1 June, 2023


Demographic Projection And Implications For Sri Lanka – A Response To Rajan Philips

By Murali Vallipuranathan

Dr. Murali Vallipuranathan

Dr. Murali Vallipuranathan

I write with reference to an article written by Mr.Rajan Philips in two parts under the titles of “Politics getting nuttier: Muslim Fertility Myths And Misplaced Polygamy Advocacy” (1) and “Politics Getting Nuttier – II: The Impact Of War On Demography And The Implications For Women” (2) which has derogatory references to me and stated that my presentation at the University of Jaffna was crude and a half-clever manifestation. He continued to deplore me as an outside medical professional while the University of Jaffna has “good geography professors all of whom are knowledgeable and responsible in dealing with demographics” and blaming me for “straying out of professional guiderails to make public policy pronouncements”. Ironically, Mr.Philips an engineer by profession whose field has no nexus to demography had decided to write a series of articles in demographics while querying my knowledge and responsibility in dealing with demographics. Since Mr. Philips and another Colombo Telegraph Columnist Mr. Mahendran Thiruvarangan an English scholar whose field again has no nexus to demography had queried my credentials to discuss demographics in his comments (3), I am compelled to state my credentials that I am a Specialist Community Physician having an additional postgraduate qualification obtained with merit directly in demography and not on geography. Further I am a scholar reading for PhD in epidemiology at King’s College, London and I have been presenting research papers in medical demography. I had the rare honor to be invited by reputed geography Professor P. Balasunderampillai then the Vice Chancellor of the University of Jaffna to read my paper on “Factors associated with the fertility decline of Tamils of Indian Origin” at the Geographic Society of Jaffna and all these testify my standing to be recognized as a medical demographer. Suffice to say that my presentation under reference “Future of Tamils: A Demographic Perspective” and its implications have been well within the broad scope of present day medical demography (4) although for Mr.Philips and other pseudo pundits a medical professional talking about demography sounds as serious anomaly. After 20 years of medical practice and specialized with postgraduate training for 5 years I sometimes come across nutty patients arguing against my advice based on an outdated treatment option which they have read in the Internet. It is in the same way Mr. Philips and his collaborators who have left Sri Lanka long time ago and lost the chance of direct observation of the population dynamics in Sri Lanka argue against my authentic demographic forecasting when they neither have the knowledge on the intricacies of demography nor have the capacity to forecast using demographic techniques but quoting an outdated disproved document published by the PEW forum (5) and challenging my findings. Nevertheless either it is a nutty patient seeking medical advice or a pseudo pundit who argue without the technical knowledge it is my duty to explain the facts behind my conclusions. In this context I will take up the points raised by Mr.Philips.

1. I have already acknowledged that I used part of the “Muslim demographics” Youtube clip to establish that fertility has been the main factor in sustenance of an ethnic group and I wanted Tamils to improve their fertility in the post war scenario following the appreciated ways of Muslims. The positive aspect of the clip was that it vividly explained the concept of replacement fertility and when the western population reached the fifth stage of demographic transition the original population in Western nations have started shrinking because their fertility levels have fallen below the replacement fertility. It is now the migrants who have been moving inside these countries sustain the population of these countries. Among these in-migrants, Muslims account for considerable numbers and their fertility remains higher than the native population of these countries. Although I agree with Mr.Philips that the fertility of Muslims started declining recently the fertility of the non-Muslims continue to decline further and the difference in fertility between Muslims and non-Muslims will persist. Therefore the gradual expansion of Muslims is inevitable as described in that clip.

2. With the values provided on Sri Lanka, I will now examine in detail the “methodologically rigorous report” of the Pew Forum (6) as described by Mr. Philips and used as cornerstone for his arguments to refute the Youtube clip.

Table 1The values in Table 1 proves that the estimates provided by the Pew forum underestimated the Muslim population growth in Sri Lanka. I will now examine the percentage values of Muslim population to the total population of Sri Lanka provided by the Pew Forum.

