Despite apparent commitment to secular political and development models over the last six decades in India, the presence of religion in the public sphere has expanded. While religious organizations’ involvement in welfare and charitable activities has a long history, the objectives of the religious reform movements and faith-based organizations (FBOs) that emerged during the colonial era were to strengthen their respective faith communities, drawing clearer boundaries between them, fighting against perceived ‘social evils’, and gaining legitimacy vis-à-vis the colonial state. The nationalist struggles and coming of independence significantly changed this social context. After independence, a state-centred development model, while it did not displace religious organizations from some of their traditional spheres of operation, deterred further growth in the numbers of FBOs.
The new communitarian and religious consciousness that has emerged since the 1980s has, however, resulted in growing numbers of FBOs that participate in the so-called ‘secular spheres’, including education, health and community development. Little systematic information is available on the extent and characteristics of these organizations and their activities. This preliminary study therefore sought to ‘map’ the scale and characteristics of FBOs and to provide an overview of their engagement in development activities in contemporary India. Limited resources led to a focus on the cities of Pune and Nagpur in Maharashtra, an Indian state with a large Hindu majority and a number of religious minorities - a typical religious demography. Using a snowball sampling approach, and despite definitional difficulties and the contentious nature of the label ‘faith-based’ in India, 133 organizations were identified and interviewed. While this is not necessarily a representative sample, it reveals some of the organizations’ key characteristics.
68 of the organizations were Christian, partly because they were easier to locate, working as they do mainly in education and health and being professionally organized. Hindu and Muslim organizations were harder to locate, but 30 and 18 respectively were identified. Seven out of ten of the organizations in all the religious traditions are small, operating within the city where they are based, with one in ten also operating elsewhere in the State, more than one in ten elsewhere in India and five (mostly Hindu) having an international presence. Most of the Christian organizations see themselves primarily as missionary organizations, despite their involvement in welfare and development activities, whereas most of the organizations associated with other faith traditions regard themselves as faith-based charitable/development organizations (and a few as cultural organizations). Their activities encompass education, health, emergency relief and community development, while more recently some have prioritized the empowerment of marginalized groups, including women and Dalits.
Working Paper No.28, Religions and Development Research Programme, University of Birmingham, UK, 48 pp.