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Research Urban and Regional Studies Institute PRC

Identity and reproductive health of religious minorities in India and Bangladesh

Principal researcher

Biswamitra Sahu

Type of research

PhD research


Professor Inge Hutter
Professor Leo van Wissen


  • JSS Institute for Economic Research, Dharwad, Karnataka, India
  • Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, Karnataka, India
  • International Centre for Diarrheal Disease Research, Dhaka, Bangladesh


  • September 2004 - December 2010


  • 16 December 2010, 11.00 Academic Building, Groningen


September 2004-February 2006: HERA (HEalthy Reproduction: Research for Action), a collaborative research programme of PRC Groningen and NIDI (Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute), The Hague
  • March 2006-February 2009: NWO-WOTRO, Science for Global Development (WOTRO is the science division within NWO which supports scientific research on development issues)

  • March 2009-August 2009: The Urban and Regional Studies Institute (URSI) PhD fellowship.

Research objective 1

This PhD research seeks to explore the role of religion and minority status in reproductive behaviour.

Specific research questions

1.1 What is the effect of religious minority status on fertility at the cross-country level of India and Bangladesh and at the intra-country level of India?

1.2 What is the effect of religion in explaining the fertility of Hindus and Muslims in India and Bangladesh?

1.3 What can be learned from a comparison of Muslim reproductive behaviour in India with that of Bangladesh?

Research objective 2

The present research seeks to understand how agency plays a role in the religious domain of reproductive behaviour.

The present research seeks to understand how agency plays a role in the religious domain of reproductive behaviour.

Specific research question

2.1 How do women negotiate Islam in order to realise their reproductive aspiration in the cross-country context of India and Bangladesh?

Summary of the project

The effect of concentration index is negative for the fertility level of both Hindus and Muslims in India. The negative sign of the concentration index supports the minority hypothesis: the smaller the share of the religious groups in the total population of the district, the higher the TFR. Despite being co-religionists, Indian Muslims follow a higher fertility trajectory compared to Muslims in Bangladesh. The study thus argues that religious principles of Islam are not the sole route through which fertility behaviour of Muslims can be explained. Hence, the particularistic theology hypothesis; i.e. the independent effect of religion on fertility is rejected. An important factor explaining the difference in fertility is the method of contraception being propagated by the family planning program of both countries. Indian Muslim women-with a preference for temporary method- face grater hurdles because the Indian family planning programme has primarily focused on sterilisation. However, Bangladeshi Muslim women are not constrained because temporary method of contraception – an Islamic- approved method of contraception – is supplied by the Bangladeshi family planning programme. This research further indicates that Muslim women are not passive followers of religious norms, but rather active actors who take an active role in planning their families and transgress the normative order in reproductive matters. Religion does play an important role in reproductive behaviour of its adherents; however, the influence and ramification of religion is often contextually determined (e.g. majority or minority status, socio-economic status etc.).



Sahu,B (2010) Religion, Minority status and Reproductive Behaviour among Muslims and Hindus in India and Bangladesh. Rozenberg Publishers, Amsterdam.

Papers to be submitted to peer-reviewed journals

  • What is the effect of religious minority status on fertility at the cross-country level of India and Bangladesh and at the intra-country level of India?
  • Lived Islam: Negotiating Islam to realise reproductive aspirations.

  • Situating the researcher’s identity while researching on identity.


Sahu, B., L. van Wissen, I. Hutter and A. Bosch (2008), Religious minority status. Theory, operationalisation and methods. Paper presented at the European Population Conference , 9-12 July, Barcelona.
  • Sahu, B., L. van Wissen and I. Hutter (2006), Religion, minority status and reproduction in India and Bangladesh. Paper presented at the World Congress of Sociology , Durban, South Africa, 24-29 July.

  • Sahu, B., I. Hutter, L. van Wissen and A. Bosch (2006), Religious minorities and their reproductive health in India and Bangladesh. Poster presented at the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America , Los Angeles, 30 March-1 April.

  • Sahu, B. and I. Hutter (2005), Religion, region and reproduction: The tale of minorities. Paper presented at Dutch Demography Day , Utrecht, 6 October.

  • Sahu, B. (2005), Reproductive health of religious minorities in India and Bangladesh. Paper presented at the 5th Urban Regional Study Institute (URSI) Research Conference , Groningen, 3 February. Sahu, B. (2004), Women's work force participation in the North eastern states of India: A census analysis. Paper presented at the 'National Seminar on Population and Development' , North-Eastern Hill University Shillong, 2-4 February.


Interview in Adams Appel: aflevering 15, jaargang 2008 over "Demografie"

         'Biswamitra Sahu vertelt kort over haar demografisch onderzoek naar de invloed van religie op het aantal kinderen dat vrouwen uit religieuze minderheden in India krijgen'

Last modified:13 January 2020 10.16 a.m.