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Religious composition of India: Pew Research Study


According to a new study published by the Pew Research Center, a non-profit based in Washington DC India’s religious mix has been stable since 1951 and both Hindus and Muslims not only a marked decline but also a convergence in fertility rates.


GS-I: Indian Society (Demography, Social Issues, and Developments in Indian Society), GS-II: Polity and Governance (Constitutional Provisions, Fundamental Rights)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Religious Diversity in India
  2. Highlights of the Pew research on religious composition of India
  3. Fundamental Right to Freedom of Religion in India
  4. Secularism in India

Religious Diversity in India

  • India is one of the most diverse nations in terms of religion, it being the birthplace of four major world religions: Jainism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.
  • Even though Hindus form close to 80 percent of the population, India also has region-specific religious practices: for instance, Jammu and Kashmir has a Muslim majority, Punjab has a Sikh majority, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram have Christian majorities and the Indian Himalayan States such as Sikkim and Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh and the state of Maharashtra and the Darjeeling District of West Bengal have large concentrations of Buddhist population.
  • The country has significant Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, Jain and Zoroastrian populations.
  • Islam is the largest minority religion in India, and the Indian Muslims form the third largest Muslim population in the world, accounting for over 14 percent of the nation’s population.

Highlights of the Pew research on religious composition of India

Overall Population increase

  • India’s overall population more than tripled between 1951 and 2011, though growth rates have slowed since the 1990s.
  • The total number of Indians grew to 1.2 billion in the 2011 census from 361 million in the 1951 census.
  • India’s overall population growth has slowed considerably, especially since the 1990s.
  • After adding the equivalent of nearly a quarter of its population every decade in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the country’s growth rate dropped to 22% in the 1990s and to 18% in the most recent census decade.

Composition of Religions

  • Hindus make up 79.8% of India’s population and Muslims account for 14.2%; Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains account for most of the remaining 6%.
  • Between 1951 and 2011, the share of Muslims in India grew modestly, by about 4 percentage points, while the share of Hindus declined by about 4 points.
  • Growth among Hindus slowed from a high of around 24% to about 17% in the 2000s, while Muslim growth slowed to around 25% and the rate among Christians dropped to 16%.
  • The shares of Indians in other religions held relatively steady. Muslims are growing somewhat faster than other groups because they tend to have more children.

Drop in Fertility Rates

  • In 1992, the average Muslim woman had at least one more child than the average Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh or Jain.
  • Muslims in India have higher fertility rates than other groups, but they also have experienced the sharpest decline in fertility in recent decades.
  • By 2015, fertility rates across all groups had fallen, with Muslims experiencing the most significant decline, from an average of 4.4 children per woman in 1992 to an average of 2.6 in 2015. Hindu women had an average of 3.3 children in 1992, a figure that fell to 2.1 by 2015. As a result of these shifts, the fertility gap between Muslim and Hindu women in India shrank from 1.1 to 0.5 children.

Factors of Fertility Rates

  • Each additional year of education correlates with a significant drop in fertility, according to a multilevel analysis by Pew Research Center that accounts for education, wealth, age and place of residence – all factors known to be associated with fertility.

No Evidences of forced conversions

  • In a recent survey of nearly 30,000 Indian adults, very few said they had switched religions since childhood. Religious switching, or conversion, appears to be rare in India.
  • In fact, 99% of adults who were raised Hindu are still Hindu. Among those raised as Muslims, 97% are still Muslim as adults, and 94% of people raised Christian still identify as Christians.
  • Furthermore, people who do switch religions tend to cancel each other out.

Hindus are the majority

  • India is home to about 94% of the world’s Hindus. Along with Nepal, it is one of only two Hindu-majority countries.
  • Hindus are the majority in 28 of India’s 35 states, including the most populous ones: Uttar Pradesh (total population 200 million), Maharashtra (112 million) and Bihar (104 million).
  • Muslims are a majority in the small western archipelago of Lakshadweep (<100,000) and in Jammu and Kashmir (13 million), on the border with Pakistan.
  • But only 5% of Muslims live in these two places; 95% live in states where they are a religious minority.

Effect of Migration

  • Migration has not greatly affected India’s religious composition.
  • According to some news reports, there are many millions of people from Muslim-majority countries living in India without legal status or documentation.
  • But such high estimates have been put forth without supporting evidence and appear to be implausible based on a lack of corresponding outflows from origin countries and other indicators.

Christian women are in school longer

  • Christians had an average of seven years of schooling, according to 2015 data, compared with 4.2 years among Hindus and 3.2 years among Muslims.

Fundamental Right to Freedom of Religion in India

Freedom of religion in India is a fundamental right guaranteed by Article 25-28 of the Constitution of India.

Article 25: Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion

  • Article 25 is the bedrock of secularism in India and it states that people have the freedom to
    1. Conscience (inner freedom of thought),
    2. Profess (declare one’s religious beliefs openly),
    3. Practice (perform religious worship), and
    4. Propagate (dissemination of one’s religious beliefs) their religion.
  • The Right to Propagate religion does NOT include the right to convert another person to a particular religion.
  • Thus, Article 25 covers not only religious beliefs (doctrines) but also religious practices (rituals).
  • However, the rights guaranteed under Article 25 are subject to reasonable restrictions to maintain public order, morality and health.
  • Religious rights under Article 25 are available to both citizens and non-citizens.

Article 26: Freedom to manage religious affairs

  • Article 25 gives freedom to an individual, while Article 26 deals with an entire religious denomination or any of its section.
  • Under Article 26, every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right to:
    1. establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes;
    2. manage its own affairs in matters of religion;
    3. own and acquire movable and immovable property; and
    4. administer such property in accordance with law
  • The rights guaranteed under Article 26 are also subject to reasonable restrictions to maintain public order, morality and health.

Article 27: Freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion

  • Article 27 prohibits the State from spending any public money collected by way of tax for the promotion of any religion.
  • In other words, the state should not spend the public money collected by way of tax for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion.
  • This provision prohibits the state from favouring, patronizing and supporting one religion over the other.
  • This also means that taxes can be used for the promotion or maintenance of all religions.
  • Article 27 prohibits only the levying of a tax and not a fee. This is because the purpose of a fee is to control secular administration of religious institutions and not to promote or maintain a religion. Thus, a fee can be levied on pilgrims to provide them with some special service or safety measures.

Article 28: Freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions

  • Article 28 prohibits religious instruction (religious teachings) from being provided in educational institutions that are Wholly Maintained by State funds.
  • Article 28 distinguishes between 4 types of religious institutions and has different restrictions on providing religious instructions for different types:
 Type of Educational InstitutionStatus of Religious Instruction
1.Wholly Maintained by StateCompletely Prohibited
2.Administered by the State, but established under some trust or endowmentPermitted – no conditions
3.Just Recognized by StatePermitted – but only with consent (or Guardian’s consent in case of a minor)
4.Just Receiving Aid from StatePermitted – but only with consent (or Guardian’s consent in case of a minor)

Secularism in India

  • Secularism is a principle that advocates separation of religion from civic affairs and the state.
  • The term means that all the religions in India get equal respect protection and support from the state.
Equal protection by the state to all religions. It reflects certain meanings. First secular state to be one that protects all religions, but does not favour one at the cost of others and does not adopt any religion as the state religion.Separation of state and religion as mutual exclusion means both are mutually exclusive in their own spheres of operation.
In the Indian context, secularism has been interpreted as the state maintaining an “arm’s length distance” from ALL religions.Western secularism can be seen as the state refusing to interact with any form of religious affairs.

-Source: The Hindu

June 2024