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Census shows growth shift
Restraint call follows data

New Delhi, Sept. 6: Indian Muslims are growing faster than any other religious community to make up for 13.4 per cent of the country’s billion-plus population. Hindus constitute an overwhelming majority of 80.5 per cent of the population but their growth rate has dropped sharply over 10 years to the 2001 census.

According to the census, of the total population of 102.8 crore in the country, there were 82.7 crore Hindus, 13.8 crore Muslims, 1.9 crore Sikhs, 2.4 crore Christians, 79 lakh Buddhists and 42 lakh Jains.

As census commissioner J.K. Banthia released a set of statistics on India’s religious composition, there was a call to political parties not to draw political mileage out of the “sensitive data”.

“This report is not meant for political slogans,” National Minorities Commission chairman Tarlochan Singh said, apprehensive that it was only a matter of time before the census report was used to hit out at the minorities for the high “growth rate”.

Demographer Ashish Bose endorsed Singh’s appeal, asking people not to rush to conclusions but leave interpretation of the data to professionals. Singh later announced the creation of a cell to study the report and declared that the commission would convene a meeting of religious leaders to urge them to inspire people to take corrective measures.

This is the first time in Independent India that the census commission has placed religion data in the context of social parameters that can give an insight into the life of people across communities and regions.

Muslims have a literacy rate of 59 per cent — 5 per cent below the national average of 64 per cent — but Banthia suggested that this figure would drop several points in the Hindi heartland. Literacy rates in the community are much higher in the south, pushing up the overall percentage.

At 65 per cent, Hindus are higher on the literacy scale but still far below Christians (80 per cent) and Sikhs (69 per cent). The disappearing Parsis lead the pack with close to 97.8 per cent literacy, with the Jains following close at 94.1 per cent.

Banthia said the statistics collected during the head-count had confirmed theories about the influence of female literacy on fertility rates.

Female literacy leads not only to empowerment but can also be an effective strategy for population stabilisation.

Here, Hindus as well as Muslims are faltering, especially in the countryside. Hindu women have a literacy rate of 53 per cent compared with 50 per cent among Muslims, standing in sharp contrast to an impressive 76 per cent in the Christian community.

Percentages are far lower in rural areas — 43 per cent among Muslim women and 46 per cent among Hindus.

One area where Muslims are ahead of Hindus is in the attitude towards the girl child, reflected by the sex ratio (females for 1,000 males).

Hindus had a sex ratio of 925 as against 950 among Muslims and 964 among Christians. Among Hindus in urban areas the sex ratio is sharply lower at 898, despite expected higher levels of education.

In a gender neutral society, the sex ratio should be close to 1,000, a balance that has been drastically altered mostly in northern India through female foeticide. Punjab as a state and Sikhs have one of the lowest sex ratios. Census officials were surprised by the data on Sikhs among whom the sex ratio was as low as 786 — again, higher in rural and lower in urban areas.

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