Mauritius religions

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Mauritius : a kaleidoscope of people and religions

by Monique Dinan

The demographic history of this period reveals that the past two centuries have each experienced, at about half point (that is during their fourth to sixth decades), a sudden influx of population. The reasons, however, were not the same for the two centuries under consideration.

The two decades of the 1840s - 1860s witnessed the introduction of some 208,000 workers from India who settled permanently in Mauritius while some 69,500 others returned to India.

In the next century, the 1940s - 1960s were the baby boom period which transformed the country into an essentially young society with a reproductive capacity that placed Mauritius in the top list of overpopulated countries. The demographic situation changed rapidly. Within twenty years, Mauritius had turned young with large families putting pressure on education, housing and food resources. The population growth rate from 1952 to1962 was 3.12% per annum.

The situation, however, has been changing since the 1980s. At the turn of the twenty first century, the country is now beginning to face problems associated with an ageing population.

Compilation of religious data from 1871 onwards

A brief survey of the religions mentioned in the censuses is necessary to have an idea of the complex situation inside each religious group.

No account was taken of the religious creeds professed by the population in the first census of 1846 under British administration.

- In 1871, when the compilation of data about religion began, there were 22 headings. From 1911 to 1941 they were reduced to 8 headings.

The remaining censuses of the twentieth century revealed a real explosion in the number of religions.

- In 1952, at mid XXth century, religious denominations according to the census, numbered 22.

- In 1962 there were 36 religions listed.

- In 1972, the number rose to 54.

- In 1983, they reached a record figure of 87.

- In 2000, it has gone down to 49 headings.

The large number of religions mentioned can be explained by the social and political history of these decades. Moreover since 1957, under the pressure of Sookdeo Bissoondoyal, the Mauritian State has been providing every year direct government subsidies to the major religious groups, on a per capita basis. Financial subsidy for the various religious federations is based on the returns about religious affiliation in the Census.

New sects or subgroups have emerged within the main religions. In certain cases there is a great confusion between language, caste and religion. One major conclusion that can be drawn is that Mauritians are very religious-conscious. They know exactly to what religious group they belong and have declared it willingly during the censuses. Only a mere 0.2% throughout these years has not specified their religious affiliation.

It is possible to compute the average annual growth rate of the major religions in order to assess their comparative evolution. Muslims have recorded the highest growth rate. Over the second half of the twentieth century, those practising the Muslim religion have increased at an average rate of 1.97% per year. Comparative average annual rates are 1.86% for Hindus and 1.65% for Christians.

Finally it is to be borne in mind that the differentiated growth rates recorded by the three major religions are the result of several factors, such as family size, emigration, immigration and religious conversion from one religion to another. There is however no data available to quantify each of these factors.

Mauritians have managed to make the most of their religious and ethnic diversities, the rainbow symbolising the multiculturalism that characterizes our nation. Mauritius is often cited, at international levels, as an example of peaceful coexistence, though the situation is not as idyllic as it may seem to outsiders.