Bahá'í Faith in India
Even though the Bahá'í Faith in India is tiny in proportion of the national population, it is numerically large and has a long history culminating in recent times with the notable Lotus Temple, various Bahá'í schools, and increasing prominence. According to the 2016 World Religion Database India had just over 2 million Bahá'ís in 2015, on top of the 2010 Association of Religion Data Archives data of some 1,898,000 Bahá'ís in India, however the 2011 Census of India recorded only 4,572.
The roots of the Bahá'í Faith in India go back to the first days of the Bábí religion in 1844. Four Babís are known from India in this earliest period. The first was Sa'id Hindi, one of the Letters of the Living, and a second was only known as Qahru'llah. Two other very early Bábís were Sa'in Hindi and Sayyid Basir Hindi. Additionally, four other Indians are listed among the 318 Bábís who fought at the Battle of Fort Tabarsi. There is little evidence of any contact from these early Indian Babis back to their homeland.
Early Bahá'í periodEdit
During Bahá'u'lláh's lifetime, as founder of the religion, he encouraged some of his followers to move to India. Some who settled in India including Hájí Sayyid Mírzá and Sayyid Muhammad who had become Bábís after meeting Bahá'u'lláh in Baghdad in the 1850s. Hájí Sayyid Mahmúd also traded in Bombay. These individuals were very successful as general merchants and commission agents but it was near another 50 years before native converts began. A Baha'i teacher was asked for and Jamál Effendi was sent approximately 1875. Still in these early years another member of the family of the Báb, Mírzá Ibrahím, helped establish the first Bahá'í printing and publishing company, the Násirí Press, in Bombay and began to publish Bahá'í books from about 1882-3 onwards. The Book of Certitude and the Secret of Divine Civilization were both published in 1882. Much later - in the 1891 - Jamál Effendi was confused with a terrorist and reported on by British agents among the Indian population and those records have been found (though Indian government national archives.) Following the passing of Bahá'u'lláh, as the leadership of the religion fell to `Abdu'l-Bahá, he in turn sent further emissaries in his stead - both Persian and American.
Professor Pritam Singh is believed to be the first member of the Sikh community in India to accept the Bahá'í Faith, and the first to publish a Bahá'í weekly magazine in India. He learned of the religion from Mirzá Mahmud soon after his graduation from the University of Calcutta in 1904. By 1908 the Bahá'í pioneers and representatives of `Abdu'l-Bahá, then head of the religion, had produced functioning communities in Bombay, Calcutta, Aligarh and Lahore. Narayenrao Rangnath Shethji is believed to be the first convert from Hindu background. Better known as Vakil, he was born in a well-known Hindu family in Nawsari. He became a Bahá'í in 1909. Representatives of the Indian Zoroastrian community had been sent to Persia to help their coreligionists. There they came into contact with the religion and supported its activities. Later, several Iranian Zoroastrian converts to the religion traveled to Bombay (notably Mulla Bahram Akhtar-Khavari) and actively promulgated their new religion among local Zoroastrians.
As early as 1910 the national community in India was being urged to distinguish itself from Islam by Bahá'í institutions of America. National coordinated activities began and reached a peak with the December 1920, first All-India Bahá'í Convention, held in Bombay for three days. Representatives from India's major religious communities were present as well as Baha'i delegates from throughout the country. The resolutions arrived at included the collection of funds to build a Baha'i temple, the establishment of a Baha'i school and the growth of teaching and translation work - goals reached before the end of the century (see below.)
Following the passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi was appointed head of the religion and he soon set about the formation of the first round of National Spiritual Assemblies in the world in 1923 and India's was in that first wave. In 1930 notable Bahá'í and world traveler Martha Root made an extensive trip though India. The first Bahá'í summer school was able to be held in Simla in 1938 and in 1941 three new local communities with functioning Local Spiritual Assemblies had been established: Hyderabad, Kota and Bangalore. These activities reached a peak with occasional awareness of the social leaders in India like Mahatma Gandhi. In time his comment "The Bahá'í Faith is a solace to humankind." appeared in the Bombay Chronicle newspaper on May 24, 1944, during the centenary of the Bahá'í Faith and the Indian Bahá'í community consisted of twenty-nine Local Spiritual Assemblies.
Through the first half of the twentieth century, the Bahá'ís continue to grow with a focus away from the large cities and had the notable achievement of the conversion of Kishan Lal Malviya, a scheduled caste leader from Shajapur (a district northeast of Ujjain) and another scheduled caste leader, Dayaram Malviya, also converted setting the stage for a rural dynamic of growth called "mass teaching". And Shirin Fozdar rose to prominence and served as a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of India from 1936 to 1951. Her main area of work from 1925 to 1950 was in a large community of Untouchables or Harijans in Ahmedabad.
