Religious Demography Of India


Dialogue July - September, 2003 , Volume 5 No. 1

Book Review
Hindus – the Threatened Existence
Amteshwar Bhinder

The detailed study of the changes in the religious demography of India, for the last 120 years, has been made in a recent publication entitled Religious Demography of India#. The book has 38 detailed tables, 105 text tables and 29 maps along with detailed references. The use of the population data of the censuses of 1881 to 1991 make the study authentic. The Indian population has been categorised into that of the Indian Religionists, Muslims and Christians for the study. Indian Religionists include the Hindus, Sikhs Buddhists and Jains. The book provides separate detailed religious demographic data, trend of population growth and the future projections of the same for India (includes India, Pakistan and Bangladesh), Indian Union its states and districts, Pakistan, Bangladesh. Similar data and analysis of different regions of the world adds to the value of the book

As projected by the study, the population of the Muslims and that of the Indian religionists shall have 1:1 ratio by the year 2061.Thus the Indian Religionists from being a majority in the subcontinent shall be reduced to 50 % of the population. The population of Indian Religionists has declined by 11 percentage points during the period for which census information is available. They formed 79.32% of the population in 1881 and declined to 68.03% in 1991. Correspondingly the proportion of Muslims in India has increased by almost 10 percentage points, from about 20% to 30%. The decline in the population share of Indian Religionists and the corresponding rise in that of the Muslims have continued throughout the period, the proportion of Christians seems to have reached a plateau after having risen continuously for 90 years between 1881 and 1971. This is an extraordinary phenomenon occurring in just about a century. It needs mention that the Muslims formed just one sixth of the population at the time of Akbar, and his rule did not extend to a major part of the Indian Union. The Indian Religionists have lost about 2 percentage points of their population share since Independence and Partition. The loss in their share of population has been fairly steep in certain pockets of the country, while in many parts they have continued to hold sway. The decline in the population of Indian Religionists in the north-western, western, central and the southern states has been comparatively less. They constitute a preponderant majority, making up nearly 85% of the population of this region in 1991. Muslims and Christians constitute small minorities in most of the districts in this vast region, except in a few well-defined pockets. Some of these scattered pockets have witnessed a considerable rise in their population during last four decades, such as the Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh, Thane of Maharashtra, Alwar of Rajasthan and Sangrur in Punjab.

A different picture emerges in the eastern states of India, specially Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam. This area makes up the most fertile lands of India and supports about 37% of the population according to the 1991 census. Indian Religionists lost about 4 percentage points during the four decades between 1951 and 1991. Muslims constitute about 19% of the population of the region. The Muslim presence is especially high in the northern border belt, where they account for 28% of the population and their growth has been fast enough to add almost 7 percentage points after partition upto 1991.. Another area of high Muslim density is the border state of Jammu and Kashmir, where they constitute about two thirds of the total population.

An estimated 1.5 to 2 crore illegal Bangladeshis have entered India, They have changed the population texture of Assam, West Bengal and many districts of Bihar. Bangladshi Muslims dominate large numbers of the Assembly constiencies. Atleast four districts of Assam have Muslim majority now. A group of Bangladeshi intellectuals justify their illegal migration by invoking the theory of ‘lebensraum’ or living space (Is India going Islamic?; Balraj Rai, p. 74). A number of Dhaka dailies have carried articles written on these lines by university professors.

The Muslims in the Indian sub continent were one in seven in 1800 and in 1991 they were one in three. This reduction in ratio from 1:6 to 1:2 has taken place in 191 years This ratio can never remain static. “Once the Muslim-Hindu population ratio gets reduced to 1:1 in the Indian subcontinent, Hinduism, Sikhism, Christianity and Buddhism will begin to mark time and just await their extinction” (Balraj Rai, op. cit., p. 108). Madhu Limaye (Muslim India – January 1986; on Alternative before Assam; p.42) opined about the future of Hinduism in India. “May be the Hindus are a dying race”, Shraddhanand warned 50 years ago. Perhaps India will have a non-Hindu majority by the year 2300 (if the world survives that long). After that there will be a precipitate Hindu decline and they will become extinct in this ancient land of ours.

Thus, the growth rate of the Muslim population is higher. There are a variety of reasons for the same, but more important are the consequences. The trends in population growth and its social, economic, political and strategic implications need in-depth study. needs objective analysis and necessary remedial measures. We cannot shy away from taking difficult decisions for that may have disastrous consequences. Administrative actions, controlling population shifts from within and without and management of resources have to be looked at and implemented in an effective manner.

