Has India’s Muslim population really exploded? | India Election 2024 News

New Delhi, India – The share of Indian Muslims in the country’s population has increased by more than 43 percent since 1950: that is the key of a new working paper published by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Economic Advisory Council (EAC).

Amid India’s heated national election campaign, as Modi has increasingly painted frightening scenarios of Muslims backed by opposition parties seizing the nation’s resources, the report has sparked criticism of its timing. Sections of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have amplified the paper’s findings to underscore a narrative long peddled by the Hindu right that the community’s religious majority in the country is under threat.

So what does the paper claim and what do the facts say? Is India’s Muslim population actually growing exponentially faster than that of other communities – including Hindus? And why does the report face criticism?

What does the working paper say?

The report looks at global demographic trends between 1950 and 2015. It draws on statistics from the Association of Religion Data Archive (ARDA), a free online database of global religious data.

It concludes that during the period under review, the proportion of the Muslim population in India increased by 43.15 percent, from 9.84 percent to 14.09 percent. By contrast, it says, the share of majority Hindu populations fell by 7.82 percent between 1950 and 2015, from 84.68 percent to 78.06 percent.

The proportion of India’s Christian population rose from 2.24 percent to 2.36 percent—an increase of 5.38 percent; and the Sikh population by 6.58 percent, from 1.74 percent in 1950 to 1.85 percent in 2015. The report mentions that the proportion of India’s Buddhist population has grown from 0.05 percent to 0.81 percent, but skips the percentage increase – almost 1,600 per cent per method – for society.

It concludes that in most of the 167 countries studied, the population share of the majority religious faith has declined – with some in India’s neighborhood including Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan and Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka and Bhutan , which counteracts this trend. .

In India’s case, the report says, the increase in the population of several religious minorities was a reflection of a “cumulative measure of their well-being”. According to the paper, the data shows that in India “minorities are not just protected, but thrive” – ​​even several international reports and rankings warn of the country’s decline in religious freedom.

Still, the paper lacks critical context, and its timing — in the middle of the election — raises questions about its motivation, some economists suggest.

“The paper serves the purposes of the regime and not ‘research,'” said Santosh Mehrotra, a development economist and visiting professor at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom.

Do these numbers lack consistency?

The report is based on data from a survey, not the national census, which was last conducted in 2011. The 2021 census was postponed due to COVID-19, but the Modi government has yet to announce a timeline for the delayed exercise. Demographers typically consider census data more robust, as the outcome of surveys, with smaller sample sizes, may depend on the selection of participants.

“There is no substitute for the census – and nothing can be done for policy without these missing data,” said Aashish Gupta, a demographer and a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at the University of Oxford. “This currently has widespread implications from the allocation of funds to policy making – none of the changes in the last 14 years in India have been taken into account.”

The paper, say its critics, overlooks the actual increase in the Hindu population during this period – and how it compares with the Muslim population growth during this period. Between 1951 and 2011, the Muslim population increased from 35.4 million to 172 million. The Hindu population increased from 303 million to 966 million during the same period – a fivefold increase.

All this undermines the newspaper’s credibility, Gupta said. “This paper makes a mountain out of molehill,” he said. “It is an exercise in propaganda and politics and should not be seen as scientific.”

The myth of Muslim population boom

India’s Hindu majority right wing has long pushed a conspiracy theory, “population jihad,” that suggests Indian Muslims are reproducing faster, with the intention of eventually outnumbering Hindus.

In reality, however, Muslim fertility rates are falling the fastest among all major religious groups in India, according to the government’s own data. Fertility – the average number of children a woman gives birth to – among Muslims fell from 4.41 to 2.36 between 1992 and 2021, while it fell from 3.3 to 1.94 for Hindus.

The report ignores this shift, Gupta said.

Critics of the new government paper say it ends up lending credence to a debunked narrative. When politicians peddle anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, Mehrotra said, it can be interpreted as dog whistles – but a “divisive paper that comes under the name EAC carries credibility”.

“This government is misusing its resources to further its political ends,” Mehrotra said. “For the last 100 years, the Hindu right has been afraid of the Muslim population, and this paper contributes to that history without being critical.”

Why the report matters

As the re-election campaign progresses, Modi has doubled down on his rhetoric against India’s 200 million Muslims, apparently calling them “infiltrators” and referring to them as “those who produce more children”, although he appeared to distance himself from those comments in a subsequent interview.

The new government report offered renewed fuel to unsubstantiated suggestions from the prime minister’s party that India’s Hindu majority was under threat.

Amit Malviya, who is in charge of the BJP’s national information department, cited the report to post that if the country was left to the opposition Congress party, “there would be no land for Hindus”. Another minister from Modi’s cabinet, Smriti Irani, said the report was “evidence of the damage done to Hindus” and the Congress’s legacy is “torture and disrespect to the Hindu community”.

The new EAC paper “plays on the fears used to demonize India’s minority communities,” Gupta said. “In a sense, it’s a strategic exercise — doing it for propaganda.”

As some sections of the Indian media elaborated on the report’s conclusions, the Population Foundation of India, an independent think tank, expressed concerns, accusing them of “spreading alarm about the growth of the Muslim population” and calling the interpretations “not only inaccurate but also misleading and baseless.” .

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