The Syrian Christians of Kerala : demographic and socioeconomic transition in the twentieth century
The twentieth century has witnessed a process of significant transition of the Syrian Christian community in Kerala in terms of its demographic and socio-economic status. In this paper, the transition of the demographic structure is discussed in terms of size, composition, geographic distribution and growth rates and the underlying factors of transition comprising fertility, mortality, and migration. Against this background, an attempt is made to present a set of projections of the population of the Syrian Christian community in Kerala till the year 2031. Discussion is made in a comparative setting; the corresponding changes that have come about in the other communities – Hindus, Muslims, and Latin Christians – are also examined. In the beginning of the 19th century (1801), the Syrian Christians were a small community of about 1 lakh people. Although their number increased eightfold during the century, by the end of the century (1900) they were in the very early stage of demographic transition. Women were a minority. Children constituted nearly half of the total population. The community was characterised by very high death rate, very high birth rate, very early age at marriage, and 10 to 12 children per married woman. The Syrian Christian women of that time had very little control over the number and timing of childbirth. The community was characterised by a high degree of concentration in a small number of taluks of the state. The Syrian Christians of that time were not a very migratory community. By the beginning of the 21st century, the Syrian Christian community has more or less completed its demographic transition. Women are a majority now; they outnumber men. Children constitute 4 less than 25 percent of the total population. The community has very low levels of mortality and fertility rates. It has high migration rate and high average age at marriage. Most Syrian Christian women have full control over when and how many children they would like to bear in their lifetime. The Syrian Christians are now spread out, not only all over India, but also all over the globe. In the coming decades, relatively stable conditions are expected to prevail in their basic demographic parameters- fertility and mortality rates. But the effect of the past trends (of fertility and mortality rate) would become very apparent on the size and structure of the population. There is a very strong possibility that the Syrian Christian community would enter the ZPG regime (Zero Population Growth) or NPG regime (Negative Population Growth) within a matter of a decade or two. With very low fertility and in-breeding habits the Syrian Christians could experience the “Parsi Syndrome” Efforts to modify the emerging demographic trends in any significant manner are unlikely to meet with much success. This is the lesson which demographers have learned from populations that have made such efforts. Under the circumstances, the community is advised to cope with the new situation rather than to fight it out. This paper is aimed at drawing the community’s attention to these emerging demographic trends, their likely impact on the community, and suggesting the need for some introspection on the part of the community on means to cope with the adverse fall out of the emerging trends.