Study in social demography

RELIGIOUS DEMOGRAPHY OF INDIA: A.P. Joshi, M.D. Srinivas, J.K. Bajaj; Centre for Policy Studies, 27, Rajasekharan Street, Chennai-600004. Rs. 800.

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.


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