What India must learn from 2011 Census report on religious demography

By Nithin Sridhar

The Census commission of India has released the data for religious demography as per the 2011 census. The report shows that the share of Hindu population has decreased by 0.7% from 80.5% in 2001 to 79.8% in 2011. During the same duration, the share of Muslim population has increased by 0.8% from 13.4% to 14.2%.

The percentage share of Christians and Jains have remained same, whereas the share of Sikhs and Buddhists has reduced by 0.2% and 0.1% respectively.

The census further states gives the figures in absolute numbers. Accordingly the Hindu population was 96.63 crores and Muslim population was 17.22 crores. The Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain population stood at: 2.78 crores, 2.08 crores, 0.84 crores, and 0.45 crores respectively.


This is the first time in Independent India that the Hindu population has sunk below 80%. At the same time, the share of Muslim population has been consistently increasing for last several decades.

If we analyze the share of Hindu and Muslim population from 1951 till 2011, there is a slow but clear decline in the Hindu percentage, whereas a parallel increase in the Muslim population.

In 1951, Hindus stood at 84.1% whereas Muslims stood at 9.8% of the total population. Now, in 2011, Hindus stand at 79.8%, a decline of 4.3% in population share. On the other hand, Muslim population share has seen an increase of 4.4%.

It must be noted that the rate of population growth has decreased in both Hindu and Muslim communities. The rate of population increase of Hindu and Muslim population was 20.76% and 32.49% respectively for the Decade 1951-61. During the last decade from 2001-2011, it has reduced to 16.76% and 24.6% respectively. Yet, the rate of Muslim growth is still almost 1.5 times the rate of Hindu population growth.

This clearly shows that the percentage share of Muslim population has been consistently increasing over last six decades and is likely to increase further in the coming decades. The reverse is true for Hindu population whose share in population is going to decrease further.

This trend is reflected in the PEW survey report also that was released a few months ago. Forecasting the likely changes in the global religious demography between 2010 and 2050, the report predicted that the Hindu population in Asia-Pacific (typically includes countries in South Asia, South-East Asia, East Asia, and Oceania) which was at 25.3% in 2010 is likely to increase to 27.7%. But during the same time period, the Muslim population in the Asia-Pacific is likely to increase from 24.3% to 29.5%. That is, the Muslim population share in Asia-Pacific will increase by around 5% to overtake Hindus and became Asia-Pacific’s largest religion.

The report further points out that, Hindu population in India is likely to decrease by another 2.8% from its estimate of 79.5% in 2010 to 76.7% in 2015. This, more or less, matches with the trend that has been seen in the census reports for the last six decades.

The 2011 census also reveals that the % growth rate of Muslims in the states of Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, and Arunachal Pradesh that share the border with Bangladesh, is far above the national growth rate of Muslims. Even in Bihar, the growth rate is higher than the national growth rate. In West Bengal and Tripura, though the Muslim growth rate is not above national Muslim growth rate, it is still much higher than Hindu growth rate. R Jagannathan, in his article, mentions that this is a clear indication of the increasing number of illegal immigration that is happening from Bangladesh.

In his recent article, Anish Gupta shows how the population of Muslims in West Bengal’s districts that share border with Bangladesh has increased at an enormously higher rate than the state average. He says that the growth rate in Muslim population during 1981-1991 in the bordering districts increased from 0.3% to 10.5% as against the increase of 1.2% to 4.3% in the non-bordering districts. He further adds that: “For instance, during the period 1981-2001, within the span of just twenty years, the Muslim population has increased by 128.9% in Darjeeling. Similarly, the Muslim population in Jalpaiguri, Murshidabad and North 24 Parganas has increased by 90.6%, 72.2% and 74% respectively, during the same period.”

This clearly establishes an abnormal growth in the Muslim population in those districts, which is only possible due to large scale migration. According to an estimate mentioned by Koenraad Elst, in 1987 itself there were around 44 Lakhs illegal Bangladeshi migrants in West Bengal and another 20-30 Lakhs were in Assam.

The 2011 Census report further establishes that there is indeed a very large scale immigration of Bangladeshi Muslims into India, which is drastically modifying the demography in many districts of India.

