Religious Demography of India

Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to Google Plus Share to Google Plus Share to Google Plus Add to Favourites

One of my good decisions was to take a ten-year subscription for the weekly magazine India Today. I particularly look forward to their book reviews. A couple of months ago their Managing Editor Swapan Dasgupta reviewed a book titled ‘Religious Demography of India’ by the Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai. So impressed was I with the review / book that I desired to share it through esamskriti. I had two problems.  One was how do I get in touch with the authors. Two who would prepare a summary of the book for uploading? The saying goes where there is a will there is a way. After months of networking I managed to touch base with one of the authors. Fortunately they had already prepared a book summary. For your convenience content is grouped under five chapters.

Introduction      Chapter 1

1. Foreword by Shri L K Advani.
2. Introduction.
3. Sources & Definitions.
4. Share of India in the world.

Composition      Chapter 2

5. Relative population of Constituent Units.
6. Religious Composition of India, Pakistan & Bangladesh.

Statewise Comp     Chapter 3

7. Projecting Trends into the Future.
8. Religious Composition of Different Regions of Indian Union.

World View       Chapter 4

9. Religious Demography of the World.

Subcontinent Profiles     Chapter 5

10. Conclusion.
11. Religious profile of India, Pakistan & Bangladesh followed by State wise profiles.

If you like to order the book (cost Rs 800/) email or write to Centre for Policy Studies, 27 Rajasekharan Street, Mylapore, Chennai 600 004 or call 91 44 28473802, fax 91 44 28474352 NOW.

The entire piece is Courtesy & Copyright Shri A P Joshi, Shri M D Srinivas & Shri J K Bajaj, Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai.


“Demography is destiny”, said Augustus Comte… Though several other factors do indeed matter, yet growth and decline of populations and changes in the relative balance between various groups within a population play a crucial role in the rise and fall of nations and even civilizations. That is why active and alert societies, especially of the modern times, keep a keen eye on the changing demographic trends within themselves as well as everywhere else in the world. … For more than a millennium now, India has been host to some of the greatest, most vigorous and expansive religions of the world. This circumstance has endowed India with a rich diversity; but it has also given rise to some of the most acute strategic, political and administrative problems that the Indian nation has had to face in the past and continues to face till today. Rigorous and continuous observation and analysis of the changing demography of different religious groups in various regions of the country is therefore of paramount importance in maintaining the integrity of our borders and peace, harmony and public order
within the country.

Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai, have now produced an exhaustive compilation of the religious demographic data of the last hundred years for different regions of the Indian subcontinent and almost all districts of Indian Union. And they have put the Indian situation in the context of the world by compiling the changes that have taken place in the religious demography of different countries and regions of the world in the course of the twentieth century. … I congratulate the Centre for Policy Studies for their seminal work, and commend this work to all Indians, but especially to the political leaders, strategic thinkers, administrators and those entrusted with the task of keeping peace and order in the country.

Shri L. K. Advani
Deputy Prime Minister And
Union Minister for Home Affairs                                                                       February 2003                          
Government of India                                                                                         New Delhi  


Religious Demography of India

INDIA is one of the only two regions of the world where a great human civilization took birth several millennia ago and has survived more or less uninterrupted to this day. The other is China. Probably an equally great civilization arose in the Americas and flourished for long; but the American civilization and almost all her people were extinguished when Europe began to extend its influence to the American shores. African civilization was also disrupted and her people decimated, though not as thoroughly as in the Americas. Europe, America and other areas of the world peopled by the Europeans, as also the Arab and other West Asian lands, are indeed centres of great and vibrant human civilizations today. But, the Christian and the Islamic civilisations that they represent are relatively new developments in human history.

Geographically, India is not as vast as China, Europe or the Americas. But in terms of natural resources essential for the flourishing of human civilisation - cultivable land, water and sunshine - India is as well if not better endowed than these. Even today, when India, along with almost all other parts of the world, has experienced a great resurgence of population, the number of persons per unit of cultivated land in India remains below that of Europe or China. It is not surprising therefore that, notwithstanding the relative compactness of her geographical expanse, India has been always a land of great multitudes. India and China together have accounted for more than half the population of the world at least from the beginning of the Christian era to 1850. In the earlier centuries of the era, the combined share of India and China was considerably more than half that of the world; and Indians outnumbered the Chinese up to at least 1500.

The other timeless fact about India, besides the extraordinary fertility of her lands and numerousness of her people, is the homogeneity of her civilisation and culture. Perceptive observers of India from the earliest times have often acknowledged and commented upon the uniqueness of Indian ideas and institutions that pervade nearly every part of India. This cultural homogeneity has come under stress during the last two hundred years or so, basically under the influence of modern ideologies that tend to look upon the homogeneity of India as a source of oppression and backwardness. This ideological prejudice manifests in the public life of India in the name of protection of distinctive ways of life of religious minorities, especially those belonging to Islam and Christianity. Such influences have led to Partition of India into three separate political entities; religious heterogeneity of certain parts of India formed the sole basis for this.

