Muslims, Hindus, population growth - just mentioning these words in the same line in the context of India can set off a volley of ridiculous comments from Hindu radicals. That's exactly what happened when Pew Research Centre released a report claiming that by 2050, the global Christian and Muslim population would be nearly equal. This means that by 2070, Islam would be the largest faith in the world. The report also says that by 2050, India will have the largest Muslim population in the world.
As expected, it threw Hindu fundamentalists into tizzy. India could become a Pakistan, warned Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) general secretary Surendra Jain. The group's international secretary general Champat Rai pushed the boundaries of ridiculousness; in interview to an English daily, he said that for Hindus, family planning is not a personal matter. Taking absurdity to a whole new level, Sadhvi Deva Thakur of Hindu Mahasabha wants Muslims and Christians to undergo sterilisation.
Radical Hindu groups lap up such population projections to spread anti-Muslim propaganda. They use these numbers to claim that Muslims are on a mission to take over India. Of course, they have never bothered to go into the details of demographic transition, which happens in three stages:
1. High mortality and fertility rates
2. High fertility rates and low mortality rates leading to increase in population
3. Low fertility and mortality rates, which eventually balances the population growth
Almost every region goes through these phases. Most of the Muslim-majority countries in Middle East and North Africa region have completed their demographic transition and seen a decline in their Total Fertility Rate (TFR) after witnessing rapid population growth between 1950 and 2000 (see Population Reference Bureau). The fact is, this will happen with India's overall population too.
Now, coming to the point that VHP is using as fuel to rake up the "Hindus must produce more kids" issue. Yes, Pew projections do say that by 2050 India will have the highest Muslim population in the world. However, the reason isn't that Indian Muslims are producing more kids to overtake Hindu population.
India, the second most populous country in the world has the second highest Muslim population even though Muslims constitute just about 14 per cent of its total population. It has more Muslims than Muslim-majority Pakistan because of its sheer size and population numbers. India will improve its ranking not because Indian Muslims are producing more children, but because Indonesian Muslims, who have completed their demographic transition, are producing fewer children. Muslim fertility rate of 3.2 per cent in India is just slightly more than 3.1, the global fertility rate for Muslims. In Indonesia, it has declined to 2.0, which means that Muslim women there produce about two kids in their lifetime. In the subcontinent, the population share of Muslims will increase to 18.4 per cent in 2050, but that doesn't substantiate VHP's exaggerated concern for Hindu representation in overall population.
One, fertility rates in India are declining and Muslims too will be affected by it. Two, the Indonesian trend on Muslims having fewer children may be seen in India too as awareness, information and education spreads across the community.