Table 2The values in Table 2 proves beyond doubt that the percentage estimates of Muslims in Sri Lanka provided by the Pew Forum is an underestimation and completely erroneous because the 2012 Census confirmed that the percentage of Muslims had already reached 9.2% of the total population whereas Pew forum report estimated the maximum percentage of Muslims in Sri Lanka to be 8.5% even in 2030. Unfortunately Mr. Philips without knowledge on the intricacies of the demography unable to critically examine the validity of the report of the PEW Forum but just repeating what was reported by other lay writers as “methodologically rigorous report”. I will also add a slide from my presentation where the government statistics prove that the percentages of Sinhalese and Muslims in Sri Lanka have been increasing since 1911 while percentages of Tamils have been decreasing continuously (Table 3).

Table 3.3. Despite the underestimations of the growth of Muslims by the Pew Forum Mr. Philips reluctantly accepted their conclusion “The 2030 projections show that the Muslim component could grow from 1.6 billion to 2.2 billion, from a share of 23.4% to 26.4% of the total world population” though he call “It would be nutty for anyone to think of projecting beyond 2030 or 2040, to a hypothetical long term when the Muslims may overtake the Christians in the world population”. The true fact is that in 2008 Vatican first time openly acknowledged that Islam had surpassed Roman Catholicism based on 2006 data and elaborated that Muslims accounted for 19.2% of the world population whereas Catholics were only 17.4% of the world population (7). Vatican further explained that high fertility of Muslims was the reason for overtaking by Islam leaving aside the religious conversion campaigns used by both religions. Vatican estimated total Christians account for 33% of the world population in 2008. Mr.Philips who did not want to accept the true fact that the projection beyond 2030 would prove the overtaking of Muslims continue with his bluffing English phrase on the old wisdom of Keynes which is technically nonsense in the field of demography because demography is a science developed by the techniques of extrapolation or long term projections (8). If Mr.Philips thinks it would be nutty to project beyond 2030 or 2040 do he assume that the UN and other governments are nutty to spend lot of funds and employ several demographers to project beyond 2050 even up to 2300 (9) (10).

4. Though I did not pronounce polygamy as a solution to the post war scenario marital squeeze and the large number of war widows in my presentation in Jaffna, I believe that the merits of polygyny (a man having more than one wife) proposed by Tamil scholar Dr. J. Arankaraj following my presentation need to be considered for the reasons given below. First of all historically Tamils had practiced polygyny especially by marrying war widows and had children to recover the population lost in war. Even modern times Polygyny has been the solution in several communities when the sex ratio falls with large number of war widows (11). In 2011 two years after the war when already the systematic colonization procedures commenced in  Northern Province, Sex ratio was reported as 92.9 and particularly the marriageable age group of females were seriously affected by the post war marital squeeze (12). Polygyny is found to improve the fertility of communities by several mechanisms such as increasing the remarriage of widows and bringing down the age at marriage (13). Government statistics reported 89,000 war widows in the North and East and considerable proportion of them are in the marriageable age (14). On one hand their reproductive needs have to be considered without allowing exploitation. On the other hand restoring their fertility is vital to recover the Tamil population which already encountered serious losses due to the war. Further it is found that in communities practicing polygyny dowry falls (15). Currently a rise in dowry values among Tamils is observed as a consequence of the existing marital squeeze and that impede marriages. Polygyny would help to overcome this problem and enable more females to get married. In the Sri Lankan context when already one community (Muslims) is practicing polygyny I see no reason why Tamils should not practice it to face the current crisis. Because in 1907 our leaders who were brought up in Anglican culture similar to present day Mr.Philips, without knowledge of the original Tamil culture and not anticipating a holocaust after a century agreed for a law legalizing monogamy at that time does not mean we should stick to it in a time when Tamils face systematic demographic changes (16) and their very existence is at stake.

Finally I humbly request Mr. Philips to refrain from

  1. Insulting other writers without checking their credentials and passing judgment on their presentations without viewing them.
  2. Writing discourses on a subject without the technical competence especially challenging the technically competent professionals in that field though I am sure that most of the readers at Colombo Telegraph have learnt new English words by reading his stuff.
  3. Providing hypocritical solutions to Tamils in Sri Lanka without knowing the real situation. For example if he preaches all races in Sri Lanka can live in harmony then he should prove that first by living here.