After more than a century the Bahá'í Faith in India had only reached around 1,000 and for a significant time there hadn't even been an Indian-based community in India. Various social and religious forces encouraged a broader outreach for the aims of the teaching activities of the religion. It was a time of "mass teaching". The Bahá'í teachings were adapted for presentation to a clearly Hindu context familiar to the people of the countryside, using principles and language familiar to them:
- the presentation of Bahá'u'lláh as the kalki Avatar who according to the Vishnu Purana will appear at the end of the kali yuga for the purpose of reestablishing an era of righteousness
- emphasizing the figures of Buddha and Krishna as past Manifestations of God or Avatars,
- references to Hindu scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita,
- the substitution of Sanskrit-based terminology for Arabic and Persian where possible (i.e., Bhagavan Baha for Bahá'u'lláh), and the incorporation in both song (bhajan) and literature of Hindu holy places, hero-figures and poetic images.
- Hindi translations of Baha'i scriptures and prayers that appeared during this period which are so heavily Sanskritized as to make it difficult to recognize their non-Hindu antecedents.
Together with the teaching of the unity of humanity these approaches attracted many of the lower castes. In short order most of a tiny village of some 200 people converted to the Baha'i Faith en masse. The following year hundreds of people adopted the religion thanks to an open air conference where speeches could be heard. In two more years almost as many people converted as had been Bahá'ís through regions of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. In 1961 there were a total of 78 Local Spiritual Assemblies and less than 1,000 believers and in 1963 there were some 65,000 and by 1970 these figures had risen to 3,350 Assemblies and 312,602 believers. However, in contrast to the Neo-Buddhist movement no effort was made to denounce Hinduism and progress along Bahá'í ideals advanced - Assemblies formed in response to growing numbers of Baha'is, the House of Worship for India was built, and schools were established - all goals of the 1920, first All-India Baha'i Convention (see above).
During this period of growth, six conferences held in October 1967 around the world presented a viewing of a copy of the photograph of Bahá'u'lláh on the highly significant occasion commemorating the centenary of Bahá'u'lláh's writing of the Suriy-i-Mulúk (Tablet to the Kings), which Shoghi Effendi describes as "the most momentous Tablet revealed by Bahá'u'lláh". After a meeting in Edirne (Adrianople), Turkey, the Hands of the Cause travelled to the conferences, 'each bearing the precious trust of a photograph of the Blessed Beauty, which it will be the privilege of those attending the Conferences to view.' Hand of the Cause Abul-Qasim Faizi conveyed this photograph to the Conference for Asia at India.
India became the largest Bahá'í community in the world in 2000 after less than a century of mass teaching, with an official Bahá'í population of between 1.7 million to over 2 million, The expansion of the numbers and organization of the community has helped grow the publishing agencies of the religion until the Indian Bahá'í Publishing Trust has an international reputation. According to the 2005 Association of Religion Data Archives data there are close to some 1,880,700 Bahá'ís, and 1,898,000 in 2010, though the 2011 Census of India recorded only 4,572. The census has been under some criticism and scholars regularly use corrections.
Emergence from obscurityEdit
The Mother Temple of the SubcontinentEdit
The Bahá'í House of Worship in Delhi, India, popularly known as the Lotus Temple, is a prominent attraction in Delhi. It was completed in 1986 and serves as the Mother Temple of the Indian subcontinent. It has won numerous architectural awards and been featured in hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, and CNN reported it as the most visited building in the world in 2015. A few international dignitaries have also visited. Lists of prominent individuals are listed in an article and updated most recently in 2004 addition.
Bahá'í educational institutionsEdit
Since its inception the religion has had involvement in socio-economic development beginning by giving greater freedom to women, promulgating the promotion of female education as a priority concern, and that involvement was given practical expression by creating schools, agricultural coops, and clinics. The religion entered a new phase of activity when a message of the Universal House of Justice dated 20 October 1983 was released. Bahá'ís were urged to seek out ways, compatible with the Bahá'í teachings, in which they could become involved in the social and economic development of the communities in which they lived. Worldwide in 1979 there were 129 officially recognized Bahá'í socio-economic development projects. By 1987, the number of officially recognized development projects had increased to 1482. There are some seven educational institutions the Baha'is of India have undertaken. Two of the more well known are:
- The New Era High School is located in Panchgani in the state of Maharashtra, India is private internationalist Bahá'í school, drawing students from all over the world and is under the supervision of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of India. It was founded in August 1945, and was one of the first Bahá'í education projects in India.
