ucanews.com reporter, Delhi
Updated: August 28, 2015 12:33 AM GMT
In this photograph taken on March 29, Indian Christian devotees walk through the grounds of a cathedral on Palm Sunday in New Delhi. (Photo by Chandan Khanna/AFP)
India’s Christian community has grown more slowly in the last decade than the country’s overall population, according to new government data, disproving allegations that there have been widespread forced Christian conversions.
The coalition federal government, led by the pro-Hindu Bharatatiya Janata Party (BJP), on Aug. 25 released religion-based data collected for the 2011 decennial national census. The data shows the percentage of Hindus fell marginally while Islam grew faster than any other religion during the 10 years between 2001-2011.
The Muslim population grew by 0.8 percent against the overall population, while Hinduism declined by 0.7 percentage points. Muslims still make up a mere 14.2 percent of the population compared with Hinduism’s 79.8 percent.
"There has been no significant change in the proportion of Christians and Jains," added an official statement.
The data "exposes the sham and hollowness of the Hindu fanatic charge against conversion,” said John Dayal, a Catholic lay leader in India.
Christian and Muslim leaders say the BJP and fanatic Hindu groups have made politically motivated statements that increasing Christian and Muslim populations threaten to end the Hindu majority in India and destroy their culture.
"While Muslims are presented as pro-Pakistan and terrorists, Christians are said to be secessionists and devouring Indian cultural values,” said Dayal, who is also a member of ucanews.com's board of directors.
“As part of this, various Hindu groups have been calling for the disenfranchisement of Christians, curbs on Muslims and are exhorting Hindu women to have more children in this demographic war.”India has only 27.8 million Christians in a population of 1.21 billion people, but they are the second-largest religious minority, after Muslims, who number at least 170 million. Among minorities, there are 20 million Sikhs, 8.4 million Buddhists and 4.5 million Jains, data shows.
Hindus continue unchallenged majority
In the past decade, Christian missioners, especially in BJP-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh, have been accused of converting tribal people and those from the beleaguered “untouchable” caste. Laws were enacted to end conversion, police cases were filed and missioners attacked in the name of conversion activities.
Church leaders like Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, based in the capital of Madhya Pradesh state, said the data proves otherwise.
"I want to ask all those who accused us of converting gullible people to Christianity: where are those whom we converted," Archbishop Cornelio said.
The Hindus are the huge majority — close to 80 percent or 966.3 million — but data shows they declined by 0.7 percent in overall population compared to the previous decade.
The Indian population grew 17.7 percent during the time, but Muslims recorded a higher growth rate of 24.6 percent. All other followers grew less than the national average: Hindus, 16.8 percent; Christians, 15.5 percent; Sikhs, 8.4 percent; Buddhists, 6.1 percent; and Jains, 5.4 percent.
Statistics show that Hindus increased by 140 million between 2001 and 2011, which is more than the total Muslim population of the country in 2001 — 138 million.
In 2001, Hindus numbered 827 million while the Muslim population in the country the same year was 138.8 million. Current data shows that in 2011, Hindus grew to 966.3 million and the Muslim population was 172.2 million.
Archbishop Cornelio said the allegations of conversion come from "vested interests connected to certain political groups. Their objective is to create rifts and communal discord among people.” The prelate said these people pretend Christians and Muslims are a threat for political gains.
"They will not hesitate even to disown the census and still continue to create communal discord. The basic problem with them is that they don’t want to know truth and hence, truth cannot make them free," the prelate said.
Timing linked to politics
Some observers believe the timing of the release of the data this week is linked to state elections in Bihar, due in November.
The BJP built its "political edifice in response to the Muslim presence in India. They use Islamophobia as an effective mobilization tool. Bihar has a sizeable Muslim population. The timing of this survey is definitely to influence the electorate," Dayal said.
He said people like him have long been demanding that the government release all census data soon after it is collected and tallied, "instead of releasing it in driblets to suit its political imperatives and motives".
Navaid Hamid, secretary of the South Asian Council for Minorities, said any government attempt to highlight the apparent growth of India’s Muslim population represents “scare-mongering tactics”.
“The Muslims in India can never outnumber the Hindu community until and unless some 30-40 percent of Hindus convert to Islam, which is unimaginable,” he said in an interview.
Any disproportionate increase in select Muslim populations is likely attributable to high levels of illiteracy and unemployment in marginalized communities, he said.