India now has 966.3 million Hindus, who make up 79.8 percent of its population, and 172.2 million Muslims, who make up 14.23 percent. Among the other minorities, Christians make up 2.3 percent of the population and Sikhs 2.16 percent. The Registrar-General and Census Commissioner released the data on Population by Religious Communities of Census 2011. The release of the Census data by the National Democratic Alliance assumes significance as it was supposed to be out early last year, but was delayed. There were allegations that the previous United Progressive Alliance government did not release the data as elections were round the corner. Whatever the electoral implications of this data maybe it is true that it is a demographers delight. The Religious Commission of census-2011 released its report regarding the population growth and composition of various communities in India.
The Hindu population constitutes 79.8% of the total population that is around 97 crores. It grew at a rate of 1.5% over the past decade, but its decadal growth rate decreased by 0.3 percentage points. The Muslim population constitutes 14.2% of the total population that is around 17.2 crores. It grew by 2.5% over the past decade, but its decadal growth rate decreased by 0.4 percentage points.
Meanwhile, Christians constitute 2.3% of the total population which is almost constant as compared to the previous decade. The share of Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists is 1.7%, 0.45%, and 0.7% respectively. A factual analysis of the data belies the Hindutva agenda of some factions that Christian missionaries are involved in mass conversions since their growth rate is almost constant. The data also belies the Hindutva agenda that Hindus would be reduced to a minority in their nation by increasing Muslim population. Data also shows that elementary education of Muslims increased. Rising primary education among Muslims resulted in the decrease in the decadal rate of growth by 0.3% points.
Then there is the migration conundrum. The data released indicates that Assam has the largest number of Muslims which has stirred a debate as to whether its due to the influx of Bangladeshi migrants. Muslim Fertility rate, a higher rate of growth in the Muslim population, indicates that fertility rate of Muslims is higher as compared to Hindus. Thus, the analysis of this data reveals that education does influence the population growth rate, and thus focus should now be on increasing healthcare and education facilities to achieve the goal of population stabilization by 2050. With rising education and changing family expectations, declining fertility is an expected demographic phenomenon. It begins among better-educated groups with better access to health care — as in India’s southern States — and then other groups catch up and converge.
There is a general paranoia amongst the right wing fringe parties of India that the Muslim populations will eventually overtake the Hindu population in India. Such claims are of course erroneous assumptions. Drumming up of fears of a minority swamping a majority is the standard right wing political strategy, and it is no different in India. In the brag and bluster of India’s politics, religious rhetoric often goes a long way electorally. It is therefore not surprising that, in spite of the mountains of contrary data, demographic scaremongering by certain sections have managed to achieve a significant amount of traction.