Hindus officially less than 80% of Indian population, or are they even less?

NEW DELHI: A report published in The Indian Express today has re-ignited the debate around population of Hindus in India.

It is speculated that Hindu population, which was around 85% of total population of India when India got independence in 1947, had fallen below 80% in 2011. Now these figures are getting confirmed.

As per the Indian Express report, the Hindu population in India was around 78.35% in the 2011 census, which is “the sharpest dip in a decade since Independence”.

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The figures have not been released officially yet, but are expected to be announced soon by the government. Interestingly, this will come at a time when many self-proclaimed Hindu leaders have been calling on Hindu mothers to produce more babies to arrest this dip in population.

While the rhetoric on population will continue, it is worth examining if even this number – 78.35% – truly captures the strength of Hindu population in India.

A couple of years back, R Jagannathan, the editor of the publishing divisions of Network18, had argued that in absence of “pointed questions” in the census, Hindu population is often overestimated and inflated in official records.

In his article, he argued that if one is to factor in religious conversions, alienation of SCs, Dravidian movements of South India, Naxal movements in mainstream India, infiltrations across the border, and urban atheists who don’t consider themselves Hindus even culturally, Hindus could be barely 50% of the Indian population!

Mr. Jagannathan’s estimates are based on broad assumptions, which he had to make as the census risks clubbing together those people, who wouldn’t otherwise assertively identify themselves as Hindus, as belonging to the Hindu religion.

And he is not wrong. For example, look at the form (links to a pdf file; relevant picture below) that was used by the census officials in 2011:

A snapshot from Census 2011 form
The form that was used in the last census to calculate religion-wise break up of population

The form didn’t have “no religion” or “atheism” as an option at all. A respondent had to actively insist that he wishes to be indicated so in the official records. Very few urban atheists would have done that.

A not-so-aware supporter of Dravidian parties may not insist on such an option, failing which the census official would indicate the respondent as “Hindu” due to his or her “Hindu sounding” name. Similar thing can happen with not-so-aware Naxal supporting classes and Ambedkarites, who don’t consider themselves Hindus, thus inflating the “actual” Hindu population.

Apart from that, please note that SCs are to be counted only as Hindus. Since the neo-converts to Christianity or Islam don’t want to lose the reservation benefits, they are often asked by evangelists to wrongly claim their religion as Hinduism so that they get the benefits of reservation.

The scale of conversions in North East and in many areas of Andhra Pradesh has been gigantic. It is estimated that nearly 30 per cent of Coastal Andhra is now Christian, while some states in North East are entirely Christian.

It should be noted that the converts in North East list themselves as Christians in census because STs can belong to any religion (see picture) and continue to get reservations, but the SC converts, mostly in the mainstream India, wrongly list themselves as Hindus, thus over representing the actual strength of Hindus in India.

This is the reason many Christian organizations have been demanding reservations for “Dalit Christians”. Once this is allowed, the neo-converts would come out of this pretense and make themselves counted as non-Hindus.

It is indeed ironical that at one hand many of these “Idea of India” activists insist that Dalits and Tribals are not Hindus, and at the same time keep on repeating the myth that “India has over 80% Hindus”, dismissing any claim of Hindu population falling as “fear mongering”.

While the calls for Hindus producing more children are stupid and irrational, the latest census figures and the above issues should lead to a debate on what is the true strength of Hindu population in India. It doesn’t help anyone, definitely not the Hindus, if their population is over represented.

OpIndia.com believes that in the year 2021, when the next census takes place, the government of that time should give more options to people in the “Religion” column, so that people, who have Hindu sounding names but don’t feel like calling themselves Hindus, are not forced to choose “Hinduism” as their religion by themselves or by the census officials.

And maybe after the next census we will find that Hindus are just 50% of the Indian population. Or maybe 1-2% less than that? We will be country of “minorities”!

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