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The history of the Baháʼí Faith in India dates back to the lifetime of Baháʼu'lláh, founder of the Baháʼí Faith. More recently, the Baháʼí Lotus Temple and various Baháʼí schools have been established. According to the 2016 World Religion Database, India had just over 2 million Baháʼís in 2015; the Association of Religion Data Archives (relying on World Christian Encyclopedia) estimated that there were 1,898,000 Baháʼís in India in 2010, and the 2011 Census of India recorded 4,572.
The roots of the Baháʼí 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. When Báb planned to go to Hajj, he instructed Sa’id Hindi to go to the Indian subcontinent and preach the message to the people of India. The 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 Bábís back to their homeland.
Early Baháʼí period
During Baháʼu'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 Baháʼu'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 Baháʼí printing and publishing company, the Násirí Press, in Bombay and began to publish Baháʼí books from about 1882-3 onwards. The Book of Certitude and The Secret of Divine Civilization were both published in 1882. Following the passing of Baháʼu'lláh, as the leadership of the religion fell to ʻAbdu'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 Baháʼí Faith, and the first to publish a Baháʼí 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 Baháʼí pioneers and representatives of ʻAbdu'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 Baháʼí in 1909. He learnt about the Bahá'í Faith from Mirzá Mahram. 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 Baháʼí institutions of America. National coordinated activities began and reached a peak with the December 1920, first All-India Baháʼí 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 ʻAbdu'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 Baháʼí and world traveler Martha Root made an extensive trip through India. The first Baháʼí 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.[self-published source?] Nagindas Master, claimed that Mahatma Gandhi told him many years ago, that the Baháʼí Faith is a solace to mankind. In 1944, Indian Baháʼí community consisted of twenty-nine Local Spiritual Assemblies.
Through the first half of the twentieth century, the Baháʼís continue to grow with a focus away from the large cities. The Baháʼí Faith had the notable achievement of the conversion of Kishan Lal Malviya, a scheduled caste leader from Shajapur (a district northeast of Ujjain), and of Dayaram Malviya, another scheduled caste leader, setting the stage for a rural dynamic of growth called "mass teaching." Shirin Fozdar also rose to prominence and served as a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baháʼís 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.
Mason Remey's influence
In 1960 Mason Remey declared himself to be the successor of Shoghi Effendi and was rejected by the majority of Baháʼís in the world. A small group of Baháʼís in Lucknow accepted his claims. Lucknow assembly was one of the three "mother assemblies" that Remey appointed in 1962.
In 1961, there were 850 Baháʼís in India and for a significant time there had been no Indian-based[clarification needed] community in India. Various social and religious forces encouraged a broader outreach and a time of intensive missionary work, or mass teaching. The Baháʼí 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 Baháʼu'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 Baháʼu'lláh), and the incorporation in both song (bhajan) and literature of Hindu holy places, hero-figures and poetic images
- Hindi translations of Baháʼí 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. Also, in contrast to the case of the Neo-Buddhist movement, no effort was made to denounce Hinduism. In short order most of a tiny village of some 200 people converted to the Baháʼí 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 Baháʼís through regions of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.
During this period of growth, six conferences held in October 1967 around the world presented a viewing of a copy of the photograph of Baháʼu'lláh as part of the commemoration of the centenary of Baháʼu'lláh's writing of the Suriy-i-Mulúk (Tablet to the Kings). 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 [Baháʼu'lláh], 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 in India.[better source needed]
In 1961 there were 850 Baháʼís in India, but in 1963, 65,000 people, mainly from scheduled castes and rural areas of Gwalior, declared themselves Baháʼís. By 2000, Baháʼís in India claimed a Baháʼí population of between 1.7 million and over 2 million, which, if accurate, would make India's Baháʼí community the largest in the world. According to 2005 data from the Association of Religion Data Archives, there were about 1,880,700 Baháʼís, and 1,898,000 in 2010, though official government censuses recorded 5,574 Baháʼís in 1991, 11,324 in 2001 and 4,572 Baháʼís in 2011. In a 1997 research paper, William Garlington noted that the official Baháʼí figure of 2 million adherents was based on the number of people who had at some point declared themselves Baháʼís, not the number of active participants in the Baháʼí community.
The Lotus Temple, located in Delhi, is a Baháʼí House of Worship that was dedicated in December 1986. Notable for its flowerlike shape, it has become a prominent attraction in the city. Like all Baháʼí Houses of Worship, the Lotus Temple is open to all, regardless of religion or any other qualification. The building is composed of 27 free-standing marble-clad "petals" arranged in clusters of three to form nine sides, with nine doors opening onto a central hall with a height of slightly over 34.27 metres and a capacity of 2,500 people. The Lotus Temple has won numerous architectural awards and has been featured in many newspaper and magazine articles. In 2001, CNN reporter Manpreet Brar referred to it as the most visited building in the world.
