Ram Madhav
May 11, 2024

At Ease with Diversity

(The article was originally published in Indian Express on May 11, 2024 as a part of Dr Madhav’s column titled ‘Ram Rajya’. Views expressed are personal.)

EVA VLAARDINGERBROEK, A young conservative political activist from the Netherlands, has become famous after YouTube decided to pull down a video of her speech at a recent Conservative Political Action Conference in Budapest. YouTube described the video as “hate speech”. In the speech, that secured more than 50 million views on Twitter, Eva asserted, supported bydata, that Europeans are becoming a minority in Europe. The Great Replacement Theory is no longer just a theory, she argued, “but a reality”. “Let’s take Amsterdam, the capital. It currently consists of 56 per cent migrants, The Hague has 58 per cent migrants and Rotterdam has almost 60 per cent migrants. Of course, most of these immigrants come from non-Christian, Non-Western African and Middle Eastern coun-tries. The Dutch population is already outnumbered in the majority of our cities”, Vlaardingerbroek states. She adds that London has 54 per cent migrants and Brussels has 70 per cent migrants.

Vlaardingerbroek’s reference to the so-called “Great Replacement Theory” is interesting. First talked about in the late 19th century, it argued that Jews and some Western elites were conspiring to replace white Americans and Europeans with people of non-European descent, particularly Asians and Africans. In France, Renaud Camus formally codified this theory through a book in 2011 Le Grand Replacement. Surveys show that around 60 percent of the French believed some aspects of this theory while not less than a third of Americans and Europeans also do so.

A recent study by three members of the PM-Economic Advisory Council in India, Shamika Ravi, Abraham Jose and Apurv Mishra, “Share of Religious Minorities – A Cross-Country Analysis,” confins this trend about the radically changing demographics of the OECD countries. Drawing data points from 1950 to 2015, a three-generation period of 65 years, this study concludes that of the 35 out of the 38 OECD countries or the “developed world” it analysed, 30 countries have witnessed a steep decline in the share of the majority religious denomination – Roman Catholics in this case. The study covers 167 countries – by far the most exhaustive, although basic — and finds that the average reduction of majority populations globally during the period was 22 per cent. However, it also shows that the decline was much steeper in the OECD countries where the average decline of the majority religious population was at 29 per cent. Data about Africa too is revealing. Animism or native religion was the dominant religion in 24 countries in Africa in 1950. By 2015, it was no longer a majority in any of these.

It is in this background that the study looks at the data sets available about India too. “In keeping with the global trends of declining majority, India too has witnessed a reduction in the share of the majority religious denomination by 7.81 per cent, “it states. The authors hypothesise that the increase in the population of minorities could be a “good proxy” for arriving at the conclusion that they were “flourishing” in the given country. In India’s context, a 7.81 per cent increase in the populations of Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Buddhists (Parsis and jains saw a decline) indicated that contrary to the propaganda, especially in the Western media, the minorities enjoy relative comfort in the country.

The authors end the report by stating that “contrary to the noise in several quar-ters, careful analysis of the data shows that minorities are not just protected but indeed thriving in India. This is particularly remarkable given the wider context within the South Asian neighbourhood where the share of the majority religious denomination has increased and minority populations have shrunk alarmingly across countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Afghanistan. India’s performance suggests that there is a conducive environment to foster diversity in society. It is not possible to promote better life outcomes for the disadvantaged sections of society without providing a nurturing environment and societal support through a bottom-up approach”.

Data is a double-edged weapon. It can often be deceptive too. One could see that in the media and social media debates following the publication of the study in India. Rather than understanding the purpose of the study to negate the propaganda about the status of minorities in India, the debate largely shifted to the growing numbers of the minorities and dangers to the majority community thereof.

A comprehensive study about the growing minority population in India, “Religious Demography of India”, was published by JK Bajaj, M D Srinivas and A P Joshi in 2003. Going down to the district level, that near-exhaustive study warned of the unbalanced growth of minority populations in the country. It triggered a widespread debate along similar lines at that time too.

However, new data also reveals that population growth rates in India are gradually coming closer to the healthy growth mark. Total Fertility Rate (TFR) data (num-ber of births a woman gives in her lifetime), a credible indicator to project population growth, shows that in India, against the preferred TFR of 2.19, the national average is hovering around 2. Itis a decline from 2.2 in 2015 and 3.4 in 1991. This decline, according to the National Family Health Survey data, is across all religious groups. Between 1991 and 2015, this decline for Hindus was from 3.3 to 2.1, while that of Muslims was from 4.4 to 2.6. Today, the figures for Hindus and Muslims have further declined to 1.9 and 2.4 respectively.

If the trend continues, Indiais expected to see healthy population patterns in the coming decades. PMEAC’s conclusions in a way indicate the same thing that minorities enjoy all benefits and lead a comfortable life in India, while demographic changes in the whole world continue to be a matter of concern.

Published by Ram Madhav

Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation

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