Thinking Aloud: India’s Evolving Religious Makeup

Aug. 31, 2015 by Darius 

Last week, newly released data from India’s 2011 census revealed a surprise: for the first time in India’s modern history, the proportion of Hindus dropped below 80%. At the same time, Muslims grew more than any other religion to reach a record-high 14.2% of the population.

After British India was partitioned into India and Pakistan, India’s first-ever census recorded a population that was 84% Hindu. Over the decades, that proportion slowly fell, especially as Muslim families recorded higher birthrates. Hinduism’s ostensible decline in India has fueled plenty of concern among conservative Hindu leaders, who have publicly called for Hindus to have more children. (As if that’s what India needs.) In fact, so volatile is the issue that there are rumors (thus far unsubstantiated) that the Indian Congress Party, in power when the census was conducted, deliberated suppressed the results of the census to avoid inflaming Hindu passions and swinging support to the Hindu nationalist BJP.

As a rule, it is unhelpful for two competing religious groups to attempt to outbreed each other (see: the West Bank). India’s case is particularly dire: the same census also recorded that in the previous decade, India’s population grew by one-fifth. (And one-fifth of a very large number is itself a very large addition.) Unfortunately for India, that growth came in the poorest, low-skilled sector of the population.

On the bright side, India’s population growth has slowed across the board. That said, India is poised to overtake China as the world’s most populous country by 2022 and as it assumes that mantle, India faces a slew of problems. A religiously inspired birth race will only exacerbate those.

For more, see “Hindu Population Drops Below 80 Pct as Muslim Ratio Rises,” Reuters, August 26, 2015, http://in.reuters.com/article/2015/08/26/india-census-religion-idINKCN0QV0G920150826?utm

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