The growth rate of the Muslim population has consistently declined or remained constant since 1971 till 2011, with the only exception being the 10-year period ended 1991. Experts believe the population growth will fall further with rising education levels among Muslims.
India's total population stood at 1.21 billion in 2011. Of this, Hindus constituted less than 80 per cent for the first time in 2011. Their proportion to total population fell to 79.8 per cent in 2011, against 80.5 per cent in 2001 and 82.4 per cent in 1991.
On the other hand, the proportion of Muslims in the total population rose to 14.2 per cent in 2011 from 13.4 per cent in a decade before and 11.7 per cent in 1991.
The proportion of Christians in the country's population remained constant at 2.3 per cent in all these years.
In absolute terms, there were 966.3 million Hindus in 2011, while there were 172.2 million Muslims, 27.8 million Christians, 20.8 million Sikhs (1.7 per cent of the country's total population), 8.4 million Buddhist (0.7 per cent), and 4.5 million Jains (0.4 per cent).
The population of Muslims rose at the rate of 2.5 per cent a year between 2001 and 2011, which is a 0.4 percentage points lower than 2.9 per cent witnessed during 1991-2001. On the other hand, the population of Hindus grew 1.5 per cent a year during 2001-11, which is 0.3 percentage points lower than two per cent in the previous decade. While the population of Muslims grew faster than Hindus during 2001-2011, in the previous decade, the pace of growth declined faster than that in the former than the latter.
In fact, the growth rate of Muslims population never rose except in 1981-91 period. It remained constant in the 1971-1981 period.
According to sociologists, the dip in the growth rate of Muslim population over the decades was the result of elementary education among them. "The impact of primary education on fertility decline is quite high in Muslims. The whole fear that Muslim populations will overtake Hindu population is nonsense. This is because fertility decline is taking place due to the impact of primary education," said Amitabh Kundu, senior fellow at Delhi Policy Group.
Why, then, was the rate of growth in Muslims at 2.5 per cent was still higher than Hindus at 1.7 per cent in 2011? "A large proportion of Muslim women are still not literate, which explains this trend. With inclusive growth, education level will go up and fertility level will drastically go down over the years," says Kundu.
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.