At a function in Agra this Sunday, RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat, urged Hindus to have more children. Through a PowerPoint presentation, the RSS leader underlined that while Hindus have a fertility rate of 2.1 per cent, the “other community” stands at more than eight per cent. “If this remains the situation, one should forget about their existence in one’s own country by 2025,” he said, addressing a gathering of some 2,000 couples at a function organised by the Sangh’s Kutumb Prabodhan. The couples, Bhagwat insisted, must strengthen “family values” and inculcate patriotic sentiment in children.
Perhaps such talk shouldn’t really surprise us. Whipping up Malthusian fears of a Muslim demographic takeover has after all been an old Rashtriya Swayamseveak Sangh(RSS) bogey. Never mind that such fears of imminent danger – Hindus getting swamped by a fast expanding Muslim population – have been effectively contested by a range of experts, not once but many times over. But undaunted, functionaries of various RSS offshoots periodically exhort Hindus to have more children.
Absurd as the argument may sound, the Sangh Parivar has persistently made this emotive script one of its important campaign planks. Loaded with political implications, such rhetoric gets shriller during crucial poll seasons, and the approaching Uttar Pradesh polls are about as crucial as things can get in Indian parliamentary politics. Given the divisive political climate in the country today, it’s hardly a surprise that the RSS top brass has chosen - once again - to press the population question in the hopes of nudging dormant and baseless anxieties among Hindus to the surface.
This isn’t the first time Bhagwat has issued such a call. In last year’s Vijaydashami speech, while quoting statistics from the last two Census reports, the RSS leader underlined apparent demographic “imbalances” and called for a holistic and uniformly applicable population policy. The 2011 Census – one of those that caused much anxiety within the Sangh – didn’t, of course, make any such shocking demographic revelation. Continuing a trend since 1981, the Census figures showed that the population growth rate had declined from 21.5 percent to 17.7 percent. Based on these findings, it was observed that India would achieve population stabilisation earlier than expected.
What captured the Sangh’s attention, however, was the fact that the Muslim population had registered a growth that was higher than the Hindu population. A simplistic and facile reading of the Census led to misleading conclusions. Or was it simply a case of intentional misreading?
In an article in The Indian Express on the subject last September, Abusaleh Shariff, executive director of the US-India Policy Institute in Washington DC, and former member secretary of the Sachar Committee, wrote: “The Muslim population has increased from 13.4 per cent of the population to 14.2 percent, which is 0.8 percentage points higher. But the rate of growth is considerably lower than in previous decades.” He added: “Muslims are expected to grow faster than Hindus for a couple of more decades because they have the youngest median age and relatively high fertility among the major religious groups in India. In 2010, the median age of Indian Muslims was 22, compared with 26 for Hindus and 28 for Christians. Muslim women bear an average 3.1 children per head, compared with 2.7 for Hindus and 2.3 for Christians.”
Interestingly, the writer observed that one of the factors behind the higher number of births is that Muslims have better sex ratios compared to Hindus. In contrast to attempts to portray the Muslim community as outside the ambit of population control, Shariff noted that there has been a rise in contraceptive use among Muslims since the mid-1980s. And that it “is likely to catch up with the national average earlier than expected. The rate of increase in contraception among the Muslim community, even in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, has been high.” Overall, Shariff concluded that when all the data is analysed, it reveals that since 1981, Muslims have consistently shown a higher decline in growth rate than Hindus.
But of course, beyond a point, statistical clarifications are not the point. Underlying the supposed fear of being outnumbered is a larger political agenda that is more about fear-mongering than facts. Finally, the BJP must abandon its cynical policy of running-with the-hare and hunting-with the-hound. On one hand, Prime Minister Modi insists that development is his party’s sole campaign project. On the other, his mentors in RSS systematically ratchet up communal sentiments. Drumming up anxieties that are a breeding ground for hatred are electoral ploys that need to be jettisoned once and for all.