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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Fact and fiction in India’s persecution hypothesis

Indian leading party, BJP, like always has misrepresented the facts to justify their unjust and genocidal acts against Muslim minority of the country. Their theory of persecuting Muslims is that Pakistan & Bangladesh did it to their minorities, why shouldn't we.

The whole superstructure of the Indian government’s citizenship amendment bill, now enacted, is erected on the claim that religious minorities have been brutally persecuted and still face discrimination in Pakistan since 1947 and also in Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.

The persecution hypothesis is based on faulty statistics. India’s Union Home Minister Amit Shah claimed non-Muslims comprised 23 percent of Pakistan’s population at the time of independence. By 2011, their proportion dropped to 3.7 percent. Concerning Bangladesh, he claimed that Muslims comprised 22 percent of the population and their proportion in 2011 fell to 7.8 percent in 1947.

 In West Pakistan, the non-Muslim population was just 3.44 percent, while it was 23.20 percent in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh)

He insisted Pakistan and Bangladesh have witnessed a decline of up to 20 percentage points in their populations of religious minorities.

But how true are his figures?

Adulterated figures

The BJP used the 23 percent figure of non-Muslims in Bangladesh (erstwhile East Pakistan) in 1951 and compared it with the 3.7 percent figure of non-Muslims in Pakistan in 1998. This adulteration of figures led to the fallacy that the population share of non-Muslims fell from 23 percent to 3.7 percent in Pakistan.

Myth of religious persecution

Not only non-Muslims but also Muslims migrated from Bangladesh to India. Better economic opportunities in India were the dominant lure for both non-Muslims and Muslims alike.

BJP quoted no source

India’s home minister did not quote the source of his data. He probably picked up the figure from Farahnaz Ispahani’s article titled ‘Cleansing Pakistan of Minorities‘ published by the Hudson Institute in 2013. She also did not quote any source of her data. Naz is Hussein Haqqani’s wife.

Be it noted please that she is married to Husain Haqqani, a senior fellow, and director for South and Central Asia at Hudson Institute. After resigning as Pakistan’s ambassador to the USA, Haqqani kept participating in functions that portray Pakistan in poor light. A judicial commission’s report (Memo Gate) alleged that he was not loyal to Pakistan.

Past Censuses

The only credible information emanates from the 1951 Census to rely on. In West Pakistan, the non-Muslim population was just 3.44 percent, while it was 23.20 percent in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). As per the 1951 census, the share of Muslims in Pakistan’s overall population was 85.80 percent, while that of non-Muslims was 14.20 percent.

In 1951, Muslims comprised 96.56 percent of the total population in the territory that is today known as Pakistan. The next census in Pakistan was carried out in 1961 which indicated the non-Muslim population in West Pakistan had fallen to 2.83 percent of West Pakistan’s total population.

Read more: India’s Citizenship Amendment Bill under a Muslim lens!

By 1972 when Pakistan carried out its third census, East Pakistan had been liberated and was now known as Bangladesh. The 1972 census shows non-Muslims in Pakistan comprised 3.25 percent of the total population. This was higher than their share in 1961.By the time the next census was done in 1981; Pakistan’s non-Muslim population registered a small rise from 3.25 percent in 1972 to 3.30 percent in 1981. After the 1981 census, Pakistan did not carry out a fresh census for more than 15 years and the next census was carried out in 1998.

As per this census, Pakistan’s non-Muslim population stood at 3.70 percent of the total population in 1998. Pakistan carried out a fresh census in 2017 but its religious tables have not been published.

Inferences from West-Pakistan Census data

1: The proportion of non-Muslims was never 23 percent of Pakistan’s total population.

2. Non-Muslim population in undivided Pakistan was 14.2 percent in 1951.

3. Non-Muslims accounted for 3.44 percent of the population in West Pakistan.

4: Census data show that the share of non-Muslims in Pakistan remained 3.5 percent over the decades.

5. No appreciable migration due to persecution.

Inferences from East-Pakistan (now Bangladesh) Census data

Non-Muslims formed 23.20 percent of erstwhile East Pakistan’s total population in 1951.

Share of non-Muslims in East Pakistan fell by 1961 to 19.57 percent, then to 14.60 percent in 1974, to 13.40 percent in 1981, to 11.70 percent in 1991 and 10.40 percent in 2001.

BJP cherry-picked and mixed-up data for the then East and West Pakistan to corroborate its hypothesis

Bangladesh’s latest census carried out in 2011 reflected that the share of non-Muslims went below 10 percent of the country’s overall population. In 2011, non-Muslims constituted 9.60 percent of Bangladesh’s population. Thus, from 1951 to 2011, the population of non-Muslims lowered from a high of 23.20 percent to a low 9.40 percent.

Data refutes BJP’s claim

Official data does not bear out BJP’s claim that:

1: Population of non-Muslims in Pakistan has dropped from 23 percent at the time of Independence to 3.7 percent in 2011.

2: Population of non-Muslims in Bangladesh was 22 percent at the time of Independence and has been reduced to 7.8 percent in 2011.

3: This decline in the population share of non-Muslims in these two Pakistan and Bangladesh was due to widespread religious persecution.


Based on Pakistan’s Census 1951, the BJP cherry-picked and mixed-up data for the then East and West Pakistan to corroborate its hypothesis of persecution of minority. Non-Muslims in East Pakistan’s population constituted 23 percent, not in both wings, as the BJP claimed.  Clubbed together (East and West Pakistan), the share of non-Muslims was 14.20 percent (the highest ever) in 1951. BJP’s claim that non-Muslim share fell from 23 percent to 3.7 percent in Pakistan is incorrect.

It averaged about 3.5 percent from the first census onwards.

1951: 3.44 percent,

1961: 2.80 percent,

1972: 3.25 percent,

1981: 3.33 percent, and

1998: 3.70 percent

Partial truth

As alleged by BJP, the non-Muslim population did decrease significantly in Bangladesh, but from 23.20 percent in 1951 to 9.40 percent in 2011, not from 22 percent to 7.8 percent, as alleged.

Read more: Everyone can be Indian Citizen Except Muslims: Amit Shah talks Poison

The persecution argument more aptly applies to Nepal (Rohingya), Sri Lanka (Tamil settlers) and Bhutan (whence Christians trek to Indian churches for worship). Five Indian states have already disowned the enacted citizenship in its present format.

Mr. Amjed Jaaved is the editor of The Consul & has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. He is the author of seven e-books. Mr. Jaaved has served the Pakistani government for 39 years.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.