The share of Hindus in India’s total population has shown a marginal decline between 2001 and 2011, while that of Muslims has increased slightly in the same period, according to census data on the country’s religious profile released by the government on Tuesday.
Hindus now make up 79.8% of India, a slight decline of 0.7 percentage points, while Muslims, the largest minority, make up 14.2% of the country, up 0.8 percentage points.
While the Muslim share in population has increased, their 10-year growth rate has shown a sharp decline. In fact, the decadal growth rate of all communities has slowed down, suggesting a stabilising trend for fertility rates, the data showed.
The religion-based data was ready to be released in January 2014 but the then UPA government chose not to make it public ahead of the general elections that year. The NDA government’s decision to make it public comes weeks before crucial assembly elections in Bihar.
Tuesday’s release came after home minister Rajnath Singh’s approval.
In absolute numbers, the country’s Hindu population stands at 96.63 crore and Muslims at 17.22 crore. There are 2.78 crore Christians, 2.08 crore Sikhs and 0.45 crore Jains.
The share of Sikhs fell by 0.2 percentage points to 1.7% of the population in the 2001-11 decade, while Buddhists showed a decline of 0.1 percentage points to 0.7% of the population. There was no significant change in the proportion of Christians and Jains, who make up 2.3% and 0.4% of the population, respectively.
Muslims have historically witnessed a higher population growth rate than other major communities. But this rate has been on the decline for the past three decades. The Muslim growth rate was 34.5% in the 1991 census, which slowed down to 29.5% in 2001 and furthermore to 24.6% in 2011.
Earlier, the government used to provide religion-wise break-up of population data. The practice was discontinued in 2011 because of a controversy that followed the 2001 Census, which showed a relatively high growth of Muslim population primarily on account of the inclusion of Jammu and Kashmir. The comparison was skewed because the militancy-hit state was not covered in the headcount for 1991.
Data released on Tuesday show Assam and West Bengal witnessed the sharpest increase in the Muslim population during the 2001-2011 decade, a change that is being linked to the illegal migration from Bangladesh.
Incidentally, Tuesday’s statistics give the religious composition down to the sub-district level for all states but does not give any idea about the socio-economic status of various communities.
“In the absence of cross-tabulation of the religion data with, say, literacy, sex ratio and work participation, the debate around this census report would be very limited,” a government official said.
(This report has been updated to make a correction about Gujarat population)