|Zachariah, K. C.
|Zachariah, K.C. (2001) The Syrian Christians of Kerala : demographic and socioeconomic transition in the twentieth century. CDS working papers, no.322. Trivandrum: CDS.
|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
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
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
|Centre for Development Studies
|CDS working papers;322
|The Syrian Christians of Kerala : demographic and socioeconomic transition in the twentieth century
|Series paper (non-IDS)
|Centre for Development Studies