The Statistical Future of Bangladeshi Hindus

hindufamily_banshkhali_anurupkantidas

Banshkhali. 2013. Photo: Anurup Kanti Das

Written by Dipen Bhattacharya

In 2051, the Hindu population could fall to the level of 1974.

One thing that every Bangladeshi possibly knows is that the Hindu population as a percentage of the total is shrinking monotonically. This is the legacy of the partition of India in 1947 and then the failure of the state apparatus to safeguard the rights of the religious minorities. While the Muslim population in India, despite the extremist politics of BJP or like parties, has gone up from about 10% in 1951 to 14% in 2011, the religious minorities in Bangladesh and Pakistan have decreased. During the period of 1951-2011 in Bangladesh, the Hindu population dropped from 22% to 8.5%. In Pakistan, the change was more dramatic: from an estimated 20% or 25% of the mostly Hindu-Sikh in 1947, it has dropped today below 2%.

The following is the result of some very rudimentary mathematical curve fitting procedures to the declining Hindu population in Bangladesh and an attempt to draw a conclusion about its future numbers. I cannot vouch for all the numbers, but in general the future it predicts cannot be too far off. I am also apologizing for using the word “Hindu” far too many times in this article, but the nature of this study did not leave me any choice. Furthermore, I have not addressed the issue of other religious and ethnic minorities here, but it will be interesting to see some estimates of their future numbers .

I have used the following table to predict some future percentages of the Hindu population in Bangladesh. The numbers were taken from the Bangladesh census and can be verified.
In Table 1, I show the census numbers over the period 1951 through 2011. The decline in the Hindu population percentage is quite remarkable. Note the leveling out of the Hindu population number by 2011.

Table 1. The total Bangladesh population, the Hindu population and the percentage of the Hindu population with respect to the total. The unit is million.

Year TotalPopulation(in millions) Hindu
Population
(in millions)
Hindu %
1951 41.93 9.22 22
1961 50.95 9.42 18.5
1974 70.88 9.57 13.5
1981 84.76 10.28 12.1
1991 109.9 12.77 11.6
2001 134.7 12.93 9.6
2011 152.9 12.99 8.5

 

Next we are going to estimate some population growth rates. During the period 1951-2011, the general population growth rate was 4.4%. However, the Hindu population growth rate during the same period was only 0.7%.

Table 2. Population growth rate

Period GeneralPopulation HinduPopulation
1951-2011 4.4% 0.7%


Moreover, if I break it down to examine the growth rates in smaller time intervals, the striking situation becomes even more obvious.

Table 3. General and Hindu population growth rate

Period General
Growth Rate
Hindu
Growth Rate
1974-1981 2.8% 1.06%
1981-1991 3.0% 2.42%
1991-2001 2.25% 0.12%
2001-2011 1.35% 0.05%


The Hindu population grew at a marginal rate of 0.05% during 2001-2011, virtually stagnating. It seems that the entire Hindu population has ground to a big halt since 1991.  

Fitting the decline of Table 1 with a mathematical power law, we find the following gradual trend in the decline:
Table 4. Future estimates of the Hindu population as a percentage of the total Bangladesh population

Year Population
percentage
2021 6.3
2031 5.3
2041 4.4
2051 3.7
2101 1.5

Now let’s anchor on two future years: 2031 and 2051. We will use the total population of Bangladesh in 2011 as our baseline and assume a current growth rate of 1.35%. The total population in 2031 would be about 200 million and in 2051 would be about 261.4 million. (It is possible that the population will stabilize at around 250 million, but that topic is for an  other day). Using the numbers of Table 4, the Hindu population would be 10.6 million in 2031, and 9.67 million in 2051. That means the Hindu growth would be negative. Rough calculations show the average Hindu population growth rate during 2011-2051 would be be -0.64% and in 2051 its number will match those of 1974.
Table 5. Future population (in millions)

Year Total Population Hindu
Population
Growth
Rate
2011 152.9 12.99 +0.05%
2031 200.0 10.60 -0.92%
2051 261.4 9.67 -0.44%

A very low growth rate, especially a negative one, is a hallmark of a highly industrialized society. The population growth rate of the Scandinavian countries is between 0.5 to 0.7%; whereas of Japan it is – (negative) 0.2%. But surely, the Hindus is Bangladesh do not fall into that category.

Until a few years ago, I believed that even though the Hindu percentage was declining, the absolute number of the Hindu population was increasing and would continue to increase. However, the truth is bitter and it’s statistical. It seems the trend is for negative growth numbers. For the next forty years or so, we might expect to see the Hindu population drop from a high of 13 million (in 2011) to 10 million. Whether the population will plummet drastically after 2051 is a matter of speculation. But for all practical purposes, the Hindu community will stop being a major participating community in Bangladesh. If the country stabilizes its population at 250 million, then an estimate for the Hindu number for the year 2101 could be as low as 3.75 million.


Among several explanations of  the low growth rate are (i) mass exodus to India, (ii) the disruption of the family structure and (iii) the willful underestimation by the the Census Bureau. Some say the migration to India is for better economic opportunities. Even when the existing religious bonding favors the power structure, some explanations comprise “land-shortage” and “land-grabbing” as if those words could take away the inherent religious bigotry that is present. They fail to see how – without any access to the existing power system of the current Bangladesh society – vulnerable the Hindu population is. Soft and hard intimidations, extortion, threat to family structures, illegal occupation of property, and looting and burning of households and temples are sufficient to have this population scurry across the border. The Hindus migrate to India because their lives are made unbearable through various means in Bangladesh.

I am not going to address the third point, i.e., the Census Bureau willfully undercounts the Hindu population for various political and social reasons.  If this is true, then we have no means of realistically predicting the future. As far as this article is concerned, I am going to assume this point is false.
Is there a way to mitigate the future trend? Here is the tricky factor. If religious beliefs rest on absolutism, syncretism has no place in there. Recent madrassa education has further alienated the greater population from the great syncretistic tradition of Bengal. If one doesn’t make a common platform of syncretistic tradition, diversity will suffer. This requires not governmental edicts, but fundamental changes within the society. Most of the Muslims and Hindus of Bangladesh have common ancestors and it is possible that by 2051, the society would find some kind of syncretistic tradition that will bind people better. If not, then Bangladesh can look forward to a future as a mono-religious country and these polemics will be simply irrelevant.

SOURCE: ALAL O DULAL

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