Census and Nonsense:

The Sangh's Communal Demography

A comedy of errors was played out when the Census Commission first raised the cry of spiraling Muslim growth rate and falling Hindu growth rate, only to rectify their schoolchild-like error by admitting that the growth rate was not adjusted against the 1991 census figures, when the solitary Muslim majority state was not included. So in fact now, with the adjusted figures, Muslim population was not rising at the rate of 36 per cent as declared earlier but at the rate of 29.3 per cent— down from 32.9 per cent in 1991 . Indeed the Muslim growth rate registered a decline greater than that of Hindus, which stood at 3.6 and 2.8 per cent respectively. Further, the decline in Hindu growth rate could have been possibly triggered not by falling birth rates but because several large communities who had previously been recorded as Hindus – the Jains, Veershaive/ Lingayats in Karnataka and the Sarna in Jharkhand - insisted on a separate identification this time.

But the Hindutva brigade would not be pacified. Praveen Togadia was particularly miffed at the ‘adjusted figures' and threatened to move court over the change whereby the Hindu population “jumped from 80.5 per cent to 81.4 per cent”. He saw it as a conspiracy to “hoodwink” the Hindus about the actual growth in Muslim population, which was poised, according to him, to become a majority by 2111, unless checked . Venkaiah Naidu announced that high Muslim growth coupled with “demographic invasion” by Bangladeshi infiltrators should be a “cause of grave concern for all those who think of India 's unity and integrity in the long run”, namely the RSS and its affiliates. For Ram Madhav, the RSS spokesperson, even the earlier unadjusted figures do not measure up adequately. According to him, “our own study has shown much higher growth [for the Muslims]”.

‘Our own study'? True, the Organiser routinely lists horror stories about the rising Muslim population, but none of these lay claim to being a ‘study'. The study under question, one can hazard a guess, is Religious Demography of India by A.P Joshi, M.D. Srinivas and J.K. Bajaj (Centre for Policy Research, Chennai, 2003). With its plethora of tables and statistics on census between 1881 and 1991, it is a supreme example of how figures divorced from all socio-economic contexts may be harnessed in the service of a dangerous ideology. The basic thesis of the ‘study' is thus: The population of ‘Indian religionists' is steadily declining while that of other religionists, namely Muslims and Christians, is steadily rising, resulting in a fall of about 11 per cent points for the former. The downward graph of the Indian religionists and the upward, resurgent curve of the non-Indian religionists “will intersect at 50 per cent mark just before 2061”, following which the Indian religionists will be rendered a minority. (There is obviously no consensus in the Hindutva camp about the precise date of the Doomsday: Togadia predicted 2111)

How do Messrs. Joshi, Srinivas and Bajaj arrive at this calculation? Simple. They take liberties with conceptual as well as geographical boundaries!

According to them, ‘Indian religionists' include not only Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists—which were in any case defined by Article 25 of the Indian Constitution as Hindus—but much more remarkably, also, Jews, Parsees and Bahais. It is therefore only a residual category, including under its denomination all those who are not Muslims and Christians.

India , for them, is not the Indian Union but in true Akhand Bharat style, subsumes India , Pakistan and Bangladesh ! By their own calculations for the Indian Union, the fall in the population of Indian religionists is only about 2 percent—nowhere as dramatic as 11 per cent. Though by itself 2 per cent is not significant, what worries them is that while Indian religionists have been able to rebuff the advance of Islam and Christianity and continue to form an overwhelming majority in large swathes of areas, there are certain regions where the Indian religionists are under great pressure (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam) or turning into a minority (Kerala, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Northeast).

The existence of pockets of Muslim and Christian influence, say the authors, “formed the demographic basis of Partition of the country in 1947”, thus hinting that a rising Muslim and Christian population signals another impending partition. L.K. Advani who has written the Foreword to the book, in his own words, was a “victim” of religious demography and thus urges all to take serious note of the findings of the book.

