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Will Assam be Muslim majority in the next 40 years?

Assam is perched on a precipice with extremely serious security implications for the country. Low Hindu fertility rate, stubbornly high Muslim fertility rate, and illegal infiltration, often encouraged by the propertied classes that wanted cheap labour, are likely to contribute to turning a state that was barely 14% Muslim in 1901 to a Muslim majority state in 2061.

This article has been co-authored by Shanmukh, Saswati Sarkar, Dikgaj and Aparna

Assam has seen rapid change in religious demography, since the beginning of the twentieth century. From 14% minorities in 1901, the state has seen a rapid rise in the number of minorities and a corresponding fall in the fraction of Hindus in recent years. The influx of Bangladeshis, once a source of labour for the landlords (of various Hindu ethnicities in Assam, eg, Asomiya, Bengali, Marwaris, and even the British), has led to persecution and flight of Hindu residents (of all ethnicities) from their homes, agitations against the Indian state and serious strife in the region, as communities have turned against each other, leading to fragmentation of both the polity and the society. Militias of various groups have roamed the land, leading to attacks against each other too.

Consequently, we seek to predict and analyse the evolution of religious demographics of Assam in the next fifty years using established statistical tools.

In the first part of the article, we present our conclusions of the various techniques, along with tables of the projected growths and the dates by which the various districts of Assam will turn Hindu minority, along with maps illustrating the same. In the latter part of the article, we analyse Assam as a whole and predict the demographics of the entire state. In the last part, we present our analysis on what the consequences of legalising the illegal immigrants via visas, as has been suggested by influential members of various political persuasions including the right wing and BJP support base.

In all our calculations, we have considered Hindus to comprise of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Animists. All the different categories other than Hindus are <1% in all the districts we have included in our analysis. Consequently, we have included them in the Hindu category. However, Christians have been modelled separately wherever they are in significant numbers. Further, in no place have Christians been included in either Muslim or Hindu category, even where they have not been modeled as in those where they constitute <1% as in Kamrup, Nagaon and Cachar.

Historically, Assam consisted of eight districts, namely, Goalpara, Kamrup, Nagaon, Darrang, Lakhimpur, Sibsagar, Cachar Hills and Cachar. Of the eight districts, Lakhimpur is comprised of the districts of Tinsukhia, Dibrugarh, Dhemaji and Lakhimpur, while Sibsagar comprises the districts of Sibsagar, Jorhat and Golaghat. Both Sibsagar and Lakhimpur have >85% Hindus and have shown little change since 1951, we have therefore not investigated changes in religious demography in these. The other six have been showing a rapid fall of Hindus and have been investigated. For reasons of historical consistency, we have grouped these 6 districts as they historically existed (as large parts of census data in the past exist only for the districts as they existed then).

Thus, in all our models: Goalpara comprises of Goalpara, Dhubri, Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon and Chirang; Kamrup consists of Barpeta, Baksa, Kamrup, Kamrup Metropolitan, and Nalbari; Darrang comprises of Darrang, Udalguri, and Sonitpur; Nagaon comprises of Nagaon and Morigaon; Cachar (also known as Barak valley) comprises of Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj districts; and Cachar Hills comprise of Dima Hasao and Karbi Anglong districts.

In this article, we have aggregated the various districts in each historical district together to determine the future religious demographics.

Take home message 1:

District Actual Percentages Projected Percentages (in 2061)
1951 2011 Constant Growth Polynomial Logistic
Goalpara 54.24 38.30 17.61 22.26 24.16
Kamrup 70.42 61.41 46.27 44.55 50.03
Nagaon 59.23 44.89 26.54 30.12 35.06
Darrang 78.98 64.56 43.92 50.68 51.68
Cachar Hills 93.22 78.93 63.72 66.34 75.93
Cachar 61.19 50.96 37.60 42.23 43.70

Table 1: The table shows the actual percentages of the Hindus in 1951 and 2011 and the likely percentages of the Hindus in 2061 by the three methods used to predict the future demographics

It becomes clear that by 2061, Hindus will fall below 50% of the total population in five of the above six areas modelled according to both constant growth model and polynomial models. Currently, 22 million of the total 31 million, i.e., about 75% of the total population of Assam, lives in these 5 districts. Next, Goalpara, and Nagaon (Nagaon is the most heavily populated of the current districts of Assam) will have Hindus at 25% or so in 2061, a huge collapse from being a Hindu majority region in 1951. These regions are already a Hindu minority, while they used to be Hindu majority only two decades back. And Kamrup, housing nearly a fifth of the total population of Assam will also be a Hindu minority in 2061. Last, but not the least, Cachar, the Bengali speaking region of Assam, will also have become a Hindu minority. Already, it is tottering on the brink of becoming Muslim. Thus, in short, Hindu demography in Assam is collapsing across all major Hindu groups, including ethnic Assamese and ethnic Bengalis.

