Religion census data nothing but a political tool for Sangh Parivar
- The government recently released religion-wise census data
- Hindu population has fallen below 80% for the first time since Independence
- But growth rate of Muslims has declined by a larger margin that the Hindu growth rate
- Right-wing groups are using the fall in the number of Hindus to stoke fires against Muslims again
- They are trying to polarise public opinion to help the BJP in Bihar
- According to the current rate, it would take 300 years for Muslims to overtake Hindus
- This is unlikely to happen, since the growth rate is slowing down
The recent release of religion-wise census data has seen a return of the same old rhetoric - that the growing Muslim population poses a threat to the Hindus of this country.
Independent analyses of the data have actually shown that population growth has reduced across the board, with the Muslim growth rate actually declining more than the Hindu growth rate.
The date also shows that India is close to reaching the 'replacement' level of 2.1 children per woman. This is the rate at which a population exactly replaces itself from generation to generation. The current rate is 2.3 children per woman.
However, as Mark Twain once said, "Facts are stubborn, but statistics are pliable." As if to illustrate that, right-wing groups have started harping on certain statistics to extract mileage out of this census.
While addressing a press conference called by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Prof. Rakesh Sinha, director of the India Policy Foundation and a man known to be an RSS ideologue, had this to say.
"The Hindu population going below the mark of 80% means the Indian way of living is in danger. It was a psychological mark for Hindus. It is extraordinary that their population has fallen below 80% for the first time since independence. The Hindu population is continuously declining, whereas Muslim numbers are going up," he said.
Yogi Adityanath, BJP's firebrand MP from Gorakhpur, went a step further. "The Uniform Civil Code should be implemented in the country. It is a crucial time as the country is in danger. The Central government must strictly execute 'Hum Do, Hamare Do' policy," he exhorted.
Such is the expediency among the right-wing Hindu groups that they are contradicting their own statements.
Members of RSS affiliates have pulled out the same old theories of how Muslim population is threatening Hindus
VHP joint secretary Surendra Jain has demanded a uniform population policy across all states. "Muslims are increasing their population as a mission. We must curb this mentality," he laments.
But Jain conveniently forgot a recent statement by his organisation's general secretary Ashok Singhal, asking Hindu mothers to produce 10 children each.
The ruling BJP's public stance is a bit more nuanced. According to party vice-president Vinay Saharabuddhe, "These figures must have some solid logic. Is multiple marriage among Muslims the reason for these findings, or is it factors like illiteracy and poverty? The government is looking at the situation closely. I am sure it will take the necessary action."
Data as political tool
The statements emanating out of the Sangh Parivar leave little doubt that this census data has handed it a significant political tool. The same old stereotypes about Muslims are being pulled out of the closet.
The timing of the release has also raised many eyebrows. This census report had been gathering dust for a long time, and the BJP had accused the previous government of deliberately hiding key findings of the census.
Clearly, the BJP will be the prime beneficiary of these statistics in the Bihar elections, since they could lead to polarisation. Assembly elections are also due next year in West Bengal and Assam.
Ironically, the government is not releasing caste-wise data from the same census, despite repeated demands. This puts its motives under suspicion.
"The government wants religious polarisation before Bihar assembly elections. The government should make public the caste data instead. This is an anti-Dalit and anti-backward class dispensation. This is why it is suppressing caste data while coming out with religion-based statistics," says JD(U) leader KC Tyagi.
Social factors behind the numbers
However, this is not to say that there is absolutely no merit in the inference that Hindu and Muslim populations are witnessing an inverse trend.
Hindus formed 83.5% of the total population in 1961, whereas the Muslim population stood at 10.7%. According to the latest data, Hindus are now at 79.8%, while Muslim have risen to 14.2% of the population.
But this doesn't validate the paranoia that right-wing groups want to propagate.
Hilal Ahmed, a professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), maintains statistics do not always show the vital part of the truth.
A large section of Hindus still resorts to female foeticide and infanticide
"We are looking at this data superficially. Such inferences are drawn on different percentage points. Nobody knows what these percentage points are. Any census data has three main components; the socio-economic standard of the communities, the health of women, and the health of children," he says.
The conclusions of National Family Health Survey corroborate what Ahmed says. This data suggests that Infant Mortality Rate is higher among Hindus (58.5) than Muslims (52.4). This means more Hindu children die at the time of birth as compared to Muslims.
Similarly, mortality rate of children under the age of five is 76 per 1,000 among Hindus, whereas 70 out of 1,000 Muslim children die before completing this age.
Hindus lag behind Muslims even in gender ratio. There are 951 Muslim women for every 1000 men, as against 931 Hindu women per 1000 men.
The disparity in the population graph of these two communities arises from the fact that Muslims have more women in their community and thus, a higher fertility rate. A large section of Hindus, on the other hand, still resorts to female foeticide and infanticide.
The 300-year projection
The premise of danger to the Hindu majority is either based on misconception or vested political interests. The idea of Muslims outnumbering Hindus in the foreseeable future seems preposterous.
It would take Muslims 270 years to match the Hindu majority at the current rate. It would take 30 more years for them to outnumber the Hindu population. However, the population growth for both the communities is likely to plateau out in the next few decades.
The irony of the VHP's rhetoric was exposed at the same press conference at which Sinha was talking. Three transgenders suddenly entered the conference and started dancing to ask for money.
One of the organisers tried to reason it out with them that the event was over the serious issues of population and religion.
The parting shot from the transgenders was epic. "Neither do we contribute to the population, nor do we have any religion."