While much has been said and written about the religion-wise breakup of the census of 2011 released a few days ago, there are a few demographic riddles that need to be taken care of. However, the more basic and pertinent question is: why should it take the government of India anything between three and four years to publish the religion-wise breakup of every successive census? It will be recalled that the breakup of India’s population on the basis of religion took three years after the census of 1991 to be made public. After the census of 2001, the breakup of the population, according to religion was announced two years later, but the data were quickly withdrawn on the plea that there was need for certain “adjustments”. One fails to understand how census figures can be ‘adjusted’ later on. But some adjustments appear to have been on the figures of the 2001 census, which is why we have a few demographic riddles. But before we get on to the riddles, it might be worthwhile repeating a question that we have raised time and again. Why does the Registrar General of India, not publish the religion-wise breakup of the population along with the other data related to the census? After all, the religion-wise breakup of the population of all countries is freely available in annual publications like The World Almac. Why should any government try to conceal this information unless it is guilty of encouraging illegal migration from other countries that alter the demographic composition of a country or region?
The riddles in the census figures of 2001 relate to the growth rates of the Muslims, Christians and Jains. In the census of 1991, the Muslims, Christians and Jains registered growth rates of 45, 26 and 23 per cent respectively. The growth rates for these three communities in the census of 1991 were 26, 16 and 6 per cent respectively. In the census of 2011, the growth rate of Muslims has declined to 24.6 per cent from 45 per cent in 2001, that of Christians to 16.5 per cent from 26 per cent in 2001 and that of Jains to just 5.4 per cent from 23 per cent in the earlier census of 2001. Our basic question is: how can the decadal growth rates decline so drastically from the growth rates of the earlier decade? In the case of Muslims, the decline in the growth rate over a period of 10 years has been 20.4%. In the case of Christians, the decline in the growth rate over a decade has been of the order of 10.5 per cent. In the case of the Jains (who have a literacy rate of around 90 per cent) the decline in the growth rate between 2001 and 2011 has been the order of 17.6 per cent. These observations raise other pertinent questions: how did the decadal growth rate between 1991 and 2001 increase so sharply for the three communities? In the case of the Muslims, who had a growth rate of 26 per cent between 1981 and 1991, how could this growth rate have increased to 45 per cent in the next decade? Likewise, in the case of Christians, who had an increase in the growth rate between 1981 and 1991 of 16 per cent, how could the growth have increased to 26 in the next decade? In the case of the Jains, who had a six-per cent growth between 1981 and 1991, the decadal growth showed a sharp increase of 23 per cent between 1991 and 2001. How was this possible? These are questions that the Registrar General of India must answer to the satisfaction of all Indians.
It is hardly surprising that the growth rate of Muslims has been the highest in the country. This has been brought about by large-scale illegal migration from neighbouring Bangladesh as well as the fact that in India Muslims alone have the privilege of polygamy. The two facts taken together have brought about a Muslim majority in nine of the districts of Assam. After the census of 2001, we had a Muslim majority in six districts of Assam. Had the Muslim majority comprised indigenous Muslims of Assam, people would have had very little to complain. But the majority in these nine districts has been brought about by illegal migrants from another country. This is a highly objectioble matter. What is even more objectioble is that in a country claiming to be secular there should be a separate law for Muslims alone that makes polygamy permissible for just one community. We fail to see how this can be reconciled with claims of secularism.