  1. https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/politics-getting-nuttier-muslim-fertility-myths-and-misplaced-polygamy-advocacy/
  2. https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/politics-getting-nuttier-ii-the-impact-of-war-on-demography-and-the-implications-for-women/
  3. https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/gender-rights-and-tamil-genocide-a-response-to-nirmala-rajasingam/
  4. https://www.soa.org/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=4408
  5. http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2011/jan/28/muslim-population-country-projection-2030
  6. http://features.pewforum.org/FutureGlobalMuslimPopulation-WebPDF.pdf
  7. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/03/080331-AP-islam-largest.html
  8. http://www.demographic-research.org/volumes/vol4/8/4-8.pdf
  9. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=45165#.U-zdU_mSyBo
  10. http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/longrange2/WorldPop2300final.pdf
  11. http://www.lse.ac.uk/economichistory/seminars/modernandcomparative/papers2011-12/fenske.pdf
  12. http://www.statistics.gov.lk/PopHouSat/VitalStatistics/EVE2011_FinalReport.pdf
  13. http://congres.afse.fr/docs/2011/410307demographictransitionpolygamy.pdf
  14. http://www.dailymirror.lk/news/6838-89000-war-widows.html
  15. https://pcwta.sdsu.edu/faculty/sgs/documents/econ_poly_1980.pdf
  16. https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/on-illegal-possession-of-land-by-the-military-and-demographic-change-in-north-east/
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 2

    Were the estimates ** and *** in both tables 1 and 2 made by the original sources (PEW forum and Census Department, respectively) or are they the author’s estimates based on the sources’ figures? It is good academic precitice to be EXPLICIT in all such matters.

    The author’s request to Philips to be politite is fair(I have still to read Philip’s pieces in the Sunday Island – more convenient – to make up my mind whether he was impolite). But Mr Vallipuranathen too needs to practice the same civility. Mr V’s concluding comment 2 could have been courteously written, if only he had followed his own advice, and readers like me would have noticed and appreciated it.

    And his final point is a non sequiter; it’s a very stunt to say “Oh you have migarated to Australia (or where ever) so you are not competent to comment on SL”. Often such remarks are patently false and a silly kind of one-upmanship.

    • 1

      Dr. Murali Vallipuranathan.

      “With the values provided on Sri Lanka, I will now examine in detail the “methodologically rigorous report” of the Pew Forum (6) as described by Mr. Philips and used as cornerstone for his arguments to refute the Youtube clip.”

      What you need to do is show the annualized growth rates of each of the communities and take into account the number rod Children per 100 women in the community and per mother, and the average age of the mother.

      There is also also another factor, that is emigration, any conversions, the age at marriage, and the economic and educational status of the father and mother.

      Rural Folk have more children than city folk.

      So, the population dynamics need to be normalized for all that.

      Higher birth rates are not sustainable when women get educated.

      The pew study is smote believable tan the other political projections.

  • 4

    Dear Murali Vallipuranathan,

    You might have ruffled the cacophony of columnist who appear regularly and churn their neo liberal ethos, accrued during the colonial period when South Asian values were decried.

    I am not an expert, but like others mentioned live abroad. I can tell you one thing – your article was an eye opener to me, and I also knew it came from a very concerned authentic citizen from home. It made me think a lot about the plight of our sisters at home in Sri Lanka and the burden of prejudices that surround them.

    Dr. N. Satchi UK

    • 4

      Thank you Dr Vallipuranathan. Keep up the good work. I agree with Dr Satchi.

  • 3

    Facts are sacred and we must weigh them carefully to fully understand the implications. Thank you Dr. Murali for making matters more clear. However I still have reservations about your recommendation of polygamy as a remedy. We should of course create a greater awareness among the people on the government’s attempts to continue the genocide through every possible means and take steps to resist them in practical ways.

    Sengodan. M

  • 1

    Murali Vallipuranathan, I did not question your credentials in my comment. What I said was that you did not engage with the feminist critique of nationalism which Nirmala Rajasingam had presented in her response. I also said that to make comments on important social issues, one needs to engage with those issues conceptually or theoretically. Disciplinary boundaries (at least in the Humanities) are artificial to a great extent, though there are differences in the way each discipline treats a given issue. Our work has always been inter-disciplinary in many ways. I do not think Demography can be studied in isolation of Geography, Gender Studies, and Political Science, to name a few disciplines. Critical Theory connects all these disciplines including English and encourages scholars in all these fields to engage conceptually with the topics they study. Thus, I was able to see links between nationalism (which is one of my research interests) and your research.

  • 0

    Seeking to produce more children to satisfy our statistical needs is just as disgusting as their recent use as mobile bombs!

