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Published in the 1-15 Oct 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition


Census figures and BJP’s anti-minorityism

By Asghar Ali Engineer

The Government of India has at last made public the population figures of 2001 census after delay of several years. Now we know that this was delayed by the BJP-led government on account of Loksabha elections. Whatever the reason the population figures and particularly the growth of Muslim population has caused great deal of controversy as expected.

The census commissioner Mr. Banthya either deliberately or otherwise caused sensation by not disclosing that the Muslim population figures do not take into account the fact that there was no census in Assam in 1981 and in Kashmir in 1991 due to ethnic turmoil. Had this been disclosed the Sangh Parivar would not have had another chance at Muslim bashing. Since the BJP does not want to miss any chance to bash Indian Muslims and moreover there are elections in Maharashtra, it jumped at this ‘opportunity’ to create anti-Muslim feelings. The BJP has yet to overcome the shock of its defeat in Loksabha elections.

Mr. Venkaiah Naidu, the BJP president immediately issued a statement condemning an usual growth of Muslim population. He said that differential growth rates for Hindu and Muslim populations in India are a matter of grave concern for those bothered about India’s unity and integrity. The “imbalance”, he suggested, raises “serious questions of a long term nature” when seen in connection with the phenomenon of Bangladeshi infiltrators.

BJP’s anti-Muslim feelings are so strong that they had no patience even to wait for a day to find out the truth of population figures and the goof up by the census commissioner. Also without any verification whatsoever, he invoked their another pet issue of Bangladeshi infiltrators. The fact was that both the growth of Hindu and Muslim population has slowed down which is a welcome sign. Apart from other reasons the reason for differential rate of growth is that several of the communities like Kabirpanthis, Prannathis, Ramkrishna Mission followers etc. who refuse to enlist themselves as Hindus in the census report but otherwise perceived as Hindus. This can make quite a difference as far as differential growth of population is concerned.

It is also not generally known that in some states, according to 1988 data the family planning rate among Muslims is higher than that of Hindus as the literacy rate among Muslim women and their economic status is better than their Hindu counterpart. Thus in 15 states the family planning among Muslims is higher than that of Hindus in U.P. In U.P. the family planning figure among Hindus were, according to statistics compiled in 1988, lesser than those of Muslims in 15 states.

In U.P. the acceptors of family planning among Hindus in Bihar and Rajasthan are 29.4, 32.6 and 30.9 percent respectively. Among Muslims, on the other hand, acceptors of family planning were Kerala (64.4%), Andhra Pradesh (51.1%), Chandigarh (35.8%), Delhi(53.8%), Goa (46.1%), Gujarat (49%), Jammu and Kashmir (35%), Karnataka ( 34.4%), Madhya Pradesh (39.6%), Maharashtra (45.8%), N. E. States (33%), Orissa (44%), Pondichery (77%), Tamil Nadu (56.6%) and West Bengal 42.2%). Of course in U.P. and Bihar the family planning acceptance among Muslims is as low as 18.1 and 14. percent respectively.

Thus it can be seen that religion is not the only criterion as the Sangh Parivar thinks. There are several other factors which impinge on acceptance or otherwise of family planning. Had religion been the only factor then Muslims in the 15 states as mentioned above, would not have accepted family planning in larger proportion than that of Hindus.

Also Bangladesh and Iran which are Muslim countries would not have taken lead in making family planning much greater success than that of India. In Bangladesh the rate of growth of population has come down from 6.1 in 1980 to 2.9 percent. India’s fertility rate declines in the same period from 5.0 to 2.9 percent. Thus Bangladesh Muslims have reduced fertility much faster than that of Hindus in India. In Iran the fertility rate is just two per woman amounting to zero population growth.

It is not correct to say that Islam comes in the way of family planning. There is no clear injunction in the Qur’an against family planning. The Holy Prophet himself permitted what is called ‘azl i.e. coitus interruptus which was the only method then known for prevention of conception. Imam Ghazzali, a great Islamic thinker of 12th century has even permitted abortion up to third month (before life begins in the foetus according to the Qur’an) in case mother’s health or life is in danger.