In contrast, the Muslim population has risen from 43% in 1951 in Goalpara to 56% in 2011, and is projected to rise to more than 70% in 2061 (in all models). In Kamrup, it increased from 29% in 1951 to 39% in 2011 and is predicted to rise to ~50% in 2061 in the various models. Similarly, in Darrang, it increased from 17% in 1951 to 29% in 2011 and is predicted to rise to more than 45% in 2061. In Nagaon, the Muslim percentage increased from 40% in 1951 to 55% in 2011 and is predicted to rise to more than 70% in 2061, and in Cachar, it increased from 38% in 1951 to 49% in 2011 and is predicted to rise to more than 60% in 2061. Similarly, the Christian population in Darrang has risen from 4% in 1951 to 7% in 2011 and is projected to rise to 8% in 2061; in Goalpara from 3% in 1951 to 5.5% in 2011 and is projected to rise to 8% in 2061; and in Cachar Hills from 7% in 1951 to 19% in 2011 and is projected to rise to 33% in 2061.

We now present on a map of Assam the year by which Hindus in different districts will fall below the 50% mark as per the three statistical growth models, as also the year by which Muslims will become majority in the same. We have coloured in deep green the districts that are already Hindu minority, in red those districts that may be Hindu minority by 2061 (we have indicated, in the table below the map, the years in which the districts shown in red will turn Hindu Minority and Muslim majority respectively, according to various models), and in yellow those that will remain Hindu majority in the next fifty years in all the models..

Map of Assam

In the case of the sixth district, Cachar Hills, experience has shown that once a Christian percentage reaches a certain point in a tribal district, it tends to shoot up (this will be shown clearly in our models in the northeast states). Similarly, it may well turn out that this district too may become non-Hindu majority, while mathematical models do not indicate that just yet. Further, Cachar Hills looks large geographically, but it is very sparsely populated.

Consequently, of the eight districts of Assam, five will be definitely non-Hindu majority or nearly at par. The remaining two will have Hindus above the 80% mark, assuming no migration to change the demographics of the last two regions.

In terms of the current districts, Dhubri, Goalpara, Barpeta, Bongaigaon, Nagaon, Morigaon, Darrang, Karimganj and Hailakandi are Hindu minority, while Nalbari, Kokrajhar, Kamrup and Cachar are also Hindu minority in the 0-4 age group, already. A total of 9 existing districts are already Hindu minority with at least five more set to join the list of Hindu minority districts in the coming years.

Take home message 2:

A point of particular concern is the negative growth of Hindus in many areas that are heavily Muslim dominated. In the table below, we have presented the data of tehsils, where the Hindu growth has been negative in the 2001-2011 decade. As may be observed, all the tehsils are Muslim dominated.

Tehsil District Hindu growth 01-11 Muslim growth 01-11 Muslim % in 2011
Chapar Dhubri -12.29% 22.99% 68.9%
Kalgaicha Barpeta -17.3% 32.71% 99.1%
Bagbhar Barpeta -2.39% 17.57% 96.4%

Table 2: Listed above are a few tehsils that have shown negative growth rate for Hindus in 2001-2011 decade. We have also shown the corresponding Muslim percentages in the districts.

The negative growth of the Hindus in these tehsils, when their neighbouring tehsils show a healthy Hindu growth imply that large scale emigration of the Hindus is ongoing. In several tehsils like Mankachar, Jaleswar, South Salmara, Laharighat, Dalgaon, etc. (especially the rural areas), Hindus have been practically wiped out, making growth (positive or negative) a matter of irrelevance. The situation is approaching similar levels on the other side, especially in the Badarpur and Hailakandi tehsils. Consequently, the actual growth rates do not matter in many tehsils, where the Hindu percentage is below 10%.

