In an editorial in the Indian Express titled ‘Census, Christians, Conversions‘, Surjit S Bhalla, a prominent economist, dissected the religion figures in the 2011 Census, released recently by the government. Among other findings, Bhalla analyses the reasons behind the share of the Christian population staying relatively constant at 2.3 percent. He notes that it is surprising that the Christian population has remained almost the same when it should have ‘declined significantly.’ In the editorial, he writes:
“So what is going on? Conversions. Christianity practises proselytisation in modern times. The analysis allows one to put a figure to the average per year conversions that modern Christian missionaries have been able to achieve. It is the gap between what the Christian population should have been in 2011 versus the reality of 27.8 million.”
A debate soon ensued on the validity of the numbers when Tony Joseph, the former editor of ‘Businessworld’ magazine, responded in an editorial in the Indian Express titled ‘Bend it like Bhalla‘ arguing that Bhalla has tortured his data to make it say what he wants to hear.
In three explanatory points, Tony Joseph contends that Bhalla’s conclusions on the Christian population are nothing but ‘serial assaults on data.’
This was one of the points he raised.
Bhalla arbitrarily chooses the years to fit his theory. If you take 1971 as the starting point, instead of 1991, as Bhalla has done, you will find that the Christian population has declined from 2.6 to less than 2.3 per cent, a decrease of over 0.3 percentage points in 40 years. During the same period, the Sikh population declined from 1.9 to 1.7 per cent, a decline of only 0.2 percentage points. So which community declined more in population-percentage terms depends entirely on the period one chooses. That Bhalla chose the period he did shows us what result he wanted to arrive at.
Continuing the debate, Father Dominic Emmanuel also wrote a lucid blog on this website titled ‘The Conversion Debate: How Surjit Bhalla conveniently ignores other significant variables‘ arguing that there are several fallacies in the assumptions that Bhalla makes on the Christian debate.
Father Dominic Emmanuel tries to put the records straight with his own arguments. Like this one below:
Bhalla slips into his second ‘fallacy’ saying that according to 2011 census, the Christian population at 2.30% has remained ‘relatively constant’. How indeed I pray? The Christian population according to 2001 census was 2.33%; in 1991 2.34% and was 2.6% in 1971. Is that constant?
In a second editorial published in the Indian Express on Saturday titled ‘No proof required: Numbers don’t lie -people do‘, Bhalla counters the arguments put forth by Tony Joseph in the latter’s previous article. Pointing out what he calls are successive ‘ducks’ in Joseph’s analysis, Bhalla notes that numbers don’t lie, people do.
Here’s one ‘duck’ that Bhalla points out to Joseph:
“It is a well-known and academically accepted fact that skewed sex ratios like this [as among Sikhs] have a significant impact on population growth”. This is the most glaring example of appealing to the Twitterati, and I challenge both Joseph (and my own paper The Indian Express!) to show me one study that shows that, all other things being equal, a skewed sex ratio significantly affects population growth. Just one study, and it need not even be published.
The effect of fertility levels and adult sex ratios was analysed for 15 major states of India, for the period 1981-2011. This revealed, as expected, that fertility levels are strongly related to population growth — and that there is no relationship between sex ratios and population after controlling for fertility.