Similarly Maulana Abdulaziz, an Islamic scholar of 18th century India and son of celebrated Islamic thinker Shah Waliyullah also permitted ‘azl and abortion on similar grounds. The grand Mufti of al-Azhar in Egypt Shaltut bin Shaltut also approved of family planning. Imam Shafi’i while commenting on the verse 4:3 of the Qur’an recommends small family as large family is likely to become burden on man. And now even Muslim Personal Law Board has declared its intention to promote family planning among Muslims on the pattern of Iran which has reached the goal of zero growth in population.
In view of all this evidence it is difficult to maintain that Islam categorically opposes family planning. It is true that there are different opinions and some ‘ulama oppose family planning, particularly those rooted in old tradition and closer to poorer and illiterate Muslims. This should also be noted that religious teaching, even if opposed to family planning, is not the only consideration in human behaviour. Human behaviour is too complex to be reduced only to religious teachings.
In fact religious teaching may be only one among many other considerations, particularly of socio-economic nature. Economic and educational factors play an important role in fertility behaviour, among others. That is why in states like Pondichery and Kerala where female literacy rate among Muslims is higher and women are more independent, family planning acceptance is much higher compared to other states where female literacy rate is comparatively low among Muslims.

There are other factors as well like widow re-marriage. This has been acknowledged by demographers. Also, male-female ratio among Muslims is comparatively higher i.e. there are 936 females per thousand compared to 931 females per thousand males among Hindus. And among children up to 6 this ratio is 950 girls per thousand boys among Muslims and only 925 for Hindus. Mr. Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar explains it thus: “Female infanticide and foeticide reduces population indirectly as well as directly. Even after contraception lowers the total fertility rate (lifetime births per woman), population growth can be rapid for two decades because of what demographers call population momentum: future mothers have already been born. But female infanticide and foeticide ensure that future mothers are not born, and so reduce population momentum.” (See TOI of 12/9/04). According to Mr. Aiyar this is part of the reason for falling Hindu population growth, but not something the Hindus should boast about.

Thus there are several factors to be taken into account for understanding the dynamics of population growth in any community and for devising remedial measures. Communalists, more often than not, always bring religion into focus ignoring very vital factors as their primary obsession is with denunciation of a religious community. The BJP better take these factors into account if they really care for the country rather than the narrow interests of a section of the majority community.
The literacy rate among the Muslims according to the census figures is lowest on all India level i.e. around 59.1 per cent whereas among Hindus it is 65.1 percent above 7 years of age. The gap of course is only of 6 per cent, not too wide. In fact matter is more complex than it appears. As in case of family planning the rate of literacy among Muslims in 15 states and Union Territories is more than 70 per cent. It is also to be noted that in Jharkhand, Orissa, Chandigarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Tamil Nadu, Pondichery and Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Muslims are doing better than Hindus. In Chattisgarh, the Muslims are ahead by 17 percentage points.

All these fact have to be taken into account. Like that of family planning this myth also needs to be shattered that Muslims do not take to modern secular education per se. There is increasing trend among Muslims both for family planning and for modern secular education. One should not take static view of situation as many scholars do and particularly those who are inclined to the Sangh Parivar. In secular India Muslims, despite many difficulties, also have greater opportunities as there are lesser constraints and more freedom from orthodox point of view. 

Post-Babri demolition riots Muslim outlook has changed greatly and they have realised that emotional issues and confrontationist politics will take them nowhere and it is only modern education and economic progress which will ensure better future for them. Whatever figures are available point to the fact that trend for modern education is progressively increasing. What lacks are economic means rather than any traditional obstacle for modern education. One has to work hard to provide such opportunities to poor Muslims. Partly it is for the government and partly for Muslim leadership to create opportunities for education and economic uplift of Muslims. 

And the RSS propaganda that Muslims will overtake Hindus by 2050 should be dismissed with the contempt it deserves. No serious demographer will buy it. 

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