Factbox: Religion in India

No religious instruction is taught in schools, and the constitution gives adherents of all faiths the right to practice their religion freely.

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Hinduism is the most commonly practiced religion in India, with more than 80 per cent of the population professing to follow it. According to the 2001 Indian census, 828 million Indians are Hindu.

Islam is the next most commonly-practiced religion, with more than 13 per cent of the population following the faith. India has one of the largest national Muslim populations in the world, behind Indonesia and Pakistan. Over 138 million Indians practice Islam.

Over half of India’s Muslims live in the states of West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. There are only a handful of localities that have a Muslim majority, however. One of these is the disputed region of Kashmir.

According to the 2001 census, the Muslim population in India is the fastest growing, but also has the lowest literacy rates when compared with other faiths.

By contrast, the Christian population of India is one of the most educated, with literacy rates over 80 per cent. Only 2.3 per cent of the population counts itself as Christian – roughly 24 million Indians.

Most Indian Christians are Roman Catholic, though Protestantism became popular during British rule.

Just under two per cent of India’s population practices the Sikh faith. The religion started in the state of Punjab in the early 1500s, and most of India’s 19 million adherents still live in that area.

India also has a sizable proportion of Buddhists. Just under eight million Indians practice the faith, which started in the foothills of the Himalayas.

A number of high-profile Buddhists, including the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dali Lama, live in India.

Many lower caste Hindus, or Dalits, have converted to Buddhism since the 1950s, attracted by the absence of a caste system in the religion. The majority of India’s Buddhists live in the state of Maharashtra, where the nation’s economic capital, Mumbai, is located.

Though only 4.2 million Indians, or 0.4 per cent of the population, practice Jainism, the religion is very influential in the country.

Jains are traditionally more wealthy, and put a strong emphasis on education and learning. In fact, according to the 2001 census, the literacy rate amongst Jains is the highest of any other religious adherents, at 94 per cent.

India also has the largest concentration of Zoroastrians in the world, mostly in and around Mumbai. The 2001 census revealed less than 70,000 Zoroastrians in India, with the number of adherents worldwide numbering between 145,000 and 210,000.