Population of Minorities


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Population of Minorities

In a letter to the editor of a New Delhi based national daily a reader, Ram Bharose, wrote:

Hindus all over the world are getting sick and tired of being pushed around in their own country...We are tired of the Governments appeasement of the Muslims. Why should they be allowed to have four wives in order to procreate more so that one day they will out-number our Hindu brethren? Yours faithfully,
Ram Bharose.

The letter hardly says anything that has not been said before, by communal propagandists. Bal Thackeray too, reportedly, alleged that Muslims had increased from 10 to 25 crores in the last two years. Communal forces of the Sangh Parivar have pilloried the Muslim minority community for the explosive growth of the Indian population. With great conviction they express reasons why Muslims will soon outnumber Hindus. Their reasoning goes like this:

* as Muslims are allowed to have four wives, they invariably have more children.
* as they generally are opposed to family planning, the birth rate among them is much higher than in other religious communities.
* their numbers have also been increasing due to conversions.
* their growth rate being higher they will soon outnumber Hindus.

These and other allegations are made so often by the communal forces that they become cliches accepted as facts. And when communal forces take control, the dividing line between myth and reality gets blurred.

Facts, on the other hand, are deliberately ignored and suppressed as for instance, the in-depth survey project that had been carried out by the Anthropological Survey of India (ASI) in 1994. Its findings set at rest some of the entrenched myths but are conveniently overlooked by those with prejudiced minds. (See box)

MYTH Muslims do not practice family planning because of their religion"
FACT According to the Operation Research Group (ORG)1 of Baroda, the number of Muslims practicing birth control is increasing: Couples Practicing Family Planning
1. Couples in child bearing age -
1970 14.0% 09.0%
1980 36.1% 22.5%
1988-1989 46.0% 34.0%
2. Eligible couples
1970-1980 22.1% increase among Hindus
13.5% increase among Muslims
1980-1989 10.0% among Hindus
11.0% among Muslims

* According to a 1980 ORG survey, 52% among Muslims and 9% among Hindus refused to accept family planning but for the period 1980-1989, (i) 11.5% additional Muslims began to accept permanent family planning methods, and for the same period 10% more Hindus accepted permanent methods of family planning and (ii) acceptance of temporary birth control methods increased by 5 to 10% Evidently, Muslims are increasingly taking to family planning especially in recent times.

MYTH Muslims have a higher rate of growth of population (and will soon outnumber Hindus).
FACT The population growth figures do not support this claim. The growth rate of Muslims is only marginally higher than that of Hindus. There has been no dramatic increase in the Muslim population, as compared to Hindus. The following will corroborate this point: * In 1951 there were 3.5 crore Muslims and 32.3 crore Hindus * In 1981 there were 7.6 crore Muslims and 55 crore Hindus The percentage of population according to religion is as follows: Percentage of Hindus: 1961 Census - 83.45%
1981 Census - 82.35%
Percentage of Muslims:1961 Census - 10.69%
1981 Census - 11.73%
In spite of these facts, the forces of the Hindu right attempt at undermining the intelligence of the masses by propagating that Muslims will outnumber Hindus in the not-too-distant future.
Trends In Fertility Levels
1971 1981 %Decline 1971 1981 %Decline
Between 1971-81 Between 1971-81

HINDUS 174 141 20.0 119 123 20.1
MUSLIMS 191 163 17.3 178 145 18.5
Source:Census of India,1991.
Muslims will Never Outnumber Hindus
On the question of the link between religion and fertility, demographers point out that the former has no significant impact on fertility. Sociologist, R.A.Chaudhary, states, "The observed differences in fertility are mostly due to socio-economic differences between Muslims and other religious groups. Once these differences are accounted for the fertility differences between Muslims and other religious communities will largely disappear".
Worth noting too is the curious reversal of the pattern in Jammu and Kashmir, a Muslim majority State. The fertility rate of Hindus here is almost twice that of Muslims. According to recent figures for 1989-90, the State had a lower birth rate (31.4 per 1000) than U.P(36.5), M.P(36.4), Bihar(34.8) and Rajasthan (33.4).

