Christian population in Arunachal Pradesh rose from less than 1% in 1971 to more than 30% in 2011, official census data show, numbers which appear to back Union minister Kiren Rijiju’s controversial comments about a radical demographic change in the northeastern state.
Manipur, another state in the region, also saw Christian population rise from around 19% in 1961 to more than 41% in 2011, census data showed.
Rijiju had sparked a controversy after referring to the growing Christian numbers in Arunachal Pradesh – his home state -- and linking them to conversions. “Hindu population is reducing in India because Hindus never convert people,” he had said.
However, there is no clear official reason for the rise in the Christian population in these states. While Rijiju cited religious conversion as a possible reason, some experts say this could be because of migration.
Opposition parties had slammed Rijiju for his comments and the Congress had accused the BJP of “converting Arunachal into a Hindu state”.
In Arunachal Pradesh, the biggest state in the region, the share of ‘Other Religions’ category which comprised of two-thirds of Arunachalis in 1971 dropped to 26% in 2011 from as much as 64% in four decades ago.
Other religions include tribal faiths including the indigenous Donyi-Polo (Sun and Moon) whose followers worship the celestial objects.
The decadal growth rate of Christian population in the state has been more than 100% all through.
The population of Arunachal Pradesh is 1.3 million, according to the 2011 census.
In Manipur, with a population of 2.8 million, the Christian numbers have surged.
Hindus constituted around 62% share of the Manipuri population in 1961 while Christians had a 19% share. In 2011, both Christians and Hindus have almost equal share — around 41%.
Taken together, the two states constitute just 0.3% of the Indian population. Further, total Christian population stands at 2.78 crore, around 2%.
For the RSS, these findings buttress their claims and concerns of an imbalance in growth rates and the so-called shrinking of Hindu population.
“As the Census figures show, there is a huge disparity in the way the Christian population has grown and the Hindu population has shrunk. There is no denying the role of missionaries who convert people in this. But off late there is an awakening of the indigenous people and the Sangh is only making them aware of this (conversions),” Arunachal unit state secretary of the RSS Nido Sakter told HT.
JK Bajaj of the Centre for Policy Studies also said the growth of Christianity is the result of “aggressive proselytisation undertaken by the Church mainly in the period following Independence”.
In Arunachal Pradesh, there have been regular reports of conversions by force, especially among the Nocte and the Wancho tribes, he said.
Not all agree that conversion alone is responsible for the growth of Christian population.
Amitabh Kundu, professor at Institute for Human Development, said migration could be another reason.
“One needs to take a closer look at migration figures from the Census and check how much of this increase can be attributed to in-migration of Christians from other states before drawing conclusions.”
He, however, added that since “literacy rate of Christians is higher than other religious groups, which means their fertility rate would be low”.
“Hence, natural growth cannot alone explain this increase, which points to conversion as a possible explanation.”
An RSS functionary who has earlier served in Manipur also said that migration of Christians from other states is a contributing factor.
He also raised concerns over the census enumeration, pointing out that in certain far-flung areas, some tribes have been incorrectly listed as Christians.