– By Dr.JK Bajaj
The recently released data of religious census is an eye opener for many. While Hindus have first time been enumerated below 80%, Muslims have registered the highest growth rate in the last decade with 24.6%. This trend is consistent from the Independence and many factors are contributing to it. The decadal decline of Hindus is 0.7%, while that of Muslims is 0.8% on the positive side. The Muslim growth rate is consistently higher than the national average. The growth rate is alarmingly higher in specific states namely, Assam, Pashchim Banga, Kerala, etc. These numbers have diverse repercussions on policy matters. Organiser comes with the demographic, socio-economic and political imperatives of this stark reality in Bharat.
The long awaited religious data of Census 2011 has finally been published. The data largely confirms what had already become known from the leaked information that has been in the public domain for several months. Briefly, the Muslims have increased their share in the population of the Bharatiya Union by 0.8%; Christian share in the country as a whole has remained unchanged, but they have gained substantially in the North-East, especially in Arunachal Pradesh, and in several pockets of high Christian influence in central and southern Bharat; the share of Bharatiya Religionists, including Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains, has correspondingly declined.
The Hindus now form less than 80% of the population of the Union. Their share has come down from 80.46% in 2001 to 79.80% in 2011. The share of Sikhs has declined from 1.87 to 1.72%, of Buddhists from 0.77 to 0.70 and of Jains from 0.41 to 0.37%. Share of Other Religions and Persuasions (ORPs), who belong mainly to various Janjati religions, has marginally increased from 0.65 to 0.66%. The share of those who have not stated their religion has increased from 0.07 to 0.24%; in all, 28.6 lakh Bharatiya have chosen not to state their religion in 2011, in 2001 there were only 7.3 lakh Bharatiya in this category.
Since some decline in the number of Bharatiya Religionists and a corresponding rise in the number of Muslims from decade to decade has become the norm, it is easy to conclude from the data that things are absolutely normal and that no serious change is taking place in the religious profile of the Bharatiya population. This has been the reaction of many journalists and commentators. Some of them have even concluded that the data indicates a slowing down of Muslim growth. And some extra-secularist demographers have even started saying that the really significant part of the census data is not the relatively higher growth of Muslims but the relatively higher improvement in their gender ratio! But that has been the way of the mainstream Bharatiya demographers; they insist on closing their eyes to the obvious decline of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists and the glaring rise of Muslims in general and of Christians in particular pockets of Bharat. And to divert attention from the elephant in the room, they keep drawing attention to irrelevant and extraneous issues.
An increase of 0.8% in Muslim share is not small
The increase of 0.8% in Muslim share has been generally seen as a small normal increase. The number does seem small in itself. But this increase in the share of Muslims and a corresponding decline in the Bharatiya Religionists is not a one-time phenomenon. It has been happening continuously from decade to decade since the beginning of the census period. A change of above 0.8% per decade seems to have become the norm for at least the last three decades. The Muslim share increased by 0.88% between 1981 and 1991, it increased again by 0.84% between 1991 and 2001, and now it has increased by 0.80%. Cumulatively, in the period since Partition, the share of Bharatiya Religionists in the population of Bharat has declined by about 4% and that of Muslims has increased by the same amount. This level of change is not small by any standards.
Muslims form 14.2% of the Bharatiya population now; their share was 13.4% in 2001, 12.6% in 1991, 11.7% in 1981 and only 10.4% in 1951. There are 17.2 crore Muslims in Bharat in 2011 compared to 3.7 crore in 1951. Bharat may now be hosting the second largest population of the world, behind Indonesia, which had 20.7 crore Muslims in 2010, but probably ahead of Pakistan, whose total population in 2011 was 17.6 crore.
The Gap between Muslim and Hindu Growth remains high
Between 2001 and 2011, Muslims have grown by 24.6 and the Hindus by 16.8%. Sikhs, Jains andBuddhists have registered a much lower growth. The Muslim growth is 46% above that of Hindus and 39% above the national average. This gap is very large. In 2001, the gap between the Muslim growth and the national average was somewhat smaller at 36.8%, and it was even smaller in the earlier decades. It seems that with the decline of the growth rates of all communities the gap between the growth of Muslims and others has been only widening.
