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Religions Role in Criminality

- Aditya Prakash Verma, Faculty of Law, University of Allahabad

“India has a great heritage and it is a model for religious harmony where people of different religions live peacefully and in harmony.” -Dalai Lama

As pointed out by Dalai Lama, the Indian Democracy is one that comprises of several religions and yet it is harmonious. India, as defined by its Constitution is a secular state and has no official religion but respects every culture. ‘Secularism’ was declared the basic structure of the Constitution by the Supreme Court in the case of Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala. Later, the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1976 explicitly introduced the word ‘secular’. Going by history, we find that the Indian system had a vertical division into four classes i.e. the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas, and the Shudras. The Dalits (Shudras) were at the bottom of this division and were maltreated considerably by the other three divisions. They were denied access to temples and basic amenities of life including health care and education. The Constitution of India aimed to bring an equal playground for all the communities and divisions of the society. Religion, over the years, has often been used as a weapon for galvanizing support against other communities, generally harming them. 

1.Religion in India:

There is no straightjacket way of defining religion but it can be considered as a set of social beliefs prevailing in every society. Key features of religions are as follows: 
• Religion is universal in nature. Religion builds up our personality and every individual in one form or the other propagates it.
• Religions have certain beliefs of worship of god and lay rituals for its performance.
• Ancientness is the main characteristic of religion as people are following and believing in religion and its teachings for ages.

Since religion is a part of everything we do it forms part of what we are, it defines the way we live, the moral principles we follow, provide its way of punishment as well. Indian society is a mix of Law and religion, despite being a secular state. Famous Sociologist, Emile Durkheim defines religion as the positive force that controls society. Several laws have been made in India to incorporate religious views including personal laws, Marriage Acts, etc. The Constitution also guarantees the right to freedom of religion enshrined in Part-III of the Constitution from Articles 25-28 of the Constitution of India. They do not only give the rights and also renders certain riders that should not be overlooked as these rights are not absolute. 

• Article 25: This article allows every citizen the right to practice and profess and religion based on their conscience without any force or fear.  
• Article 26: It incorporates the freedom of managing religious affairs.
• Article 27: This article sets freedom for the payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion. 
• Article 28: This article provides freedom for giving religious instruction in certain educational institutions.

India, as discussed earlier has faith in “Religious Harmony” which burdens a responsibility on the shoulders of every citizen to respect other religions. Religious do not preach criminal behavior and it was often believed that religion could be the solution to uphold humanity and persistent peace in the society. But recently criminal incidents in the name of the religions have grown significantly. From times immemorial heated debates have taken place over the involvement of religion in crime. Various studies have been conducted to examine the link between criminal mindset and religion and they have defined religious offenses as one which hurt the moral and religious sentiments and brings a negative feeling in people. Religion has posed a significant threat to security in recent decades. Moreover, political ideologies have also played a big role in it by characterizing small disputes into communal ones for political mileage and it is the people who suffer which is against the spirit of the Constitution. 

2. Why Religion is needed:

Religion has several positive aspects. They can summarise as:  
1. Unanimity – People professing a particular religion have close and intimate relations among themselves. It acts as a glue to integrate people and arouse a “we” feeling in them.
2. Moral values – Religion builds moral sentiments and values in an individual. These moral values define the action of the person and thereby develop a personality. 
3. Social control – It regulates the conduct of people. Several thinkers including Karl Marx have pointed out that religion helps in social control by setting limits on conduct and lay out the rights and wrongs so that people do not perform unethical acts. 

3. Where it goes wrong:

There are certain aspects where religion has failed miserably:

1.Grouping – Due to different ideologies and cultures, religions have caused a divide among the populations and have also grown from just being beliefs to favor for people of their religion.
2.Conflicts and riots – Since India accepts all religions, every society have different compositions of people from different religions, and these differences in opinion have often taken the shape of a rift among people possessing diverse religion. 
3.Superstitions – Religion do support superstitions and writers even have written that there are instances when certain teachers of religions have directly supported the commission of a crime by spreading misinformation.  
4.Hinders social change–Religion often resists social changes. Religious attached people have a conservative mindset and always resist changes be it in their religious views and customs. 

4. Instances of Religious Violence:

Religious violence has often occurred in India due to differences in understanding of a particular circumstance. Sectarianism in religion has been escalated. Sectarianism can be defined as a form of prejudice and discrimination towards the subdivisions within a group. In India, tension has peaked at several occasions between the religious majority Hindus and the biggest minority Muslims resulting in riots and mob violence. Some other violent encounters based on religions are as follows: Gujarat riots (1969 and 2002); Anti-Sikh riots (1984); Bhagalpur riots (1989); Kashmir violence (1989), Godhra train incident; and Muzaffarnagar riots (2013).

The biggest of all communal riots was the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 which started during the 1970s when significant stress was seen in Punjab between the Hindus and Sikhs, which preceded the Khalistan movement. The Sikhs lost their temper after the army captured the Golden Temple in search of their rebellion leader. Later on, Mrs. Gandhi was assassinated which brought a sense of anger against the Sikhs in the entire country and had serious ramifications over the lives and properties of many. 

In this 21st century, i.e. the age of modern communication technology the instances of spreading communal hatred have grown from religious and political debates to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp. These platforms have been often used to portray social differences and communal disharmony in the name of freedom of expression. 

1.Hate Speeches and laws against it

People having negative stereotypes have often tried to dominate over other religions that have not gone well as the Constitutional values suggest. But the stubborn tactics by religious dominations and political ideologies criticizing and defaming other religious institutions are continuously on the rise and therefore certain laws have been brought to discourage such practices be it the rider of public morality, public health and public order and decency on Article 19 & 25 or restricting religious instruction in the aided institution in Article 28.  


India is a multi-ethnic nation and respects every belief that exists in it. The motive of religion is binding people together for peace and respect for each other. Every individual must understand that the other might not have the same belief as him and practice a religion of his choice but that should not disregard his right of brotherhood and fellowship. Significantly enough, the education system needs to bring in changes for developing a sense of tolerance in the inner self right from the very beginning and religious institutions should also take the onus to ensure that communal violence is restricted for the appreciation of the constitutional value of secularism. 


1.Samirah Majumdar, “5 facts about religion in India” (2018), Pew Research Center, <> accessed on July 30, 2020. 
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4.Amy Adamczyk, Joshua D. Freilich, and Chunrye Kim, "Religion and Crime: A Systematic Review and Assessment of the Next Step", (Sociology of Religion, 2017) <> accessed on July 30, 2020. 
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