09/14/2004, 00.00
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India's religious mosaic threatened by Hindu fundamentalism

National census debunks Hindu accusations against religious minorities.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – For the first time India's national census presents a full picture of the country's religions. The recently released 2001 Census Report shows that Christians constitute 2.3 per cent of India's population or 24 million people (8 million living in the cities and 16 in rural areas).

Based on the census figures Christian leaders have denounced the campaign by Hindu fundamentalist groups against religious minorities. John Dayal, Secretary General of the All India Christian Council, and Sister Mary Scaria, member of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Delhi, expressed "surprise" over the timing of the report's release. In a joint statement, the two pointed out that "the Report was three years in the making but released just now, at a time when Hindutva forces are launching a campaign designed to polarise society on the eve of some important local state assembly elections."

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) –till May India's ruling party– and its military wing, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), are the main advocates of Hindutva or Hindu fundamentalist ideology.

For activist John Dayal the census at least debunks some of the false claims made by Hindu fundamentalist propaganda against the Christian presence in the country. "Hindu fundamentalists claim that north-eastern India is totally Christian and that Christians have engaged in mass conversion. But this is a lie," Dayal points out. "Just look at the figure. Except for Nagaland (where Christians are 90 per cent of the 2 million residents), Christians are always in the minority elsewhere: 34 per cent in Manipur, 19 per cent in Kerala, 1.9 per cent in Chhattisgarh and 0.3 per cent in Madhya Pradesh."

Still for BJP President Vankaiah Naidu the census data on religion "are reason for all those concerned with India's long term integrity to worry". What alarms him is the fact that the Muslim population seems to be growing at a faster rate (36%) that the Hindu population (20.3%). However, John Dayal suggests that such claims are deliberately misleading to harm the Muslim minority. "Unlike the 1981 and 1991 census, Kashmir and Assam [whose Muslim populations are 67 and 30 per cent respectively] were included in 2001. It is evident that the purpose for this was to give a false impression of Muslim growth." Thus, census data could be used to confirm Hindu fundamentalist claims that Muslims were converting many Hindus to Islam.

According to the Report, officially India's population was 1 028 610 328 which makes it the second most populated country in the world. Currently, 138 million are Muslim or 13.4 per cent of the total. Hindus constitute 80.5 per cent, Sikhs 1.9 and Buddhists 0.8. There are more males (532 million) than females (496 million).

The Report also contains data on poverty. It shows that one household in two was without electricity, two in three without running water and six in ten without indoor toilet facilities.

There were 48 medical doctors per 100,000 people. Illiteracy affected 64.8 per cent of the population (75.3 per cent for men, 53.7 per cent for women) with female illiteracy reaching 63.8 per cent in Uttar Pradesh and 60.1 per cent in Jharkhand. One child in four did not attend school and 25 million children have never been in a classroom. Ten million minors lived and worked in the streets. (LF)

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