In an ideal world, Indians should not be quibbling about the details of people following various religions. But the times are such that some numbers are useful in getting a better understanding of the country to dispel propaganda, lies and half-truths. Details of the 2011 Census revealed last week showed that India’s average household size was 4.45 members, down from 4.67 a decade ago.
The size of an average Muslim household fell to 5.15 from 5.61 over the previous decade. Notably the reduction was sharper at 11.1% for Muslim households headed by men while for families headed by women it was 4.47%. The average size of Hindu families declined by 5 % over the decade. Such data should help us counter myths being propagated to create perceptions that fan social tensions.
The old slogan, “Small families are happy families” should ring better in a developing country that has seen a population explosion. The fact that the average size of a Muslim household is shrinking faster than that of the Hindu counterpart indicates that both communities are headed in the right direction and are increasingly on comparable ground.
The data signals that perceived threats to communities based on demographic bogeys are unwarranted. Last year, BJP member of parliament Sakshi Maharaj said every Hindu woman must produce at least four children to “protect” the community. Such statements fan tensions in far-flung areas, while actually, the attempt should be to not only shrink the size of the average family but also challenge outmoded notions of women being treated as child-bearing machines.
Census data for 2011 showed last year that Hindus made up 79.8% of the population, down 0.7 percentage points over the decade, while Muslims were 14.2% of the country, up 0.8 percentage points. Last week’s data puts the issue in a clearer context because absolute numbers are not everything. Over time, a better balance seems to be emerging.