Are Hindus in danger in India due to rising Muslim population?

It is estimated that the Muslim population which is 14.2 per cent as per the 2011 census will stabilize at 18 per cent by 2050 as the trends amongst the Muslim community show. 

Dr Ram Puniyani May 20, 2024
People of India

As the election season is in full swing in India so is the divisive propaganda. The chief propagandist of the ruling BJP is Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, whose narrative has been built around the argument that if the INDIA alliance comes to power they will give all the facilities to Muslims, they will ensure that Muslims have the first right to live, and they will make changes in the Constitution whereby Hindus will become second-class citizens - quite an Orwellian situation where reality is made to stand on its head. A fright is being spread amongst Hindus that Muslims will get away with all the privileges.

To add to this propaganda the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC) has come out with a report that concludes that Hindus' population share in India declined by nearly 8 per cent between 1950 and 2015 while Muslim's share grew a record 43 per cent in the same period. As per this study in 1950, the Hindu population share was 84 per cent, but it came down to 78 per cent in 2015. However, in the same period, the share of minorities, including Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Sikhs, went up. The number of Jains and Parsis in the population mix decreased.

What is this PMEAC? This was constituted in 2017 and is supposed to be a research body to advise the Prime Minister on economic matters. One sample of its ‘research’ came to light a couple of years back when its chief, Bibek Debroy, quoted “… a study to show that the lifespan of written constitutions is just 17 years. Further terming the present Constitution of India as a colonial legacy, he wrote, “Our current Constitution is largely based on the Government of India Act of 1935. In that sense, it is also a colonial legacy.”

Survey instead of census data

And now comes this strange study at the time of general elections. This boosts the anti-Muslim rhetoric and the “Hindu Khatre mein hai” (Hindus are in danger) scare created over many decades. The three researchers, who produced this, have violated most of the norms for analysis, to come to this conclusion. To begin with, demographic studies are based on population census. This one is based on the survey of nearly 2.3 million people, from the Association of Religion Data Archive (ARDA), a minuscule sample of our vast population. 

Census figures are more reliable and comprehensive, bringing out different facets of population growth. For reasons best known to the ruling party the 2021 census which was due has not been held and these researchers have used survey data rather than more reliable census data.

Then the study compares the population figures of 1950 with those of 2015, again an arbitrary method. The media and communal organizations are using this data to intensify prevalent divisive propaganda. It reinforces the present social understanding that Muslims produce more children. To begin with, it was popularized by Modi when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat. While deciding to close down the refugee camps where Muslims had taken shelter, he called them, "child-producing factories". In the present scenario, he merely iterated in a more earthy language an old trope that the opposition Congress will snatch away a Hindu’s 'mangalsutra' (a necklace worn by the bride lifelong as a symbol of marriage) and buffaloes and give it to those who produce more children, later denying in an interview that he meant Muslims. 

Falsehood and truth

What is the truth about the number of children produced by Muslims? One of the best parameters for this is the Total Fertility Rate (TFR). According to a National Health Family survey the fertility rate amongst most communities is coming down. In 1992-93 it was 3.3 for Hindus and 4.41 for Muslims. In 2019-21, it was 1.94 for Hindus and 2.36 for Muslims. The percentage change for Hindus is thus -41.21 per cent for Hindus and - 46.49 per cent for Muslims. The decline in percentage is more amongst Muslims than Hindus. This shows that if such a pattern continues the rate of Muslim population growth will further fall and become close to that of Hindus.

This is an interesting pattern. The permanent question is whether the fertility rate is determined by religion or other factors. The sectarian nationalists have harped on the fact that Muslims are deliberately increasing their population vis a vis Hindus so that they will be a majority in this nation and will declare India as Gazava-e-Hind (conquest of India by Muslims)!

This is one of the major falsehoods of communal politics to state that Hindus will become a minority if this pattern continues. The first is that the factors influencing the number of children in a family are determined by two major things - one is the level of poverty; the second is the literacy rate of the community as a whole and women in particular. This is amply clear when we compare the rate of fertility Muslim of Muslim women in Kerala, Kashmir and Karnataka, with the TFR for Hindu women in Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. It is lower for Muslim women in these states.

An important study by Saswata Ghose  points out that “Thus, comparing state-level fertility differentials between Hindus and Muslims as estimated from Census 2011 and Census 2001, it can be ascertained that though the overall convergence of fertility between Hindus and Muslims has been underway, significant regional variations persist in the process of convergence since different states and religious groups are at different stages of transition”

As per former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi, whose book on the issue ‘The Population Myth: Islam. Family Planning and Politics in India’ is quite a comprehensive account of the issue, in 24 of the 29 states of India TFR is already coming close to 2.179, one indicative of a stable population, and 2.1 is a mere replacement level. 

It is estimated that the Muslim population which is 14.2 per cent as per the 2011 census will stabilize at 18 per cent by 2050 as the trends amongst the Muslim community show. The decadal rate of Muslim population growth also shows a substantial decline.

Irrespective of the immaculate studies, the communalists in various ways demonize the Muslim community. I recall one instance where a team of Muslim elite sought an appointment to talk to the RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat. Dr Quraishi was a member of the team. He presented Bhagwat with his book which debunks the notions spread by the Sangh Parivar. And lo and behold in a statement a few weeks later Bhagwat stated that there should be a "balance in population" among different communities.

(The writer, a former IIT Bombay professor, is Chairman, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai. Views expressed are the author's own)  

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