The Real Number of Andhra Pradesh Christians Is Grossly Understated: Here’s Why
The broken murtis and desecrated temples may be canaries in the coal mine, indicative of the tectonic religious demographic changes in the offing.
In the last few years, there has been a spate of attacks on Hindu temples in Andhra Pradesh. This includes acts of vandalism, desecration and, in some cases, pyromania. Allegations have been traded back and forth, with Hindus claiming that this is the result of rampant conversions to Christianity, which, in turn, has created a population hostile to symbols of pagan faith
We have also seen calls for giving the Hindu community the right to manage and protect their temples and a dismissal of such incidents as stray incidents involving petty criminals and mentally-disturbed individuals by Christians in the political and law enforcement leadership.
Some political parties have been using this to discredit the Christian Chief Minister, Jaganmohan Reddy’s leadership. But we cannot dismiss the issue raised by the political parties as mere political oneupmanship.
History shows us that newly-Christianising populations have a record of engaging in vandalism against pagan shrines. When St Francis Xavier first began converting young children in Goa, he described the vandalism carried out by his young students upon Hindu temples in his own letters home.
Here’s a quote from Xavier:
As to the numbers who become Christians, you may understand them from this, that it often happens to me to be hardly able to use my hands from the fatigue of baptising; often in a single day I have baptised whole villages. Sometimes I have lost my voice and strength altogether with repeating again and again the Credo and the other forms. The fruit that is reaped by the baptism of infants, as well as by the instruction of children and others, is quite incredible. These children, I trust heartily, by the grace of God, will be much better than their fathers. They show an ardent love for the Divine Law, and an extraordinary zeal for learning our holy religion and imparting it to others. Their hatred for idolatry is marvellous. They get into feuds with the heathen about it, and whenever their own parents practice it, they reproach them and come off to tell me at once. Whenever I hear of any act of idolatrous worship, I go to the place with a large band of these children, who very soon load the devil with a greater amount of insult and abuse than he has lately received of honour or worship from their parents, relatives and acquaintances. The children run at the idols, upset them, dash them down, break them to pieces, spit on them, trample on them, kick them about, and in short heap on them every possible outrage.
This is reported in Japan, as well, both in the present day, as well as from history. A number of Shinto temples were destroyed in the Nagasaki Prefecture whenChristians turned a majority between the sixteenth and seventeenth century.
One of the most infamous incidents in history is the Christian sack and destruction of the library and Temple of Serapis at Alexandria under the leadership of the Coptic Bishop Theophilus.
In this article, we try to study some data points and try to see if there is such a surge in Christian population in Andhra Pradesh.
Official Statistics And Perception
According to the 2011 Census of India, Christians in the districts that make up today’s Andhra Pradesh numbered only 6.8 lakh.
The trends in the report linked below shows some very curious trends. The Christian population in Guntur district alone was 14.2 per cent in 1971 but has declined to less than 1 per cent in 2011, or from 4.2 lakh to just 90,000 in absolute numbers.
On the other hand, the share of Scheduled Castes (SC) in the population of Guntur district rose from 4.8 per cent in 1971 to 19.59 per cent in 2011.
Apart from these two intriguing trends, reports by almost all individuals visiting coastal Andhra Pradesh have noted a sharp rise in the number of Christian religious structures. It is thus not unreasonable to suspect that there must be more practising Christians than declared in official statistics.
To independently arrive at an estimate of practising Christians, we took the following approach:
- Researched various Christian denominations and gathered statistics on the adherents as reported by the Churches themselves
- Where data is not available, we extrapolated from official actions
The organised denominations — Roman Catholic and Church of South India — show a total of 26.8 lakh Christians, which is roughly 4.9 per cent of Andhra Pradesh’s population in 2020.
Data for Seventh Day Adventists shows 1,945 edifices for a total Adventist population of 4,22,199 — ie, one church for every 217 registered members.
There are other denominations — Pentecostal, Telugu Evangelical Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist — that do not collect and share data as rigorously. However, here’s some informal information. The estimated numbers of the Telugu Baptist denomination ranges between 8.4 lakh and 10 lakh, depending on the source. For Andhra Evangelical Lutherans, the number is put at 30 lakh.
Besides these two important groups, there are supposed to be another 13,000 pastors spread across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. This would give a rough estimate of another 5-10 lakh Christians in small independent congregations in Andhra Pradesh alone. Some references are here, here, and here.
The overall sum of these numbers comes to 50-60 lakh, which is 10-12 per cent of the population of Andhra Pradesh.
Extrapolating From The Official Andhra Pradesh State Notification
An Andhra Pradesh government notification in 2020 gave one-time relief to 29,841 pastors, 31,017 Hindu archakas and 7,000 imams and mouzzams.
