By Mohan Guruswamy
The RSS has flagged the faster growth of Muslims in India as a major national problem. On should wonder why this should be viewed as a problem at all? It would be akin to people viewing faster population growth in some regions like Bihar, UP and MP as a challenge. What should south Indians make out of the fact that by 2030 the four southern states will attain stable population while the Hindi belt’s growth continues unabated? Nevertheless the fact is that the Muslim population is growing faster and it would be more productive to analyse and understand why, rather than to rail and rage against it.
India is the second most populous country in the world, with over 1.271 billion people (2015), more than a sixth of the world’s population. India is projected to be the world’s most populous country by 2025, surpassing China, its population reaching 1.6 billion by 2050. Its population growth rate is 1.2%, ranking 94th in the world in 2013.
Muslims in independent India are its fastest growing religious group. It has been so since 1951. The decadal growth rates from the census (excluding J&K and Assam) note that in the decade 1961-71, Muslims grew by 31.2 percent as against the Hindu community’s growth rate of 23.4 percent and the entire nation’s 24.8 percent.
In 1991-2001, the Muslim growth rate of 29.3 percent again outdid the Hindu growth at 20 percent and the nation’s 21.5 percent. In recent times these figures, especially the ones on Muslim growth rates, have caused a great deal of controversy as voices have been raised that “the situation is alarming as the Muslim community is conspiring to convert Hindu Rajya into a Muslim country”. Contrary to initial figures of the 2001 Census, the adjusted census figures show that the Muslim growth rate has actually declined from 31.2 percent in the decade 1961-71 to 29.3 percent in the decade 1991-2001 (See table below).
Also the first report on religious data brought out in 2004 reveals that the Hindus as a proportion of the total populace have gone down from 84.4 percent in 1961 to 81.4 percent in 2001. The Muslim population on the other hand increased from 9.9 percent to 12.4 percent during the same period.
Census officials also point out that the fall in the percentage of the Hindu population is due to a change in definition as some tribal groups who were hitherto counted as Hindu are now registered as “others”, the 111.3 percent decadal growth rate of this segment bears testimony to this. But going back to the fears of Indian Muslims outnumbering Hindus, if we assume the two communities to be growing constantly at the decadal growth rate of 1991-2001, then according to mathematical projections such a situation would occur approximately in 2241.
In the light of these development on fears of Muslims overtaking the Hindu population, the changing demographic patterns of the Muslim population ought to be studied in the context of their poor socio-economic conditions.
Demographers suggest that it is not religion but rather socio-economic condition that has a major influence on fertility behaviour. According to 61st round NSS results on rural areas given in the table below, there are 318 illiterate males for every 1000 amongst Hindus, the same figure for Muslims stands at 370. On the other hand the levels of female illiteracy for the two communities are quite close with 597 for Hindus and 590 for Muslims.
But other divergences are quite shocking. For instance, those studying beyond the secondary level – 108 out of out of every 1000 for Hindu males and 44 out of every 1000 for Hindu females. The same figures for Muslims are 60 and 24 respectively. Christians are generally more literate and better educated than both Hindus and Muslims.In urban areas, Muslims males and females are much worse off than other communities.
There are 106 illiterate males for every 1000 amongst Hindus, the same figure for Muslims stands at 225. Among females, there are 268 illiterate females for every 1000 amongst Hindus, the same figure for Muslims stands at 395. The starkest difference arises in the number of graduate & above group in the two communities. There are 212 graduates for every 1000 Hindus males, for Muslims the figure is 89. For females, there are 139 graduates among Hindus while there are 53 among Muslims.
The picture is almost the same for employment. From among every 1000 Hindu males in rural areas, 561 enter the labour market. The comparable figure for Muslims is 505. The situation for rural females is even worse for only 185 rural Muslim women enter the labour market compared to 350 for rural Hindu females. The picture is somewhat better for Muslim males in urban areas where 546 out of every 1000 join the work force, while the number of urban Hindus remains broadly the same as it is for rural areas.
However from among every 1000 urban females of each community only 186 Hindus and 128 Muslims enter the labour market.In economic terms as well the Muslims generally fare worse than Hindus.
A telling indicator is the comparative household monthly per capita consumer expenditures in urban India. For every 1000 Hindu households there are 31 that have a really low monthly income of Rs. 0-335 and 77 that have a high income of Rs. 2540 and above per month; the comparable figures for Muslims are 49 households in the lowest bracket and only 34 in the Rs. 2540 and above bracket. While a major number of Hindu families fall in the income bracket of Rs. 790-1880, for Muslims the largest segment is in Rs. 395-790 bracket.
Inferentially it is therefore not surprising that while Muslims lag behind Hindus in literacy, household income and labour force participation, their population is growing at a much faster rate. To those professing concern about this, the proper way to tackle the issue is to address the reasons for the relative backwardness be it through incentives or persuasion, so that increasingly larger numbers of young Muslim men and women get better educated to enable larger numbers to enter the workforce.
The higher fertility of Muslims is found to be associated with less economic activity and the scant education of Muslim women. One may, therefore, say that it is not mere affiliation with Islam, but one’s socio-economic status that determines fertility behaviour.
If economic conditions determine population growth, we must also wonder as to why the growth of the SC and ST segments has remained below the Muslim growth trend? As opposed to the 29.3 percent decadal growth between 1991–2001 of Muslims, the decadal growth rate of SC’s and ST’s was 20.55 percent and 24.45 percent respectively. The household annual incomes as well as per capita incomes of the SC and ST groups are lower than that of Muslims. Muslims in turn are generally poorer than caste Hindus.
If Muslim population is growing faster, it has more to do with the incidence of poverty, and migration in eastern India. It is true that since 1950 the demography of the immediate areas abutting Bangladesh has changed. Particularly in West Bengal and Assam.
One explanation for this would almost certainly be that there is one area where Muslims fare much better. More than half of the Indian population, over 600 million people, defecate in the open, without the use of a latrine or toilet. The prevalence of open defecation (hereafter OD) is particularly high among Hindus.
Data from the most recent wave of the National Health and Family Survey of India show that as of 2005, 67% of Hindu households defecate in the open—e.g. in fields, near streets, or behind bushes. In comparison, only 42% of the relatively poorer Muslim households do so.
This is not without consequences on population growth. In India, Muslim children are substantially more likely than Hindu children to survive to their fifth birthday, despite Muslim parents being poorer and less educated on average than Hindu parents. This phenomenon, which has been well documented and reveals that by age five, mortality among Muslims is about 18 percent lower than among Hindus, with an additional 1.7 children per 100 surviving to age 5.
How Hindu population growth shapes up also depends of how many of them take to the Prime Minister’s Swachch Bharat campaign to build more toilets and encourage more use of them.
Finally here’s something that should worry the Sangh Parivar no end. The proportion of caste Hindu’s has been steadily dropping since 1961 when it was 61.97%. It is 56.05% now. One way to work its way around the demographic time bomb that is going to soon blow up on its path is to become more inclusive in its politics.
(The above article is an excerpt from a chapter the author contributed to the book ” Demography in South Asia and Implications for Regional and Global Political Narratives” edited by Mallika Joseph).
Mohan Guruswamy can be reached at: [email protected]