Communalising Population Growth: Understanding Demographic Data

The biases and misconceptions about conversions and population growth have been used by communal forces to divide the society. This became apparent once again when Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijuju, tweeted that that Hindu population is decreasing in the country as Hindus don't convert and that minorities in India are flourishing unlike in the neighbouring countries.

Threat of decline in Hindu population and increase in the population of minorities is being propagated time and again. As per the data of 2011 census figures, Hindu population now stands at 79.8 % and Muslim population at 14.23%. “The data on Population by Religious Communities of Census 2011 show that between 2001 and 2011, Hindu population grew by 16.76 per cent, while that of Muslims by 24.6 per cent. The population of both communities grew faster during the previous decade, at 19.92 per cent and 29.52 per cent, respectively. As a long-term trend, say demographers, the communities’ growth rates are converging.” This means that the decadal rates of growth of both communities is declining and converging closer to each other.

This is a pointer to the fact that while charting out the future projections it is important to keep in mind that the rate of growth of the Muslim population will be falling and will stabilise closer to that of the rate of the rise in Hindu population. In the total population Muslims will remain a religious minority for the times to come. Interestingly the population increase of Hindus during the period of 2001 to 2011 has been 133 millions, which is close to the total population of Muslims in 2001.The scare being spread through a word of mouth campaign and through social media about the Muslim population taking over the Hindu population holds no water, as there are clear trends of decline in the decadal rate of the growth of the Muslim population as well.

The demographers point out that the higher rates of fertility are due to lack of education and poor health facilities. Muslims in Kerala have a lower fertility rate than many Hindu communities in North India and even in Kerala. The economic profile of Kerala Muslims is much different than the Muslims in Assam, West Bengal, UP and Maharashtra, for example. If we broaden this point, we will see that the rise in population among Dalits (Schedule castes) and Adivasis (Scheduled Tribes) is much higher as such. As per the 2011 census, STs are 8.6% while they were 6.23 % according to 1951 census. SCs now are 16.6%, while as per 1951 they were around 15%.

As such the whole truth will show us that the propaganda of the communal forces has nothing to do with the reality of the society and the deeper causes of the same. It is in this background that the likes of Praveen Togadia demand that two-child norm should be imposed, while the likes of Sakshi Maharaj and Sadhvi Prachi have been extolling the Hindus to produce more children.

The BJP President has called for the “Look North East” to raise the scare about the Christian population in that area. This primarily tribal area saw the increase in the percentage of the Christians in the decades of 1931-1951. The rise in the percentage of the Christian population has a lot to do with the spread of Civil Administration with Independence and also with the spread of education in the region. Countrywide, we can see that the percentage of the Christians is static for the last few decades. If at all, it has declined and stabilised. If we see from 1971, we find that the Christian population was 2.60% (1971), 2.44 (1981), 2.34 (1991), 2.30 (2001) and 2.30 (2011). In the meanwhile, the propaganda about Missionary activities and the alleged increase in the number of the Christians has dominated the scene. The anti-Christian violence came to the public attention with the ghastly murder of Graham Stewarts Staines and his sons (1999). Dara Singh of Bajrang Dal, which is affiliated to RSS, incited the local people claiming that the Pastor is doing conversions which is against Hindus. The Wadhwa Commission, which investigated Pastor Staines murder, concluded that he was not involved in the work of conversion and that in Keonjhar, Manoharpur, Orrisa, where the Pastor was working, there was no increase in the percentage of the Christian population. Similarly, the Kandhmal anti-Christian violence was unleashed on the pretext of the murder of Swami Laxmananand. Gujarat also saw anti-Christian activities due to propaganda that the Missionaries are converting Hindus. At the same time we see that the national population of Christians remains static. Some people do allege that the conversions to Christianity are taking place but the converts are hiding their religion. This is again a matter of conjuncture and nothing definite can be said. Anyway, it cannot be a large number in any case.

As such, conversions have been a part of the agenda of Hindu nationalism time and time again. During the freedom movement, two parallel processes of conversions were going on. One was Tanzeem, which was to convert people to Islam, the other was Shuddhi which was aimed at those who were supposed to have left their 'religion-home' and were converted to alien religions. The premise was that conversion to other religions has made them impure so they need to be brought back through a process of purification. During the last several decades RSS-VHP-Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram have been active in what is called Ghar Wapasi (return home) programme to bring back Dalits and Adivasis who it is alleged have been converted through force (to Islam) and by allurement or fraud (to Christianity). This Ghar Wapasi campaign has been undertaken through many newly devised rituals like bath in hot spring or rituals around fire. This has been rampant in Adivasi areas and in slums-villages.

Adivasis are animists, while RSS claims that they are Hindus. To Hinduize them, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram runs a growing network of schools and hostels in large numbers in North East and other areas. Such assertions and accompanying activities have more to do with politics rather than social welfare. The attempt of the RSS combine is to link religion with Nationalism.

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