India’s Hindus have dropped below 80 percent of the population for the first time since independence.
Census data, released on Wednesday by the ministry of home affairs, showed that Hindus declined to 79.8 percent of the country’s 1.2 billion people in 2011, from 80.5 percent a decade earlier. Muslims, India’s largest minority group, now make up 14.2 percent of the country, up from 13.4 percent in 2001.
Christian numbers stayed put at 2.3 percent, while the Sikh population fell to 1.7 percent from 1.9 percent.
Sakshi Maharaj, a Hindu priest-turned-politician, caused an uproar earlier this year when he said Hindu women should give birth to four children to ensure that their religion survives.
The Hindustan Times, reporting on the latest census said that while the Muslim share in population had increased, their growth since 2001 has recorded a sharp decline.
“In fact, the … growth rate of all communities has slowed down, suggesting a stabilising trend for fertility rates, the data showed.”
The latest data was ready to be released in January 2014 but the then Congress-led government chose not to make it public ahead of the general elections that year.
In the first census, conducted after Britain carved India and Pakistan out of colonial India in 1947, Hindus accounted for 84.1 percent of the Indian population.
Although population growth is slowing in all religious groups, India is still set to overtake China to become the world’s most populous country by 2022, according to a United Nations forecast.
India’s population grew by almost a fifth during the period between the last two censuses, straining supplies of land, food and water and bloating its underemployed, poorly skilled workforce.