It is true that the growth rate of Muslims has declined from 29.5% of the previous decade to 24.6% now, but the national average has also declined from 21.6 to 17.7%. In relative terms, the national average has declined by about 18% and in the Muslim growth by 17%; this has led to awidening not narrowing of the gap. What matters in creating the imbalance between different communities is the gap between their growth rates, not the absolute rates of growth. The imbalance can keep increasing even as absolute rates for all communities decline.
Larger Muslim gains in specific parts of Bharat
The gap between the growth of Muslims and others is much higher than the national average of 0.8 percentage points in many States of Bharat. Below are some States that have seen the largest gap in the growth rates and the largest change in the share of Muslims and others.
Assam: The share of Muslims in the population of this state has risen from 30.9% in 2001 to 34.2% in 2011. In 1971, the Muslims had a share of only 24.6%; they have gained by 10 percentage points in just four decades. During 2001-2011, Muslims in Assam have registered a decennial growth of 29.6%; Hindus, on the other hand, have grown by just 10.9%. Christians have also recorded a substantial growth of 18.2%.
Muslims now have a commanding majority in several districts of the State; their share in Dhubri is 80%. It is important to look at the data of Assam up to the level of the sub-districts; in the earlier decade, Hindus in several sub- districts of lower Assam had registered a negative growth indicating a forced exodus of the non-Muslim populations. It is important to look at the state of those and the neighbouring sub-districts in 2011.
Pashchim Banga: The share of Muslims in the population of Pashchim Banga has gone up from 24.7 in 2001 to 27.0% in 2011. Muslim share in this State up to 1971 was around 20%; they have gained by about 7 percentage points in these four decades. The decennial growth of Muslims and Hindus in the State during 2001-2011 has been 21.8 and 10.8%, respectively. Christians have also registered a significant growth of 27.8%. It would be interesting to look at the changes in the relative shares of the two communities in the districts that have a dominant presence of Muslims.
Uttarakhand: Muslim proportion in Uttarakhand has risen from 11.9 to 13.9%. The decennial growth of Hindus in this State has been 16%, compared to 39% of the Muslims and 40% of the Christians.
Adjoining Districts of Uttar Pradesh: Several districts of Uttar Pradesh neighbouring Haridwar and Udham Singh Nagar of Uttarakhand, including Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Bijnor, Moradabad, Rampur, Jyotiba Phule Nagar and Meerut have recorded extraordinary Muslim growth as in the previous decades. This region is on its way to becoming Muslim-majority; Rampur already has a Muslim share of 51% in 2011.
NCT of Delhi: Muslim share in Delhi has gone up from 11.7% in 2001 to 12.9% in 2011. In 1951, the proportion of Muslims in Delhi was less than 6%. Between 2001 and 2011, Muslims here have grown by 33%, while Hindus have grown by 20.7%.
Haryana: The most surprising change is in Haryana. The share of Muslims has begun to grow rather rapidly since 1981. Now their share in the State is 7%, it was 5.8% in 2001 and only 3.8% in 1961, when the State was formed. In the newly created Mewat district, Muslims now form 79% of the population. In the taluk of Nuh in this region, the proportion of Muslims has gone up from 71 to 77%, in Tawdu, it has gone up from 49 to 57% and in Hathin, from 54 to 59%. This is high growth indeed.
Kerala: The share of Muslims in Kerala has gone up from 24.7 to 26.6%. The share of both Hindus and Christians has declined. Muslims in the State had a share of only 17.5% in 1951 and about the same in 1901. In the last six decades their share has increased by 9%age points. During 2001-2011, Hindus in Kerala have grown by only 2.6% and Christians by 1.4%, but the Muslims have grown by 12.8%. The growth rates of the three communities during 1991-2001 were 7.4, 7.8 and 16%, respectively.
We have not yet been able to look at other areas of high Muslim growth, especially in the chicken neck area covering several districts of Bihar, Jharkhand and Pashchim Banga. From the above analysis it is clear that though the increase of 0.8 percentage point in all Bharat share of Muslims seems small and ‘normal’, it has implied substantial change in the religious demography of many parts of the country. There is considerable difference in the growth of Muslims and others even in the less obvious States like Punjab, J&K, Himachal Pradesh, etc.
