If the current population growth trends persist, it is very likely that followers of Indian religions will become a minority in the Indian subcontinent by around 2081. The Centre For Policy Studies (CPS), a New Delhi-based think tank that made this claim in a recent note, has regularly published its analysis of demographic data from the 2011 census.
Defining ‘Indian Religions’ (IR) as a term to collectively ‘refer to religions that have originated in the Indian Subcontinent’, the note analyses census data from 1881 to 1941, and then looks at the next fifty years and offers a projection up to 2081 and beyond.
The pre-independence period – 1881 to 1941
Relying mostly on British-era census data compiled and published by Kingsley Davis, the report presents the religious composition of the Indian population. While IR adherents constituted 79.32 per cent of the total population in 1881, the number declined by 5.51 per cent to 73.81 per cent by 1941. The biggest gains went to Islam, with adherents growing by 4.31 per cent. Christianity, on the other hand, grew by 1.2 per cent.
Curiously enough, the IR population grew by 3.8 percentage points during this period. This appears to be a result of large-scale migration of Sikh cultivators into areas that are part of Pakistan today.
The post-independence period – 1951 to 2011
While data for independent India is easily available, census numbers for Pakistan (and eventually Bangladesh) are slightly erratic. Once again, the number of IR adherents drops to 67.22 per cent by 2011, from 73.47 per cent in 1951, losing 6.25 per cent in a span of six decades. Once again, Islam is the biggest gainer, growing by 6.26 per cent. Christianity registers a marginal decline.
So, between 1881 and 2011, IR adherents have lost nearly 12 per cent share in the overall population of the Indian subcontinent. This 12 per cent figure is more or less captured by the growth in Muslim population (nearly 15 per cent).
Using all available data from 1881 to 2011, CPS has projected that the share of IR will eventually go down to less than 50 per cent between 2081 and 2091.
In an earlier analysis, CPS had projected that IR population would decline to less than 50 per cent even earlier. The think tank has, however, revised its estimates because United Nations has drastically lowered its projections for the populations of Bangladesh and Pakistan.
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