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Mainstream, VOL LIII , No 38, New Delhi, September 12, 2015

Religious Census data May Not Panic the Hindus

Sunday 20 September 2015, by John Dayal


The senior journalist and raconteur A.J. Philip once bitingly wrote: “The population of Christians in the colony I and my wife lived in during our stay in Bhopal jumped up by 50 per cent when our first son was born.” They were, till then, the only Christians in the residential complex in the capital of Madhya Pradesh. That, in a nutshell, is what is meant by facts, statistics and lies.

 So there was nothing surprising at the response of the media when the government in a cryptic press note released the religious data of the 2011 national decennial census, a full five years after the last family had been enumerated. The data had been craftily leaked several times in chosen newspapers to suit what the Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaign managers thought were opportune moments to whip up some passion in the populace.

 Newspapers are, in this, quite like campaign managers. The media analysis website, The Hoot, surveyed the headlines in the newspapers the day after the religion-wise census data was released, looking at some of the biggest and best broadsheets in the national Capital. The Hoot noted: “How newspapers played the findings of the religion census spoke volumes about how loaded headlines can be. Nuance is the last thing they sought to convey. The Pioneer said, unsurprisingly, ‘Muslim numbers up, Hindus down’. Its Hindi paper said the same thing. The Dainik Jagran said, ‘Badhi Muslim hissedari’, the percentage of Muslims has increased. The Hindustan said baldly ‘Muslim aabadi sabse tej badhi’, (Muslim population rose the fastest). The TOI said, ‘Muslim share of population up 0.8 per cent, Hindus down O.7 per cent’. Hindustan Times resisted the Muslim Hindu angle: ‘Hindu proportion of India’s population less than 80 per cent’. The Hindu said, ‘Muslim population growth slows’. Accurate, and determined to counter alarmism.”

 No one has explained why the 80 per cent mark for Hindus is so critical, and why being even a fraction less will shatter the community and cultural—and perhaps national security—equilibrium.

 To the surprise of many, leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party and even the Shiv Sena have been quiescent. It is, however, a moot question that we will see, sooner than later, effective use of the information in the elections in Bihar, and the preparatory campaigns in other States. The countdown, it can be argued, has already begun for the general elections in 2019 with the economy not meeting the expectations of the aspirational classes, and the other castes and classes seeking their own piece of bread.

It will however take weeks, if not months, for saner elements in academia and social sciences, and for that matter in the Church, to analyse the district and sub-district data. It is a complicated exercise, specially if one were to contextualise it with caste and tribe overlays, economic scores and academic and employability status. That would show the relationship between caste discrimination, economic deprivation and educational handicaps as factors in contemporary religious orientation and attraction. And conversion.

 But an early blow has been given to the Sangh propaganda that Hinduism will be swamped, overtaken and overwhelmed by a combination of Muslim large family size and Christian mass conversions. While the data shows that the rate of growth of the Muslims in India is higher than that of the Hindus—both are, however, above the national average—the decennial rate of growth of the Muslims is indeed decelerating. As far as the Christians are concerned, they are stagnating at a mere 2.3 per cent, their growth rate for at least three decades, and may in fact be declining, as in Nagaland, the small State which was one of three [with Meghalaya and Mizoram] to have a Christian-majority population.

 The 2011 census figures on religion, and earlier the report of the Pew Foundation, conclusively show that Christians have been significantly below the national average while Hindus, and of course Muslims, have been well above that figure. In fact, the population of Sikhs and Buddhists is proportionately decreasing. Buddhists specially are one of the major religions in India for 2500 years and their current figures are of civilisational concern.

