‘Even population issue is fodder for saffron forces’


‘Even population issue is fodder for saffron forces’

Chitra Sawant

Demographic experts have opined a different line of thought on the findings of the Census data of 2011. The Census data has revealed that the share of Muslims in the Indian population has increased from 13.4 percent to 14.2 percent while Hindus’ population has fallen very slightly. In other words, they say the Hindu population has increased by 13.87 crore while Muslim population has increased by just 3.4 crore.

In fact, they say that Muslims are now trying to limit their families and also facing increasing problems of fertility. The reduction in fertility rates will inevitably lead to a stabilisation in the total population, they feel. On the whole, they feel that it is part of the saffron agenda to politicise such issues for vested interests.

Says Qudsiya Contractor, Assistant Professor, Centre for Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences: “The current controversy is a rendition of a longstanding saffron agenda that puts the majority status of Hindus under threat from an ever increasing Muslim population. Unfortunately, much of this controversy draws on popular beliefs and knowledge rather than on scientific facts.”

 “The slight increase in Muslim population, is giving fodder to nationalist propaganda that Hindu supremacy may be endangered. The sharpest increase in the Muslim population of Assam and West Bengal is due to the illegal migration from Bangladesh.” says Dr D A Nagdeve, Professor and Head of Fertility Studies Department, International Institute for Population Sciences.

“In fact, since the 80s, Muslim population is decreasing at a much higher rate than Hindus. The 2011 census witnessed 4.92 percent decrease in Muslim total fertility rates while it was just 3.16 among Hindus. In absolute numbers, the Hindu population has increased by 13.87 crore while Muslim population has increased by just 3.4 crore,” said Nitin Lata Waman, Demographer, Policy Researcher and Doctoral Fellow at Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

“Most debates fail to draw attention to the fact that Muslims have in fact shown a 50 per cent higher decline in the growth rate as compared to Hindus since 1981. Muslim women are choosing to make smaller families, an attribute that will considerably impact the future growth rate and irreversibly,” quips Qudsiya.

The total fertility rate (TFR) is the average number of children that would be born to a woman over her lifetime.

However, Dr Nagdeve says:  “the reduction in fertility rates will inevitably lead to a stabilisation in the total population. The declining trend for fertility rates has slowed down growth rate of all religions. Muslims have historically witnessed a higher population growth rate due to higher fertility than other major religions. But this rate has been on the decline for the past three decades due to decline in fertility. The Muslim decadal growth rate was 34.5 percent in the 1991 census, which slowed down to 29.5 percent in 2001 and it further decreased to 24.6 percent in 2011.”

He goes on to add that: “The declining fertility is a common phenomenon across religions. Although a Hindu-Muslim differential in fertility has existed in India, it is no more than one child, and even this gap in fertility is declining with increasing levels of education and standards of living. While the lower level of contraceptive use among Muslims is the most important factor responsible for the fertility differentials. The use of contraceptives has increased faster among Muslims in recent times. However, the relatively higher fertility among Muslims cannot be understood independent of its socio-economic and political contexts.”

 But Qudsiya Contractor is perturbed. She says “What is worrying is that such a discourse that saffronises demography simply essentialises religious identities ignoring the diversity within as well as the fuzzy boundaries between communities. This is a reminder of the composite nature of Indian society and it is high time we acknowledge it,” she adds.

 Women’s fertility has been central in the debates on demographic change. Factors that directly impact fertility is household levels of poverty and child survival rates. Also women’s autonomy at the family level has a significant impact on fertility outcomes – education levels of women has a great deal to do with decrease in fertility rates.

 “Fertility is highly correlated with and influenced by education and economic status along with cultural and religious practices. Due to advancement of education, economic conditions and access to family control methods has reduced the fertility rates very fast than ever, debunking religious belief,” adds Nitin Lata Waman.