Seen from the religion Census figures released recently, it is clear that the Hindu community has emerged as a significant minority in a quarter of the States. We must now re-visit the majority-minority debate
The religion data gathered during the 2011 Census has finally been put in the public domain. While there are some protests over the release of this data and allegations that the timing of the release is politically motivated, the real question every citizen should ask of the Census authorities is: Why they they take so long to make their findings publicIJ In fact, in early 2014, there were accusations that the United Progressive Alliance Government did not want the religion data to be published prior to the April-May, 2014 lok Sabha poll, because it would hurt the coalition electorally.
These controversies are bound to arise because demographic changes have huge implications for our democratic way of life and electoral outcomes. Whatever interpretation one may give to Census data, the fact is that the numbers tell their own story. Here are some demographic truths: There has been a steady decline in the share of Hindus in the overall national population and in the population of several Indian States over the last 50 years.
The percentage of Hindus in the country has dropped from 83.40 per cent in 1961 to 79.80 per cent in 2011. On the other hand, the percentage of Muslims has risen from 10.70 per cent to 14.20 per cent during this period. The share of other religious minorities in the total population has, however, been more or less constant.
The decline of Hindus and the rise of Muslims in the overall population has been brought about by the huge variance in the decadal growth rates of these two communities. The Hindus multiplied by 16.80 per cent in the decade 2001-2011, whereas the Muslim population rose by 24.60 per cent. But what is significant is that the decadal growth rate of the Muslims far outstripped that of all other religious communities. As against a Muslim growth rate of 24.50 per cent between 2001 and 2011, the decadal growth rate of other communities was as follows: Christian (15.50 per cent), Sikhs (8.40 per cent), Buddhist (6.1 per cent) and the Jains (5.4 per cent).
These figures show that the Hindus, who constitute the religious majority, and four other religious minorities grew during the decade at a rate well below the national average of 17.70 per cent. Also, the Muslim growth rate was three to four times that of the Buddhists and the Sikhs, and was responsible for keeping the national average at a higher level. As a result, in the 50-year period from 1961 to 1991, the number of Muslims in India has risen from 4.69 crore to 17.22 crore (almost four-fold), whereas the Christians have risen from 1.07 crore to 2.78 crore and the Sikhs from 0.78 crore to 2.08 crore. The hiatus between the Muslims and the other minorities is now very apparent.
The figures also show that the percentage of Hindus in the total population has declined in 25 of the 29 States in the country and has risen marginally in four States. Also, Hindus are now in a minority in seven States and one Union Territory. Their share of the population in these states in percentage terms is as follows: Jammu & Kashmir (28.40), Punjab (38.50), Nagaland (8.70), Mizoram (2.70), Meghalaya (11.50), Arunachal Pradesh (29.00) and Manipur (41.40). In lakshadweep, it is just 2.80 per cent. The 2001 census showed that the Hindus were in a minority in five States and one Union Territory.
On the other hand, the percentage of Muslims rose in 27 of the 29 States in the country in the last decade. Of the remaining two States, it remained constant at two per cent in Chhattisgarh and witnessed a drop in just one State — Manipur — from 8.8 per cent to 8.4 per cent. Among the States which witnessed a significant jump in the percentage of Muslims was Assam (from 30.90 to 34.20), West Bengal (25.20 to 27.90), Uttarakhand (11.90 to 13.90) and Kerala (24.70 to 26.60).
The demographic story of the Christians is, however, a mixed bag. Their numbers went up in percentage terms in 15 States while the figures dropped in six States and five Union Territories. In eight States and one Union Territory, there was no change. The latest Census also records a significant percentage jump in the Christian population in Arunachal Pradesh (18.70 to 30.30), Manipur (34.00 to 41.30) and Meghalaya (70.30 to 74.60). In some of these States, religious conversions have brought about unprecedented demographic changes. For example between 1981 and 2001, the Hindu population in Nagaland dropped from 14.36 to 7.70 per cent, while the Christian population jumped from 80.21 to 90.00 per cent. Census data shows that the Christians constituted just 52.98 per cent of the population of the State in 1951.
Since then, it has been a hop, step and jump for the community in this State. The latest data, however, shows that the Christian population in this State has dropped by two percentage points and that the Hindus and Muslims have risen marginally.
Assessing the 2001 Census data, Messrs AP Joshi, MD Srinivas and JK Bajaj, authors of Religious Demography in India, brought out by the Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai, had predicted that the adherents of Indic religions will become a minority in India by the year 2061. These demographers tell us that a reliable indicator of fertility levels of different communities is the percentage of population of that community in the 0-6 age group.
A national trend that emerged after the 2001 Census showed that, while the percentage of population in the 0-6 age group is the highest among the Muslims, it is the lowest among the Sikhs. The fertility levels of different religious groups in percentage terms after 2001 was as follows: Hindu (15.60); Muslim (18.70); Christian (13.50); Sikh 12.80; and Buddhist (14.40).
This brings us to the political implications of the religion Census data. It must be borne in mind that under the Constitution, the State is the unit to determine linguistic and religious minorities. This has also been clearly enunciated by the Supreme Court. With the Hindus falling way behind the half-way mark in seven States and one Union Territory, the community has emerged as a significant minority in a quarter of the States. We must now re-visit the majority-minority debate. French philosopher Auguste Comte was right. Demography is indeed destiny!