 The bland data has been given by the Registrar General of India in a Press statement of the Press Information Bureau, which said: “The distribution in total population by six major religious communities namely, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain besides ‘Other Religions and Persuasions’ and ‘Religion not stated’.” The data are released by sex and residence up to sub-districts and towns. Total Population in 2011 is 121.09 crores; Hindu 96.63 crores (79.8 per cent); Muslim 17.22 crores (14.2 per cent); Christian 2.78 crores (2.3 per cent); Sikh 2.08 crores (1.7 per cent); Buddhist 0.84 crores (0.7 per cent); Jain 0.45 crores (0.4 per cent), Other Religions and Persuasions (ORP) 0.79 crores (0.7 per cent) and Religion Not Stated 0.29 crores (0.2 per cent).

 “The proportion of Hindu population to total population in 2011 has declined by 0.7 percentage point (PP); the proportion of Sikh population has declined by 0.2 PP and the Buddhist population has declined by 0.1 PP during the decade 2001-2011. The proportion of Muslim population to total population has increased by 0.8 PP. There has been no significant change in the proportion of Christians and Jains.

“The growth rate of population in the decade 2001-2011 was 17.7 per cent. The growth rate of population of the different religious communities in the same period was as Hindus: 16.8 per cent; Muslim: 24.6 per cent; Christian: 15.5 per cent ; Sikh: 8.4 per cent; Buddhist: 6.1 per cent and Jain: 5.4 per cent. The data is available on RGI website“

Religious demography is serious political and ideological business. The RSS has made huge political capital, and vast sums of money from devout Hindus among the NRI diaspora, claiming they will be swamped and overwhelmed by “alien Abrahmic religions” Christianity and Islam. Venomous slogans have been coined against both Muslims and Christians. While Muslims are presented as pro-Pakistan and terrorists, Christians are said to be secessionists and devouring Indian cultural values. As part of this, various political and Sangh leaders have been calling for disenfran-chisement of Christians, curbs in Muslims and exhorting Hindu women to have anything from four to ten children in this Demographic Great War.

The Census exposes the sham and hollowness of the Sangh charge of mass conversion by force and fraud. In fact, Nagaland, a Christian majority State for more than a century, shows a net decline in the growth and numbers of Christians. Hindus are increasing quite fast in tribal areas, some at rates over 20 per cent. It needs to be remembered in statistical propor-tions that when numbers are small, as in the case of Christians, even a small increase shows as a big percentage, whereas for Hindus, even a big absolute increase will only be a small one in terms of percentages.

 There remains the perennial charge of “neo-Christians”, Dalit Christians and “crypto-Christians” not disclosing their religious identity to the Census enumerators. Some indeed may not tell the census enumerator their religion, opting for no-religion or anything else they wish. This leads one to the seminal question why they hide their identity, or manufacture a fake one. One of the causes, then, may be the criminal ban on Christian and Muslim converts from former untouchable, or Dalit castes, to getting reservations in legislatures, jobs and education which are given not just to Hindus but also to Sikhs and Buddhists. This matter is now in the Supreme Court in the ten-year-old Public Interest Litigation seeking the deletion of Section 3 of Article 341. This offending section is effectively a strong nationwide anti-conversion law operating on the Dalits.

 But all this talk of crypto-Christians is political diatribe with no basis in fact. In fact, enumerators routinely write Hindu for any person who names a tribal religion, or even says he is an atheist. This explains the small numbers that turn up for “Other” religions despite the very large numbers of tribal people in Central India who are of pre-Aryan and pre-Hindu civilisations.

 The crucial thing is the timing of these releases. A large component of Narendra Modi’s 2014 election campaign was the diatribe against Islam. The entire Sangh edifice is built in response to the Muslim presence in India. They use islamaphobia as an effective mobilisation and polarising tool. The Bihar elections are going to be held soon. Bihar has a sizeable Muslim population. The timing of this survey is definitely to influence the electorate.

 Activists have been demanding for long that India release all quantified and desegregated data of the decennial census soon after the census exercise is over, instead of releasing it in driblets to suit its political imperatives and motives. The Caste survey has just been completed, but the government has not released that because the results may not suit the party whose political base still continues to be the upper castes and the aspirational middle income classes.

The author is a senior journalist, human rights activist and member of the National Integration Council. He can be contacted at e-mail:

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