There is much discussion about religious communities and their population growth in India. However, if we look at the details, what we see is that the communities that inhabit a given region behave at par with each other – despite their religious status. In this sense, geography – both physical and human(cultural and social) determines population growth than religion.
For example, as per the 2011 Census, the Muslims had the fastest population growth and yet in states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the South having a better developmental trajectory in terms of social indicators, the population growth for Muslims was low and comparable with other communities. Notwithstanding the fact that Muslim growth rate was higher than the Hindus there, it was much lower than the national average.
A similar trend is observed in other states. On the opposite side of the spectrum, thus, states that showed higher than average growth rates for Hindus show higher than average growth rates for Muslims too.
A similar observation can be made regarding the number of females per 1000 males known as sex ratio. Sex ratios amongst Muslims are better than their Hindu counterparts, both in rural as well as urban India. However, when we map their distribution, the states with higher sex ratios for both Hindus and Muslims are the same. The southern states of (undivided) Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu stand out for both the groups as far as female survival is concerned.
In one of the studies by Jean Dréze and Amartya Sen, it was seen that female literacy and employment show a positive link in reducing overall child mortality as well as excess mortality of girls for India as a whole. However, the authors found that regional contrasts in the extent of gender bias in child survival was far more striking than the contrast relating to religious identity.
These associations suggest that rather than looking at communities, in this case Hindus and Muslims as distinctly different from each-other, one needs to understand the influence of regional location on people.
At the heart of this are deeply engrained cultural norms, values and beliefs operational in a given region that filter the way people respond to economic and other incentives, whether one is Hindu or Muslim or any other community!