The recently-released National Family Health Survey-V (2019-21), which shows a sharp decline in Muslim total fertility rates (TFRs) compared to those of other religions, has given ammunition to 'Left-liberals' to dub all Hindu fears about adverse demographic change as just “Hindutva propaganda” (read here).
The real problem is not Hindutva propaganda, for Hindus are simply not as good at it as Christians or Muslims, but very poor articulation of their demographic concerns and a data-illiterate media. Mindless rants from sants at some Dharam Sansad or the other, calling on Hindu women to produce four to five children each to make up for lower birth rates, has only helped Hinduphobes erect strawman arguments against Hindutva and demolish them convincingly.
The latest NFHS-V shows that Muslim TFRs have fallen by 46.5 per cent since NFHS-I compared to 41.2 per cent for Hindus. Most newspapers highlighted this aspect to tell us that Muslim birth rates are falling faster than that of Hindus. What they miss out is a simple statistical fact: when the base is high, percentage changes tend to get exaggerated. Muslim TFRs were super high at 4.41 in NFHS-I while the Hindu TFR was 3.3.
What they also miss out is the reality that even after the sharp fall, Muslims are the only community still with above-replacement levels of TFR (2.36 versus Hindu levels of 1.94, and replacement levels of 2.1 live births per woman). In comparative terms, Muslims will keep raising their share of population for at least one or two more decades. Hindu growth rates will shrink while Muslim ones will expand in the foreseeable future.
Here are some real arguments that Hindus should be using when they articulate fears of adverse demographic change.
#1: Demography is impacted not just by TFR, but also two other factors: conversion and immigration. Till recently, Hindus did not bother to create an ecosystem for conversions, while Islam and Christianity have always had them. Even after Ghar Wapsi programmes, the Hindu conversion machinery is simply unequal to the task of meeting the challenges posed by churches and mosques.
India also has porous borders on the east. The possibility of climate change impacting Bangladesh more than India, and actions against Muslim minorities in Myanmar, could conceivably bring in more Muslim immigrants to India. Assam did not move from a Muslim population of 30.9 per cent to 34.2 per cent between 2001 and 2011 just because of higher TFRs among Muslims in the state.
Net result, demography will change adversely for Hindus in the North East and some other parts of India. So, while talking demographic shifts, don’t ignore the issues of aggressive conversion activities and illegal immigration.
#2: The demographic threat relates not only to Muslims, but also Christians. Hindus tend to talk more about the Muslim threat because of their historical experiences with bigoted Muslim rulers, who demolished temples and organised forced conversions. Their thinking has also been impacted by the pre-independence Congress party’s total inability to get a buy-in from Muslims on secularism, resulting in partition.
The Khilafat Movement, the atrocities of the Moplahs against Hindus in the Malabar, Jinnah’s Direct Action Day, the murder of Arya Samaj leader Swami Shraddhanand by a Muslim fanatic, the ethnic cleansings of Hindus in Pakistan, Bangladesh and our own Kashmir have made Hindus more fearful of Muslim intentions than Christians, whereas demographically both threaten Hindu numbers.
#3: Demography can be impacted by structural flaws in how data is collected or confirmed, which may result in serious undercounting of some minority religious groups, and overcounting of Hindus. Very often, Hindus are defined not by which religion they actually follow, but who they are not: if you are not Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jain or Sikh, you are assumed to be Hindu. In short, Hindus are often “none-of-the-above” people. One wonders whether atheists like Communists, and anti-Hindu groups like the Dravidian racists in Tamil Nadu can be counted as Hindus when they are manifestly not Hindu by faith.
Christians may also be seriously undercounted, for their population share has remained almost static at 2.3 per cent since independence. This contrasts sharply with the aggressive funding evangelists receive for conversion activities, including frenetic church-building in the south, over the last decade or so. An investigation by Surendranath C for Swarajya (read here), who collated the numbers claimed by various denominations in Andhra Pradesh and used church densities to estimate the true Christian population in the state, gives us a Christian share that could be anywhere between 12 and 25 per cent.
In contrast, the census figure is just around 60 lakh. Says Surendranath: “The actual number of Christians in Andhra Pradesh could be around 12 per cent, if one were to go by declarations of the churches themselves. If one were to extrapolate from the number of Christian priests and from the density of church buildings and congregations, the share of Christian population could rise to as much as 25 per cent of the citizens of the state.”
Christians may be undercounted because they have an incentive to do so: if they declare themselves Hindu, they get all the benefits of affirmative action, including reserved seats in educational institutions and jobs in government services. So, why declare yourself a Christian and lose this benefit?
#4: It is a mistake to take Muslim and Christian numbers on an all-India basis, when the real demographic threat is at the level of some states, and regions and districts within states. The Muslim or Christian demographic threat is real in Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra, West Bengal, parts of eastern Bihar that are near the Bangladesh border, and western Uttar Pradesh. Rampur district in UP is already majority Muslim in UP. If we take district-wise religious population shares - and our districts are larger than some smaller European nations - the picture will support many Hindu concerns in contrast to when we take India as a whole.
In Kerala, for example, statistics published by the Director of Panchayats showed that Muslim birth rates have nearly caught up with Hindu ones. The New Indian Express reported that “Muslims, who constitute 26.56 per cent of the (state’s) population, have attained a birth rate (share) of 41 per cent, almost equalling the majority Hindu community’s birth rate of 42.87 per cent…”. Christian birth rates are much lower, which is why concerns about 'love jihad' emanated from this community.
#5: Given the porosity of borders, the demographic threat in the Indian sub-continent (ie, taking India, Pakistan and Bangladesh together) is much greater than when we take post-1947 India alone. In 1941, before partition, India’s Muslim population was around 27 per cent and Hindus around 65 per cent. But 27 per cent could force a partition. Today, the Muslim share is closer to 32-33 per cent in the sub-continent. In Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, and western Uttar Pradesh, the Muslim population share is at or above Muslim shares in pre-partition India. This percentage reinforces Hindu fears that Muslim numbers are reaching levels where unreasonable demands could be made on them in the name of secularism or minority rights which will impact national cohesion or unity. Unabated terrorism from Pakistan has not helped matters.
#6: Global majorities matter more than just a local majority. Christianity and Islam constitute global majorities, with over 100 and 50 countries being Christian or Muslim majority countries respectively. Thus, the share of voice of these two Abrahamic religions is enormous, while Hindus, who constitute the third largest group but are largely confined to India, have only one country to speak for them, and even here, speaking for Hindu rights is silenced in the name of secularism. If Hindus cannot maintain an effective share of voice and demographic dominance even in India, the long-term consequences for a religion that does not proselytise or have an imperial vision will always be negative.
Hindu demographic fears are not just about numbers. They emanate from the nature of the challenges posed by two expansionist, predatory and imperialistic visions of faith that Islam and Christianity represent. The resources that these two faiths can pour into India simply dwarf what Hindus are capable of, especially when the sources of religious wealth (ie, temples) are often in state hands. The dice are loaded against Hindus.
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