Christians have continued to increase in various pockets
According to all-Bharat figures, Christians have grown somewhat slower than the national average. Between 2001 and 2011, they have recorded a decennial growth of 15.5%, compared to 16.8% of the Hindus and 17.7% of the total population. The share of Christians in the population of the country has remained nearly unchanged at 2.3%. But they have recorded substantial increase in specific pockets of the country, while their proportion has declined in States like Kerala, Goa and Andhra Pradesh. Below, we list some of the States where Christians have made deeper inroads in the last decade:
Arunachal Pradesh: The share of Christians in the population of Arunachal Pradesh has gone up from 18.7% in 2001 to 30.3% in 2011. This is very high growth indeed. Decennial growth of Christians in the State has been 104% compared to 31% of the Muslims and just 6% of the Hindus. Unlike several other States of Northeast, Arunachal Pradesh had remained outside the Christian reach until 1971. In 1971, they formed just 0.79% of the population; their share increased to 4.3% in 1981, 10.3% in 1991, to 18.7% in 2001 and now it has reached 30.3%. Many districts of Arunachal Pradesh have now become Christian majority. They form 75% of the population in Tirap district now; several tribal communities in the State have been nearly fully converted to Christianity.
Meghalaya: In Meghalaya, the proportion of Christians has risen 70.2% in 2001 to 74.6% now. This is another State where those tribal communities that had remained outside the fold of Christianity are being converted in large numbers from decade to decade. In 1991, the proportion of Christians in the State was 64.6%; it was 52.6% in 1981 and only 35.2% in 1961. The State now seems to be on the way to getting fully Christianised in the manner of Nagaland and Mizoram.
Manipur: In Manipur, Christians have shown a surprising rise in their share from 37.3% in 2001 to 41.3% in 2011. The Christian share here in 1971 was 26% and it was less than 20% in 1961. The Christian presence in Manipur is limited to the hill districts, while the valley remains largely Hindu. Even then the share of Christians has been rising from decade to decade.
Tripura: Tripura did not have much Christian presence till recently. Their share rose from 1.7 to 3.2% between 1991 and 2001 and has now gone up to 4.4%. Their presence in the State still remains limited, but it is rising.
Sikkim: Like Tripura, Sikkim also had little Christian presence till 1971, when their share in the population was counted at 0.79%. Their share began growing after that; it rose to 2.2% in 1981, 3.3% in 1991 and 6.7% in 2001. In 2011, 9.9% of the population of the State has been counted as Christian. This is a significant rise and indicates that like Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim may also be on the way to rapid Christianisation.
Besides the northeast, there are pockets of high Christian presence in Tamil Nadu, Orissa and inthe central Bharatiya States. Christians have registered significant increase in their proportion in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu, where they are on way to acquiring a majority. In Odisha, their share in Gajapati, Kandhmal and Rayagada districts has increased considerably. Gajapati is now 38% Christian. Their presence in the older pocket of Christian influence in Sundargarhin the north of the State has remained nearly unchanged at around 18 to 19%. Christian share has grown marginally in Jharkhand and has remained unchanged in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.
Contextualising the religion figures
The data thus provides a clear picture of the increasing Muslim presence in the whole subcontinent and of the grossly increasing Muslim or Christian presence in several parts of the Bharatiya Union. It shall be of great interest to relate the numbers of different communities with other socio-economic parameters like literacy, work-participation rates, etc. The 2001 Census had for the first time provided such detailed information on the basis of religion. That information gave us many insights. For example, we learnt that Muslim female literacy in at least 9 larger States of Bharat, including Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra was higher than that of Bharatiya Religionists; in many of these States, the difference between the female literacy of Muslims and Bharatiya Religionists was of more than 10 percentage points in favour of the Muslims. According to Sachar Committee, in most of these States, poverty amongst Muslims was lower than the average and the average bank deposits of Muslims were higher than others. Yet in all these States, the growth rates of Muslims were also higher than that of others. This clearly contradicts the pet theory of the demographers that the higher growth rates of Muslims are merely a reflection of their relative poverty and illiteracy. The data provided by the Census of 2001 and the Sachar Committee does not seem to have encouraged the demographers to revisit their theories and prejudices; yet it would be useful to get similar religion-wise socio-economic data for the Census 2011.
Given the critical importance of the religious demography for understanding the changing social, political and geographical balance within Bharat, the Census should consider making thereligion data part of the Primary Census Abstracts, so that these numbers become available up to the town and village level and can be correlated with various other socio-economic aspects of the population. Making religion data part of the PCA would also take away the various compulsions that sometimes lead to unnecessary delays and speculation about these figures.
Dr JK Bajaj (The writer is director, Centre for Policy Studies)