A crowded market outside Dadar railway station in Mumbai, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. Photo: PTI

Onmanorama Explains | Increase in Muslim population: What's the real story

'Share of Religious Minorities: A Cross Country Analysis', a working paper of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council (EAC-PM), was made public at a time the campaign-bound Prime Minister Narendra Modi has unapologetically attempted to whip up hate against Muslims.

The paper states that while India's Hindu population declined from 84.68% to 78.06% over a period of 65 years (1950-2015), the Muslim population rose to 14.09% from 9.84% during the same period. Rather than just say that there was an increase of 4.25%, the paper sought to dramatise the increase in percentage. It said this meant a 43.15% increase in the share of Muslim population.

Did the working paper exaggerate?
To understand why such a statistical interpretation is misleading, take the increase in Buddhist population in India.
Between 1950 and 2015, the paper says, it had risen from 0.05% to 0.81%. If the authors applied the same calculation, they should have said the increase in Buddhist population in 65 years was 1520%. The authors, who camera-tricked the rise in Muslim population to make it seem larger than it was, wisely avoided such a gimmick in the case of Buddhists.

Nonetheless, this dramatisation of the increase in Muslim population by the EAC-PM's working paper seems to strengthen the Sangh Parivar's apocalyptic warning that the Muslims will one day outnumber Hindus in India.

What is the reality of India's population growth?
Census data shows the decadal growth rate of Muslims declining over the past three decades. The growth rate for Muslims decreased from 32.9% in 1981-1991 to 24.6% in 2001-2011, a fall of 8.3%.

Significantly, this decline is greater than that of Hindus. Over the same period, the Hindu growth rate fell only by 5.9%, from 22.7% to 16.8%.

The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) figures also demonstrate that the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of all religious groups in the country is declining. In fact, the highest decrease in TFR from 2005-06 to 2019-21, of one percentage point, was observed among Muslims. The Hindus, with a 0.7% fall in the same period, came second.

What this suggests is that the fertility rates of various religious communities in the country are converging, becoming similar.

Poonam Muttreja, the executive director of Population Foundation of India, said that fertility rates were closely linked to education and income levels, not religion.

"States with better access to education, healthcare, and socio-economic development, such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu, exhibit lower TFRs across all religious groups. For example, the TFR among Muslim women in Kerala (2.25) is lower than the TFR among Hindu women in Bihar (2.88)," she said.

Is increase in Muslim numbers problematic?
This working paper, which focuses on the changes in religious composition of populations across countries around the world between 1950 and 2015, argues to the contrary.

It states that the rate of change in the share of the minority population is a measure of the cumulative impact of supportive policies (or lack thereof) that affect these populations within a country.

Representational Image. Photo: iStock/ chekat

"Big decline in the relative proportion of the minority population could indicate sustained relative discrimination against these groups. Conversely, a big increase in the relative share of the minority population within a country indicates an overall supportive environment for minorities," the working paper notes.

In India, along with Muslims, other minority groups have also shown an increase in population, even if marginal; Christians (from 2.24% to 2.36%), Sikhs (1.24% to 1.85%), and Buddhists (0.05% to 0.81%)

In other words, according to the paper, an increase in minority populations is a sign of a strong liberal democracy.

Nonetheless, the study does not cover the Narendra Modi decade (2014-2024) and so is silent of the impact of the Modi era policies on the Muslim population.

Is fall in majority population India-specific?
The drop in Hindu population in India is part of a global trend of declining populations of majority religions.

The working paper has found that in 123 of the 167 countries it had studied, the share of the majority religious group had decreased. Their share had increased only in 44 countries around the world.

In fact, the drop in Hindu population in India, by 7.82%, is far lower than the global average. Globally, the working paper says, the share of the majority religions has gone down by approximately 22%.

More importantly, in all developed and thriving economies, the fall in the numbers of the majority religion is the rule.

Take for instance the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a group of democracies and market economies that are considered as high-income/developed countries. In the analysis of 33 out of 35 OECD countries, the study witnessed a decrease in the share of the majority religious denominations. Of these, 30 countries have witnessed a significant decline.

OECD members account for three-fifths of global GDP, three-quarters of international trade, over 90% of global official development assistance, half of the world's energy consumption and 18% of the world’s population.

Developed nations like the USA, the UK, France and China and Scandinavian countries like Denmark, Norway and Sweden have all witnessed a far greater drop in the population of majority religions than that of Hindus in India over the course of 65 years.

The comments posted here/below/in the given space are not on behalf of Onmanorama. The person posting the comment will be in sole ownership of its responsibility. According to the central government's IT rules, obscene or offensive statement made against a person, religion, community or nation is a punishable offense, and legal action would be taken against people who indulge in such activities.