The general perception is that the Christian population in Telugu states is is growing, not shrinking. But Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) in their twenty-third note on the Religion Data of Census 2011 says otherwise. As per CPS, Christian population continued to rise up to 1971. The census that year counted 18.23 lakh Christians (4.93 per cent of total state population) in the then undivided state. This number dropped to 14.33 lakhs (2.68 per cent) in 1981 and to 11.30 lakhs (1.68 per cent) in 2011.
The note observes that a sharp decline in the number of Christians is directly related to a corresponding rise in the number of Scheduled Castes. This is interesting because either it means that those who converted to Christianity are returning to Hinduism or they are misreporting themselves as Scheduled Caste Hindus in the censuses so they can continue enjoying the benefits of reservation.
The latter looks more likely. As mentioned earlier, the international demographic scholars associated with the Church estimate the numbers are higher than what are being reported in the censuses.
Majority of the Christians are counted in the Andhra region. In 1971 census, out of 18.23 lakh, only 3.36 lakh were counted in the Telangana part of the undivided state. However, the story of growth of Christians in both these parts tells quite a different story.
The share of Christians has continued to decline in Andhra but began rising in Telangana since 1991. Since then, it almost doubled, from 2.79 to 4.47 lakh. The following charts from the note plot the growth and confirm the pattern.
Here is a brief summary of the CSP findings from the note:
- The number and share of Christians in undivided Andhra Pradesh, as also in both the Andhra and Telangana components, had been rising steadily up to 1971.
- After 1971, there was a sudden and steep decline in the population of Christians in the whole of Andhra Pradesh, but especially in the Andhra component.
- Between 1971 and 2011, the number of Christians in this component has declined by more than half, from 14.9 to 6.8 lakh and their share in the population has declined from 5.37 to 1.38 percent.
- Within the Andhra component, the Christians are concentrated in the central coastal districts of West Godavari, Krishna, Guntur and Prakasam and to a lesser extent in the neighbouring Rayalaseema districts of Kurnool and Kadapa. Of 14.9 lakh Christians in the Andhra Pradesh component in 1971, about 10 lakh were in the first four of these districts and another 2 lakh were in Kurnool and Kadapa.
- Share of Christians in this region had reached very high levels in 1971, when they had a share of 14.6 percent in the population of Guntur and 10.8 percent in that of Krishna.
- The decline in Christianity seen in Andhra Pradesh after 1971 is mainly because of the near collapse of Christian population in this region comprising West Godavari, Krishna, Guntur, Prakasam, Kurnool and Kadapa districts. In these six, their total population has declined from 12.0 to 4.2 lakh between 1971 and 2011.
- The sudden decline of Christianity after 1971 in this region is therefore a significant phenomenon that needs to be understood.
This decline in the share of Christians in Andhra Pradesh as a whole, and particularly in the central coastal districts of Andhra and a couple of neighbouring districts of Rayalaseema, after 1971 is matched by a corresponding rise in the share of Scheduled Castes. The correspondence is uncannily exact in the average for the whole undivided State and in many individual districts.
- The decline is almost entirely in the rural Christians. The number of urban Christians has in fact increased since 1971, and the increase in Hyderabad district is substantial. This is another indication that the decline in Christianity is associated with the converts from the Scheduled Castes who are predominantly rural.
- Available data strongly suggests that after 1971 a large number of converts to Christianity form the Scheduled Castes have chosen to be counted among the Scheduled Castes rather than the Christians.
It is important to know whether the decision of the converts from the Scheduled Castes to be counted as non-Christians amounts to a withdrawal from Christianity or merely hiding of the fact from the Census and secular authorities. But this question cannot be answered on the basis of the Census data alone.