Findings of EAC-PM working paper being misreported, says Population Foundation of India

The think tank said media outlets were misreporting the findings contained in the working paper “to spread alarm regarding the growth of the Muslim population”

Updated - May 10, 2024 11:45 am IST

Published - May 09, 2024 11:26 pm IST - New Delhi

A Republic Day programme at the Anjuman-e-Islam school in Ahmedabad in 2023.

A Republic Day programme at the Anjuman-e-Islam school in Ahmedabad in 2023. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Population Foundation of India (PFI) on May 9 night expressed deep concerns about media reports misrepresenting the data set put out by the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM) in a recently published working paper on the share of religious minorities in 167 countries, including India. 

The PFI, an independent think tank working on population trends and reproductive/sexual health, said that media outlets were misreporting the findings contained in the working paper “to spread alarm regarding the growth of the Muslim population”, adding, “Such interpretations are not only inaccurate but also misleading and baseless.”

In the working paper titled “Share of Religious Minorities: A Cross-Country Analysis (1950-2015)“ published on May 7, the EAC-PM examines the shares of majority and minority religious communities in the total populations of 167 countries, including India’s.

The paper strikingly claimed that for India, while the share in population of Muslims increased by 43.15% in this time period, the share in population of Hindus decreased by 7.82%, adding that in 1950, Hindus’ share in population was 84.68%, coming down to 78.06% in 2015. Similarly, Muslims’ share in population had risen from 9.84% to 14.09%.

The last Census of India was conducted in 2011 with the government indefinitely delaying the 2021 Census. The 2011 Census had counted 96.63 crore Hindus — 79.8% of the population and 17.22 crore Muslims — 14.2% of the population in the country at the time. 

In showing changing shares of religious groups’ populations, the EAC-PM’s working paper has expressed the difference in populations between 1950 and 2015 as a percentage of the population of those respective religious groups in 1950. As a result, the Muslim community’s difference in share of population, which is coming to a rise of 4.25 percentage points, is being expressed as a “43.15% increase” compared to the Muslim population as of 1950. Using this method, the paper has concluded that Hindus’ share declined by 7.82%, Christians’ rose by 5.38%, Sikhs’ went up by 6.58%, and that of Parsis went down by 85%.

It has not used this presentation of data for Buddhists and Jains. If one were to apply the same calculations, it would show the Buddhist population had increased by 1,520% in this time when in fact their share had increased from 0.05% to 0.81% in the total population. The working paper, instead, refers to this as just a “noticeable increase”. 

Also read | Muslims least, Jains most literate: Census

The authors of the paper make the claim that as per their “careful analysis”, increases in the population of minority religious groups in India “shows that minorities are not just protected but indeed thriving in India”. It calls this “particularly remarkable” when compared to data from South Asian countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and Afghanistan “where the share of the majority religious denomination has increased and minority populations have shrunk alarmingly”. 

The working paper said that it was produced in a bid to counter “noise in several quarters” about India’s tilt towards majoritarianism and attacks on Muslim and Sikh minorities. What it cited as “noise” in the footnotes, were reports published by Time (on the targeting of Sikhs), The Guardian (on Hindu supremacists in India), and The Wire (on comments made by United Nations experts and Rapporteurs on India).  

Meanwhile, the PFI pointed out in its statement, “Successful family planning programmes in Muslim-majority countries like Bangladesh and Indonesia have resulted in lower birth rates compared to India. These countries have achieved this through higher levels of female education, greater employment opportunities, and better access to contraceptive choices. This clearly shows that fertility decline is influenced by development factors rather than religious affiliation.” 

As the findings from the working paper started making it to social media on May 9, it soon took a political colour, with BJP leaders fixating on the India statistic of Muslims’ population and using that to question the increase in the population of “one particular community” and its purported dangers. Meanwhile, some Opposition leaders like D. Raja of the Communist Party of India (CPI) questioned the motive behind releasing this paper while the Lok Sabha election was under way when the Census had been indefinitely delayed by the government.

“The media’s selective portrayal of data to highlight the increase in the Muslim population is an example of misrepresentation that ignores broader demographic trends,” the PFI statement said, quoting its executive director Poonam Muttreja.

The PFI added that successive Censuses have shown that the decadal growth rate of Muslims has been on the decline for three decades now, with this decline more pronounced in Muslims than in Hindus. It also noted that National Family Health Surveys conducted by the Union government had also shown that the TFR for all religious groups in India was declining, with the largest decline being seen amongst Muslims. 

The latest NFHS (2019-2021) report released in May 2022, showed that the TFR for Muslims was at 2.36, only marginally higher than the 1.94 TFR recorded for the aggregate of all Hindu communities and of the national average, which was at 2. 

The PFI, in its statement, called for responsible reporting of the working paper, adding, “It is essential to present data accurately and contextually, highlighting the role of education, income, and socioeconomic development in shaping demographic trends. We advocate for policies that promote inclusive development and gender equity to ensure a balanced and harmonious society.”

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