Religion Data of Census 2011: II The Imbalance Worsens

Religion Data of Census 2011: II The Imbalance Worsens

In this second post on the religion data of Census 2011, we give the main national aggregate numbers about the changes that have taken place in the share of different communities during 2001-11, and try to put these in the context of the changes since 1951. Longer term data on such changes is available in our book, The Religious Demography of India, mentioned in the previous post. The headline figure of the Muslim share increasing by 0.8 percentage points and a corresponding decline in the share of Indian Religionists is significant in itself and indicates an unabated continuation of the long term trends. But the real story of Census 2011 is to be found in the dis-aggregated data at the State and district levels, where we see extraordinary high increase in the share of Muslims and Christians in several pockets of the country on the one hand and, on the other, an emerging but widespread demographic resurgence of Hindus manifesting in their higher growth as compared to Muslims or Christians in many districts. We shall begin looking into these newer trends in the next post. The data below provides the background for that story.

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At the national aggregate level the most significant piece of information that emerges from the religion data of census of 2011 is the increase in the share of Muslims in the population of India from 13.43 percent in 2001 to 14.23 percent now. They have thus added 0.8 percentage points to their share in the population.

Rising Share of Muslims
Census Year Percentage Share Decadal Increase in Share
1951 10.45
1961 10.69 0.24
1971 11.20 0.51
1981 11.75 0.55
1991 12.61 0.86
2001 13.43 0.82
2011 14.23 0.80
Increase in percentage points.

This increase is part of a continuing process

This level of increase in the share of Muslims is not insignificant. This is the third decade in a row when their share has increased by or above 0.8 percentage points. The share of Muslims has been rising every decade since Independence and Partition. The quantum of rise, however, became rather large after 1981. That process of considerable increase in the share of Muslims from decade to decade has continued unabated during 2001-2011.

Gap in the Growth of Muslims and Others

Widening Normalized Gap in the Growth of Muslims and Indian Religionists
Census Decade Growth of Indian R (percent) Growth of Muslims (percent) Normalized
Growth Gap
1951-61 21.16 24.43 15.45
1961-71 23.84 30.84 29.36
1971-81 24.09 30.74 27.60
1981-91 22.79 33.89 48.70
1991-01 20.34 29.50 45.03
2001-11 16.67 24.65 47.82
Difference as a proportion of Growth of Indian Religionists, including Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and ORPs.

Another way to appreciate the increase in the share of Muslims is to look at the normalized gap in the decadal growth rates of Muslims and others, especially the Indian Religionists (IRs), among whom we include the Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and those in the Census category of “Other Religions and Persuasions (ORPs)”. The gap between the growth rates of Muslims and IRs, normalized to the absolute growth of IRs, widened to as much as 49 percent during 1981-91; it became marginally narrower in 1991-2001 and has widened again in the last decade. The commentators, who have been pointing out the decline of the Muslim growth rate from 29.69 to 24.65 percent as an indication of the halting of the religious imbalance, are wrong; because, the normalized gap between the growth rates of Muslims and IRs has only widened.

The Muslims in the country have grown by nearly 50 percent more than the Indian Religionists for the third decade in a row. Such wide difference in the growth rates of one community compared to others is not sustainable in any society.

India likely to acquire the largest Muslim population in the World

Because of this sustained growth, Muslim population in India has grown to 17.22 crore in 2011 compared to 3.77 crores in 1951, implying a multiplication factor of 4.6. The population of Indian Religionists in the same period has multiplied only 3.2 times. India now hosts the second largest Muslim population of the world, behind Indonesia which has 19.1 crore Muslims in its population of 24 crore, but ahead of Pakistan, which has 16.7 crore Muslims in its total population of 17.4 crores in 2010. (These figures are from T. M. Johnson and B. J. Grim, The World’s Religions in Figures, Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester 2013). Given the trends, most demographers agree that within two or three decades India shall be home to the largest Muslim population in the world. 

Christian Share has remained nearly unchanged

Share and Decadal Growth of Christians
Census Year Share (percent) Growth (percent)
1951 2.33
1961 2.44 27.29
1971 2.60 32.60
1981 2.44 17.38
1991 2.32 17.70
2001 2.35 23.13
2011 2.30 15.53


The share of Christians in the population of India has declined slightly, from 2.34 percent in 2001 to 2.30 percent in 2011. The Christians during the decade have grown by 15.53 percent compared to the rate of 17.72 percent for the whole population, 16.76 percent for the Hindus and 24.65 percent for the Muslims. The growth of Christians was considerably higher than the Indian average in the first two decades after Independence; their share in the population had gone up from 2.33 percent in 1951 to 2.60 percent in 1971. Since then it has been slowly declining.

