Clickbait paper: On the EAC-PM working paper  

Linking demographic shifts directly to state actions is problematic 

Updated - May 13, 2024 10:01 am IST

Published - May 13, 2024 12:10 am IST

A recent ‘working paper’ titled the ‘Share of Religious Minorities: a Cross-Country Analysis (1950-2015)’, by Shamika Ravi, a credentialed economist and member of the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) to the Prime Minister, and two co-authors, has sparked a political firestorm, dredging familiar anxieties of a decline in the proportion of Hindus in India’s population. Freely accessible, the paper draws on a dataset, Religious Characteristics of States Dataset, 2017 (RCS-Dem), where two U.S.-affiliated researchers have compiled an extensive dataset of religio-demographic changes in 167 countries. By defining ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ religions based on countries’ official census data, the RCS-Dem quantifies changes in the population of those professing a country’s major religion. There is no discussion on the causes or factors driving these changes. The current paper does little other than reproduce this data set, explain it, and highlight — what has been known since 2011 in India and discussed threadbare since — that the share of Hindus as a proportion of India’s population declined from 84.68% to 78% (1950-2015). Muslim proportion meanwhile has risen from 9.84% to 14%. They underline how most countries have seen their majority-religion adherents decline. They note that the Indian experience, vis-à-vis the proportional decline of Hindus, is unexceptional in the light of broad trends globally. They reiterate that they make no “...causal links between a specific state action and demographic shifts..” They note however that in the “immediate South Asian neighbourhood”, this 7% relative decline was second only to Myanmar’s 10% decline of the majority Theravada Buddhists.

From here the authors make, without analysis or data, a deduction. That the rise in Muslim numbers proved media reports and UN human rights reports (which they cite) of discrimination and violence against Muslims in India were false. They single out Pakistan and Bangladesh to underline that “demographic shocks” reduced the proportion of the largest minorities, Hindus, there. The authors thus break their own rule of not having a causative explanation of demographic change by ascribing rising Muslim numbers in India to “progressive policies and inclusive institutions.” The authors would then have to explain if India’s Parsi and Jain populations (whose numbers they reference) are declining due to hostile state policies. Given that prosaic explanations of declining fertility rates across religions and economic migration explain some of these known India trends, it is perplexing why the EAC would lend its sanction to a work that is at best incomplete, and at worst disingenuous.

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