The spectre of ‘Muslims overtaking Hindus in India ' is not of recent origin. It is as old as the census itself and the communalist mythmakers drew sustenance from it. For instance, O'Donnel, the Census Commissioner for 1891 calculated on the basis of the sluggish growth rates of the Hindus in comparison with that of Muslims the ‘exact' numbers of years it would take for the Hindus to disappear altogether. H.H. Risley, Home Secretary, Govt. of India, wondered if the figures of the last Census were a “forerunner of an Islamic and Christian revival which will threaten the citadel of Hinduism” (cited in P.K. Datta's “‘Dying Hindus': Production of Communal Commonsense in Early 20 th Century Bengal” in EPW , June 19, 1993 ). Over the years, it has become a vital component of the communal commonsense. Best encapsulated in Modi's infamous, “ Hum paanch, hamaare pachchis ” insinuation. (Does he even recognise the kind of sex ratios that would be required in the Muslim community for realising his fantastical ‘hum paanch'?). These canards though are easily disproved through reference to actual facts: Pune's Gokhale Institute in the 1990s had calculated that the Muslim population will remain fixed at 14.2 per cent of the total even if the same trends persist for the next 100 years. The myth of Muslim polygamy was punctured by the Survey conducted by Registrar General of India in 1961, which established the incidence of polygamy as lowest among the Muslims.

What is completely lost in population data based on religious distinctions is that communities are not homogenous monoliths but are riddled with internal socio-economic divisions, factors that actually determine population rates. It has been well established that development is the best contraceptive and population rates directly reflect a people's access to a host of factors such as education, employment, nutrition, health etc. High population rates are only an indictment of the Indian State 's inability, nay unwillingness to ensure a just and equitable distribution of the country's resources. Therefore, when a Venkiah Naidu or an Arun Jaitley preaches to the Muslims to adopt family planning measures, they are not only bolstering the commonsense about Muslims as a community that traditionally shuns family planning but are also cleverly shifting the burden of its backwardness on to the community. Notice how Maulana Sayed Kalbe Sadiq was hailed as a model reformist when he called for a discussion on the issue of family planning in a forthcoming meeting of the AIMPLB. Precisely because it trained the spotlight on the community and its alleged need to ‘reform' rather than on the State's failure to deliver the goods. The Congress of course, having burnt its hands once over the forced sterilization drive under Sanjay Gandhi's directions sang the song of ‘voluntary' family planning.

What is as disturbing as the cry of the Islamic population bomb is the silence over the real bombshell of the census—the abnormally skewed sex ratios across communities, reflecting a marked preference for sons. Again, if one were to go beyond the religion-wise data, we find that in Haryana, for instance, the sex ratio in lower income families is an astonishingly high 1000, while in high income families, it is a mere 600! Clearly, the model ‘ hum do hamare do' high-income (mostly Hindu) families follow their own population control by killing girl foetuses. The RSS, naturally, is silent on this murderous trend in patriarchal Indian society.

Between 1991 and 2001, Hindus added to their population numbers equivalent to the total Muslim population. Why then this paranoia? It is more than a simple matter of creating and sustaining stereotypes or keeping the fires of communal antagonisms simmering: at its heart lies the project of fashioning society and State in the mould of a fascist vision. The model of “One People, One Culture” conceives of a seamless Hindu civilization based on Sanatan Dharma, which countenanced ‘difference' or heterogeneity for the first time with the arrival of Islam and Christianity. It is only the followers of the Indic/ Indianist/ Vedic/ Sanatani religion—into which melt the heterodox faiths of Buddhism, Jainism, animist religions of the Adivasis and powerful anti-Brahmanical movements—who are the true inhabitants of the nation. In We or Our Nationhood Defined , Golwalkar had declared that “the Hindus alone are the nation and the Moslems and others, if not actually anti-national are at least outside the body of the nation.” Thus, if the nation is to be preserved, the contaminating presence of the non-nationals and anti-nationals has to be mitigated.

In his Foreword to Religious Demography in India, Advani says, “… The growth and decline of population play a crucial role in the rise and fall of nations … That is why active and alert societies … keep an eye on the changing demographic trends within themselves.” However, as the sham demographers of the RSS, Joshi, Srinivas and Bajaj tell us, defending the demographic balance also requires a vigilante State . Gujarat perhaps provided the best example of how ‘active' and ‘alert' societies and an interventionist State may keep an eye on the demographic trends. Genocide, after all, is the preferred mode of ‘population control' for the fascists – recall how the saffron mobs of Gujarat specially targeted the wombs and unborn foetuses of Muslim women.

Manisha Sethi