    • 2


      “Seeking to produce more children to satisfy our statistical needs is just as disgusting as their recent use as mobile bombs!”

      Why is it disgusting to produce more children when the farmers are desperately looking for extra hands to toil and exist on their marginally loss making farms?

      Do you see better future for the farmers in Medieval Middle East kingdoms than living on their own soil and eking out living with their dignity intact. They should be celebrated feeding the nation.

      All they need is extra hands.

      Are you suggesting we import coolies from other countries?

      • 0

        You of all people don’t have to take examples from medieval times / medieval kingdoms etc., Vedda.

        The chauvinists in the government run 2500 years back to borrow credibility from our ancient civilization; Dr Vallipurathanan needs support from centuries old Tamil culture. Why run all the way back? It is because the present is so shameful for these racists, isn’t it?

        Please you don’t join them, you are a modern guy. For extra pair of farm hands lets give them tractors.

        But note we do have a track record of importing expertise from other countries! The last King of Kandy was an immigrant worker with expertise in governing — particularly by chopping people’s heads off. We now have two very top jobs held by American citizens (or green card holders), also endowed with similar traits in governance if you care to scrutinize carefully. I leave you to think of more examples.

        • 2


          You sounds like Jay pathetic.

          “For extra pair of farm hands lets give them tractors.”

          I assume you know what you are talking about. Read an excerpt from Daily Mirror:

          Lankan labour force and employment plunge in 2012

          WEDNESDAY, 08 MAY 2013 08:06

          The economically-active population aged 10 years and above- popularly known as a country’s labour force – declined in Sri Lanka by 1.1 percent to 8.465 million due to migration of economically active persons during 2012, the Central Bank annual report showed.

          According to an ex-Central Banker and economist Dr. D.R. Wijewardena, sending more for foreign jobs could also create a labour shortage in the country at a time when the unemployment rate is at historical low of 4.0 percent which is considered as near full employment.

          The issue of labour shortage has been repeatedly pointed out by veterans in sectors such as Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), construction, banking and hospitality in the recent past.


          Here is another excerpt:

          Sri Lanka plantations facing labour shortages
          14 Sep, 2013 08:50:10

          Sept 14, 2013 (LBO) – Sri Lanka’s large plantations, especially those growing tea, are facing labour shortages, with young people moving out to cities in search of other jobs, a senior industry official said.

          “The shortage of workers to undertake regular agricultural operations and development programs especially in tea plantations has become a common trend in almost all tea growing districts in the country,” Lalith Obeysekera, head of the Planters’ Association of Ceylon, a 150 year old entity dating back to British coffee and tea farmers told its annual meeting.



          • 0

            My dear Native Vedda,

            Expanding the population is not the answer. Trying to give the living a better life is.

            Suppose you air drop 50,000 more people into the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. What are your ideas for creating enough work / wealth to sustain them? Are there natural resources? Is enough electricity being generated?

            Is there enough drinking water for them? I suggest you go and see for yourself that most of the islands off the North coast of Sri Lanka need water taken from the mainland!

            Is it possible to grow enough food to feed them? I suggest you go and see for yourself that the Iranamadu tank is almost completely empty at the moment!

            And, tell me — for the good doctor doesn’t say this — what political problems the Tamils face today will be solved by having another 50,000 or even 500,000 of them? And how?


      • 0

        Modern agriculture needs machinery and technology, not manual labour. Extra hands to improve agricultural production is to condemn people to a subsistence level existence. And, why are people fixated on maintaining ethnic ratios? Are we still in the tribal age – our tribe has to grow so we can fight/defend against another tribe? Sri Lanka is already one of the most densely populated islands in the world. The carrying capacity of the land is around 7 million, if we want to maintain a good ecological balance with sufficient room for the fauna and flora to flourish and to allow people to have a comfortable life without imprinting a heavy footprint. At present we have three times this. As longevity improves, so does technology to look after the old and the frail. Ideally, then, we should all try to have a negative growth rate until we get the right population and then maintain zero growth.

  • 5

    Dearest Editor,
    Colombo Telegraph and Dr.Murali Vallipuranathan,
    I am highly appreciated your (Dr.Murali Vallipuranathan)views and projection with references and statistics. Thank you very much doctor and the Editor, Colombo Telegraph for published such an academic way of writing. I would like to thank Dr. Kalaichelvan, Ms. Nirmala Rajasingam and Dr.Rajan Philips for giving a chance through their writings to Dr. Murali Vallipuranathan to produce an outstanding article in Colombo Telegraph by authentically with ground reality.

