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Migration, conversion can’t be ignored

Mahendra K Premi

Posted: Sep 15, 2004 at 1311 hrs IST

The 2001 Census data on religion released on September 6, 2001 by the Census Commissioner, India, has evoked quite a bit of political flutter because of a very high Muslim growth rate. The Census Commissioner indicated that Muslims now form 13.4 per cent of the total population, registering an increase of 1.3 percentage points over the 1991 proportion of 12.1 per cent.

It is noteworthy that in this comparison, Jammu & Kashmir (a Muslim majority state) was excluded from the 1991 figure as no census could be conducted in the state that year. After interpolating for the 1991 population of all religious groups for J&K, the increase in Muslim proportion comes to 0.8 percentage points. Similar increase in the proportion of Muslims was observed between 1981 and 1991 (after adjusting for Assam’s population in 1981).

In contrast, the proportion of Hindus declined from 81.5 per cent (adjusted figure) in 1991 to 80.5 per cent in 2001. The decadal growth rate of Hindu population during the 1990s at 19.3 per cent was below 20 per cent for the first time.

Data over the past five censuses, from 1961 to 2001, when adjusted for the population of Assam in 1981 and that of J&K in 1991, clearly show a monotonic [consistently varying] decline in the proportion of Hindus from 83.4 per cent in 1961 to 80.5 per cent in 2001, and a monotonic increase in the proportion of Muslims from 10.7 per cent in 1961 to 13.4 per cent in 2001. The decline in the proportion of Hindus is basically offset by the rise in the proportion of Muslims in the country.

While it is heartening to note that the growth rate of Muslims has declined from 32.9 per cent in 1981-91 to 29.5 per cent in 1991-2001, it has been higher than Hindu growth rate by nearly 10 percentage points during these two decades. It is surprising to note that the growth rate of the Jains sharply declined to just 4.1 per cent during the 1981-91 decade compared to that of 23.7 per cent during 1971-81 and of 25.9 per cent during the 1991-01 decade. It is necessary to understand the factors responsible for the sudden decline in Jains’ growth rate during 1981-91.

One should not forget about the quality of census count when the country employs more than 20 lakh enumerators, many of whom carry out the duty most unwillingly
State-level temporal data on population of Jains indicate an absolute decline in their numbers in Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Bihar and West Bengal between 1981 and 1991. Emigration and immigration do not seem to be responsible for the observed pattern. The possible reason could be that many of the Jains were classified in the 1991 census as Hindus, probably because the enumerator did not ask the question on religion specifically from all respondents and wrote Hindu as his/her religion, or the respondent mentioned Hindu as his/her religion. The high growth rate of Jains for 1991-01 period is because of low base in 1991.

The 2001 census, for the first time, has released separate data on population of children aged 0-6 years. The census has also given literacy data by religion for the first time. Studies have shown that there is a negative relationship between literacy rate, especially female literacy rate, and total fertility rate. In the absence of a proper fertility measure by religion in the census, we take the proportion of children aged 0-6 years as a surrogate of fertility. The higher the proportion of children in this age-group, the higher would be the overall fertility.

We notice a negative correlation between the female literacy rate and the proportion of children aged 0-6 years among Muslims as among Hindus. However, in respect of the major states, the proportion of child population among Muslims alone is one-fifth in Uttaranchal, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, and Jharkhand pointing to higher fertility therein. In contrast, there is no state where the proportion of child population among Hindus is more than 20 per cent.

Based on the data released by the Census Commissioner on religion, one should not jump to conclusions such as “Muslims will overtake Hindus in India in the foreseeable future” but should analyse the figures with reason. The growth in Muslim population is partially due the high fertility rate all over the country, as revealed by National Family Health Surveys, but is partly due to illegal migration from Bangladesh, a factor which took very serious dimension during the 1970s in Assam and, consequently, 1981 census could not be conducted there.

One has also to analyse the data keeping historical facts in view like migration and conversion. A sudden high growth rate of Buddhists during 1981-91 is a case in point. The changes in certain rules governing the classification of Buddhists also made a difference in their count. Finally, one should not forget about the quality of census count when the country employs more than 20 lakh enumerators, many of whom carry out the duty most unwillingly.

The writer is former professor of demography, Jawaharlal Nehru University and ex-president, Indian Association for the Study of Population

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