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T N Ninan: Ghar wapsi for logic

If there's one thing the 2011 Census shows, it's that India will remain overwhelmingly Hindu forever

T N Ninan  |  New Delhi 

T N Ninan

The projections are that the United States will cease to be a White-majority country at some point in the future. Britain will remain White-majority but is increasingly multi-racial and multi-cultural. Will India cease to be Hindu-majority at some point? The answer is never, unless those dreaming of an Akhand Bharat find some way to re-incorporate Pakistan and Bangladesh into the folds of the motherland and accept some 350 million additional Muslims as fellow-citizens. Even then, Muslims will not be more than 35 per cent of the combined population of a re-united country. So those dreaming of Akhand Bharat should not feel threatened by demographic diminution. In any case, no land borders are going to change, so let’s deal with India as we have it.

Over 60 years to 2011, the Hindu share of the population has dropped from 84.1 per cent to 79.8 per cent. This was during a period of rapid population growth. But population growth is slowing for all communities, and the country’s total population will peak by 2060, after which it will cease to grow and may even decline. UN projections of peak population stop at 1.71 billion (others put it at a lower number), compared to 1.21 billion in 2011, when Hindus were already 966 million in strength. It is simple maths to figure out that Hindus will remain the overwhelming majority for all time. It is possible that the Hindu share of the population may drop another percentage or two below 80, but not more than that. Anyone suggesting any other possibility is simply setting up scarecrows.

That should make it possible to deal with the Census numbers on community-wise population growth with rationality rather than base emotion. First, one should set aside a particular scenario, that Christian evangelism is adding to the Christian population. The Census shows that Christians are growing in number more slowly than both Hindus and Muslims. So while some fringe evangelistic activity exists, it makes no difference to the country’s demographics. Also, the answer to why Christians are growing more slowly in number may have little to do with religion. Half the country’s Christians happen to be in the southern states, which have slower population growth across communities.

In the case of Muslims, the majority are in the northern, Bimaru states, which have higher population growth rates than the all-India average. Economic and social stratification are other relevant factors. Finally, there is illegal immigration from Bangladesh, as can be seen from the distinct demographic trends in the districts of Assam and West Bengal that border Bangladesh (causing local tensions, especially in Assam). Despite these factors, the Muslim population growth rate has taken a significant dip in the decade to 2011, and should be expected to dip further.

The flip side of this story is that the population growth rate in Bangladesh has dropped dramatically — most of this is attributable to that country’s social and economic trends, but some must be on account of emigration to India. Pakistan too has seen a significant drop in its population growth rate, and here there has been no emigration out of that country except for migrant workers in the Arabian Gulf. If anything, refugees have moved in from Afghanistan. It should be clear therefore that the factors which cause population growth rates to drop operate across communities and countries.

If there is a political issue in all this, it is that those who think of India as Hindu rather than multi-cultural will find the substantial growth of the Muslim population (from 9.8 per cent in 1951 to 14.2 per cent in 2011) coming in the way of their preferred narrative. They needn’t worry. India lives with a degree of Hindutva that it did not before, and can be expected to do so even more in the future, while Muslim representation in the Lok Sabha has shrunk.

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First Published: Fri, August 28 2015. 21:50 IST