By Mohan Guruswamy


New Delhi, 19 September 2004

Statistics they say is an inexact science. But statistical data correctly gathered, sorted and analysed can reveal a great deal. The current controversy regarding the growth of the Muslim population in India was sought to be made much of by the politicians each with their own agenda in mind. Mohan Guruswamy puts the entire issue in perspective and gives us more statistics which the government and our politicians should really worry about.

That Muslims are growing at a faster rate than Hindus in independent India is old news. It has been so since 1951. In the decade 1951-61 Muslims grew at 24.9% while Hindus grew at 18.6%. In 1991-2001 the growth rate of Muslims after adjusting for the exclusion of Assam and J&K in the 1981 and 1991 Census’s was 29.3%, while that of Hindus was 20.0%. Not surprisingly some political parties purporting to be shocked by this have tried to stoke fears about Hindus being swamped by Muslims. That of course is a ridiculous notion for let alone present trends continuing, population growth of all groups will cease by about the end of this century. Somebody has calculated that even if present trends continued it would take 247 years for Muslims to catch up with Hindus in terms of numbers.

The Chairman of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, Maulana Rabey Hasni Nadwi has added fuel to this by categorically stating, “There is no room for family planning in Islam.” He obviously is not inspired by the fact that in most Islamic countries like Iran, Indonesia, Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh the governments actively encourage family planning. It is well known that generally the poorer a family the larger it is. That prosperity is the best contraceptive is an old and well-used cliché. Even the most diehard Hindu fanatic will be hard put to disagree with this. And Nadwi and other like-minded Maulana’s will one day realize that their exhortations against planned families will be swamped by prosperity and progress.

Most demographers project that India’s population growth will taper off around 2060. But the growth of population in the BIMARU belt will continue till 2091. The Muslim growth will also level off about then, by which time they will constitute a good 18.8% of India. Given its political implications this could be a matter of concern in some quarters. But what should equally be a matter of concern is the consequent implication that if the BIMARU population keeps growing till near the end of the century, then the populations in other regions will actually be contracting. This may have even graver political consequences. But this does not seem to concern the Sangh Parivar, which seems only perturbed about Muslim fecundity.

There are other trends, some disquieting, also visible now. The foremost of these is the sharp increase in the numbers of Agricultural Laborers. This is the classification reserved for “the poorest of the poor.” Their numbers has risen to 106.8 million in 2001 posting a decadal growth of 30.13%, a steep jump from the 19.03% of the previous decade. This is a severe indictment of the policies pursued in the decade after the so-called liberalization. During this period the entire political spectrum enjoyed power and each formation equally vigorously endorsed the so-called liberalization. Naturally we will see no fingers pointed inwards. Our friends in the Left would be better serving the nation if they voiced concern about this and helped in developing policies that will stunt this growth rather than expend disproportionate energy in preserving the exalted position of organized and mostly middle class labor.

If economic conditions determine population growth, we must wonder as to why the growth of the SC and ST segments has remained below the Muslim growth trend? As opposed to the 29.3% decadal growth between 1991–2001 of Muslims, the decadal growth rate of SC’s and ST’s was 20.55% and 24.45% respectively. The household annual incomes as well as per capita incomes of the SC and ST groups are lower than that of Muslims. Muslims in turn are generally poorer than caste Hindus. Quite clearly there are segmental attitudes impacting upon population growth. Literacy levels of both rural and urban Muslims are lower than Hindus, but not by very much. Perhaps what is more significant is that as a percentage, more than twice as many uneducated Hindu women –– 44% to 18% –– are employed than similarly disadvantaged Muslim women.

The plight of rural Muslims is not very dissimilar to that of rural Hindus. As a percentage more rural Hindu households (51.2%) are landless than rural Muslim households (39.5%). But when it comes to larger holdings of over one hectare, the incidence of Muslims household with land is over twice that of Hindus. For instance in the 1–2 ha segment, 11.7% of rural Muslim households fall into this category while it is only 6% for Hindus. Even so the distribution of rural Muslims and Hindus by household monthly per capita expenditures remains about the same.

It is only in the urban areas that the Muslims fare really poorly. About 40% of Muslim households have a per capita expenditure of less than Rs.425 per month. At the upper end 17.1% of Hindu households have per capita expenditures of over Rs.1120 per month as opposed to 5.8% for Muslims.

Finally here’s something that should worry the Sangh Parivar no end. The proportion of caste Hindu’s has been steadily dropping since 1961 when it was 61.97%. It is 56.05% now. One way to work its way around the demographic time bomb that is going to soon blow up on its path is to become more inclusive in its politics.

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