Fears of a rising Muslim population numerically overwhelming India’s Hindu majority seem alarmist and overdone any way you look at it. Indeed, if the growth rates trends seen from the latest census data sustain, Muslims may actually account for a lower proportion of India’s population than at their peak in 2011.

The 2011 census puts the Muslim population at 17.22 crore or 14.22% of India’s total population. Some see the Hindu majority falling below the 80% mark as a cause for concern. But this ignores the fact that growth in Muslim population is actually falling faster than the Hindu population growth rate.

A scenario analysis using different growth rates shows that Indian Muslims becoming the largest community is quite far-fetched. Assume that the growth rate pattern from 2001-2011, which has been used to suggest that Hindus are somehow falling behind, will persist. Population growth is calculated using an exponential growth rate. The Hindu growth rate is 1.55% annually, while Muslims’ is 2.2%. The figures for the previous decade (1991-2001) are an annual 1.8% and 2.6%, respectively. If this decline in growth rates persists (both continue to grow at slower rates), both Hindu and Muslim populations will hit a peak in 2061.

Then, Muslims will number 29.24 crore and Hindus 140.25 crore. India’s overall population at the time would be 173.03 crore with the Muslim proportion at 16.89%. Hindus will actually account for 81.06% at that time.

The second scenario we have looked at is where the growth rate of the Hindu population doesn’t fall like it did during 2001-11. Instead, growth picks up at the best pace it has ever seen (from 2.12 to 2.56% during 1971-81). And change in Muslim growth rate is the worst-ever as it has been in 2011. Assuming all else stays constant, Hindus will be 219.95 crore and growing, when the Muslim population stabilizes in 2061. Then, 87.03% of India’s population would be Hindu.

We also looked at a third case where the reverse happens. Consider the Hindu growth rate slowing at the worst rate ever, which was in the decade till 2011, and Muslims growth rate increasing in the same way it did for the decade ending in 1991 (from 2.68 to 2.85%, or 17 basis points). One basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point. The Hindu population will stabilize in 2071 at 139.43 crore. But Muslims will only account for 91.68 crore of the population or 39.21%.

It will be by 2091 that Muslims will outnumber Hindus in India if the growth rate increases by 17 basis points every decade. But for that pattern to persist, Muslim population will have to grow to 182.91 crore and the Muslim exponential growth rate at that point comes to be over 3.54%.

“That will never happen. The highest exponential growth rates for population do not generally exceed 2%. All communities see a reduction in population growth as the level of education and development increase," said S.K. Singh, professor at the Department of Mathematical Demography and Statistics at the International Institute for Population Studies.

To put it in context, global population growth rate peaked out at 2.19% in 1962-63, according to Geoffrey Gilbert’s World Population: A Reference Handbook. Moreover, India’s population would be 311.41 crore by 2091 in the third scenario.

The United Nations has projected India’s population to grow to 170.53 crore by 2050, and then decline to 165.97 by 2100. While that is not gospel truth, it also suggests that neither the scenario of Hindu population growing to 219.95 crore, nor the Muslim population growing to 182.91 crore are likely to come true.

The UN’s 2050 figure, however, is close to the base-case scenario which estimates a total population of 173.03 crore by 2061. Thus, the scenario where Hindus outnumber Muslims 4:1 seems most likely of the three. The assumption for that scenario is that growth rates from 2011 will decline in the same way that they did between 2001 and 2011. Why? Simply because literacy and economic well-being are improving, although at a debatable pace.

“The pace of convergence depends on a number of socio-economic, political and programme factors, and the process will be hastened with the spread of mass education especially amongst women and girls and a sustained reduction in poverty across all population groups," says the Sachar Committee report released in 2006.

“To sum up, population growth in India is likely to continue for some time but will eventually cease and possibly decline for all communities including Muslims as the ongoing process of demographic transition progresses (moves from high fertility and mortality to low fertility and mortality)," it concluded. The report entitled ‘Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community of India’ was prepared by a high-level committee appointed by the Prime Minister and chaired by Justice Rajindar Sachar.

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