Hastier Than Hastiest: Conversion of Census.

Modi government recently released census 2011 figures of the religion wise composition of India’s population. Opposition, notably Congress, promptly smelled “conspiracy”, probably correctly, on the timing of the release, which comes ahead of the Bihar assembly elections touted as crucial for both Modi and the opposition. Congress should know because the UPA government it led sat on it for 2 years in another “conspiracy” to deny Modi a propaganda tool ahead of the 2014 general elections. That conspiracy failed miserably. The fate of the current one we should know in October. However, the release of the census did fan the fantasies of Dystopia in a section that sees Islam and Muslims as a mortal threat. They fan the fear that Hindus would become a “minority” in India. Pew Research population projections show that by 2050 Muslims in India would be the largest Muslim group compared to any other nation in the world including Indonesia that currently holds that distinction. However, based on current trends it would take at least five more centuries for Muslim majority in India to materialise as Bloomberg points out putting paid to “apocalyptic” visions that cast ominous shadows in the social media. Indian Express columnist, Surjit Bhalla, attempted to correct this spin in his post, “Census, Christians, Conversions“. He based his arguments on decadal census enumeration exercise and NSS/NFHS surveys. The basic figure work that supported his argument was presented in the following graphics.

{For all religious groups, the population grew at a 1.6 per cent per annum in 2001-11, a steep decline from the 2.3 per cent a decade earlier.}

Two of his “bias correcting” observations were:

The good news is that the gap between Hindu and Muslim annual population growth rates is narrowing. Between 1991 and 2001, the Muslim population grew at a decadal rate 1.2 (log) percentage points higher than Hindus (3 vs 1.8 per cent); In 2001-11, this gap has come down to 0.6 percentage points — 2.2 vs 1.6 per cent.” “In this regard, there is nothing but cheers for the demagoguery of Hardik Patel, who is demanding education and job reservations for one of the richest communities in India: the Patels. May he finally succeed in eliminating reservations from the Indian psyche and the Constitution, and replace them with affirmative action, which Muslims would also be eligible for“.

Demographers have shown in studies after studies that the Fertility Rate is heavily influenced by Female Education and Family Income. Since patriarchy rules in most parts of the world, an educated female is a decent and trustworthy predictor of there being an educated husband and an educated family. Rising educational attainments among women and rising incomes bring down the fertility rate dramatically. Muslims are the poorest community in India barring of course Adivasis as was documented by the Justice Sachar commission. Therefore, the surest way to bring fertility rates among Muslim community “under control” is through “affirmative action” of providing access to Muslim girls [and boys] to education and to better livelihoods thereby. That is a positive takeaway from Bhalla’s column. Soon after though he comes with a contentious interpretation of data.

Because, along with Sikhs, Christians are the richest community in India. In the early 1990s, mean per capita consumption of Christians was Rs 404 per month and the fertility rate was 3.8 children per woman. The corresponding numbers for Sikhs: Rs 473 and 3.9. Almost identical, right? If so, then the population growth rate of Christians should be virtually identical to that of Sikhs; actually, somewhat less because of the higher education level and slightly lower fertility rate.” “The analysis allows one to put a figure to the average per year conversions that modern Christian missionaries have been able to achieve. It is the gap between what the Christian population should have been in 2011 versus the reality of 27.8 million. If Christians had the same population growth rate as Sikhs (of 1.2 per cent a year rather than the actual growth rate of 1.9 per cent a year), the total number of Christians in India would have been 24.1 million. The “excess” Christian population of 3.7 million in 2011 is very likely due to conversions. This excess translates into an average conversion rate of 1.7 lakh per year between 1991 and 2011“.

Having first correctly identified female education and family incomes as drivers of lower fertility rates, he then suddenly uses these without cogent reasons as determinants of population growth as well. The population growth is a function of Fertility rate, mortality rate and of net migrations. Therefore, the “substitution” of one rate with another made by him is fallacious. For the purpose of quick analysis we would ignore the effect of migrations, though a more serious analysis would have to take it into consideration. In the chart above, the Annual Growth Rate (Log) [AGR-L] tabulation for the second period reads as for 1991-2011 [that is for 20 years, Marked by me with RED box and 1991-2001 on top]. The commentary in the column is responsible for creating a confusion: is the correct period 1991-2011 as stated in the graph or is it 1991-2001? The statement above about proselytisation “success” of Christians assigns 20 years period for the creation of “excess” Christian population  of 3.7 million and that suggests 1991-2011 as the correct period.  The other contending statement from Bhalla’s post is cited below, which very clearly ascribes the AGR-L figures of Muslims [3] and Hindus [1.8] to the 10 year period between 1991-2001.

The good news is that the gap between Hindu and Muslim annual population growth rates is narrowing. Between 1991 and 2001, the Muslim population grew at a decadal rate 1.2 (log) percentage points higher than Hindus (3 vs 1.8 per cent); In 2001-11, this gap has come down to 0.6 percentage points — 2.2 vs 1.6 per cent“.

