Relative Difference in Population Growth Rate among Different Religious Communities in India

Dr Md. Safikul Islam / Dr Mehebub Sahana

According to World Population Prospects, 2019 revisions (World Population Review, 2021), China and India are the world’s two most populous countries in 2021, with populations of approximately 144 crores and 139 crores respectively but the annual growth rate (2020-2021) of India (0.97%) is substantially higher than China (0.34%). Moreover, India is ahead of China in terms of population density standing at 416/km² compared to 148/km² (China). There is a variation not only among the countries but also among religious groups within a country. India is a multi-religious society that has existed throughout recorded history (Engineer, 1990). There are six major religions in India, recognized by the Census of India, viz. Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, and Jain. It has been noted that the population growth rate varies among these religious groups. Taking this issue to consideration, the study attempts to analyse the relative growth of different religious groups and to portray the determining factors behind this with some indispensable policy implications.

Growth in Population Share

Among all the recognized religious groups, Muslims have reported the highest growth rate of 45.20 % from 1951 to 2011 census while the percentage of Christians remains the same in both the census years with no change (Table 1 and Figure 1). The remaining four religions considerably Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, and Jain have characterized a negative growth till 2011 census (Figure 2). The highest negative growth is found among Jain -19.57% followed by Buddhist (-5.41%), Hindu (-5.11%), and Sikh (-3.91%). The population share of Hindus has been decreasing consistently in every decade on one hand while the population share of Muslims has been increasing in a similar way on the other hand (Figure 1). Apart from these two religions, the other four religions have faced ups and downs throughout the study period (1951-2011).

Figure 1: Growth in Population Share of Different Religious Groups in India (1951-2011)

Decadal Growth in Number of Population

Being the origin of Hinduism, India is predominantly inhabited by the Hindu population. Census data reveals that the decadal growth rate of all the religious groups including Hindus has drawn a considerable decline during 2001-2011. In view of the decadal growth rate of 2001-2011, all the religious groups remain in their respective positions after the decline from 1991-2001. The growth rate has decreased by more than 10% for Muslims, Buddhists, and Jains while the other religions have seen more than 50% though they occupy 10.81% share of the total population in 2011 (Table 2). Despite holding the majority of the country, Hindus have reported the lowest change of decadal growth rate of only 3.59%. Excluding other religious group, the highest decadal growth rate noted 24.64% is perceived in favour of Muslims followed by Hindus (16.76%) and Christian (15.53%). On contrary to this, the lowest decadal growth rate is recorded by Jain (5.37%) who are also the lowest minority among the six recognized religions in India (Figure 3).

Table 2: Decadal growth of different religious populations in India during 1991-2011

Figure 3: Population and Decadal Growth of Religious Groups in India

Growth in Total Fertility Rate

The growth of the population is directly associated with the fertility rate. Total fertility rate (TFR) also varies among the religious groups similar to the percentage of the population. During the period of three consecutive NFHS reports (from 1998-99 to 2015-16), the highest negative growth of TFR is observed among Muslims with -0.97 trailed significantly by Jain          (-0.70), Sikhs (-0.68), and Hindus (-0.65) (Table 3). Buddhists have secured the lowest negative growth while Other religious group is reported as the only group of population with positive growth of 0.24.

Table 3: Growth of Fertility rate of religious groups in India

As far as the percentage of growth of TFR between NFHS – 2 and NFHS – 4 is concerned, Muslims have occupied the third position with 27.02% after Jains (-36.84%) and Sikhs (-30.09%). The percentage of TFR growth of Hindus is slightly lower than Muslims standing at -23.38% but such percentage is almost similar for Christians and Jains considering -18.44% and -18.31% respectively (Figure 4). In terms of Other religious group, they constitute 10.30%, that may intricate the policymakers for investigating reasons behind such positive growth in TFR.

Discussions and Concluding Remarks

It can be pointed from the aforesaid discussion that the decadal growth rate of all religious groups is in decreasing trend (Figure 3). Similarly, the fertility rate of all religious groups has decreased significantly and the trend line is moving downward (Figure 4), while the percentage of population has increased only for Muslims. It is noteworthy that the population has increased for all the religious groups, not only for Muslims. According to Malthusian Growth Model, population increases geometrically while food production increases arithmetically. So, it is a natural phenomenon that population will increase at its pace but we, as human beings, need to increase the availability of food. Malthusian theory has failed to validate its assumptions when we look at the population and development of China. Malthus also assumed that the population increase doubles itself every 25 years if unchecked (Puja Mondal, n.d.) that has seemingly failed as per the population growth in India. According to World Bank, the country holds first rank in the world in terms of population while it has a substantial GDP Per Capita Income of US$ 10, 500 (approximately) in 2020, which is almost equal to Russia (the biggest country in the world by area). In Contrary, India has managed only US$ 1,900 (approximately) despite being the second largest populous country. Therefore, it can be drawn that the relative growth of religious population does not impact the economic development of a country. It is the fact that poor people tends to have more number of children because they hope that their children will diminish their poverty by labouring and other forms of informal works (where education is not necessary) once they are grown up. Previous research suggested that Muslims are the most backward religious community in India (Fatmi, 2016; Haneefa, 2019; Hossain, 2012; Hussain, 2009; Islam & Siddiqui, 2019; Khatoon, 2018; Zainuddin, 2003). It means that poverty is one of the significant factors of increasing the relative growth of population.

Nevertheless, the level of education of Muslims is increasing rapidly in one hand, and their fertility rate is decreasing on the other hand. A Study published on India by Pew Research Centre advocates that Muslims had the highest fertility rate but they also had the steepest drop in fertility rates, and during the period of 1992 – 2015, the total fertility rate for Muslims decreased from 4.4 to 2.6 and that of Hindus decreased from 3.3 to 2.1, suggesting that the differences in the birth rate between religious groups in India are much smaller than before (The Hindu, 2021). The gap in fertility rate among the religious groups are shrinking in India. It is obvious that socio-economic conditions instead of religion are the influencing factors for high Muslim fertility rate. Moreover, poverty, illiteracy, and lack of health services are the driving forces of fertility rate.

Indifference in accessing all these services increase the gap between the religious groups. Muslims have already started the adoption of family planning with the rate of 45% while Hindus are not far away that of 54% and Sikhs with less than 80% (Qureshi, 2021). Therefore, the government should make inclusive policies to foster the economic development in the form of providing services for increasing higher education and work opportunities at local level. Such policy interventions may result in reducing the inequality of growth rate among religious groups in India.


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Dr Md. Safikul Islam is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Dr. Ambedkar International Centre (DAIC), Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, New Delhi, India. He had his Ph.D from Department of Geography, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India

Dr Mehebub Sahana is a Research Associate, School of Environment, Education and Development, University of Manchester, UK