Working Paper / Religious Denominations of Kerala

List Editor Ashok R Chandran13/05/2016

K. C. Zachariah. (2016, April). Religious Denominations of Kerala. (CDS Working Paper No. 468). Thiruvananthapuram: Centre for Development Studies.


This paper discusses the demographic and socio-economic profile of religious communities (castes among the Hindus, sects among the Muslims and denominations among the Christians) in Kerala’s three major religions — Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. Such data are not presently available from other sources such as the population censuses.

The practice of collecting “caste” data was discontinued in the Indian censuses ever since India became independent in 1947. This study, based mainly on data from the Kerala Migration Surveys, is an attempt to fill this void for recent years.

It gives information on the size of the communities (population), trends, major demographic characteristics, selected socio-economic characteristics such as education, employment, migration and remittances, and several indices of the economic status at the household level. Lack of credible “caste” data to tell us who deserves preferential treatment could be the main cause that prompts some communities to make unreasonable demands for reservation.

Analysis of the long-term trends in population of the three religious groups indicates that the Hindus who were more than two-thirds of the state’s population in the beginning of the last century, could be less than 50 per cent of the state’s population by the middle of the present century. On the other hand, by then, the Muslims who were fewer than the Christians during much of the last century, could become more than double the Christian population and exceed one-third of the state’s population. However, the Muslims are unlikely to overtake the Hindus in the matter of population size as their fertility rate would also dip to below-replacement-level in the span of 10 to 15 years.

Although the population of all the three religious groups had increased during 2001-2011 at the state level, in 4 out of the 14 districts and 26 out of the 63 taluks, the number of Christians is seen to have decreased. Similarly, in 3 of the districts and 16 of the taluks, the number of Hindus decreased. There were decreases even among the Muslims in one district and 7 taluks. These statistics give sufficient indication that some of the communities among the religious groups could have decreased during 2001-2011.

The analysis of this study confirms that this conclusion is correct. It showed that, during 2001-2011 while the proportions of the larger communities among the three religious groups (the Sunnis among the Muslims, the Ezhavas among the Hindus, and the Syro-Malabar Catholics among the Christians) in the population of the state have increased, the corresponding proportions of the smaller ones, the non-Catholic Episcopal Syrian Christian denominations (the Jacobites, the Orthodox, and the Mar Thoma Syrians), the Nairs, and Shia Muslims have decreased and are likely to continue their decreasing trend.

Surprisingly, the Syro Malankara community, although part of the Catholic group, has followed the path of the non-Catholic Syrian group from whom they separated themselves some 85 years ago. In recent years, the non-Catholic Episcopal Syrian Christian denominations have been at the top of the socio-economic ladder of the state, but the emerging differential population growth path of these communities, which entails an increasing load of old-age dependents, could have considerable adverse impacts on their relative role in the emerging political economy of the state.

According to the earlier Kerala Migration Surveys, the Mar Thoma Syrian Community was at the top with respect to most of the socio-economic indicators, but by 2014, they have lost their top spot to the other Syrian Christian communities. It is only a matter of time before these communities also pass on their high ranking to other religious communities. This is transition in the demographic dividend.

Full text (OA): <>


V. Sriram
Chief Librarian, KN Raj Library, Centre for Development Studies,

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