India is renowned for its exotic tourist attractions, sumptuous cuisine and diverse cultural origins. Even though a majority of the population is Hindu, the country has been lead by a Sikh Prime Minister, a Muslim President and an Italian originated woman, Sonia Gandhi. Thus, India has, to a large extent, shown great tolerance for other religions and proved itself to be a truly multi-cultural state. And religion has always been important – you can’t turn a corner without seeing a temple. But this religious fervor is now being taken to the next level, in ways both traditional and novel, including online.
In many contemporary cultures, the older generation lament straying from the old ways and attempt to incite young people to show more faith, become more spiritual and, of course, stay away from ‘Western Influences’. Ironically, it is some of these ‘western influences’- namely social networking sites and blogs, – which are spreading the religious fervor among youth. People have always advocated for greater tolerance between Hindus and Muslims in India, and this is now also reflected online – online blogs like the Indian Muslims Blog describes itself as a window into the Indian Muslim life and regularly feature bloggers who discuss issues like greater tolerance between the two communities. However, sites such as these are balanced with a larger number of sites solely aiming to spread religious fervor among Digital Natives surfing the net. It seems to be working. Recent polls show that more and more young people (under the age of 25) feel themselves to have greater belief in their religion now. So, how are Digital Natives getting in touch with their religion?
Well, they don’t really have to do anything new – one click on YouTube allows you to listen to multitudes of different bhajans (devotional songs), on Facebook you can join religious groups or even become a ‘fan’ of your religious idol and if you want to check up on a old religious fable all you need to do is Google it or check up on blogs with archives of stories – like the Hindu Blog. So, for a Digital Native, following religion online is actually more convenient, and so easier, than doing so offline. To read, discuss, debate or listen about their respective religion online is much more convenient than it is to actually do so by searching through libraries or even go shopping – and this may be the incentive behind the increase in religious fervor in the country. This would then also explain why now it is easier to criticize other peoples’ religion online than offline.
In the midst of efforts for greater religious tolerance, there is a backlash- Digital Natives now in India are finding it easier to criticize each others religious traditions, whereas in virtual settings they have to face less severe consequences. Thus, now each new video posting on YouTube is accompanied with at least a couple of negative comments and each new Facebook group seem to always be having a heated argument on its comments thread. In fact, many times the debate will even turn to criticisms and comparisons of religions; with Muslims questioning the way in which Hindus worship idols etc.
So, are Digital Natives in India are becoming more religious, or simply more vocal about their religious contemplations?
Good? …. Bad? …Well that’s yet to be seen.