Don't politicise population figures

The 2011 census data of the religious communities in the country, released last week, should help put the demographic changes in the country in the right perspective. The need for collection of population data in terms of religions and castes has sometimes been disputed. But since they are social categories which are relevant in the formulation of development policies and important in other respects, the data have their utility. Even then, it is only after the 2001 census that the religion-wise data have been separately released. The most important conclusion to be drawn from the latest data is that population growth has decelerated across all communities, but at different paces. Regional differences in growth rates remain, but the gap between the growth rates of communities has become narrower. The fertility rate is falling faster among Muslims than among Hindus.

The figures show that the Muslim share of the population is up 0.08 per cent from the previous census period, and that of Hindus is down by 0.07 per cent. Hindus constitute 96.63 crore of the 121 crore population and Muslims 17.72 crore of it. In percentage terms, it is 79.8 against 14.2. It is to be noted that the decadal growth rate of Muslims has slowed from 29.3 per cent during 1991-2001 to 24.6 per cent during 2001-2011. Though the Muslim growth rate is at a faster pace than the Hindu growth rate, it is at its lowest in history now. The trend shows that the growth rates of both communities are converging over the long term. The growth rates of other minorities like Christians and Sikhs are showing a sharper decline. The overall picture is one of the population stabilising in the coming decades and the proportion of the Hindu population to the minorities remaining more or less the same.

All population figures have to be placed in their context, taking the social and economic status of communities into consideration. One reason for the fall in the growth rate of Hindus could be that their economic status and social indicators like infant mortality and literacy levels may be improving faster than those of Muslims. Backwardness is closely linked to population growth. States like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have high population growth rates. Bihar’s growth rate is higher than the Muslim growth rate. The Muslim growth rate in Kerala is less than that of other communities in the northern states. It is unwise to politicise population figures. They should be used for a better understanding of the links between demographic changes and the social and economic status of people.
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