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Religious Composition of Population in India – Essay

The early pre-vedic Hindu religion got modified in the Vedic period after the middle of the second millennium B.C. India is the birth place of four major religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. India witnessed successive penetration by other religions and the Indian population embraced these faiths from time to time.

The earliest to appear was Christianity. According to the historical records the Syrian Christians appeared on the West coast of India in the very first century of the Christian era. The Arab traders brought Islam to the West-Coast of India much before the Muslim conquest of the country. Buddhism which was once upon a time a major religion of the land is today confined to a few pockets only. Sikhism is the last to appear on the scene.

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There have been large scale changes in the religious composition of population due to conversions from one faith to another. The spatial pattern of distribution of different religious groups was greatly modified by large scale migration following partition of India in 1947. Partition brought about a major change in distribution and relative strength of different religious faith in Northern, North-Western and North-Eastern India.

According to 1941 census Hindus accounted for 66.5% of the population of the Sub­continent and Muslim’s 23.7%. After partition large number of Muslims migrated from India to Pakistan and Bangladesh and Hindus migrated to India from these countries. Consequently, the proportion of these two religious communities in the total population changed. According to 1951 census, the percentage of Hindus rose to 84.1 per cent and that of Muslims fell to 9.8 per cent.

The different religious groups of India mainly consists of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains, although other religious faiths such as Judaism and Zoroa- strianism are also represented. Majority of Zoroastrianism live in and around Mumbai. According to 2001 census Hindus account for 81.4 per cent of the total population and are the largest religious group in the country.

They are found in all the districts of the country. However in some districts they are out-numbered by Muslims, Christians, Sikhs or Buddhists. The Muslims are the largest minority group and account for 12.4 per cent of the total population. The proportion of Christian is 2.32 percent while Sikhs account for 1.90 per cent of the total population.

Buddhists and Jains account for 0.8 percent and 0.40 percent of the total population respectively. The 0.7 percent is accounted by other religious groups. The Hindus are found everywhere but other religious groups have their concentration in a few pocket only.

(i) Hindus:

One of the chief features of the religious composition of the population in India is that none of the religious communities except for Hindus constitutes an absolute majority in the total population of any State or Union Territory. According to 2001 census there were 827 million Hindus in India which was 81.4 percent of the total population of the country. Hindus of India constituted 12 percent of world’s population ranking below those professing Christianity and equal with the followers of Islam.

Except the peripheral areas and a few pockets in the interior of the country Hindus are the dominant religious group everywhere. In few district of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh the proportion of Hindu population goes up to 85 percent or above. In the sub-Himalayan district of Uttaranchal and Himachal Pradesh, the proportion of Hindu population is high—above 95 per cent.

The Hindu percentage remains well above 90 percent in Chhatisgarh, Eastern Gujarat, Southern Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Coastal Andhra Pradesh. There are, however certain districts on the West Coast where the Hindu percentages fall below 70 per cent and even 50 per cent.

This is due to the influences of Islam and Christianity. The Hindus are also less numerous in the district of Ludhiana, Amritsar, Ferozepur, Gurdaspur, Kapurthala. Bhatinda, and Patiala where they have been out-numbered by Sikhs. The Hindus are also in minority in valley of Kashmir. In predominantly tribal areas of North-East India Hindus lose their dominance to Christians. In Meghalaya and Nagaland, as well as Mizoram the proportion of Hindus may be anything between 5 and 20 percent.

(ii) Muslims:

According to 2001 census, Muslim population numbered 138 million which accounted for 12.4 per cent of the country’s total population. The major areas of Muslim concentration are situated in the Kashmir valley, parts of the upper Ganga plain, a number of districts in West Bengal and Bihar and a few pockets in Rajasthan and Haryana.

In Murshidabad district of West Bengal, the Muslim proportion goes as high as 55.8 percent. There are 14 districts of UP where Muslims constitute more than 20 per cent of the total population. Among these districts, Rampur has the highest percentage (48.06 per cent), followed by Bijnor (39.45 per cent), Moradabad (38.06 per cent), Bareilly (27.14 per cent) and Pilibhit (21.11 per cent).

Saharanpur in Ganga-Yamuna Doab with 31.56 percent of its Muslim population ranks first. It is followed by Muzaffarnagar (28.78 per cent), Meerut (25.30 per cent) and Ghaziabad (21.16 per cent).

The largest concentration of Muslims is in the Kashmir valley. In the districts of Kashmir valley the Muslim proportion remains above 90 per cent other areas of Muslim concentration are located in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. Malapuram in Kerala is the only district in the South with 60-80 per cent. Muslim population areas of Lakshadweep have 80 to 100 percent Muslim.

(iii) Christians:

According to 2001 census, there are 24 million Christian accounting for 2.30 per cent of the total population. Of the 24 million Christians of India one third lives in the State of Kerala alone. In Kottayam and Ernakulam districts of Kerala Christians account for 47.5 and 40.2 percent of the total population respectively. About one-third of the population of Goa is comprised of Christians. Several tribal district of Jharkhand and Orissa have significant proportions of Christian population.

In the same way, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur have very high proportion of Christians. The share of Christian in total population of Mizoram is as high as 87 per cent, Nagaland with 90. per cent of its population comprised of Christians. Percentages remain very high in the district of Meghalaya and Manipur (between 20 and 40 percent), Gurdaspur district of Punjab has about 6.3 percent of Christian population.

(iv) Sikhs:

There were 19.2 million Sikhs accounting for 1.90 per cent of total population of India. Sikhs constituted just 1.4 per cent of the total population of India in 1941. This rose to 1.7 per cent in 1951 as a result of migration of large number of Sikhs from Pakistan. While there is no part in India where the Sikhs are not represented, their major concentration is seen in the States of Punjab and neighbouring district of Haryana.

This is understood as Sikhism arose from the soil of Punjab as a result of the teachings of Guru Nanak. Sikhs have an absolute majority in the districts of Amritsar, Kapurthala, Ferozepur, Gurdaspur, Bhatinda, Ludhiana and Patiala. Minor pockets of Sikh concentration are found in the Tarai region, Ganganagar, Alwar and Bharatpur districts of Rajasthan. In Delhi the Sikhs account for 7.67 per cent of the total population.

(v) Buddhists, Jains, Parsis:

India has about 7.9 million Buddhist, 4.2 million Jains, and about more than one million Parsis. Of the total Buddhists of India about 84 percent live in Maharashtra alone. These are Neo-Buddhists and embraced Buddhism after a large scale conversion under the influence of the movement launched by Baba Saheb Ambedkar. The main pockets of traditional Buddhism however lie in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura.

The concentration of Buddhists in the Northern part of India is mainly because it is near here that the Buddhism took birth and spread over the Himalayas. India has about 4.2 million Jains according to 1991 census, and they are widely spread in the Western parts of the country. Of the total Jain population of India about 30 per cent live in Maharashtra, about 20 per cent in Rajasthan and about 15 per cent in Gujarat.

These three States account for 65 percent of the Jain population of the country. An interesting feature of the Jains is that their majority lives in urban areas. There are about one million Parsis, Zoroastrians by religion. They are the smallest religious groups and constitute just 0.4% of the population of India. More than 90 percent of this community is concentrated in Mumbai and in Surat.

In our country people belonging to different religious faiths live together bounded by common cultural tradition. For example Hindu, Sikhs and Muslim inhabiting in Punjab first of all identified themselves as Punjabis and anything else later. The same is applied for other cultural regions also from Kashmir to Kerala, and from Gujarat to Assam. Religion, therefore displays diversity on the surface only.

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