Take home message 3:

The religious demography of Assam as a whole will evolve as follows:

Districts Actual Percentages Projected Percentages
1951 2011 Constant Growth Polynomial Logistic
Assam 73.32 61.99 44.95 43.88 48.03

Table 3: The actual percentages of Hindus in 1951 and 2011 and the projected percentages of Hindus in 2061 using the three techniques used to predict future demographics

It may be observed that all the three models show a clear Hindu minority situation in 2061. Indeed, both the polynomial and constant growth models show a Hindu minority well before 2051. We believe that these models are more realistic than the logistic model for Assam. Further, the Hindu population is projected by the polynomial model to actually begin shrinking from 2051-2061 decade. Assam’s Hindu population will fall from 21.8 million to 21.2 million and will shrink further. Assam’s Hindu population also has a very low fertility rate. Assam’s population grew only by about 11.6% in 2001-2011, whereas the Muslim population grew by 26.2%, with Muslims in many border districts growing by as high as 31%.

The point to note is that Hindu demographics of Assam has also benefited vastly by the ingress of many Hindu Bangladeshis, Nepalis, and Biharis. However, despite this immigration, Hindu demographics of the area is consistently falling, as it has been overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of Muslims immigrating from Bangladesh. Had the Hindu immigrants not arrived, Assam would have been in a worse state demographically, from the Hindu perspective.

Take home message 4:

The principal cause for the collapse of Hindu demography in Assam has been Hindu mercantile greed over the last hundred years, amplified lately by middle-class avarice for access to cheap household help. For example, Eastern Goalpara, Kamrup, and Nagaon were 4-6% Muslim in 1901. Today, all three have Muslim populations ranging from 35 to 50%. Barpeta district (part of the undivided Kamrup) had 0.1% Muslims in 1901 and the Muslim population has risen to 65% today. From 1911, the influx of cheap Muslim labour from Bogra and Mymensingh in (today’s) Bangladesh to grow rice and tea on land seized from the Rabha, Bodo and Tiwa tribals by Indian and British landowners, transformed the demographics of this region in less than 30 years.

The Bangladeshi immigrants were, initially, mostly landless peasants and were settled on otherwise `unproductive land’ to benefit landowners. However, since then, they have seized vast amounts of land belonging to tribal communities, who have since been marginalised in Assam. Since then, they have continued to appropriate every kind of land – including Sattra lands – for agriculture. The illegals also provide a source of cheap labour for the tea industry (in some areas) and construction industry in other areas. Logging also employs these Bangladeshi infiltrators.

The concern about the influx of illegal infiltrators from Bangladesh needs to be viewed in the context that the growth of Hindus in many Muslim dominated districts is turning out to be negative. It is important to note that this phenomenon is being reported only in the regions of high Muslim presence. Thus, the Hindus are fleeing, or rather being compelled to flee, such regions. Hindu flight from Muslim dominated regions of Assam is a reality and is reflected in Table 2. This trend is likely to accelerate. Dhubri, Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon and Chirang districts saw a growth rate of 4.1% for Hindus (average growth rate of Hindus in Assam is 11.4%), while Muslims grew by more than 20% in the same districts. All the districts have a high Muslim population and have shown a very rapid rise in the number of Muslims in recent years.

The flight of the Hindus is unsurprising considering the assaults to which the Hindus have been subjected to in recent years by the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. In Barpeta, Hindu temples have been desecrated [7]. In Darrang and Dalgaon, Bodos have been expelled from their homes. [8]. In Dalgaon, Durga Puja idols of the Bodos were attacked by the illegal Bangladeshis. [9]. In Dhubri, anti-India slogans were raised by the Bangladeshis, thus threatening the territorial integrity of the country [10]. Given these rampant attacks on the Hindus, the Hindus are leaving the region in droves.

It has been conservatively estimated [3] that the total number of illegals in Assam is between 1.5 and 2.5 million, or nearly one in every four Muslim inhabitants of Assam. It is likely that the actual number is much higher. These illegals have swamped the districts of lower Assam and Cachar, and have changed the demographics of the districts. The census numbers include the illegals and has thereby contributed in no small measure to our prediction of alteration of the religious demography of Assam.

There is large scale alarm about alteration of religious demography among the Hindu residents of Assam. The newly elected BJP government has in fact won by promising that it would solve the problem of illegal immigrants. It is of concern that there has been a persistent suggestion in influential sections of the support base of BJP that the problem is best solved by giving the illegal immigrant visas and legalising them [1]. Further, a call for free immigration from Bangladesh is being made. Economic development has been the pretext presented for both [1], [5], [6]. In fact, the call for naturalisaton of the illegals, who have `lived long’ is also being made in [5] and [6]. The legalisation of the illegal immigrants will lead to their eventual naturalisation as citizens. Even if the illegal immigrants are denied citizenship, their children will become citizens. Thus, not only will legalisation of illegals, not redress the demographic collapse of Hindus in Assam, it will exacerbate the same.

