Chandigarh, a city planned on egalitarian principles, has only 89 non-believers. The data on the number of atheists released for the first time by the Registrar General of India (RGI) points to pervasiveness of religious institutions in the city owing to the sector-wise layout.
The data based on the 2011 Census mentions the number of non-believers among the urban population as 75, while there only 14 atheists among rural folk of the UT. Their population comes out to around 8.4 per lakh people.
In Chandigarh, many sectors have even more than three temples along with a church, gurdwara or mosque. “We are a deeply religious society. It also means we believe in dogma and supernatural powers and have less belief in science. But atheism should increase with progress of science and technology,” said Prof AK Nanda, Population Research Centre, Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID).
During the census, people were asked to mention their religion. The codes were provided only for Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jain and Buddhist. If someone mentioned a religion other than these six or called themselves non-believers, it was noted down.
According to the census, Chandigarh has 81% Hindus, 13% Sikhs, 5% Muslims and the remaining Christians, Jains, Buddhists and those who did not mention any religion (the latter being 1,014 in number). Some also mentioned their religion as Balmiki, Ravidasi, Nath Panthi, Hinayana, Nirankari, Bahai, Sarna and Bidin.
Among those who called themselves non-believers, 58 are male and 31 female. In rural Chandigarh, there are just two woman atheists while there are 29 among urban population.
India has 2.8 atheists per lakh population
At national level, there are 33,304 non-believers, which comes to 2.75 per lakh population. With 9,652 atheists, Maharashtra leads the pack, although the average of 8.6 per lakh population is similar to the UT. Meghalaya, meanwhile, has as high as 306 non-believers per lakh population.