This booklet is a summary of a detailed study1, which presents a comprehensive compilation and analysis of the changes in these two basic determinants of Indian demography: the share of her people in the population of the world, and the civilisational and cultural homogeneity of her people.


The main sources of information about Indian demography are the regular decennial censuses that have been conducted with fair rigour and regularity for more than a century. Most of our analysis here and in the detailed book is based on the census data; though we have used the United Nations estimates wherever necessary, especially for the total population of Pakistan during the period after Independence.

Indian census operations began in 1871; the first synchronic census covering almost the whole of the territory of India, which now constitutes three separate states of Indian Union, Pakistan and Bangladesh, was conducted in 1881. Since then, regular decennial censuses have been carried out regularly, in at least the Indian Union. In these census operations, religious affiliations of the population have always been recorded, and populations classified accordingly. After Independence, cross-tabulation of data on religion was discontinued in the Indian Union, but basic data on religious affiliation has continued to be collected.

The census data, covering a period of 120 years, forms the basis of our compilation and analysis. During this fairly long period, the country has been partitioned; the larger administrative units formed by the states, provinces and divisions have been extensively reorganised; and the field level administrative units comprising of the districts have been repeatedly rearranged. The census data for the previous years therefore has to be carefully reworked to make it correspond to the current administrative units. Much of this reworking has been carried out by the census organisations of Indian Union, Pakistan and Bangladesh. We have compiled and analysed the available information for India; for the three constituent units into which India has been partitioned; for the states, provinces and divisions within these units; and for the districts of Indian Union.

Since this study is concerned mainly with the heterogeneity introduced by Islam and Christianity, populations for the purpose of this study are divided into three large groups: Muslims, Christians, and the rest, who may be collectively termed as Indian Religionists. Indian Religionists, as defined above, of course include, besides the Hindus, many fairly large religious groups, like Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains, who are important on their own, and several smaller groups, some of whom, like Parsis and Jews, may not be of Indian origin.

In 1991, there are 720.1 million Indian Religionists in the total population of 846.3 million of Indian Union. This number includes about 5 thousand Jews and 75 thousand Parsis; together they form around 0.01 percent of Indian Religionists. In addition, there are 163 lakh Sikhs, 33.5 lakh Jains and 64 lakh Buddhists counted among the Indian Religionists; together they form about 3.5 percent of number of Indian Religionists. The remaining about 96.5 percent of Indian Religionists are Hindus.

Throughout our analysis, we employ the term "India" for the geographical and historical India that encompasses the three countries into which India was partitioned in the course of the twentieth century. The individual countries separately are always referred to as Indian Union,

2    Religious Demography of India. Pakistan and Bangladesh. The last census for which detailed religious composition of populations is available is that of 1991; therefore, we carry all collation of data and analysis up to that year.


The most striking fact about the historical demography of the world is the sharp rise in the share of the people of European stock that began to take place from around the middle of the eighteenth century at the cost of first the African and later the Asian people. (See, Table 1 below.) In the previous couple of centuries, the Europeans had made probably similarly large gains in their share of the world at the cost of the original people of the Americas, whose population, which happened to be almost as large as that of Europe as a whole at that stage, was almost completely eliminated.

From about the middle of the nineteenth to the middle of the twentieth century was a period of almost total European dominance of the world, and consequently of great strain for most nonEuropean people. During this period, the share of people of European origin in the population of the world rose by about 10 percentage points, while the share of other people correspondingly declined. This rapid rise in the proportion of European people, facilitated to some extent by the peopling of the American continent, came on top of a rise of about 7 percentage points in the previous century and perhaps nearly 3 centuries of continuous growth before that. In the 1930's, the share of European people in the population of the world reached its peak of nearly 40 percent.

By the middle of the twentieth century, most non-European people of the world began to come out of the long period of direct European rule. And with the coming of freedom, they began to experience a great blossoming of their populations. In the latter half of the twentieth century, the share of African and Asian populations in the world rose sharply to largely neutralize the gains made by European people during the previous hundred years or so. India also participated in this great revival of non-European people. The share of people of Indian origin thus rose to above 20 percent of the population of the world from about 16 percent in 1950. Indian share in the world today is about the same as in 1850. Up to the middle of the last millennium, however, and perhaps up to the middle of the eighteenth century, we used to form a much larger part of the world.

The people of Indian origin thus have improved their share in the population of the world considerably in the course of the twentieth century. The share of Indian Union within India and that of Indian Religionists amongst the Indians, however, is a different story, as we shall see presently.