- The Barli Development Institute for Rural Women in Indore is a Bahá'í inspired, though independent residential vocational education school providing programs for women in the vicinity of the city of Indore, India in the State of Madhya Pradesh as well as a base for outreach/non-residential training centers. The Institute was founded in 1985 under the suggestion and direction of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of India. The institute was recently profiled as part of a documentary on the religion.
Following the successes in large scale growth in numbers and organization with commitment to raise up a Temple and schools, the Baha'i Faith in India has awakened degrees of prominence.
- Amongst other important engagements during his state visit to India from 5–7 November 1999, Pope John Paul II attended an inter-religious meeting. Against a backdrop of protests by various sectarian groups against ecumenism, this particular function had aroused interest. Distinguished representatives of nine religions, including Mrs. Zena Sorabjee of the Baha'i community, shared the platform with Pope John Paul. Many ambassadors, highranking government officials, political and civic leaders and intellectuals, as well as cardinals, archbishops and other senior religious dignitaries, were present at this unique event.
- The situation of the Babri Mosque was commented on by Members of the India Supreme Court highlighting the approach of the Baha'is on multi-faith issues.
- Zia Mody is a prominent Bahá'í Indian legal consultant. She is a member of the Securities and Exchange Board of India's Standing Committee on Mutual Funds, and of the Capital Market Committee of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. She is the daughter of noted Indian jurist Soli Sorabjee.
Protest of persecution in IranEdit
The governments of India and Iran generally maintain good relations. In 2001, the government of India voted against the United Nations resolution Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran raised in response to the persecution of Bahá'ís in Iran, and it has voted against many such resolutions since that time. Despite this, many officials and prominent citizens of India have expressed serious concerns about the persecution of Bahá'ís.
In June 2008 several leading jurists of India's legal system, journalists, and civil rights activist signed an open letter urging Iran to abide by international human rights conventions and calling for the immediate release of Baha'is detained in the country. Signatories included: former Chief Justice of India Justice Jagdish Sharan Verma, former Supreme Court judge Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Justice Rajinder Sachar, former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee, member, Law commission, Tahir Mahmood, former chairperson, National Commission for Women, Dr. Mohini Giri, editorial director, Hindustan Times, Vir Sanghvi, senior columnist Kuldip Nayar, president, World Council for Arya Samaj, Swami Agnivesh, among others.
A similar open letter was published in February 2009, and signed by more than 30 prominent Indians, including Justice Iyer, actor Aamir Khan, Maulana Khalid Rasheed, Swami Agnivesh, and many more. Calls for the release of imprisoned Baha'is have continued since that time, with many prominent Indians expressing their concern.
Lotus Temple arrestsEdit
In 2006, some former employees of the temple made a complaint to the police that the trustees of the temple had been involved in various crimes including spying, religious conversion and producing false passports. The trial judge directed the police to arrest nine specific trustees, but the High Court later stayed the arrest.
First local House of WorshipEdit
Possible first instance of persecutionEdit
The Bahá'ís of Jaipur registered a complaint, (technically a First Information Report,) with police that their community burial ground had been attacked by a mob of about 40-50 people "led by a sarpanch", or head of the local Gram panchayat, on Friday Oct 31, 2015 about 11:30am in Shri Ram Ki Nangal village. The Hindu newspaper claimed the Sarpanch was Nathu Jangid, head of the village government, based on witness statement. The security guard was injured and the guard's room and prayer house were damaged. The FIR was registered by the local assembly treasurer for the Bahá'ís. In a public meeting representatives of the Bahá'ís stated that they believe this is the first such incident in the history of the religion in the country, named the sarpanch, and recalled that during elections about a year and a half ago he had promised to take away the burial site and make it a playground or school that had been theirs since 2002. The Bahá'ís made no comment on the political statement then because "as it is in our religion to be apolitical.” Indian newspaper The Wire published pictures of the site and damage and a claim by Sarpanch Jangid that the land had been illegally sold to the Bahá'ís. The People's Union for Civil Liberties of India has taken an interest in the case.
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- Source: Year 2000 Estimated Baha'i statistics from: David Barrett, World Christian Encyclopedia, 2000; Total population statistics, mid-2000 from Population Reference Bureau
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The civil registration system which in principle should be able to provide district level figures on birth, death, infant mortality and other vital events is not complete and far from reliable."… "In the Indian context, in the absence of a complete civil registration system…
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- Background statement of the school
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