An authentic study on demographic invasion
Posted January 11, 2006
By Ashok Kumar
January 15, 2006
A.P. Joshi, M.D. Srinivas and J.K. Bajaj of the Centre for Policy Studies are among the few who have dared to study India's changing religious profile. Their book Religious Demography of India covers data from Census 2001, the findings of which were released in September 2004. The data revealed alarmingly a sharp rise in population of Muslims and Christians. The book is an exhaustive compilation of the religious demographic data of the last one hundred years for different regions of the Indian subcontinent and almost all districts of Indian Union.
The data of 2001, in many respects, simply carries forward the trends of religious demographic change observed up to 1991, but there is also a clear intensification of these trends in certain aspects. When one looks at the data for the whole of India, including Indian Union, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the new data only reconfirms the distinct possibility that Muslims and Christians together shall become the majority in the Indian region early in the second half of the twenty-first century. In this regard, the book mentions: "Within Indian Union, the quantum of decline in the proportion of Indian religionists-and the corresponding increase in that of Muslims and Christians-observed during 1991-2001 is the largest since Independence and Partition; it seems that the rate of change has become definitely quicker since 1981. The difference between the decadal growth of Indian religionists and Muslims has widened from about 10 per cent in the earlier decades following Independence to about 45 per cent during the last two decades. And Christians whose decadal growth in the Indian Union as a whole had declined to about 17 per cent during the previous two decades, from the very high level of around 33 per cent in 1961-1971, have registered a sudden spurt in their growth to 23 per cent during the last decade of 1991-2001."
The changing religious profile of Indian population has had a strong impact on the recent history of India and it continues to be amongst the major determinants of strife on the Indian subcontinent. For more than a millennium now, India has been host to some of the greatest, most vigorous and expansive religions of the world. This circumstance has endowed India with a rich diversity, but it has also given rise to some of the most acute strategic, political and administrative problems that the Indian nation has had to face in the past and continues to face till today.
Mentioning about religious composition of India in 1881, the book says: "At the time of the first synchronous and detailed census in 1881, the adherents of religions of native Indian origin constituted about 79 per cent of the population, of which 95 per cent were Hindus. Of the remaining about 21 per cent of the population, that followed religions that have originated outside India, as many as 96 per cent were Muslims. This religious heterogeneity of the Indian population and its division into mainly the Hindus and Muslims was a demographic reflection of relatively recent events in Indian history." But in the period following 1881, rise in the proportion of Muslims and Christians becomes a continuous phenomenon, which the book explores in some detail.
The book brings out that the part of India that came to form Indian Union after Partition has a substantial majority of Indian religionists, but their proportions has been declining throughout the twentieth century, except for the rise associated with the abnormal and traumatic event of Partition. "In the pre-Partition period, the proportion of Indian religionists in this part of India declined from 86.6 per cent in 1901 to 84.4 per cent in 1941. Between 1941 and 1951, their proportion rose by about 2.8 percentage points as a result of the forced and violent transfer of populations that occurred at the time of Partition and, in the following five decades, the proportion of Indian religionists in Indian Union has declined by more than 3 percentage points to 84.2 per cent," says the book.
As to the religious composition of Pakistan, the book has used the latest estimates of the United Nations for the total population of Pakistan during the post-Partition period of 1951-2001 because the total population figures provided by the Census of Pakistan are generally considered to be inaccurate. Probably the most significant aspect of the data on the religious composition of Pakistan is the fact that the proportion of Indian religionists in the population there was rising considerably during the pre-Partition period-their share went from 15.9 per cent in 1901 to 19.7 per cent in 1941. Correspondingly, the proportion of Muslims declined from 83.9 per cent to 78.8 per cent during the same period. But at Partition, the region was purged almost clean of Indian religionists. Their number came down from 5.57 million in 1941 to 0.60 million in 1951. It has remained around that figure since then. Number of Indian religionists in Pakistan in 1981 was about half of their number in 1901. No census was conducted for 1991. Numbers in the book are estimates based on the estimate of total population and relative proportions of different religious groups as enumerated in the previous census. Number of Indian religionists in 2001 at around 1.84 per cent of the total population are somewhat higher than expected on the basis of past trends. But these are small numbers and the changes are perhaps not statistically significant.
The 224-page book attempts to comprehend and analyse the data on religion based on Census 2000. The three writers have looked at the whole time-series data including the data for 2001 for each state and union territory afresh. The book is based on rigorous, objective and painstaking compilation and analysis of enormous amount of data and information. It is likely to prove invaluable handbook for political leaders, statesman, administrators and social scientists of India.
(Centre for Policy Studies, 27, Rajsekharan Street, Chennai-600 004.)