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Tuesday, Nov 16, 2004

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Religion Census: A faithful count

N. Rama Rao

THE recent debate on growth of the population of the various religious groups has somewhat overshadowed the valuable data generated by the Census of India on these groups.

It is necessary, at this stage, to place the issue of growth rates of different religious groups in the proper perspective in order to clear the confusion consequent to this controversy.

The Census of India is the only source of information on population by religion. This information is collected in respect of every individual in the country and then compiled according to a tabulation plan.

Though India is a secular country, statistics on religion are necessary for socio-cultural studies and to assess the social and economic status attained by each religious group. The wide variety of data collected by the Census organisation speaks volumes about our diverse culture.

From 1872, the Census of India has been collecting and publishing information on the size of each religious group at the national and sub-national levels once in ten years.

Based on the 2001 data, the Census organisation has put out information on the population of each religion with information on children in the age group 0-6 years (as an indicator of fertility), literacy levels and work participation.

For the first time, the Census of India made a religion-based cross classification of population, thus fulfilling the National Minority Commission's requirement that religion data be classified by various socio-economic characteristics of the religious groups. The terms "adjusted" and "unadjusted" data used in the religion report need explaining.

A census means a total count of a country's population. However, achieving this is difficult in certain areas for a variety of reasons.

For instance, conducting a Census in Assam in 1981 was not possible. Similarly, Jammu &Kashmir had to be excluded from Census-taking in 1991.

In 2001, a Census was conducted in all States and Union Territories. Consequent to these exclusions/inclusions, suitable adjustments had to be made for a strict comparison of data of one Census with that of another.

For example, to compare the data on religion over the decades, we would need to exclude the figures of Assam and J&K from all the Census figures concerned.

The result is called "adjusted" data. "Unadjusted data" would refer to figures as returned at each Census for areas covered and may not be strictly comparable with the previous figures.

Another method of adjustment is to estimate, by interpolation, the population of religious communities for Assam in 1981 and for J&K in 1991.

But making a realistic and acceptable estimate of religions population the substitute for a census count is difficult and, therefore, not attempted.

Despite the Census organisation having worked out both "adjusted" and "unadjusted" data, the decade-wise comparison of growth rates of each community based on "unadjusted" data were published initially.

It showed a rise in the growth rate of Muslims from 34.5 per cent in 1981-91 to 36.0 per cent in 1991-2001.

This was, however, corrected subsequently by the release of "adjusted" data, which showed a decline in the growth rate from 32.9 per cent in 1981-91 to 29.3 per cent in 1991-2001.

Knowing the absolute increases in population between two Censuses of each religious community helps in understanding and interpret the growth rates better.

Table 1, culled from the Census reports concerned shows the increase in the population of religious communities in India (excluding Assam and J&K) during 1981-91 and 1991-2001.

The decadal growth rates are as shown in the last two columns of the same statement.

The percentage distribution of population by religious communities is given in Table 2.

The Sikh population has recorded a lower growth rate during 1991-2001. The growth rate of Hindu population has declined in 1991-2001 compared to what it was in the earlier decade.

The Buddhist population has followed a similar trend. The Muslim growth rate has declined in 1991-2001 from its level in 1981-91.

The Christian growth rate has shown an upward trend in 1991-2001 compared to the previous decade.

The Jain population has registered a growth rate in 1991-2001, which is in keeping with the growth rates, ranging between 24 to 29 per cent, in the decades before 1981-91.

The category "other religions and persuasions" has emerged as a sizable entity in 2001.

The percentage composition of the Hindu population at the national level has declined by about one per cent, both during 1981-91 and 1991-2001.

The Muslim population has shown a marginal increase of less than one per cent in both the decades.

The 1991 Census figure for all religious communities include an estimated population of 16,052 for 33 villages in Dhule district of Maharashtra State. Further details are not available.

The statement does not include increase of "religion not stated" category by 345,277 during 1981-91 and 3,485,405 during 1991-2001.

Comparison between Census and census apart, one would like to know the size and percentage of each community according to the latest Census of 2001 that has covered Assam and J&K as well. These figures are given in Table 3.

An in-depth analysis of fertility and mortality levels and, the study of migration trends by demographers using data from the census and other sources are bound to throw more light on the growth pattern of each religious community.

(The author, a former Deputy Registrar-General of the Census Commission, is a UN consultant.)

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