At the recently concluded national executive meet at Kochi, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh joint secretary Dattatreya Hosabale called upon Hindus to start having more children. The RSS fear is that Hindus will become a minority in India in the not-too-distant future. This rests on a number of population myths the RSS has assiduously been propagating over the years. These myths are ridiculous to the rational mind but have currency, due to vocal assertion repeated over time and space.
"…in 2035, Muslim will become absolute majority in India (total population: 197.7 crore). Conversion, threatening, rioting, slaughtering, terrorism, intrusion, polygamy, no birth control are being the major tools for Muslim to reach that figure within the said period," says the Sangh Parivar website.
Are Muslims particularly prone to explosive population growth? Countries with the largest Muslim populations show otherwise. But that is rational contestation. How does one address the fear that a man marrying multiple women would lead to a rise in the population (never mind that data shows more polygamous Hindus than Muslims)?
Population growth depends on the number of children each woman has, whether from one man or many. The measure that demographers use for the purpose is the total fertility rate, TFR. It is the number of children that would be born to a woman if she were to live to the end of her childbearing years and bear children in accordance with current age-specific fertility rates.
If a woman has two children over her lifetime, these two would replace herself and her husband when they pass on, neither depleting the population nor adding to it. However, given the likelihood of some children not living to adulthood, the TFR that is required to achieve replacement has to be marginally higher and is generally accepted as 2.1.
As societies become more prosperous, healthy and women gain agencyand more and more control over their own lives, their TFR comes down. This is so, regardless of religion or geography. It used to be thought that Catholics would resist contraception. Devoutly catholic Spain and Italy today have a TFR of 1.2, tying with Hong Kong for the lowest rate among countries.
Poorer regions tend to have higher TFRs. But poverty is not the only determinant of people's decisions on how many children to have. Cultural values and practices matter a lot. But no Muslim country is immune to the larger trend. TFR has been declining in every major Muslim nation. It is below the replacement level in Iran. Indonesia and Bangladesh are fast approaching that level. Bangladesh's TFR of 2.2 in 2011 is significantly lower than India's 2.7. And in India, backward states like Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh still have high TFRs: 3.5, 4.2 and 3.6 respectively.
Goa (1.5), Kerala (1.6), Tamil Nadu (1.6) and Puducherry (1.6) have TFRs significantly below the replacement level. Soon, their populations will stop growing – as past young cohorts enter the reproductive age, population will continue to grow for some time – and they can soon apply for UN funds for endangered species.
Does this mean that Muslim populations will stabilise at the same rate as Hindu ones? It does not. To the extent cultural and religious factors inhibit progress of the global trend for TFR to fall with social development, the pace of change will vary. In Kerala, in Muslim majority Malappuram district, the TFR has dropped only to 2.2 even as it has been coming down. At the same time, in Muslim majority Lakshadweep and several districts of Jammu and Kashmir, the TFR is below the replacement level.
RSS' Irrational Fears
What of the RSS fear of Muslims becoming more than half of India's population by 2035? To make this claim, its number crunchers have to project a total population of 198 crore by 2035. By most estimates, India's population would peak at 154 crore by 2050. The simple extrapolations used for demographic scaremongering have no basis in science.
To the extent social backwardnesshas been identified as the reason for high TFRs, whether in regions or in communities, the need is to investmore in things that create development: skills, awareness, education, healthcare, roads, power, broadband, teledensity. But any move to step up investment in Muslim-majority areas, as the Planning Commission has made, is immediately branded as minority appeasement by the Sangh Parivar.
BJP's Ties to the RSS
India cannot progress as a nation with the Sangh brand of scaremongering about the nation's largest minority moving from the fringes of national consciousness right to the centre. It is the same RSS, which carries on this kind of false and irrational propaganda, that controls and guides the principal Opposition party, the BJP.
And so long as the BJP remains part of the Sangh Parivar, the family of organisations ideologically inspired and controlled by the RSS, its ability to respond to the polity's natural pressure towards the middle ground would remain muted.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.