What are the implications? First, the ever increasing illegal immigration of Bangladeshi migrants will put further stress on Indian economy and society. The clash over available resources will increase. It will also lead to unemployment and other issues of resource scarcity. It will also put additional pressure on Indian society which is already under stress due to a huge population.

Second, changing demography will provide greater opportunity for the Bangladeshi and Pakistani terror groups to infiltrate their people and cause havoc in India. They will have better, safer and easier access to India.

Third, with Muslim population estimated to in Asia-Pacific overtake Hindu population by 2050, India will be under a greater pressure to bend to the pan-Islamic forces and demands. The terrorists and Islamic militants are well known to gain sympathy and support in the name of religion from Muslims who are in non-Muslim majority countries. The threat of ISIS and its Islamic Caliphate that asks allegiance of all Muslims, cannot be over ruled as well. The changing demographics will be definitely exploited by the outside Islamist and terror forces.

Fourth, a situation like partition or that of Kashmir cannot be ruled out. Indian history has shown again and again that, whenever a large region becomes Muslim majority, there are demands of separation and ‘azadi’ from certain extremist sections of the community. This happened in during partition, this was the demand of Muslim ruled Hyderabad state just after Independence, and this is happening in Kashmir today.

This is not to suggest that, the Muslim community as a whole is involved in extremism. But it is being pointed out that with an increase in the Muslim population, especially being augmented through illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, there is a real danger of the increase in Islamic fundamentalism and extremism as well. These in turn will become easy targets for external forces trying to harm India.

For example, the issue of alleged plans of some terror groups in Bangladesh to create an Islamic corridor between Bangladesh and Pakistan that runs through states of India had emerged few years ago.

Sandhya Jain in her 2005 article had written: “Mr. R.K. Ohri, ex-IGP, Arunachal Pradesh, cautioned that an Islamic Caliphate is rising on India’s flanks, from Bangladesh to West Asia, and that the shadow of the Mughalstan corridor is now visibly manifesting in various districts along the Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bangladesh border. The demand for a ‘Muslim Banghboomi’ has already been raised, warns ex-MP B.L. Sharma (Prem). Travelling in West Bengal to check out certain atrocities against Hindus some years ago, his convoy was attacked by Bangladeshis.

“When demographer J.K. Bajaj and his colleagues prepared a mathematical model of the demographic challenge facing India, they found it exactly matched the map prepared by Bangladesh’s Mughalstan Research Institute. Experts feel the latter has been prepared by the ISI because the ‘Mughalstan’ spelling indicates a Punjabi mind.”

Therefore, India cannot rule out scenarios of increased terror activities, religious riots and civil disturbances sponsored by outside forces, increased demands for Islamic rule in certain Muslim majority districts or states and an eventual demand for another partition of India. Though at this point of time, these suggestions may seem far-fetched, India must be ready to face these challenges and effectively achieve victory over them, if ever such challenges indeed occur.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that, the real share of Hindus may well be less than what is being estimated and the real percentage of Muslims may well be much more. The census does not include categories for atheists and agnostics for example. Many people in Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu, as well as urban secularists and communists are all Hindu only in name. Further, many Dalits who have converted into Christianity still identify themselves as Hindu to gain reservation benefits. Considering the huge efforts put by various churches to convert people, the real share of Hindus may be much less than what is being predicted.

In fact, R Jagannathan estimates that after taking out all those atheists etc. as well as SC/ST’s, the Hindu population cannot be more than 50%. Even if we do not take the extreme stand and consider SC/ST’s as outside of Hinduism, while they are clearly part of it (even though they have faced many injustices in the past), the real percentage share of Hindus is much less than 79.8% and it may come to 50% over next 100-150 years if Hindus continue to decline in present rate.

Another concern that adds to the issue is the decline of other Indic religions like Buddhism and Sikhism and stagnancy of Jainism. The decrease of Indic religions, if it continuous in coming decades, it will further affect the plural fabric of India.

Therefore, the key take away for India from the 2011 census report is that India should not ignore the issues of Bangladeshi infiltration, and growing religious extremism and should put all the necessary efforts to address these issues so as to avoid any complications that may arise in future due to the changing religious demography.

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of NewsGram.