"In the near future, the Muslim population of India will exceed the number of Muslims in Indonesia and Pakistan, which will result in a cultural and social imbalance of the Hindu nation," read Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray’s editorial in party newspaper Saamna.

This is what Thackeray, head of the Hindu right-wing party is referring to: “The Future of World Religions”, the latest report released by PEW, a global research organization.

Source: PEW research

By 2050, India’s Muslim population will rise to 18.2% from 14% in 2010, the report said. In numbers, India will have 311 million Muslims, more indeed than Indonesia and Pakistan, but what Thackeray does not say is that by this time the Hindu population will rise to 1.2 billion, or 77%, down no more than 3% over 40 years.

In 2010, Hindus were 80% of India’s population or 973 million, said the Pew report. The 2011 Indian census has compiled the country’s religious composition but has not released it.

Population increases are linked to fertility rates, the average number of children born over a lifetime.

The fertility rate for Indian Muslim women fell from 4.1 in 2001 to 3.2 in 2010 and is expected to be 2.1 by 2050.

Source: PEW research

Hindu fertility rates are 2.5, expected to fall to 1.9 by 2050, below the replacement level of 2.1.

However, Hindus are younger, on average, than the global population. So, combined with an increase in life expectancy, the Hindu population will rise even with below-replacement fertility, the Pew report said.

Let us now look at the issue from another angle: partners.

When it comes to polygamy, or more than one spouse, Buddhists have the highest number of partners at 3.4, followed by Muslims with 2.5 and Hindus with 1.7, according to the latest available National Family Heath Survey (NFHS 3), 2006, published by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Number of spouses not related to religion

Religion is not related to the number of partners; it is connected to other reasons, as academic researchers have pointed out.

Husbands of women with no children are more likely to have multiple wives (2.51 partners) than women who have at least one child (1.80 partners), said this Princeton University study, which analysed NFHS data.

Source : National Family Health Survey 3

“In India as a whole, two percent of women reported that their husbands had other wives,” said the study. “Urban-rural differentials are marginal (1.5% in urban areas and 2% in rural areas).” Husbands of older women and husbands whose wives are poorly educated are more likely to have multiple wives, than husbands of younger women and women with higher levels of education.

Spouses of women age less than 30 have about 1.35 partners whereas husbands of women age 30 or more have 2.22 to 2.51 partners.

Women across religious groups report multiple wives, as we said. It is more common for husbands of women belonging to scheduled castes and tribes to have multiple wives than women belonging to other caste/tribe groups.

The data also reveal clear regional variations with polygamy more prevalent in eastern (2.11 partners), north-eastern (3.20 partners) and southern (3.02 partners) regions. “In the northern and central regions, it is non-existent, as the women from these regions have reported their husbands to be having only one partner on an average,” said the Princeton study.

In February 2015, the Supreme Court said while their Muslim personal law permitted four wives, polygamy was not an “integral part” of Islam. The court struck down a Muslim man’s marriage to a second woman while married to the first.

Contraceptive use depends strongly on income

The Saamna editorial went on to say: "If Owaisi (president of All India Majlis-e-IttehadulMuslimeen) is so worried about his Muslim brothers, then he should promote family planning among Muslims and should support the burkha system for women.”

Source : National Family Health Survey 3

Contraceptive use is the highest among Jains (75%), Buddhists/neo-Buddhists (68%) and Sikhs (67%), according to NFHS 3. Contraceptive use is 58% among Christians and Hindus and lowest among Muslims, 46%.

Contraceptive use among married women varies markedly by education, religion, caste, and wealth.

In higher-income households, 62% of women used contraceptives, while only 42% women from households with lower incomes used contraceptives.

Muslims were poorest among followers of seven religions studied (Sikhs were richest), said a report released in 2013 by the National Sample Survey Organisation.

Image Credit: Flickr/Rajesh Pamnani