Census 2011 Data and the Bogey of 'Muslim Population Growth'

The Census 2011 data on population, just released, has been followed by inaccurate, provocative reporting in most of the news media, with headlines suggesting ‘Hindu population decreased, Muslim population increased,’ highlighting fall in Hindus’ share in population from 80.5 % to 79.8%, and rise in Muslim share from 13.4% to 14.2%.

Predictably, the scare tactics of the saffron brigade began their usual game: of claiming that Muslims are overtaking Hindus in terms of numbers in India, thanks to having more wives, ‘love jehad,’ illegal immigration and so on. This is in line with Modi’s speeches in 2002 Gujarat, terming riot relief camps as ‘baby producing factories,’ or Sadhvi Prachi when she referred to Muslims producing ’40 pups’ and asking Hindu women to produce 4 babies each.

The truth is very different from the picture being painted by the BJP, Shiv Sena and Sangh Parivar.

Reality Check on Census Data

1) While the rate of population growth of Muslims is higher than that of Hindus, the rate of decline of population growth is falling much more sharply among Muslims than among Hindus. Muslim population growth rate has fallen from 29.5 % in 1991-2001 to 24.6 % between 2001 and 2011 while that for Hindus in the same period has been 19.9 %to 16.8 %. This means that the two growth rates are converging.

2) Even among Muslims and Hindus, patterns vary in different parts of the country. As NC Saxena points out 60-65 % of Muslims live in the northern states – Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, and Assam, with the overall population growth of northern states being faster than that of southern states. So, the overall higher growth rate of Muslims is more to do with higher overall growth rates in Northern India than to do with religion alone. Bihar has a 15 % Muslim population, while Kerala has a 25 % Muslim population; yet, in 2001-2011, Bihar’s overall population grew by 25 percent while Kerala’s population grew by 5 percent. Despite the fact that there are more Muslims in Kerala, the overall growth rate of Bihar was five times the growth rate of Kerala. The growth rate of Muslims in Kerala, while higher than that of Hindus in Kerala, is still lower than that of Hindus in Bihar or Uttar Pradesh! Lakshadweep, which has a 100 % Muslim population, has a very poor rate of population growth. In Bangladesh, a Muslim majority country, the rate of population growth has fallen sharply. So population growth patterns cannot be understood in terms of a competition/race between religious communities.

3) What accounts for a higher growth rate among Muslims – is it their culture of having ‘more wives, more babies’? No. In fact, one of the factors is that in UP, Bihar and Maharashtra, 40 % of Muslims as compared to 25 % Hindus live in urban areas. Urbanisation means better health facilities, lower mortality, and therefore an increase in population growth rate. Hindus living in rural areas tend to have a higher child mortality rate. So the difference in population rates is not so much due to higher fertility of Muslims, as it is due to lower child mortality among Muslims who tend to live more in urbanized areas, working as artisans, than Hindus.

4) What about illegal immigration from Bangladesh? As Shoaib Daniyal points out, Assam’s Muslim population grew at the same rate as India’s Muslim population between 1991 and 2001 and West Bengal’s Muslim population, grew slower. This disproves the conspiracy theories of “massive Bangladeshi infiltration.”

5) It is a lie that Muslims are polygamous, hence more fertile. The 1961 census had shown that polygamy was the least among Muslims. Just 5.7% of Muslims were polygamous; while 5.8% upper caste Hindus practiced polygamy; 15.25% tribals were polygamous and Buddhists (7.9%) and Jains (6.7%) were even more polygamous than Hindus and Muslims. The National Family Health Survey report 2006 showed that polygamous marriages were most prevalent in the north-east, followed by the south and eastern India, while being almost non-existent in north and central India.

The BJP is hoping to polarize the electorate on the eve of Bihar elections with ‘scare’ stories about Muslims overtaking Hindu numbers in India.

Bend it like Bhalla

(Excerpt from article by Tony Joseph, Indian Express, Sept 1, 2015)

Last week, Surjit S. Bhalla wrote a piece in The Indian Express titled ‘Census, Christians, Conversions’. After going over well-trodden ground on what the recently released Census 2011 figures meant, he came to the crux of the matter as he saw it: Why hasn’t the Christian population fallen as a percentage of the total Indian population? According to him, the Christian population has been stuck at 2.3 per cent for two decades, and the only reason that it has not fallen is that Christians have been proselytising and converting people all around.

It takes skills of a high order to create and raise a red flag over a population percentage that is stable. The device that Bhalla uses to make his argument is a comparison between the behaviour of the Christian and Sikh populations. According to him, the education levels of Sikh and Christian women are comparable, and because women’s literacy is one important determinant of fertility rates, he argues that Christian and Sikh populations should behave similarly. And since, according to the census figures, the Sikh population declined from 2 per cent of the total in 1991 to 1.7 per cent in 2011, while the Christian population percentage stayed stable, he asserts that the difference can only be attributed to conversions. This amounts to serial assaults on data, and in the following ways.

First, Bhalla arbitrarily chooses the years to fit his theory. If you take 1971 as the starting point, instead of 1991, as Bhalla has done, you will find that the Christian population has declined from 2.6 to less than 2.3 per cent, a decrease of over 0.3 percentage points in 40 years. During the same period, the Sikh population declined from 1.9 to 1.7 per cent, a decline of only 0.2 percentage points. So which community declined more in population-percentage terms depends entirely on the period one chooses. That Bhalla chose the period he did shows us what result he wanted to arrive at. Nothing more, nothing less.

Second, Bhalla also omits mentioning a crucial factor: The large difference in the sex ratio between the two communities he has chosen to compare. Sex ratio is the number of females to males in a population. In communities that have a strong preference for sons and adopt practices such as sex selection, the sex ratio becomes highly skewed against women. Among Christians, there are 1,023 females for every 1,000 males, while among Sikhs, there are only 903 females for every 1,000 males. … In other words, Sikh population growth is likely to be abnormally depressed because of the adverse sex ratio, a problem that the Christian community does not have. ..Again, the fact that he found it necessary to omit any mention of the vast difference in sex ratio between the two communities only shows us what result he wanted. Nothing more.

Third, statistician Bhalla has also wantonly selected the communities to compare. He chose to compare the Christian community with Sikhs, and not with Jains, who are leagues above both Christians and Sikhs when it comes to women’s literacy and income levels. Jain women have a literacy rate that is over 90 per cent, compared to only about 76 per cent for Christians and 63 for Sikhs. According to Bhalla’s theory, therefore, the population percentage of Jains should have fallen drastically, even more so than that of Sikhs. But what do we find? In the 20 years between 1991 and 2011, the period that Bhalla considers, the proportion of Jains in the population has remained rock steady at 0.4 per cent. The fact that Bhalla chose to compare Christians to Sikhs, and not to Jains, shows us what result he wanted to arrive at, and nothing more.

…It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Bhalla has tortured his data to make it say what he wants to hear.

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