If religion is the sole or the most important yardstick for fertility, this could not have happened! Further, the situation in more advanced States -- advanced in social terms -- like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka, the fertility rate is low for both Hindus and Muslims. This suggests that socio-economic backwardness leads to higher fertility. That it is indeed so is borne out by data given by the Registrar General of India: fertility levels decline with an increase in the level of education and per capita monthly expenditure (i.e higher the per capita expenditure, lower the fertility)
Other crucial factors influencing population growth rate include (i) Education and (ii) Infant Mortality Rate (The number of infant deaths per 1000 children born alive in a year)
(i) According to R.H.Cassen, a social scientist with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, "The contribution of education to fertility decline is not just by the alternation of parent's aspirations, but by the spread of rationality itself. The basic differentiator of those for whom babies just come and those for whom the number that come as a result of more or less deliberate choice, seems so often to be education". According to a National Survey Sample of 1990 the level of education for every 1,000 persons in every age group, is lower for Muslims (compared to Hindus) both in rural and urban areas -- and this is particularly true among women.
(ii) On the relationship between IMR and fertility Cassen further observers,"...what people want is not just children but surviving children. When children are known to be likely to die, the whole psychological nature of child-bearing is likely to be far removed from the careful consideration of supportable numbers.
In sum, the real reason for high fertility rates among Muslims are low socio-economic achievements in terms of literacy and education, health and nutrition, and the status of women. It has nothing to do with religion as such.

MYTH "As Muslims are allowed to have 4 wives they invariably have more children"
FACT This statement is false because :
*Polygamy exists among both Hindus and Muslims. It is legally sanctioned among Muslims to marry four wives. Among Hindus and other communities though it is illegal there is virtual social sanction for such marriages. The question however is: how many men actually marry four times? According to the Government census of 1961 its survey of polygamous marriages the findings were as follows:
* polygamous marriages were highest among adivasis, Buddhists, Jains, and Hindus, in that order. Muslims figured last on the list. * The National Survey Commission on the Status of Women in India (1975) found that incidence of bigamy and polygamy is higher among Hindus than Muslims.
Year Polygamous Hindu families Polygamous Muslim families
1931-41 6.79% 7.29%
1941-51 7.15% (0.09% more than Muslims) 7.06%
1951-61 5.06% (0.65% more than Muslims) 4.31%
* Moreover, according to this Report, this practice was lower for Muslims than for Hindus for the later two decades. Infact, Indian Muslims generally don't have four wives barring exceptions. Thus it is very clear that the extent of polygamy among Muslims is either same or less than among Hindus and secondly due to polygamy the Muslims population growth cannot be higher than the Hindus population growth. Lastly, the logic of polygamy leading to a population explosion has no basis since the reproductive rate is dependent on the number of women in the reproductive age group. Whatever one may think of polygamy, it is clear that the question of whether four women share a common husband or have separate ones is immaterial to their reproductive capacity.

MYTH Muslim population is also rising due to conversions. Witness Meenakshipuram in Tamil Nadu in 1981. And was not the right to propagation of religion included in the Constitution at the insistence of Christians and Muslims?
FACT Article 25 does indeed permit "freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion." The "propagation" aspect was debated in the Constituent Assembly. But it was pointed out that propagation was in any case inherent in the fundamental right to "freedom of speech and expression" (Art.19(1)a) and that including the word "propagation" in Art.25 conferred no additional right. In any case, the right of propagation is universal and available to Hindus as much as to any other community or denomination. And that right has reportedly been exercised by Hindu bodies as well to convert or reconvert adivasis, Muslims and Christians in different parts of the country, including Meenakshipuram. The Statesman of April 10,1992 documented one such case in a cluster of Muslim villages in Hathras district U.P. The reporter, Vidya Subramaniam, found BJP and RSS involvement. Conversion by force, fraud or inducement is barred and the rights conferred by Art.25 are specifically made subject to "public order, morality and health" and to all other fundamental rights. The age of mass conversions is over, especially in a plural, multi-religious society. Such events might still take place, but they will obviously be subject to the most searching scrutiny. These are, anyway, rare incidents nowadays.


1. Bakshi, Ms.Rajni, "Some Myths and Misunderstandings About Muslims", Centre For Education and Documentation (CED), Bombay,1993 2. Bhandare, N., (et.al.), "A Pampered Minority?" Sunday, February 7, 1993. 3. Mistry, M.B., "Muslim Polygamy:Myth & Reality", Frontier, Calcutta, August 8,1992
4. `Communal Harmony', Janata, New Delhi, April 1993. 5. Molake, No.1 & 2, Bangalore, April, 1993. 6. Krishnakumar,A., "Canards on Muslim," Frontline, Madras, October 12th 1991.
7. Subramaniam, N.V., "The Way We Are : An Anthropological Survey of India project shatters some entrenched Myths", SUNDAY, April 10, 1994.

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Last updated: March 29, 2000 .