This raises some interesting contrasts:
- The number of Hindu and Christian priests is almost the same.
- Even if one assumes that a Hindu priest ministers to thrice the number of devotees as a Christian priest, this would assume that the population of Christians is at least 20 per cent of Andhra Pradesh’s population.
A point to be noted, and which is not of lesser pertinence to this article, is that the Hindu priests were paid from the budget of the Hindu Endowments Department, whose income accrues from the wealth of Hindu temples and contributions by devotees. The minority priests were paid out of the common government budget, which is taxpayer money.
If we turn our attention to the Lutheran and Baptist denominations, we have the following observations to make:
- Each congregation is led by a single pastor, with probably one assistant, as opposed to CSI or Roman Catholic congregations, which have multiple priests officiating.
- Very often, the Baptist and Lutheran pastors minister to the congregation as a family unit, that is, the pastor is assisted by all members of his/her family.
- Baptists, Pentecostals and Lutherans are distributed denominations without a central authority.
- There are no central registries of congregations, pastors or church buildings.
- Often church congregations function out of buildings designated as residential or commercial spaces.
- The Andhra Pradesh government’s one-time relief was provided to nearly 30,000 pastors. If we discount 6,200 of those pastors as belonging to CSI and Roman Catholic denominations — at a rate of five pastors for each congregation — this gives us a figure of 23,800 pastors in Baptist and Lutheran denominations.
Assuming a single church per pastor and one church per Roman Catholic/CSI congregation, we arrive at the following figures:
- Roughly 1,255 major RC/CSI churches — these are often large buildings constructed on extensive plots of land in prime locations in major towns.
- Andhra Pradesh has 195 urban and semi-urban regions and we can assume at least two large churches in each of these.
- Andhra Pradesh has 16,158 villages as of 2017. There is, thus, one major church for every 18 villages.
- If we take the 23,800 pastors, we can assume another 23,800 churches, or more than one in each village and town of Andhra Pradesh.
Benchmarking Intensity Of Congregations And Parishes
Let us try to compare the intensity of congregations and parishes with standards elsewhere in the world.
- Poland, our sample for comparison, is a country of 3.8 crore people, whereas the population of Andhra Pradesh is 5.4 crore (see here)
- The country is 97 per cent Catholic and 42 per cent of the population are regular church goers.
- For a population of 3.8 crore Catholics and where 1.6 crore people attend church regularly, there are 10,000 parishes.
- The declared Catholic population of Andhra Pradesh is 12.6 lakh. The size of an average parish in Poland is 3,800 registered Catholics, while the size of an average parish in Andhra Pradesh is 2,270 registered Catholics per parish in 555 parishes.
- If we look at the CSI denomination, there are an average of 1,000 Christians per parish.
- The Seventh Day Adventists show the highest recorded intensity of churches at one for every 217 registered members.
Christianity is less than two centuries old in Andhra Pradesh. And so, the intensity of church construction has been such that the density of churches has managed to outstrip even a country like Poland, which has a 1,200-year-old history of Christianity and in which Christianity has been the overwhelming majority for 700 years.
The intensity of buildings designated as churches rivals regions with old histories of Christian influence.
This leads to several questions:
- The per capita intensity of church building is vastly out of proportion to the population that has to be ministered to; the official Census count of Christians is 6.8 lakh, and our count from the self-declared numbers is 50-60 lakh. Even if we have erred by a factor of two, the count is no more than 1-1.2 crore. Even for such a huge population, the number of churches is far too high. If not to minister to the population, what purpose are these buildings serving?
- What is the source of funds for these buildings? The older churches were constructed on land and funds provided by the colonial administration, but many of the churches have been purchased/constructed in the last few decades. Indian congregations do not have the capacity for mass fund-raising through tithing.
- What is the pattern of ownership of these buildings? Are these properties purchased as part of benami deals to conceal dubious real estate transactions?
These questions raise serious doubts as to the role of these churches — where we see them more as a cover for illegality and for activities against the Indian state.
The actual number of Christians in Andhra Pradesh could be around 12 per cent, if one were to go by declarations of the churches themselves.
If one were to extrapolate from the number of Christian priests and from the density of church buildings and congregations, the share of Christian population could rise to as much as 25 per cent of the citizens of the state.
Given the intensity of demographic data collected by various political parties, one can safely assume that active politicians have a much better ear to the ground than the rest of us on such large-scale conversion.
Against this background, Hindu civil society and the Indian government should pay heed to the warning signs. The broken murtis and desecrated temples may be canaries in the coal mine, indicative of the tectonic religious demographic changes in the offing.
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