It’s because of this anxiety that the previous United Progressive Alliance government was allegedly reluctant to release results of the 2011 census relating to the relative populations of India's religious communities. The National Democratic Alliance, which has replaced the UPA, appears to be less bashful.
As the government prepares to officially put out the results of the census, The Times of India on Thursday published a front-page story with the headline saying, “Muslim population up 24%, but growth slower than previous decade.” Although the headline is technically accurate, it lacks context.
As the report indicates, the relative share of Muslims in the overall population has only gone up by 0.8 percentage points, from 13.4% in 2001 to 14.2% in 2011. The specific growth rate among Muslims is 24%, which on its own seems quite large, until you consider that the national average was 18%. Probably most importantly, the Times of India did not include information about other religious communities.
This means it’s impossible to know, until the government releases the data, whether this 0.8 percentage point growth in the relative population of Muslims has come at the cost of the overall Hindu number or following a decline in the numbers of other minorities. This is relevant, of course, because the dominant narrative, the one that this data could either confirm or dispel, is that Muslims are on course to be more widespread that Hindus in a few years.
Clearly, that seems like a far-fetched proposition considering Muslims still only account for 14.2% of the overall population, while Hindus, as per the 2001 census, made up 80.5% of all Indians. As Scroll has previously reported, with current trends, it will take 220 years for India's Muslim population to equal Hindu numbers.
The state-by-state breakdown is also interesting, such as the 3.3 percentage point growth in relative population figures of Muslims in Assam, or the 0.4 percentage point decline in Muslims in Manipur. But again, without details for all the communities, it would be difficult to understand exactly how demographics have changed.
Some observers believe the information, which the Times of India says it “accessed", presumably from a government source, seems to be aimed at influencing the Delhi election campaign. Others have pointed out that a similar story appeared in Open magazine in March, in the run-up to the general elections.
So after Plan Kiran Bedi seems to have flopped, BJP releases census religion data and back to tried and tested communal politics :)
— Austin Fernandes (@quickbug) January 22, 2015
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