The divide through numbers

Split section What is the real intention behind breaking up the population on the basis of religion?
Split section What is the real intention behind breaking up the population on the basis of religion?

The rightwingers recently found an issue that may spell the world’s end for them. The recent release of the census data on religion shows that the growth rate of the Muslim population at 24 percent is visibly more than that of the Hindu population, which has shown a growth rate of 16.8 percent.

The Hindu Right has always resorted to doomsday predictions at the slightest communal pretext, and the dwindling of the Hindu population in comparison to that of the Muslim is reason for serious alarm for them. However, since 1971 the population census of India has been steadily reporting a higher growth in the Muslim population.

The 2011 census data too had shown the growth of the Muslim population to be higher than that of the Hindu population with the exception of the state of Gujarat that surprisingly registered a negative growth.

The Hindu population overtakes the Muslim population by almost 80 crore (79,40,12,195 to be exact). Now, to put things into better perspective, the decadal growth of the Hindu population in absolute figures was 13.9 crore while that of the Muslim population was 3.4 crore in 2001-2011. If this growth rate is to continue, it will take a minimum of two centuries for the Muslim population in India to become the majority population, provided the growth of the Hindu population is made stagnant.

Yet if we are to go by the concerns of Yogi Adityanath, the BJP MP from Gorakhpur, this phenomenon spells a crisis. A document released by him states: “This disparity of growth rates has the potential to result in a situation like the Partition of 1947 or the 1990 Kashmir crisis. The law, along with the informed citizens of the country should take viable measures to nip this problem in the bud by taking care of the disparate growth rates.”

One wonders how the vitriolic Adityanath, who has made many hate speeches against Muslims in the past, wants to ‘nip’ the problem in the bud.

In Kurukshetra, yoga guru Baba Ramdev remarked, “The population of Hindus and Sikhs has declined and of a particular community increased. This imbalance could create social, economic and political conflicts and challenges in the society.” The census findings have given a perfect opportunity to the likes of Ramdev and Adityanath to expound their paranoias which stem out of long-standing communal prejudices.

It wouldn’t be hard for political scientists to predict how such statistical information would be received by people. Even basic school textbooks term India’s exploding population as hindrance in the path of development. Now that the census is out, people will have someone to blame. And all this right before the elections in Bihar. It seems that the Sangh Parivar has played yet another communal card before going in for a crucial election.

The Human Development indices cited by the Economic Survey, throw up a different picture. The implications of these findings, however, cannot be gauged holistically unless the accompanying socio economic parameters are explored.

An issue of the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) dated 26 April 2014 suggests that the Muslim population of India has the lowest level of literacy with 69 percent males and 47 percent females reaching literacy in rural areas. In urban areas, 81 percent males and 65 percent females are literate.

On the contrary, the Christian population shows the highest literacy rates for both males and females in rural and urban areas. In terms of harnessing human resources, the Labour Force Participation Rate (IFPR) in 2009-2010 was 423 per 1,000 Hindus, 344 per 1,000 Muslims, 459 per 1,000 Christians, 415 per 1000 Sikhs and 414 per 1,000 people from other religions.

As far as unemployment is concerned, 1.5 percent of total Hindus were unemployed in the year 2009-2010 while 1.9 percent of total Muslims, 3.9 percent of total Christians, 2.9 percent of total Sikhs and 1.6 percent of the total population belonging to other religious communities were unemployed.

A break from the regularities of communal stereotypes can be seen in the improvement of the sex ratio overall in the country. The Christian community forms the only community with more females than males. In the Muslim community, the ratio of female population to male has seen a 1.5 percent increase. As a result, there are now 956 women per thousand men according to the census in 2011, which is 20 more than that of the 2001 census figures that had 936 women per thousand males. Conversely, the Hindu community had the lowest rise in the sex ratio standing at 0.8 percent; to translate that into figures, it came from 931 women per thousand males to 939 women per thousand males.

The maximum amount of growth rate, could not save the Muslim population from ranking third when it comes to increase in literacy. In juxtaposition to that, the Hindu community albeit having a higher literacy rate has not been able to improve the difference in the sex ratio and subsequently stands last with respect to the growth rate in the female population. What is also questionable is the method of collecting the census data as the census does not leave any room for atheists. The recent land agreement met with Bangladesh is also going to have a definite impact on the census. These aspects have to be taken into account while conducting the census.

The current census, however, takes into account religious identity in its totality. The need for contextualising the data has not been felt by the government. The media has made their own interpretations of the census data. A national daily’s front page headline read: ‘Muslim population increases while Hindu population declines’.

It is unfortunate that a simplistic census sparks a huge debate across the country and the revelations of the Sachar Committee, with its holistic report on the social, economic and educational conditions of Muslim in India is overlooked. The motive of the ‘religious’ census is unclear but what is certain is that it is only a singular, linear angle of an issue which is extremely complex. Perhaps instead of looking at numbers and arriving at simplistic conclusions we should focus on the overall development of all communities.

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