It is worth noting that Assam, sharing a border with three countries (Bhutan, Bangladesh and China) is key to holding the entire north east and, in the event of a war, all the roads leading to the northeast are currently dominated by areas filled to the brim with illegals. Secondly, it is the rural areas that are being lost to illegals. Urban Dhubri is 57% Hindu, while rural Dhubri is 15% Hindu. With the rural areas overrun by illegals, the big cities are becoming islands in a sea of illegals and are becoming cut off from each other. Already, Gauripur and Dhubri towns are cut off from the rest of India by the huge numbers of illegals, who dominate the countryside. In 20-30 years, the same fate will befall Gauhati, Darrang, and Nagaon too. Rural Kamrup, Darrang, and Nagaon also show a similar trend. This can result in a situation fraught with serious security implications for India. During the 1962 war between India and China, the illegal (then) East Pakistanis tried to welcome the Chinese invaders with Pakistani and green flags p. 107, [2]. There is no reason to believe that the new set of illegal immigrants are more loyal than their predecessors were in 1962. Similarly, a constant refrain of the Bangladeshis has been, `শিলহট্ট নিলাম গণভোটে কাছাড় নেবো লাঠির জোরে’ (We have taken Sylhet by the ballot, we will take Cachar by kicking you out).

Economic development is welcome, but not at the expense of national security or collapse of Hindu demography. If Hindus are forced to flee regions of heavy Muslim dominance, as they are currently, clearly the economic development that the legalisation of illegal immigrants might bring in, will not in any way further the interests of local Hindu commoners, regardless of the impact on the GDP. The suggestion to trade legalisation of illegal immigrants for greater investment opportunities in Bangladesh [5], [6] is a horrifying one, since it will inevitably come at the cost of the indigenous communities of Assam and the North East, as they are forced to flee the region due to the pressure by the illegal immigrants. It is imperative, therefore, that infiltrators be expelled, not legalized. On this count, a distinction must be made based on religion, as religion determines the principal cause of immigration from neighboring Bangladesh. Hindus from Bangladesh are seeking refuge in different parts of India including Assam due to religious persecution in Bangladesh. Muslims are not subjected to any religious persecution, their illegal migration into India is therefore for economic or other reasons. So, illegal Muslim migrants need to be expelled as infiltrators, while Hindu migrants need to be offered the status of refugees and subsequently naturalized – otherwise Assam is lost for good.

Statistical projections of religious demography – models and results

The statistical projections have been made for all the communities using the methods mentioned; namely, constant growth models, polynomial curve fitting, and logistic curve fitting models. In all the graphs, the 1981 census is blank as no census was held in Assam in 1981, due to political turmoil and strife.

The constant growth model takes the average growth of the previous two decades and extrapolates them for the coming decades. Given that Hindu, and Muslim (but not Christian, as Christian growth rates often depend on conversions) growth rates are slowing down, the population (but NOT population percentages) of Hindus and Muslims obtained using this technique can be viewed as the upper limit of the populations that are likely to be present in 2061. The logistic curve assumes that all populations tend towards stability (neither increase, nor decrease) over time, and tries to ‘flatten’ the growth rates and thus stabilise populations in the long run. This can be viewed as the ‘stable’ population that is likely to be attained, assuming that stability does occur. The polynomial tries to realistically model the changes that have occurred in the past and project them into the future. This is the only model that can capture population fall in the future (due to low fertility rates) populations and tries to be the most realistic model, given the current data.

Districts:

Constant Growth:

In the constant growth model, we model the percentages of the various groups, assuming the average population growth of the various communities between 1991 and 2011 to hold in the future. The following percentages are inferred using this model.

As may be seen in this model, five of the six areas considered, turn Hindu minority by 2061, with the Hindu population falling below the 25% mark in two districts. Goalpara (which became Hindu minority in 1991) and Nagaon (which became Hindu minority in 2001) are two of the most heavily populated districts in Assam. Kamrup (Hindu minority in 2051), Darrang (Hindu minority in 2051) and Cachar (Hindu minority in 2021) are the other districts, which will become a Hindu minority in this model, before 2061. Further, all these districts will become Muslim majority by 2061, too, despite a significant Christian population in both Goalpara and Darrang.

