The Rights group, CSW International, in a recent Blog noted “India’s intellectual spaces have begun to experience intervention by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. Any form of dissent or attempt to question the view of the BJP or the RSS is framed as a threat to national integrity, which has led to the loss of several lives along the way, including eminent Indian writers Govind Pansare, M. M Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh. Open hostility and violence towards Christians and Muslims have become a frequent occurrence, as the cult of hatred has infiltrated a society where the state acts directly in its own corporate interest.
The propagandists’ conclusion – that there is a conspiracy against the Hindu, has successfully emboldened Hindu extremists to act with impunity against Muslims and Christians.
As voting is underway, with approximately 879 million registered Indians set to go to the polls through April and May, India faces a decisive moment over its secular future. Yet, the BJP-RSS combo has continued with its traditional campaign style of communal polarisation at the expense of sacrificing national unity to win the election.”
CSW was prophetic. The androgynous Sadhvi Deva Thakur – it is not known if she is related in any way other than the political to the former terror accused Sadhvi Pragya Thakur who is now the Bharatiya Janata Party’s official candidate for the Lok Sabha from the Bhopal constituency -- said Muslims, Christians growing population is a threat to Hindus. The Hindu Mahasabha vice president said in Haryana’s Jind election campaign that Muslims and Christians must undergo sterilisation to restrict their growing population, which was posing a threat to Hindus. "The population of Muslims and Christians is growing day by day. To rein in this, Centre will have to impose emergency, and Muslims and Christians will have to be forced to undergo sterilisation so that they can't increase their numbers." Hindus, she added, should have more children to increase their population to counter the rise of Christians and Muslims.
Political observers and community think tanks would normally laugh such arguments out of the window if they came from some wayward academic, or even some regional social or political group. But they have come more than once since the turn of the century from senior quarters of the party, and from spokespersons of the Sangh Parivar.
For the soldiers of the Parivar, words such as sterilisation of Muslims and Christians, their disenfranchisement or diluting their presence in the North East and Kashmir through changes in residency rules, are each a metaphor for annihilation, wiping out, erasing from the landscape.
We have heard it before. The first time it was articulated was after the 2001 census, later spelled out in great detail by self-styled demographers of the Sanghi book published from Chennai. The book, Religious Demography of India by AP Joshi, MD Srinivas and JK Bajaj (published by the Chennai based and pro-Sangh Centre for Policy Studies) is still a bible to the pamphleteers of groups supporting the second National Democratic Alliance headed by Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi.
The book’s foreword by Lal Krishna Advani, then deputy Prime minister and home minister, just stopped short of saying that he saw Islam and Christianity, and Muslims and Christians as dangers to India both as peoples and as religionists.
“Such keen observation of demographic trends is particularly important for India today because of several reasons....it has also given rise to some of the most acute strategic, political and administrative problems that the Indian nation has had to face in the past and continues to face till today. Rigorous and continuous observation and analysis of the changing demography of different religious groups in various regions of the country is therefore of paramount importance in maintaining the integrity of our borders, and peace, harmony and public order within the country.”
Unlike Advani, the authors had no such qualms. They named the two communities. And they coined new terms and phrases alien to the sciences of cultural anthropology, philosophy and religion to define and target these two. One such term is “Indian religionists” versus Christian and Muslim populations. This term has no set definition – which changes to suit their argument. At one stage, it includes Hindus, Tribals, Sikhs.
The 2011 census, sure enough, got the frog to croak again. The noise was the most strident after the mid–Census religious data released in 2015 which said the Hindu population had come just under 80%, possibly because many groups lumped under the Hindu umbrella had got them listed by their religious title of choice.
All put together, India’s religious minorities do not add up to a fifth of its population of about 1.30 billion. Muslims are the largest minority, at about 16 to 17 crores, which still makes them the second largest Muslim population in the world. India’s Christians total less than 3 crores, and constitute but a mere 2.3%, spread sparsely other than some pockets of concentration in Kerala, Goa, Mangalore, Andhra Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya. Other minorities include the Bahais and Sikhs who would approximately be touching 2% each. Buddhists, if one were to include the scheduled caste Ambedkarite group, would outnumber Christians twice over, though exact figures are not listed in any official document. Hindus remain an overwhelming 96.63 crore people or 79.8% of the population. The next census is due in 2021.
Writing in the Republic Day 2015 edition of Indian Currents, Fr Dominic Emmanuel, SVD, then Official Spokesman of the Catholic Archdiocese of Delhi, consummately smashed the Sangh argument that while the Muslim population grew because of polygamy and high birth-rate, the Christians bolstered their numbers by fraudulent conversions. This was not something mouthed by politicians or the Sangh rank and file, but serious columnists such as S Bhalla writing in mainstream newspapers of the reputation of the Indian Express.
“Bhalla makes, by his own admission, several assumptions, allowing others to assume that he buys into the rhetoric advanced by the RSS, VHP and other right wing groups. Individuals of these groups have been engaged not only in physically burning churches, raping nuns and heaping other atrocities on Christians with impunity, but have gone to the extent of attacking a saint like Mother Teresa. They completely disregard the fact that Missionaries of Charity nuns run houses all over the world, among people who regardless of their income, are predominantly Christians. Are they all run for conversion activities? But such sane arguments are drowned in the din of the unfounded right wing screams about conversions.”
Early this century, while reviewing in The Hindu newspaper one of the research reports periodically churned out by dubious but government funded Sangh Parivar policy groups, Ashish Bose, arguably the country’s best demographer and populations’ scientist, wrote: “Census data since 1951 indicate that in every decade, there is an increase of only one per cent point in the Muslim population. If it is 13 per cent in 2001, at this rate, it should take 370 years for India to become Pakistan! I would beg to disagree with Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, who quotes Augustus Comte, a 19th Century French philosopher, to say "demography is destiny". My footnote is: past trend is not destiny. I am proud of multi-religious India and the rich cultural diversity. Muslims and Christians must have the same place as Hindus in India. We don't want to be Pakistan.”
The last two Census reports have shown two major facts. The first is that the rate of growth of the Muslim community is slowing down substantially, and voluntarily. The families are still larger when compared with the Sikh or Christian communities, but smaller than they used to be a generation or two earlier. Not only has Muslim population growth slowed down by 3.5%, it has fallen faster than the Hindu population growth rate which lost 2.9% in the same time.
This correlates well with the rise in women’s education over the years. The second finding was that the rate of population growth had a closer relation with poverty, or family income. This was true across communities. Which meant that the poor among both Hindu and Muslims, especially in rural or semi urban areas, had larger families than those in the economic higher groups.
No real sociologist, demographer or political scientist will buy into the interpolations that the masterminds of the Sangh Parivar have done to whip up passions. The Fake News factories run by the BJP and the RSS, and the explosion in social media with possibly up to 80 crore mobile phones in the hands of people with no other access to genuine information and argument, the potential for mischief is enormous. This we have seen with the randomness of lynching in almost all states of north and central India, and acts of other violence targeted at Muslim and Christian communities.
We may call them lunatics, even terrorists, but they have the support of the highest in the land. Police and state impunity follows. The media, a very large section of it, is complicit. The social media is the new demon ally.
In this milieu, Xenophobia of this nature cannot but end in tragedy if the people of this country do not “challenge” it.
The results of the 2019 General elections will be a pointer to what the future holds for secularism, communal harmony, and eventually peace, in India.(Published on 06th May 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 19)