu1914-2010Former Chief Minister of West BengalK. Siddaramaiah1948-Current Chief Minister of KarnatakaK. Shivaram Karanth1902-1997Jnanpith awardeeKannadanovelist, considered himself anontheistK. Veeramani1933-He is the President of the Dravidar Kazhagam, an Indian organization centered in Tamil Nadu, opposed to the caste system and dedicated to the welfare of socially disadvantaged. He is the third President of the Dravidar Kazhagam and Chancellor ofPeriyar Maniammai UniversityKamal Haasan1954-Filmmaker and actor, known for making films having themes of both atheism andBrahminical Hinduism.”Every religion has a podium, atheists do not have one. My films are my podium.”Khushwant Singh1915-2014Journalist and author of books such as Train to Pakistan, considers himself anagnostic“I gave up religion nearly 40 years ago. I studied religion and realised it is all trash.”Lavanam Gora1930-Social reformer”To be good and to do good, God is not necessary.”M. Karunanidhi1924-Former Chief Minister of Tamil NaduM. N. Roy1887-1954Indian nationalist revolutionary, radical activist and political theoristMani Shankar Aiyar1941-Diplomat and politician”I am an atheist. A somewhat reluctant one because I have seen the comfort that religious conviction brings to many.”Meera Nanda1954-Writer and historianMeghnad Saha1893-1956AstrophysicistMotilal Nehru1861-1931an activist of the Indian National Movement, father ofJawaharlal NehruNarendra Dabholkar1945-2013Rationalist, anti-superstition activist, founder and president of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan SamitiNarendra Nayak1951-President ofFederation of Indian Rationalist AssociationsP. Chidambaram1945-Politician and former Finance MinisterDr. P. M. Bhargava19??-Biotechnologistand founder ofCentre for Cellular and Molecular Biology“A scientist can say without any feeling of guilt or shame, “I don’t know.” Religious leaders would not be leaders if they did not claim to know everything and have answers to every question.”Payasic. 4th century BCEMaterialist philosopher”Neither is there any other world, nor are there beings reborn otherwise than from parents, nor is there fruit or results of deeds, well done or ill done.”Periyar E. V. Ramasamy1879-1973Businessman, politician,Indian independenceand social activist, started the Self respect movement and founder of the socio-cultural organisation,Dravidar Kazhagam.”There is no god, there is no god, there is no god at all. He who invented god is a fool. He who propagates god is a scoundrel. He who worships god is a barbarian.”Prabir Ghosh1946-President of Science and Rationalists’ Association Of IndiaR. P. Paranjpe1876-1966Founding president ofIndian Rationalist Association, and later High Commissionerof India inAustralia and vice-chancellor of Bombay UniversityRajat Kapoor1961-Actor, writer and director”I think God is a totally man-made concept that has been more harmful than beneficial to mankind. Man has waged war and hurt and killed each other for thousands of years in the name of a God he created. I believe there is no God, no heaven and no hell.”Rajeev Khandelwal1975-Actor”I love to call myself an atheist. By atheist, I don’t mean i would stand up and start delivering speeches on the non-existence of God. I am the kind of person who doesn’t like wasting time on visiting religious places or performing rituals.”Rahul Bose1967-Actor”I am an atheist, but being so doesn’t stop me from respecting those who believe in religion.”Ram Gopal Varma1962-Film director”I have always been an atheist ever since I can remember. Being an atheist, I believe there is a rational and scientific explanation to everything.”Ram Manohar Lohia1910-1967participant in the Indian independence movementS. Nijalingappa1902-Former Chief Minister of KarnatakaSadanand DhumeJournalist and writerSalman Rushdie1947-Indian-born British Booker prize-winning novelist andknighted byQueen Elizabeth II“I do not need the idea of God to explain the world I live in.”Sathyaraj1954-ActorSatish Gujral1925Painter, writer and recipient ofPadma VibhushanawardSatyajit Ray1921-1991Filmmaker and authorSreeni Pattathanam19??-Rationalist and atheist activistShriram Lagoo1927-Actor and rationalist activist”Believing existence of the God is itself a kind of superstition. Young people should not waste power of reasoning and thinking under such belief.”Siddaramaiah1948-Chief Minister of Karnataka(elected in 2013)”I have not totally rejected God, I do visit temples but I have not made it a habit. My conscience is God to me. I believe in truth. I believe in the power of people. I don’t believe in superstition.”Sitaram Yechury1952-Member of thepolitburo of theCommunist Party of India (Marxist)Subhash Kapoor19??-Film director,producer andscreenwriterSubhashini Ali19??-Politician, member of theCommunist Party of India (Marxist) and President of theAll India Democratic Women’s Association“I have always been an atheist. My parents were atheists. It doesn’t bother me if somebody is religious. My problem is when religion is used to institutionalise other things.”Subramanyan Chandrasekhar1910-1995Indian-Americanastrophysicistwho, withWilliam A. Fowler, won the 1983 Nobel Prize for PhysicsSuhasini Maniratnam1961-Actress”I don’t believe in God, in prayer, in going to temples begging God to give me and my family happiness. I am not asking everyone to be an atheist, but good thoughts are not spent in a temple.”Sushilkumar Shinde1941-Former UnionHome MinisterTeesta Setalvad1962-Civil rights activist and journalist”I’m agnostic. You can insult a man’s wife, his mother, and get away with it. But you can’t insult his God without repercussions.”Thilakan1935-2012Malayalam film actor“As an atheist, I feel I am better off than the believers. At least I act and speak according to my conscience.”V. S. Achuthanandan1923-Former Chief Minister of KeralaVerghese Kurien1921-2012Father of theWhite RevolutionVijay Tendulkar1928-2008Marathi writer and dramatist
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