NEW DELHI -- There are over 28 lakh (about 2.87 million) people in India who do not subscribe to any religion. In a country that has given birth to some of the world's major religions, that's 0.24 percent of the total population of 1.2 billion, as per the latest estimate given by the 2011 Indian Census.
This is the first time that the Indian Census has included a "non-faith" category.
Interestingly, a majority (about 57 percent) of those who told census officials that they do not have faith in any organised religion belong to the country's rural areas. Even though roughly an equal number of men and women said they were atheists, or agnostic, or believed that an "unknown force" exists outside of religion, a much higher percentage of women appear to have to no faith in religion. According to latest estimates, there are 940 women for every 1000 men in India.
While perhaps it comes as no surprise that one of India's most populous states — Uttar Pradesh — has the highest number of people (almost six lakh) who don't identify with a particular faith, interestingly south India's Andhra Pradesh is close behind with over four lakh people without a religion. The state has a history of atheism, with the Vijayawada-based Atheist Centre founded as early as pre-Independence in 1940 by Gora (Goparaju Ramachandra Rao) and his wife Saraswathi Gora, who fought against superstitions both during the freedom movement and after Independence and are engaged in the "promotion of atheism as a way of life".