Islam divides society into two compartments – the believers (Muslims) and the non-believers (kafirs; derived from kufr, which is to deny) and the world into Darul-Islam and Darul-Harb. The non-believers were to pay a tax to live under the aegis of the Islamic State. Islam brought similar ideas to India also. The Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (ed. James Hastings, Vol. 8, p. 557) states: “it is to the credit of the innate courtesy and sympathetic kindliness of the native Indian that a merciful and generous spirit has, on the whole, maintained itself against religious and social prejudice and in the face of influences from within and without. With the coming of the Muslims a new spirit invaded India, antagonistic to the old, the consequences of which were great and permanent. Born of religious fanaticism and nurtured in camp and on the field of battle, the warlike spirit of Islam bore down all religious opposition and refused to accept the symbol and confession of faith of the vanquished creed”. Lala Lajpat Rai, after the Moplah riots in Malabar and the bloody carnage in many cities of northern India, delved deeply into the making of the Muslim mind in India, made in-depth study of the sources of Islam and its history. In one of his articles, published in the Tribune, he wrote: “an esteemed Muslim leader has propounded the theory that the fact that the Hindus are rich and the Mulims are poor, explains these riots. Assuming this explanation to be correct, how does he explain the irrebutable fact that poor Mussalmans do not loot their rich fellow religionists? The real explanation is that the latter are Muslims and the Hindus are kafirs” (Lala Lajpat Rai, Separatism Rooted in Muslim Psyche, Manthan, February 1983, p.32).

Islam has tried several strategies to convert the peoples of other faiths. Samuel P.Huntington in his The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (pp. 20) says “Islam is exploding demographically with destabilizing influences for Muslim countries and their neighbours.” He goes on to say further “as a result of their extremely high rates of population growth the proportion of Muslims in the world will continue to increase dramatically, amounting to 20% of the world’s population about the turn of the century” (ibid, p. 66). The study of the conflicts based on religion, in India and the rest of the world, Islam as one of the combatants. In India communal violence is mostly confined to Hindus and Muslims, there are very few instances of rioting between Hindus and Christians. In Bosnia the Muslims have fought the Orthodox Serbs, in Cyprus the Muslim Turks and Orthodox Greeks maintain hostile adjoining states and in Malaysia and Indonesia the Muslims periodically riot against the Chinese. Muslims make up about one fifth of the world’s population but have been far more involved in inter group violence than others. T.R.Gurr analyzed, in depth, the ethno-political conflicts in 1993-1994 and concluded that there were three times as many intercivilisational conflicts involving Muslims, as there were conflicts between non-Muslim civilizations (Hutington, p. 256). The conflicts within Islam were also more numerous than those in any other civilization. In another analysis Ruth Leger Sivard identified twenty-nine wars underway in 1992. Nine of twelve intercivilisational conflicts were between Muslims and non-Muslims and Muslims were fighting more wars than people from any other civilization. Thus different compilations of data reveal the same thing: in the 90’s Muslims were engaged in more inter group violence than any other civilization or group. Islam’s borders are bloody and so are it’s innards (ibid).

When we turn our attention to India we will see a similar situation prevailing here also. As has been mentioned earlier the main participants in communal violence are the two largest communities in India. We do not witness the same levels of animosity between any other religions, though India is a country where a number of faiths coexist. There has to be a reason for this and that can only be found by studying the positions adopted by both sides. Hinduism by virtue of its breadth of vision and liberal outlook has never thought to seriously concern itself with either proselytisation or apostasy. It has always believed in co existence and in ‘live and let live.’ For Hindus the diverse ways of worship have arisen because of different human needs and all have equal validity. For Muslims the diversity has arisen because of a human failing, which has led to the distortion of a single pristine truth. According to Islam, all religions were initially the same; but in course of time became distorted. It was to rectify these distortions that prophets appeared, but no prophet preached a new religion. Prophet Mohammad was only the last in a long line of prophets who had all taught an identical faith. Any deviation from this original religion is for the Muslims a deviation from the truth. The Hindu Muslim animosity in India, according to J.B. Kripalani (‘Why this Enmity?’, The Hindu, 27 May, 1981) is due to the unique situation in this country; where the Muslims coming as conquerors had a sense of superiority.

In another important study, showing bearing of religion on demography, Sriya Iyer, in her recently published Demography and Religion in India, has approached the subject from macro and micro angles. She recounts social and religious factors responsible for larger Muslim families.A

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