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Demographic time bomb : Falling fertility rates indicate that percentage of Hindu population will further decline

Earlier this month a petitioner filed a PIL in the Supreme court asking the court to rule in favour of a 2 child policy. The petitioner said that population explosion would damage the environment immensely and hence this measure is required. The Supreme court has agreed to hear this petition.

In November 2017, the Supreme Court turned down another petition that demanded minority status for Hindus in 8 states/ union territories. The states/ union territories where Hindus are a numerical minority are Lakshadweep, Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Jammu and Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Punjab.

However, the data from NFHS -4 2015-16 released last year suggests that Hindus are not only following 2 child policy in most of the states but are producing less than 2 children.

Some terminologies

Before going into an analysis of the NFHS data we need to understand some terminologies.

TFR (Total fertility rate: The number of children who would be born per woman (or per 1,000 women) if she/they were to pass through the childbearing years bearing children according to a current schedule of age-specific fertility rates. [Source: Wikipedia]

Roughly speaking, TFR is the number of children borne by a woman in the age where she is capable of reproduction.

Replacement Rate of fertility: “Replacement level fertility” is the total fertility rate—the average number of children born per woman—at which a population replaces itself from one generation to the next, without migration. [Source: Wikipedia]

The replacement rate of fertility is basically the minimum number of children that a couple needs to reproduce to replace themselves. The replacement rate of fertility is accepted as ‘2.1’, ie TFR of 2.1 is considered as replacement ratio of fertility.

Hindu TFR is well below replacement rate of fertility in most of the states

NFHS -4 takes into account the total fertility rate for the three years preceding the survey (i.e 2015-16). If we analyse the TFR ratio of most of the states, we find that the Hindu TFR is less than or close to the replacement ratio in most of the states. The data is presented region-wise in below graphs. The meaning of a TFR below 2 is that the Hindu population is well below the ideal replacement ratio. As the TFR of Muslim women is greater than 2, it indicates that the population percentage of Muslims in India will rise if the same trend continues. From the below graph it is quite evident that the chances of quickest demographic change are highest in Haryana.

From the petition demanding minority status for Hindus, we are aware that Hindus are already a minority in many of the North East states. If one looks at the TFR of Hindus and other faiths, it is quite clear that they will remain a minority population if the status quo remains as it is.

Eastern India is the most densely populated regions of India. Here the growth of population is highest in comparison to rest of the country. From the data, we can see that the Hindu and Muslim TFR is highest in Bihar. However, in states of Odisha and Chattisgarh, both Hindu and Muslim TFRs seem to be stabilising towards 2. The Christian population in these two states is growing at the fastest pace as per recent data.

Western states again demonstrate that the TFR among Hindus is below two except in Rajasthan. However, the gap between Hindu and Muslim TFRs is significant in all these states. The third largest group in Rajasthan is Sikh. Buddhists form the third largest group in Maharashtra. The grey bar in the data pertains to Christians in Goa and Gujarat. It must be noted that the gap in TFR in Goa and Rajasthan is higher than one in these two states.

 

The total fertility rate seems to be stabilising towards two (i.e replacement fertility rate) in most of the southern states. In spite of this fact, the gap between Hindus and Muslims is significant as Hindu TFRs are well below 2 (especially Kerala) in these states. However, in Tamil Nadu, Christian TFR is higher than both Hindu and Muslim TFR. 

Lessons from NFHS -4 data on TFR 

The data on total fertility rate among major religions suggests that Hindu women are on an average producing less than one kid in almost all states. However, an average Muslim woman is producing more than 2 kids in almost all states. If the current trend in TFR continues at the same pace, the percentage of Hindu population will go down further. The pace of this decline will be decided by three factors

  • Rate of reduction or increase in TFR of Hindu women
  • Rate of reduction or increase in TFR of Muslim women
  • Use of contraception and government policies on the issue of population control/stabilisation

The percentage of Hindu population has declined from 80.5% to 79.8% in the period of 2001-2011. The Muslim percentage of Muslim population has increased from 13.4% to 14.3%. Simple math suggests that if the 1% decline of Hindus continues for 30 decades, the population of two will be equal. Therefore the demographic challenge is real, though the time frame may be long or short. If not us, the future generation will definitely face the consequences of this demography change, if the gap in TFR does not reduce.

Liberal media usually laughs off the ‘fear’ of Hindus becoming a minority in their own land. However, the data above suggests that the fear is not illogical or unfounded. The demographic time bomb is ticking and it is only a matter of time before the ‘minority’ status for Hindus will be needed in most of the states by the end of this century.

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