The phobia of Muslim demographic dominance remains the basis of Hindu right-wing politics. It is a potent weapon to create apprehension and polarize voters
Whenever there is a report on India's population growth , it is linked to Muslims and the whole issue is communalized. The popular perception, spread through propaganda, is that Muslims are producing more children and intend to become a numerical majority in India and harbour a secret wish to capture political power. Yati Narsingh Anand, a radical Hindu priest, once called upon Hindus to give birth to more children, “Otherwise, soon India would have a Muslim prime minister and states would have Muslim chief ministers.”
In fact, all these are being done with the divisive agenda that has gone practically unchallenged and penetrated deep into the psyche of the masses. Unfortunately, social media also amplifies many falsehoods about the Muslim population that serves its purpose to polarize society which must be combated with facts and building awareness.
Although several scholarly works have attempted to demystify myths around Hindu-Muslim population growth differentials, the half-truths continue to spread. Last year, former Chief Election Commissioner S Y Qureshi has proved in his book “The population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India” that even if not a single Hindu child is born for 100 years, then also Muslims cannot become the majority in this country. There is a need to look into the population problems of India from a broader perspective and the question should also be considered whether the root of all the problems of India is the increase in population.
Population growth and Muslims
According to the United Nations World Population Prospects (WPP) 2022 report, India will overtake China to become the most populous country in the world in 2023. This report has also drawn attention to the fundamental problems of India. In the next few decades, the number of people aged 0-14 years and 15-24 years will decrease, while the number of people aged 25-64 and 65+ will increase. It is obvious that in this case, there will be a shortage of manpower in India and this will have a direct impact on the country's economy.
According to the 2011 census, the growth rate of the Hindu population between 1991 and 2001 was 19.92 %, which declined to 16.76 % between 2001 and 2011. Until 2001, the rate of increase in the Muslim population was 29.52 %, but in the 2011 census, the rate of increase in the population decreased to 24.6 %. A further decline of up to 15.7% (18.2%) is expected in the Hindu (Muslim) population growth is expected in the 2021 census which got delayed due to covid. The data also show that the family planning rate among Muslims is 45.3 per cent compared to 54 per cent among Hindus. This means that family planning among Muslims compared to Hindus in the last ten years has increased rapidly.
Another study found that in 1992, there were 4.4 children per Muslim woman, which decreased to 2.6 in 2015. In Hindu women, there were 3.3 children per woman in 1992 and in 2015, it decreased to an average of 1.2. One can easily understand that there is no truth in the fear of the Muslim population's growth. Experts agree that educational standards, particularly for women, are the most important contributing factor to smaller families. In some southern states, the fertility rate of Hindu women is significantly lower than that of Hindu women in Bihar (2.9), Rajasthan (2.8) and Uttar Pradesh (2.6). If an alarm bell is to be pressed, then it is not for population laws but for declining fertility. Replacement level fertility (The level of fertility at which the population exactly replaces itself from one generation to the next) demands heavy investment in education, health and employment opportunities so that the “limited working population” in the near future is robust and skilled enough. What is needed is a comprehensive policy ensuring dignified living — easy access to quality education, better health services and sound livelihood opportunities. It is to be noted that nowadays Hindus and Muslims both want the same number and fewer children.
Is the comparison between China and India valid?
Should India adopt the law of one child or two children per family policy in the pattern of China? China introduced the one-child-per-family policy in September 1980, but after 2016 it was abandoned and at least three children were encouraged due to population imbalances, significant sex-rate differences, and a dramatic increase in the elderly population. The number of people aged 60+ in China is currently more than 20%.
Because of this, the crisis in the workforce is now affecting China's production. One should remember that today China is the second strongest economy next to the United States, so is it the only reason for population control? Around four decades back, China's per capita income was 156.4 dollars per year and India's per capita income was 205.7 dollars. But today China is six times ahead of India in terms of per capita income. It is because of the per capita income that China today is openly focusing on its defence force and poverty alleviation through economic imperialism.
In 1978, China began economic reforms, focusing mainly on agriculture. Agricultural markets were freed from government control. As a result, farmers' income increased by 14% annually. China's agriculture has grown at an annual rate of 4.5 per cent over the past four decades. The improved economy of rural people made it easier for China to implement its reform agenda. Since the reforms started in India in 1991, India's agricultural GDP growth rate has only reached about 3% per year. Claims of increasing farmers' income are certainly being made, but the facts on the ground are against it. India's small and medium-scale industries, which were the backbone of the Indian economy, have been left helpless. And despite all the slogans of patriotism, the market's dependence on Chinese products has increased.
China has paid the most attention to solving health and women's problems in the last forty years, but the situation in India is very disappointing in both these respects. The government pays more attention to advertisements than the execution of its own schemes like Beti Padhao and Beti Bachao.
Philosophy of population control
Thomas Robert Malthus first proposed the theory of population growth as the reason for the increase in the rate of poverty, ignorance and illiteracy in the world. In 1973, the United Nations declared a population control policy but only forty years after its implementation, negative effects began to emerge. In fact, it is accepted by and large that the prophecy of Malthusian has failed. The reasons for population growth are not poverty, ignorance and illiteracy but unequal distribution of resources and wealth. The world's wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few. Under the guise of globalization, multinational corporations are swallowing up small and medium-sized industries.
Even before Malthus' theory, there were different methods of population reduction in the world. Islam paid the most attention to the health of mother and child and for this purpose, mothers were ordered to breastfeed their children for two years. Malthus' theory has not only died but today it is being called false. Developing countries and the third world need to ponder upon why they want to try the tried and tested recipe of the West when the developed countries are suffering from population imbalance and workforce crisis due to population control policies. And what would be the situation if this policy was implemented here?
The persistent poverty and hunger in India and elsewhere are not due to the lack of food supplies or the rise in population but due to the vast income disparity and uneven distribution of resources. The capitalist development model tends to increase the concentration of income and wealth, therefore widening the gap between the rich and the poor. This disparity is apparent in every walk of socio-economic life, where the less privileged are squeezed for the luxuries of the wealthy. Estimates support the assumption that the world can support good education, healthcare, sanitization and food if available resources are distributed equitably. All this rhetoric and propaganda about population explosion at regular intervals is political, not factual.
The phobia of Muslim demographic dominance remains the basis of Hindu right-wing politics. It is a potent weapon to create apprehension and polarize voters, a favourable situation to pursue narrow political ambitions. It is nothing but a ploy to shroud the failure of the government on the socio-economic front.
Instead of looking at the growing population through the lens of prejudice, there is a need to convert it into a valuable human resource.
(The writer is an educationist and a faculty member at King Khalid University, Abha, Saudi Arabia. Views are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)