Baháʼí educational institutions
The Baháʼí Faith entered a new phase of activity when a message of the Universal House of Justice dated 20 October 1983 was released. Baháʼís were urged to seek out ways, compatible with the Baháʼí teachings, in which they could become involved in the social and economic development of the communities in which they lived. The Baháʼís of India have established seven educational institutions. Some examples are:
- The New Era High School, located in Panchgani in the state of Maharashtra, is a private internationalist Baháʼí school, drawing students from all over the world and is under the supervision of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baháʼís of India. It was founded in August 1945, and was one of the first Baháʼí education projects in India.
- The Barli Development Institute for Rural Women in Indore is a Baháʼí-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 Baháʼís of India. The institute was recently profiled as part of a documentary on the religion.
- The Baháʼí Academy is an institution based in Panchgani, Maharashtra.
- The Rabbani Baháʼí School in Gwalior was built in 1977. According to Bahá'í World, Rabbani Baháʼí School was established to serve as a powerful instrument for the expansion and consolidation of the Baháʼí Faith in India. However, the school was closed down by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of India in 2016.
ʻAbdu'l-Bahá was sentenced to death by the Ottoman authorities for activities that were believed to be seditious. A British Military Intelligence Officer, Major Wellesley Tudor Pole, passed this information to the London office. Lord Balfour immediately took steps to ensure the safety and rescue of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. All Indian Cavalry Brigade, under British imperial control, was tasked to execute the mission. The Indian soldiers consisting of the Jodhpur Lancers and the Mysore Lancers were able to rescue ʻAbdu'l-Bahá with relatively few casualties.
Reference by the Supreme Court
In 1994, the situation of the Babri Mosque was commented on by Members of the India Supreme Court highlighting the approach of the Baháʼís on multi-faith issues, quoting the statement Communal Harmony of the National Spiritual Assembly of India, which had been distributed to ministers, bureaucrats, district county workers, the superintendent of police, NGOs, and faith communities, in most of the official languages of India.
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 against ecumenism by various groups, this particular function had aroused interest. Representatives of nine religions, including Mrs. Zena Sorabjee of the Baháʼí community, shared the platform with Pope John Paul. Many ambassadors, high-ranking government officials, political and civic leaders and intellectuals, as well as cardinals, archbishops and other senior religious dignitaries, were present.[better source needed]
Protest of persecution in Iran
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 Baháʼís 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 Baháʼís.
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 arrests
In 2006, some former employees of the Lotus 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 arrests.
New Era Teacher Training Centre
This Centre was established by the Universal House of Justice in 1975. It functions under the guidance of New Era High School Committee. According to its website, its vision is "producing highly motivated, selfless and dedicated teachers who contribute to the spiritual and social transformation of the communities they serve." However, in February 2018, newspapers in Panchgani reported alleged incidents of forceful conversions by the NETTC. It was also reported that students were allegedly offered fee waivers if they converted to the Baháʼí Faith. A prominent local news channel also reported this incident.
Plans for Bihar Sharif House of Worship
In 2012, the Universal House of Justice announced the locations of the first local Baháʼí Houses of Worship that would be built. One of the specified locations was in Bihar Sharif, Bihar, India. In April 2020, the design for the Bihar Sharif House of Worship was unveiled. In February 2021, a groundbreaking ceremony for the temple was held.
The Baháʼís 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 Hindu people "led by a sarpanch", or head of the local gram panchayat, on Friday October 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, member of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party 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 Baháʼís. In a public meeting representatives of the Baháʼís 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 it had been theirs since 2002. The Baháʼís made no comment on the political statement then because "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 Baháʼís. The People's Union for Civil Liberties of India has taken an interest in the case.
Jehangir Sorabjee, a Baháʼí of Mumbai and son of former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee, was mentioned in the Panama Papers as the sole shareholder of Moonglow Investments Global, which used Mossack Fonseca, now famous for assisting some clients with tax evasion. Sorabjee has said that he complied with all disclosure norms and reported foreign investments on his income tax returns.
Notable Indian Baháʼí
- Zia Mody is a prominent Baháʼí 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 former Attorney General of India Soli Sorabjee.
- Baháʼí Faith in Asia
- Baháʼí Faith and Buddhism
- Baháʼí Faith and Hinduism
- Religion in India
- Baháʼí Faith in Nepal
- Baháʼí Faith in Bangladesh
- Baháʼí Faith in Pakistan
- Major religious groups
- List of religious populations
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