    But I am highly shocked by EW Golding comment on Dr.Murlai’s point of view.
    That is ,
    “For example if he(Dr.Philips)preaches all races in Sri Lanka can live in harmony then he should prove that first by living here.”
    I wonder whether man who has an English name could not realise why doctor said such words. Dr.Philips do not know the reality and ground situation but he preaches through his column in Sunday Island – It never reports Tamils Mass Killings and Human Rights violation against tamils by state. On the other hand he writes CT – a democratic forum continuously by using Holy texts (PEW forum and other articles) but, the reality is far different than the Bible. That is why Dr.Vallipuranthan ended his article as such ” “. I never feel doctor has such “silly kind of one-upmanship.”.

    Thank you,

  • 2

    The article on demographic changes and its implication is highly relevant to the situation in SriLanka, particularly for Tamils. The readers have the right to criticize or comment or give their opinion of the contents or methodology adopted in this paper but no one has the right to attack personally. In my opinion Nirmala and Philipps have gone beyond their limits.

    The negative change in the Tamil population and its distributions cannot be explained by normal population theories such as natural causes or migration. The Tamil population change is based on a well planned and systematic govt strategy that was started since 1940s. The motive of the majority (or Govt)is very clear.
    1. Increase the overall population percentage of Sinhalese nationally and regionally.
    This is what they are doing through various tactics. They are successful with Tamils. So, the projections based on current assumptions may result in increase in the percent of Muslims in 10-20 years than Tamils. However, you cannot assume that the govt strategy regarding Muslims will remain the same for next 10 or 20 years.The early signs indicate that there is a policy shift towards Muslims growth and distribution. The govt assumes that if they create situation similar to that they created towards Tamils, the Muslims may react the same way as Tamils and that will give them more advantageous position to fulfill their strategy. If it works, the Sinhalese population may increase to 80-85% nationally and reginally.

  • 2

    most often you hear the defense “you don’t live in sri lanka so how do you know…” often by pundits living in colombo or elsewhere or some who take little (guided) tour of the war torn region and pretend they can now speak for the victim. but this time i see it used in the right context.

    timely response dr. murali. none of these pundits really have any solution to the crisis and daily problems faced by the tamil population. all they can do is question the credentials.

  • 8

    Dr. Vallipuranathan or others have tried to bring a very serious issue our people are facing; some of the suggested solutions are really new to our conservative society. In the mean time, it also shows the dire situation of our people back home.

    Keep up the good work Dr.V and thank you for thinking out of the box, even though I don’t agree with polygamy or anything in that nature.

    However, we need to brainstorm some other ideas too. I take this polygamy) as one of the brainstormed ideas. Let’s continue to discuss other solutions, instead of shooting the messenger.


  • 2

    “….fertility has been the main factor in sustenance of an ethnic group and I wanted Tamils to improve their fertility in the post war scenario…” – Dr. Vallipuranathan

    Dr Vallipuranathan should be congratulated for exploring possible solutions to arresting the decline in the Tamil population that has been a major concern of ours.

    It is vital that we take remedial measures to preserving our Tamil national identity and to increasing our numerical strength in the North and East. I thank him for his genuine desire to reversing the trend and for daring to suggest various options, although as a woman I am uncomfortable with the idea of polygamy even as we find ourselves having to face certain stark realities such as the need to address the plight of an alarming number of war widows, the problem of far fewer eligible men and the exploitation and abuse of our women by the Military.

  • 1

    Thanks Dr.V for this article. Those single women and war widows who do not have children need alternative measures atleast like IVF.

  • 0

    Dear Doctor,

    Women dont rely on marriage to have children. I for one know a relative where the last two children of the marriage are from another male visitor. Everyone, including the husband, is aware of it.

    Now the only thing you need to do in order for women to have children if they want to is to remove the stigma of children without a father and make it socially acceptable, and of course ensure adequate support for women who wish to do so. I am sure the men who are prepared to marry more than one woman would be happy to contribute some resources to this project. This will ensure women retain their independence and choice, and yet allow the increase in the number of children born to women who wish to have them. Does that sound like a much better solution and in keeping with women’s rights? I hope you agree.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.