Listen to this article:
New Delhi: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief, Mohan Bhagwat, in his annual Dusshera speech, on Wednesday, October 5, proposed a population control law that would be “equally applicable to all”, and lamented “religion-based imbalance” and “forced conversions” were breaking the country apart, NDTV reported.
Bhagwat cited East Timor, Kosovo and South Sudan as examples of “new countries that emerged because of religious community-based imbalances”.
“Along with population control, population balance on a religious basis is also a matter of importance which cannot be ignored,” he argued, delivering his speech in Hindi, according to the news channel.
“Population requires resources, or it becomes a burden… There is a view that the population can be an asset. We need to work on a policy keeping both aspects in mind,” he continued further.
On the “religion-based imbalance” in population, he said, “Birth rate is one reason; conversions by force, lure or greed, and infiltration are also big reasons.”
The RSS chief further said that women’s health would “certainly kept in mind” in any policy the RSS would propose on childbearing and population control. Incidentally, it was the first time that the RSS had invited a woman – mountaineer Santosh Yadav – as a chief guest for its Dussehra rally in Nagpur.
Bhagwat’s latest remarks are in line with a hoary trope RSS and its political front Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have long advanced to hold the largest religious minority group in the country – the Muslims – responsible for population growth.
However, empirical evidence disputes both the claims of alarming population growth and the perceived differentials in Hindu-Muslim population growth.
As The Wire reported earlier, the National Family Health Survey (2019-21) states that the difference between Hindu (1.94 children per woman) and Muslim (2.36 children per woman) fertility is only 0.42 children per woman. This is a drastic difference compared to the situation in 1992 when Muslim women were estimated to have an average of 1.1 more children than Hindu women.
The actual picture emerges with much more clarity when we take into account the ‘trend’ rather than ‘point estimates’. In the last two decades, it has been found that Hindu fertility has dropped by 30% against 35% in Muslims. In fact, the rate of decline in population growth in Muslims has been greater than that in Hindus in the last 20 years. This establishes that Hindu-Muslim fertility rates are on track to absolute convergence, presumably by 2030.
Even a 2021 report by Pew Research Centre substantiates these findings. The fertility rate among Muslims is now almost equal to that of Hindus, and between 1992 and 2015, the Muslim fertility rate declined from 4.4 to 2.6 while Hindus’ dipped from 3.3 to 2.1, the report stated.
In a video interview (exact time stamp: 8 mins 20 secs onwards) carried by The Wire earlier, former chief election commissioner S.Y. Quraishi recalled his meeting with RSS chief Bhagwat to present his book, The Population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India. Qureshi said he had told the RSS chief that it was pure “propaganda” on the part of Hindutva groups that Muslims would overtake Hindus in terms of numbers.
“Even in 1,000 years, it would not happen. The question of polygamy [often raised to argue about Muslims’ higher population growth rate than Hindus] does not arise in India. I told him about the gender ratio of 1,000 men to 940 women in India and that there are 60 bachelors who are struggling to get their first wives. And, I asked where is the question of polygamy. To this, he reacted with warm-hearted laughter… Meaning, he registered whatever I said,” Quraishi recounted from the meeting.
It appears that the RSS chief has not found time to read Quraishi’s book.
On the other hand, even the spectre of “population explosion” often raised by many is also not grounded in any rationale, and the data speaks otherwise. In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself in his 2019 Independence Day speech touched upon the issue. “We need to worry about population explosion,” he said, adding that it adversely affected India’s development.
According to NFHS (2019-21), the total fertility rate (TFR) declined to 2 from 2.2 in 2016, lower than the desired value of 2.1. As per the experts and researchers on population, at TFR 2.1, a population reaches a replacement level of fertility – meaning there will be no growth in the population.
TFR and annual population growth rate are used worldwide to quantify population growth. Also, India’s population growth rate slipped from 1.73% in 2001 to 1.04% in 2018, according to World Bank data. The population growth rate in 12 states was less than even 1%, and even states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana – regarded as high fertility states – have shown a significant decline in their growth rates over time.
In his speech, Bhagwat also referred to “conversions by force”. Hindutva outfits have also long raised the bogey of “forced conversions” – particularly Christianity eating into Hindu’s preponderant majority. According to a report published by The Wire earlier, the claim is not grounded in reality.
According to the data available from Census, the size of the Christian community relative to the country’s population has either been static or on the decline since 1971. The 1971 Census estimated that Christians accounted for 2.6% of India’s population. By 2001, this figure dropped to 2.3%. While the religious composition of 2011 Census figures has never been released, leaked data has shown that there has been a further decline in the size of the community.
On the contentious issue of religious conversion, a Pew research report released in June 2021, notes that it is “rare” for someone in India to switch from one religion to another. “An overall pattern of stability in the share of religious groups is accompanied by little net change from movement into, or out of, most religious groups. Among Hindus, for instance, any conversion out of the group is matched by conversion into the group,” the report underlined.