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Polynomial Model:

In this model, we try to fit third degree curves to the data points and try to predict the future populations. In the case of Goalpara and Darrang, owing to the rapid rise of Muslim population after minor changes in direction of growth in earlier decades, the third degree curve gives a large error. Consequently, we have chosen second degree curves to model these populations and predict future religious demographics.

In this model, too, five of the six districts become a Hindu minority (even Darrang has a Hindu population of 48% in 2061; it is just not Muslim majority due to the presence of a 7.5% Christian population in the district). The Hindu population of Goalpara falls below the 25% mark in this model too. Hindu population of Cachar falls below the 50% mark in 2021, Kamrup in 2051, and Darrang in 2061.

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Logistic Model:

In this model, we try to fit logistic curves to the data points and predict future populations and percentages from them. The curves are shown below.

In the logistic model, the Hindu population is below the 50% mark in three of the six districts, with the Hindus and Muslims at par in Kamrup (50.06% Hindus and the rest Muslims). Only in Darrang, do the Hindus show slightly greater than 50% population (Hindus are 51.6% in Darrang in this model). Hindus are set to fall below the 50% mark in 2031 in Cachar according to this model.

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The state as a whole:

We also project the population of entire Assam using the same three models. From the above figures, it can be seen that by 2061 Hindus will fall below the 50% mark in all three models, with the best case shown in the logistic being a 48.03% Hindu figure in 2061. Muslims are at par in the logistic model with 48.31% of the population share. The share of Hindus is 44.95% in the constant growth model and 43.89% in the polynomial model in 2061. In both these cases (51.8% in polynomial and 50.9% in the constant growth model), Muslims form the majority by 2061. Hindus become the minority in 2051 in both the constant growth and polynomial models.

 

7Conclusions:

In conclusion, we can say that Assam is perched on a precipice with extremely serious security implications for the country. It is not too much to say that the future territorial integrity of India is at stake and how the Indian state expels the illegals will determine the course she takes as a nation. Low Hindu fertility rate, stubbornly high Muslim fertility rate, and illegal infiltration, often encouraged by the propertied classes that wanted cheap labour, are likely to contribute to turning a state that was barely 14% Muslim in 1901 to a Muslim majority state in 2061.

References:

[1] – Jagannathan, “Capitalism’s crisis will end when they free immigration”, 19/08/2011 https://rjagannathan.in/2011/08/19/capitalisms-crisis-will-end-once-they-free-immigration/

[2] – Braja Bihari Kumara, “Illegal Immigration from Bangladesh”.

[3] – AP Joshi, MD Srinivas, and JK Bajaj, “Religious Demographics of India”

[4] – JK Bajaj, “Demographic decline of the locals, infiltration and Congress vote politics create turmoil in Assam” Organiser, 27/08/2012, http://www.organiser.org/Encyc/2012/8/27/-b-Demographic-decline-of-the-locals,-infiltration-and-Congress-vote-politics-create-turmoil-in-Assam–b-.aspx?NB=&lang=4&m1=&m2=&p1=&p2=&p3=&p4=&PageType=N

[5] – Jagannathan, `”Assam Violence shows we need to open up legal migration”, http://www.firstpost.com/india/assam-violence-shows-we-need-to-open-up-legal-migration-390094.html

[6] – Jagannathan, `”Why PM Modi should offer Sheikh Hasina a win-win deal on Illegal Immigrants”, http://www.firstpost.com/india/why-pm-modi-should-offer-sheikh-hasina-a-win-win-deal-on-illegal-immigrants-2281332.html

[7] Temple desecrated in Barpeta http://www.newstimesassam.webcomipl.net/newsupdates/index.php?aID=4947&highlight=Barpeta#.V1D3qR3xNLb

[8] On the offensive http://www.thesundayindian.com/en/story/on-the-offensive/7/6749/

[9] BJP condemns infiltrators attacking Bodos in Assam http://www.oneindia.com/2008/10/05/bjp-condemns-infiltrators-attacking-bodos-in-assam-1223218970.html

[10] Anti India Slogans raised in Dhubri, http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/detailsnew.asp?id=apr1015/at052
All the relevant demographic data has been taken from [3] and the corresponding census of India books. Some of the data for the table showing the negative growth of Hindus has been taken from [4]

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