This is a serious flaw. Moreover, if the conversions took place at a constant rate [which is what Bhalla has assumed] per annum between 1991-2011, then 3.7 million would have translated into 1.85 lakh/ annum and not 1.7 lakh annual average conversions. Therefore, in light of these two facts, it seems more likely that 1991-2001 is the correct period. When the author is drawing such fractious conclusions based on “Data”, the need to be careful and vigilant on facts is ever great, but he has let his guard down.
Now the Decadal Fertility Rate less the annual growth rate of population ignoring the effect of net cross-border migrations should give the mortality rate for each community. See the table derived from above numbers [There could be problems with such direct extrapolation done prima facie, but would do for quick analysis] below;

Community 1991-2001 2001-2011
Mortality Rate Mortality Rate
Hindu 2.3 2.1
Muslim 2.4 2.7
Christains 1.5 1.4
Sikhs 2.3 2.2
Population Growth Rate=Fertility Rate – Mortality rate + Net Migration.
Therefore, Ignoring Net Migration for the moment,
Mortality Rate=Fertility Rate – Population Growth Rate
First a minor observation based on the above table. Mortality rate for each community has dropped over two decadal censuses except for Muslims, which looks like an outlier. Monthly Per Capita Consumption Expenditure [MPCE]  quinquennial surveys of NSS show that per capita consumption is improving for all communities in India. Then why is there this anomaly of seemingly increased mortality rate among Muslims? N C Saxena, retired IAS officer, commented in an interview after the release of religion wise figures,

In states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra, a large percentage of Muslims live in urban areas: say 40 % of Muslims as compared to 25 % Hindus.  Because of better health facilities, the mortality rate among Muslims is lower and plays a role in the increase in rate of population growth… Muslims are more urban-based. They are mostly artisans. So, despite the fact that they are poorer, their mortality rate is lower. It is not just a question of how many children are born but also a question of levels of mortality.“.

I would readily admit that the above anomalies could be the product of direct extrapolation that I have attempted, but neither has the columnist had a look at the mortality rates closely before drawing his contentious claims on conversions. That brings me to the major observation I have. The mortality rate among Christians is significantly lower than that among the Sikhs despite both being better than other communities in per capita incomes and female educational attainments. This would surely play a role in contributing significantly to the  higher population growth rate of Christians than Sikhs. Therefore, foisting Sikh population growth rate on Christians to compute a “theoretical resultant population” for comparison with actual population and then concluding that the “excess” population is the result of “Conversions” smacks of artifice. What the author had set out to debunk, he seems to have fallen prey to: “As the just-released figures show, the people, political parties and experts will provide their own spin to the data,…“.
Just as the averaged out Monsoon rainfall data for the whole country hides ground realities rather than revealing the true picture of the impact of rains on people, their lives, and agriculture; so does the averaged out census data for the whole nation that obliterates the highly significant and revealing variations between Regions, Urban-Rural population centres, and so on. Once again as Saxena observed

Q: You mentioned migration as a third important factor influencing the growth rate of Muslims in India. 
A: It becomes clear when you compare a 1971 map of India with a 2011 map. The 1971 map of India shows that apart from Jammu and Kashmir there were only two Muslim majority districts in India: Mallapuram in Kerala and Murshidabad in West Bengal. The 2011 map of India shows between 10 to 15 districts in India in Bihar, West Bengal and Assam where Muslims are in a majority. It is not so much due to higher fertility as it is due to migration from Bangladesh. The rate of growth has to be seen in these terms as well.

There have been number of incidences of raising passions and of vandalising over the “issue” of Christian proselytisation during last year and a half. So have been there orchestrated flare ups of communal violence between Hindus and Muslims. Such an article while dousing one fire may end up flaring another. Especially the following “off the cuff” comment made by the author without any evidence is highly egregious and condemnable.

(The Indian Express, January 3, 2012), Shyamlal Yadav reports that “In all, of the 958, at least 515 were Christian missionary organisations, which collectively received Rs 2,003.75 crore as foreign contributions.” In that year, a total of Rs 11,000 crore was received by all NGOs. Assuming this money was mostly for conversions, a lower bound estimate of conversion expenditures can be obtained: approximately Rs 1.1 lakh per person or Rs 5.5 lakh for a family of five (again, assuming that a family is converted together). The actual conversion expenditures are possibly lower; equally, possibly higher. However, it is quite unlikely that a poor converted family gets an amount in the range of several lakhs — if so, newspapers would have reported it! Since souls are being saved by the modern evangelicals, one presumes they don’t charge a fat salary to convert poor, desperate Hindus. But apparently they do.

First he makes a totally absurd assumption that all of the foreign contribution went into conversions to draw a “wishful” figure of Rs. 1.1 lakh/Convert. Then he outdoes himself by making a slanderous accusation that the lion’s share of the money was actually pocketed by the evangelists and thus cheating both the converts and the contributors. Unless he wants to suggest that the foreign contributors send the money from abroad solely and explicitly for the purpose of conversions. If it is the latter, he would become the darling of the militant outfits of the majority community. Bhalla’s column is or was at least generically titled, NO PROOF NEEDED. He seems to be living up to that “Motto”.

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