PANJIM, March 9: Goa’s religious composition has changed “substantially” over the last decade and half, and Christians have lost the majority status with they maintained till 1900, says a recently published book on the state.

But contrary to what might appear to be the case, Christians lost their majority position in colonial times itself. It is still unclear as to why precisely this happened, though out-migration could be one of the major explaining reasons.

“Correct figures in respect of religious composition of the population of Goa are not easily available as they are not officially published on a regular basis,” says ‘Goa: An Economic Update’ by Prabhakar S. Angle, a book recently released in the state.

But, says the author who is a prominent businessman based in Panjim, compiliations based on available data gives a “reasonable idea” as to how the religious composition of Goa “changed substantially between 1851 and 1991”.

Christians, says the book, had a majority of 64.5 per cent in 1861. They maintained the position till 1900, with a majority of only 0.48 per cent — or some 2000 inhabitants — in that year.

“Then, the decline started, and Christians who once had a majority fo 64.5 per cent became a minority community with a share of 29.86 per cent in 1991,” says Angle.

Recently, the just-concluded Census 2001 also focussed attention on how the ‘politics of numbers’ has become a prominent factor in India in recent years.

This means that relative strengths of religious groupings have been given considerable importance, though such an approach could obscure other factors like economic clout, access to resources, caste- and other-based differences, etc.

Angle points out that no studies are available to ascertain the causes responsible for the decline in the percentage of the Christian population in Goa.

This decline, it must be noted, is in relative terms (as a percentage of the total population). In absolute terms, the Christian population has grown from 232,189 persons in 1851 to 349,225 in 1991 — though this did not keep up with the general population trend.

“Presumably, one of the reasons could be the stoppage of missionary activities of proselytization. Re-conversion of a section of the Gauda community to Hinduism  (through the ‘Suddhi’ movement) may be another reason,” he writes.

One important factor that has contributed, he says, is the “post-Liberation labour influx” from neighbouring Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

But, he says, the puzzle remains of how to decline of the Christian population from 50.2 per cent in 1900 to 38 per cent in 1961, even in times when no in-migration took place.

“Emigration of Christians outside Goa in search of jobs cannot, by any stretch of imagination account for such a decline,” he contends.

But this view perhaps does not give due importance to the tens of thousands of mostly-Christian Goans who opted to settle in cities like Bombay, and smaller numbers that went to Bangalore, Calcutta, Rangoon, Karachi, East Africa, Lisbon and other centres during the early twentieth century.

Angle goes to check whether the Portuguese Civil Code — applicable to all communities and castes of Goa — could have affected the demographic ratios of this state’s main two communities.

“Elders used to comment on the small-sized families of Christians, saying that the latter did not wish to fragment their properties and wealth,” says Angle.

Angle also says that in the last three decades, Goa’s Muslim population has “increased substiantially” from 1.95 per cent in 1961 to 5.25 per cent of the total population in 1991.

“This can be attributed to the fact that the entire vegetable and fruit market as well as the hawking trade during fairs and festivals is almost monopolised by Muslims, coming to a large extent from the (neighbouring) Belgaum district. Some Muslim labour is also found in construction activity,” says he.

“Religion being an important and perhaps a basic cultural characteristic of the population, such a study may turn out to be an important document in respect of Goan culture,” argues Angle.

His recently-published ‘Goa: An Economic Update’ is subtitled Goa’s Economy in Perspective. It is an update of his interesting book titled ‘Goa: An Economic Review’ published way back in 1983.