Hindu population falls below 80 per cent for the first time, screamed many headlines as we were served with the recently released data on population by religious communities Census 2011. Most of the reports mentioned in the same line that Muslims are the only religious group whose share in the total population has increased. It has, by 0.8 per cent, while Hindus have registered a decline by 0.7 per cent.
This might give enough fodder to a Sadhvi Prachi or Sakshi Maharaj to urge all Hindus to go home and procreate, or to ask Muslims to go live in Pakistan.
The latest religion data has the potential to trash fear mongers who highlight selected numbers to attract attention towards the "dwindling" Hindu population (Really? Hindus are more than five times the number of Muslims in the country). While the fear mongering will still happen, a closer look at the numbers reveals a story different than the claims.
First, a look at India's current religious landscape. Hindus dominate with 79.8 per cent share, Muslims are the second largest religious community with 14.2 per cent, Christians, the third largest, are less than three per cent of the entire population.
At 24.6 per cent, Muslims have registered the highest decadal growth rate, followed by 16.8 per cent of Hindus. But this is also Muslims' lowest decadal population growth rate in the last 60 years. It is also the second consecutive decade when the Muslim population growth rate has seen a decline. Hinting at existence of a steady trend of slower population growth rate than a mere fluctuation.
This population growth and decline curve is similar to the one noticed in the Hindu population few decades ago. The decadal growth rate of Hindus increased from 20.76 per cent in 1961 to 24.07 per cent in 1981 before declining to 22.71 per cent in 1991. Since then it has consistently decreased. The reason: Increased education and information; as it spreads, Muslims too would opt for smaller families. Any data would show that bigger families are more a result of social and economic backwardness than any malicious agenda to outnumber a particular community. As the fertility rates in India decrease, Muslim women too wouldn't be left untouched with it.
The current data also shows that population growth rates have declined for all religions. But the steep decline in the Muslim growth rate is another interesting aspect. Between 2001 and 2011, population growth rate among Muslims decreased by 4.92 percentage points while among Hindus it decreased by only 3.17 percentage points. So, do we smell a conspiracy here too? This fact in itself should be sufficient to rein in fears of Muslims breeding with an intention to take over India.
If the population trends of the last two decades are anything to go by India will continue to see a decreased population growth rate, including that of Hindus and Muslims. But, even if we were to assume that there won't be any decline further, and that Muslims and Hindus will continue to grow at the same rate for coming years, it will take more than two and half centuries for Muslims to outnumber Hindus.