Religious Demography Of India


THIS BOOK contains massive data on the religious composition of India's population, based on census data from 1881 to 1991 (2001 census data on religion are not yet available). 

A special feature of this publication is the comprehensive collection of data on religion for all continents and countries of the world. It also gives detailed data for India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Its focus is on areas of Muslim and Christian concentration in different regions of India. 

There are maps for states giving district wise data on the religious composition of population. The book does reflect serious and sustained work in the field of social demography and it would have been very useful to scholars, planners, policymakers and administrators but unfortunately, the interpretation of the data and the methodology of analysis cannot stand close scrutiny. 

It seems that the book has a hidden message, which is spelt out at several places and sometimes hidden in mathematical projections (which are faulty), graphs and charts. The message, to put it bluntly is: "Beware of Muslim population growth, otherwise India will become Pakistan." The importance of religion cannot be ignored. The Partition of India in 1947 was entirely based on census data on religion. 

There are a few districts in Assam and West Bengal where Muslims are in a majority (because of the impact of undocumented migration from Bangladesh). And it is a fact that the practice of family planning among Muslims is much lower than in other communities. As several technical demographers have demonstrated, even after controlling education, occupation, and income, Muslim fertility is higher than that of non-Muslims. There is no doubt that this differential growth rate has political ramifications like seats in state assemblies and demographic characteristics of constituencies. Nevertheless, are scholars entitled to manipulate census statistics in the way these unknown scholars from an unknown institute (which is not to be mixed up with the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi) have done? 

The entire classification scheme evolved by the authors is suspect. In the Indian census, there is no category called "Indian Religionists" (as the book puts it), apart from the fact that "religionists" is not an English word. Indian religionists, according to the authors, comprise "Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist and Tribal" population . The Indian census uses the term "other religious persuasions" to include only those minor religions which are not covered by main religions like Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains but the book under review means by "other religionists" Muslim, Christian, Parsi and Jewish communities (the late J.R.D.Tata, would have found it difficult to accept that he was not a pucca Indian). The only statistical advantage in clubbing Hindus with allied religions is to jack up the proportion of Hindus, which we consider totally unnecessary. Over 82 per cent of India's population is Hindu. And what exactly is the motive in classifying Muslims and Christians as "other religionists"?. Are Muslims and Christians not Indian citizens? If some illegal migrants are Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, find out who they are. 

Technical demographers can estimate the extent of migration (legal or illegal) by detailed analysis of census data for India, Pakistan and Bangladesh at the district level. Should the ICSSR have given financial assistance to novices in the field of social demography for publication of the book? The ICSSR's sponsorship of this book was unnecessary. 

The authors have convinced themselves that India was a "homogenous civilizational area... ... .anchored in sanatana dharma" . Their complaint is that "Islamic Rulers consciously and conscientiously, resisted acculturation into the timeless civilizational and religious milieu of India". 

The second problem, equally serious, is with the term "India". As the authors say "throughout our analysis, we employ the term `India' for the geographical and historical India that encompasses the three countries into which India was partitioned in the course of the 20th Century. 

In short, the authors do not accept the Partition of India but opt for "Akhand Bharat " in 2003. Why could they not use terms like pre-Partition India and Indian Union or post-Partition India? 

The lay reader of this book will be totally confused by numerous tables on "Indian religionists" and "other religionists" and also "India" and "Indian Union". The crucial figure (2.1 per cent growth trends of Indian and other religionists in India, 1901-2071) shows that by 2061 the proportion of Muslims and Indian religionists (read Hindu) will be the same and by 2071 it will be doomsday! But the figures refer to India (i.e. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh). 

Mathematically speaking, one should not be surprised if predominantly Muslim Pakistan and Bangladesh grow faster than the Hindu population in India. Indian census data since 1951 indicate that in every decade, there is an increase of only one per cent point in the Muslim population. If it is 13 per cent in 2001, at this rate, it should take 370 years for India to become Pakistan! 

I would beg to disagree with Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, who quotes Augustus Comte, a 19th Century French philosopher, to say "demography is destiny". My footnote is: past trend is not destiny. I am proud of multi-religious India and the rich cultural diversity. Muslims and Christians must have the same place as Hindus in India. We don't want to be Pakistan. 


© Copyright 2000 - 2003 The Hindu


Dr. J. K. Bajaj

November 12, 2003

The Editor
The Hindu

Dear Sir,

Apropos the review of our book entitled “Religious Demography of India” published in the issue of November 11. We are indeed flattered that Prof. Ashish Bose, the undisputed doyen of the current scholarship on Indian demography, has himself condescended to review a book by “novice” scholars. We are also pleased to notice that Prof. Bose acknowledges the validity of the “massive data” on religious demography collected in the book, and the “sustained scholarship” displayed in this exercise.

We are, however, disturbed by Prof. Bose’s attempt to sow confusion about some of the categories used in the book. The book clearly defines the category of Indian Religionists to include “adherents of religions of Indian origin” and these are further explained to encompass Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains, besides those who are described as followers of “other religious persuasions” (ORP) in the censuses. Since, ORP of the census include Jews and Parsis, they in fact included amongst the Indian Religionists in our analysis, contrary to what Prof. Bose states in his review. He may not like the term Indian Religionists, and it may not be proper English for him, but it is a clear and well-defined technical term as far as our study goes. The term “Other Religionists”, to which Prof. Bose seems so allergic, appears only once in the book, and that too in a graph; there it indicates the total population minus the Indian Religionists. Again contrary to what Prof. Bose imputes, the detailed tables in the book do not mention “Other Religionists”; the data presented is for Indian Religionists, Muslims and Christians. Therefore, there is no question of the reader getting confused with the terminology.

The objection of Prof. Bose to the term “India” as used in the book is even less understandable. “India” is a well-established historical, geographic, sociological and civilisational entity. The fact that this entity is now divided into three political units does not make the original entity meaningless. In any case, as Prof. Bose himself pointed out in the course of a discussion on this book, the borders across these political units are porous and people across the borders are of similar cultural and civilisational stock. Therefore, any projection of the religious demography of India must take into account all the three entities together. Prof. Bose may find it politically incorrect, but the procedure is academically sound and appropriate.

Finally, we must protest the insinuation by Prof. Bose that the ICSSR has erred in providing support for the publication of this book. We may be “unknown scholars” in his eyes. But, the ICSSR while evaluating a piece of academic work is not supposed to be guided by the fame and renown of the scholars, which is all too easy to acquire in the small closed club that established Indian academia is comprised of, but by the rigour, authenticity and diligence of the scholarship displayed in the work. On the latter counts, even Prof. Bose does not find us lacking.

The changing religious profile of India constitutes a significant sociological phenomenon that the established demographers have refused to study for too long for fear of being labelled impolitic. Our study has tried to fill in this glaring lacuna in Indian demographic and sociological studies. If the established and known scholars had carried out the exercise, there would have been no need for us to stray from our chosen scientific disciplines to undertake this painstaking work.

The Hindu is in the process of vigorously fighting for and defending its right to free expression. We hope the paper shall respect our right to express ourselves on an issue that directly concerns our work and reputation. We shall be greatly obliged if the above is published in the letters columns of your esteemed daily.

Thanking you,

Yours faithfully,

J. K. Bajaj