India’s Hindu majority is shrinking!*

*From 80.5% to 79.8%

Last night, the Indian Census released their religion data from the 2011 census. You can see them here, if you enjoy spreadsheets and all that. The data go all the way down to the sub-district level.

It’s a big deal. The Muslim population is growing more quickly than the Hindu population is, India’s history is fraught with violent outbreaks between Hindu and Muslim communities, plus India’s foe next door Pakistan is an Islamic republic, so put it all together and some people see this as evidence that Hindu India is in decline while a Muslim fifth column plods its way to national domination. This ignores that family planning is a personal decision, that the discrepancy in growth rates is decreasing, that it would take Muslims 270 years to overtake Hindus in India at the present rate, and that India is supposed to be a secular and pluralistic republic where all religions are welcome anyway.

Today at the office we were looking at how different newspapers responded to this release from the census. It’s pretty fascinating. I’ll post a few below but you can see more here.

They range from the “Hindus in decline” sensationalist narrative:
Hindustan Times

To the more measured look at trends in growth rates over the growth rates themselves:
The Hindu

This one is my favorite:

Again, India is supposed to be a secular nation, but Hindu nationalism has been on the rise over the past few years (see the end of my previous post, on Bihar), thus the panicky reaction from some corners.

I can’t help but be reminded of demographic projections for the United States showing the United States will no longer be a majority non-Hispanic white country some time between 2040 and 2050, due to faster population growth rates among Hispanics and Asian-Americans as compared to non-Hispanic whites. America is a pluralistic nation that should celebrate its diversity. Yet some political commentators are talking ruefully about how President Obama’s re-election shows we’re not in a “traditional America anymore” because “the white establishment is now the minority”:

Back to Bihar

The census data published yesterday were collected in 2011. So why are these data being released only now?

It goes back to the fact that elections in Bihar are coming in the next few months. Yes, that’s coming from a source in the Bihar assembly. The BJP, a Hindu nationalist party, can use these figures to appeal to Hindu unity in the face of the implied demographic “threat” of Muslims’ population share growing by 0.8% over the past ten years while Hindus’ decreased by 0.7%. Amazingly, the previous government led by the Indian National Congress had these numbers ready for release, but chose not to release them for the exact same reason: they were concerned it would benefit the BJP heading into the 2014 Lok Sabha (national parliamentary) elections.

The caste data from the 2011 census have still not been released, by the way. The talk in the office today was that this also can be related to Bihar, since Biharis voting on the basis of caste could hurt the BJP in the upcoming election. If the BJP is trying to activate Indians’ religious identities more than their caste identities, don’t expect these data to be released anytime soon. At least, not before the Bihar elections.


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