This low aggregate growth of Christians during 2001-11 is partly because of their low growth rates in Kerala, Nagaland, Mizoram and Goa, four of the important Christian majority States. Their rates of growth have also been low or negative in some of the larger States like Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, and in all of the Union Territories, except Puducherry. However, they have registered considerably high growth in many States; the rise in their share has been particularly remarkable in Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura in the Northeast, in Sikkim, in Darjeeling of West Bengal, in parts of Odisha and in Kanniyakumari district of Tamilnadu. We shall be looking into this growth and decline of Christians in subsequent posts.

Decline in the share of Indian Religionists
Census Year Percent Share of
Decadal Increase in Share
1951 87.22
1961 86.87 -0.35
1971 86.20 -0.67
1981 85.81 -0.39
1991 85.07 -0.74
2001 84.21 -0.86
2011 83.48 -0.73

Decline in the Share of Indian Religionists

As a consequence of this continuing rise in the share of Muslims, the share of Indian religionists has been declining. In 2011, their share has come down to 83.48 percent from 84.21 percent in 2001; the share of Indian Religionists in 1951 was 87.22 percent. The process of decline in the share of Indian Religionists, like the increase in the share of Muslims, has continued since Independence and Partition and has become considerably faster after 1981. Between 1951 and 2011, the share of Indian Religionists in the population of India has contracted by nearly 4 percentage points, and the Muslim share has expanded by about that amount. Census 2011 shows that this spurt in the Muslim growth and consequent decline of others has not subsided yet. Incidentally, in this and earlier Tables we have made appropriate corrections to take into account the fact that the Census could not be conducted in Assam 1981 and in J&K in 1951 and 1991.

Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, ORPs and RNS, 2001-2011
Population in thousands Share in Percent Decadal
2001 2011 2001 2011 Growth %
Total 10,28,610 12,10,855 80.46 79.80 17.72
Indian R 8,66,342 10,10,790 84.21 83.48 16.67
Hindus 8,27,579 9,66,257 80.46 79.80 16.76
Sikhs 19,216 20,833 1.87 1.72 8.42
Jains 4,225 4,452 0.41 0.37 5.37
Buddhists 7,955 8,443 0.77 0.70 6.13
ORPs 6,639 7,938 0.65 0.66 19.56
RNS 728 2,867 0.07 0.24 293.86

Decline in Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and others

Another significant figure that emerges from Census 2011 is that the share of Hindus in the population of India has now declined to below 80 percent; Hindus formed 80.46 percent of the population in 2001, they are 79.80 percent in 2011. During the decade, the Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists have grown even slower than the Hindus. Decadal growth of these three has been 8.42, 5.37 and 6.13 percent, respectively, as compared to 16.76 percent of the Hindus. The share of Sikhs has declined from 1.87 to 1.72 percent, of Buddhists from 0.77 to 0.70 and of Jains from 0.41 to 0.37 percent. This decline in the share of Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists is a significant phenomenon, which would have important sociological and political consequences. It needs to be analysed in detail; we shall take up the issue in some of the subsequent posts.


The share of those counted in the census category of “Other Religions and Persuasions (ORPs)”, who belong mainly to the various tribal religions of India, has marginally increased from 0.65 to 0.66 percent. They have recorded decadal growth of 19.45 percent compared to 17.72 percent of the total population and 16.76 percent of the Hindus. This is contrary to the trend of the previous decade of 1991-2001, when the proportion of ORPs in the population had increased sharply from 0.39 to 0.65 percent. We shall in due course look at the spread and growth of ORPs across different States of India.

The share of persons who have not stated their religion has suddenly increased in this decade from 0.07 to 0.24 percent; and, their numbers have nearly quadrupled from 7.3 lakh in 2001 to 28.7 lakh in 2011. This spurt in the number of persons in the category of “Religion not Stated (RNS)” is a new phenomenon, which we shall study in detail in later posts. But, from the distribution of RNS across the States, it seems difficult to interpret this spurt as a consequence of the spread of atheism among the people, as it has been interpreted by some media analysts.

Dr. J K Bajaj

Dr. J.K. Bajaj is Director, Centre for Policy Studies and author of several books including the landmark "Indian Demographics."