Thoughts on a rise in India's Muslim population

Published April 24, 2015
A large number of Muslims lives in ghetto-like habitations or in the outskirts of cities, and is on the lower side of the income profile. —AFP
A large number of Muslims lives in ghetto-like habitations or in the outskirts of cities, and is on the lower side of the income profile. —AFP

Looking at projected populations, PEW Research Center has released a report (2nd April 2015) stating that the population of Hindus in India will fall down from the present 79.5 per cent to 76.7 per cent, and the Muslim population will rise up to 18 per cent by 2050.

The report also states that the population of Indian Muslims will overtake the population of Muslims in Indonesia and Pakistan. Disturbed by these projections, Sadhvi Prachi advised that Hindu women should produce 40 children each while Sakshi Maharaj, a BJP member of Parliament, advised four children each for Hindu women.

Time and again, many a leader from right-wing Hindu formations have advised Hindu women to serve the ‘nation’ by producing more children, and interestingly, the celibate ones amongst these advisers are more vociferous on these matters!

If these projections are indeed close to reality, how do we explain its predicted rise of the Muslim population in India?

Are the reasons purely religious; the growth of Islam? If they are, then logically, the countries ahead of India (Pakistan and Indonesia) should keep the same pace and remain ahead of India as far as the population of Muslims is concerned.

But if gravitation towards Islam is the reason, why should the number of Muslims in India overtake the number in other countries? The argument of religion being the determining factor in matters of population growth, therefore, is invalid.

Within India itself, one observes that there are serious regional differences between areas like Malabar Coast of Kerala and the UP-Bihar region. Even in the strife-torn Kashmir valley, one noted in the earlier decades that the percentage increase of the Hindu population was more than that of the Muslims in the valley.

Also see: The decline of Indian Muslims

The second argument is that Muslims don’t take to family planning as their religion prohibits them, hence this increase.

In his book, Family planning and legacy of Islam, Islamic scholar A.R. Omran of Cairo dispels the myth that Islam is inherently against family planning, as per him there is no text in Quran which prohibits the prevention of pregnancy. In Islamic countries like Turkey and Indonesia, family planning methods are quite popular. In Turkey, for example, 63 per cent of the population in the reproductive age group uses contraception and in Indonesia, the figure is 48 per cent.

In India, the number of Muslim couples in the child bearing age, practicing family planning in 1970 was at 9 per cent (14 per cent for Hindus) and in 1980, at 22.5 per cent (36.1 per cent for Hindus). [Operation Research Group: Baroda 1981]

Thus, the number of additional Muslims taking to family planning is keeping pace with the number of Hindus doing the same.

Dr Rakesh Basant, an economist with IIM Ahmadabad and a mem­ber of the Sachar committee, points out that at present "there is (only) a 0.7-point difference between the Muslim and the average fertility rates. While the average fertility rate is 2.9, for Muslims it is 3.6."

He emphasises that 37 per cent of Muslims use contraceptives against a national average of 48 per cent. Therefore, contraceptive usage is about 10 percentage points lower among Muslims than the average.

However, there are significant regional variations. As the report observes, contraceptive usage goes up with education and development and all communities benefit from such changes.

So where do we look for the answer to this puzzle of the Muslim population rising more than that of Hindus in India?

Let us have a look at the regional differences in the population growth of Hindus in India. Here, the gross observation is that in the more literate southern states, like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, the percentage rise of even the Hindu population is less than the percentage rise of Hindu population in northern states like UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.

Also read: Indian Hindu, Muslim mobs clash in Modi's heartland

As far as the figures in India are concerned, a large number of Muslims lives in ghetto-like habitations or in the outskirts of cities, and is on the lower side of the income profile.

As the much discussed Sachar committee report points out, the marginalisation of Muslim minorities in employment and major business opportunities has led them to a condition of economic downslide, or stagnation at best; not keeping pace with the overall economic growth which the country has witnessed.

This lack of equity has worsened due to communal violence, which has led to their insecurity and ghettoisation. These two phenomenons have made them vulnerable and they have become more susceptible to the influence of conservative maulanas advising against family planning, etc.

The large section of Indian Muslims come from the background of untouchable Shudras, whose economic starting point has been very low. This, added on by the lack of affirmative action for them and the physical insecurity, has led to the present situation, where the less educated men and women from this community tend to have more children.

In contrast, the percentage of Hindus in Pakistan has declined for very different reasons, the major decline being due to the mass migration away from Pakistan and Bangladesh in the aftermath of partition. There percentage is very small, and though, they also face similar persecution in those countries, making comparisons is difficult.

On a personal note, while I was working in IIT Mumbai, I could see that the number of children per the families of staffers increased as you went down from professors to peons.

The situations in different countries in the subcontinent are not comparable on many counts. What is needed is an empathetic attitude to the deprived communities, going beyond the obvious and solving the problem in earnest.




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