Shweta Bisht has a sweaty forehead and a restless face. With clenched teeth and deep breaths, she has been in labour for hours now. Her girlchild can arrive anytime into the world as she awaits that first cry, she has longed for nine months. Bisht’s new-born will be one of the 1.425 billion people in the most populous country in the world now – India.
According to World Population Review (WPR) data, India’s population was 1.41 billion as of the end of 2022. Currently, India is home to 1,425 billion people based on the latest United Nations data projections. The UN said that India would overtake China in April. It claims that India may have already reached the milestone since the UN estimates are projections and not exact figures. Since 1950, China has had the most people in the world. Together, China and India house more than a third of the world’s 8 billion people.
Politics of population
In September 2021, data collated by the Pew Research Center projected that India’s population has more than tripled in the six decades following the Partition. It grew from 361 million people in 1951 to more than 1.2 billion in 2011, according to Census figures. UN data claims that India gained approximately 1 million inhabitants each month since 2020.
Pew Data also suggests that while religious groups across the country witnessed irregular rates between 1951 and 2011, all major religious groups rose in number. The data shows that “the Hindu community increased from 304 million to 966 million, while Muslims grew from 35 million to 172 million, and the number of Indians who call themselves Christian rose from 8 million to 28 million”. Considering the three, Islam and Christianity are proselytising religions.
However, Hindu Army chief Sushil Tiwari told The Wire that Muslims were trying to occupy land and produce more children so that they can elect Muslim leaders to power. “Muslims marry multiple times and produce children who then vote to bring leaders like [Asaduddin] Owaisi to power. They want to commit ‘population jihad’ and establish Ghazwa-e-Hind here,” he said.
Countering Tiwari, Dr. Zafarul Islam Khan, former Minorities Commission chairman, explained that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and like-minded outfits are not concerned about facts. Their policy, Khan says, is to twist anything if it may be used to beat Muslims.
“The government data, for instance, shows that Muslims are below even Hindus when it comes to polygamy but it’s a daily Hindutva propaganda routine that Muslims marry four wives and produce 25 children,” Khan said.
Muslims and myths
In the right-wing political parlance, Muslims are labelled as a community that is devoted to doubling its population numbers and occupying land illegally. Such allegations have resulted in the coinage of slurs and terms such as ‘population jihad’, implying a type of coordinated attempt by Muslims to become the majority community in India. According to India’s last census, conducted in 2011, Muslims make up 14% of the population, while Hindus 80%.
In Assam, chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma proposed a similar scheme mandating the two-child norm. While announcing the scheme, he also said that such a scheme to deal with population growth was “the only way to eradicate poverty and illiteracy” among the state’s Muslims. BJP leaders have also encouraged such ‘population control’ policies in other BJP states like Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. In 2015, BJP Lok Sabha member from Uttar Pradesh, Sakshi Maharaj had urged Hindu women to produce “at least four children in order to protect Hindu religion”.
Such anti-Muslim narratives stirred by the BJP go against the Government of India’s own projections made in its 2019 report on health and family welfare statistics, which pinned the projected fertility rate in 2025 and 2030, to fall below ‘replacement level’ – a point at which population stabilises.
It is this rhetoric around Islam and family planning in India, which S.Y. Quraishi, a former Indian civil servant, demolishes in his recent book The Population Myth. Speaking to The Wire, Quraishi explained that there were several myths being spread about the Muslim population in India which are creating fear and hostility among the Hindus against the Muslims.
Using facts to elucidate his point, he adds that between the 1951 and 2011 Census, a net increase in Muslim population was 136 million while that of Hindus was 676 million. Thus, the major contribution to population “explosion” came from the Hindus – as much as five times more than the Muslims. While Quraishi suggests that Indian Muslims do have higher fertility rates than Hindus, he says, “It is not due to religion but because Muslims are often poorer, less educated and lack access to health services. The Muslim fertility rate in India is also now falling faster than the Hindu rate.”
“Gap between Muslim and Hindu populations increased from 270 million to 810 million. This shows that the propaganda that Muslims are overtaking the Hindus is absurd,” he says.
Problems of population and policies
“Even though India has been recording lower growth rates, and its total fertility rate has been declining, India’s population is still growing”, explains Poonam Muttreja, executive director, the Population Foundation of India.
Talking about China’s population, Muttreja told The Wire that the country reported negative growth for the first time in 2022, with 850,000 less people than the previous year. India, she explains, has achieved replacement-level fertility, but its overall population size will not shrink immediately. It is because India is experiencing a population momentum because of a large young population of nearly 365 million people between 10 and 24 years of age according to the 2011 Census.
Muttreja also believes that a large population means more pressure on resources such as land, water, food and energy. India’s infrastructure, such as transportation, housing, and healthcare, education, has vastly improved but needs further improvement and may not be able to keep up with a growing population. Adding that poverty remains a major challenge in India, she says that a growing population may lead to unemployment, inadequate access to education and healthcare, and social inequality.
In the garb of rising population, leaders from the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have proposed drafting a population control Bill which seeks to legalise measures that would mandate two children per couple. The draft bill drew heavy flak from experts and society and was viewed as an attack on Muslims, who as a community has been tainted as involved in a conspiracy to overturn the population graph of the country by establishing dominance by demographic change.
According to Muttreja, “the population control Bill had stringent measures like depriving people of state benefits if they had more than two children, among others”. She adds that such stringent measures have no relevance for India because India has never given in to the voices that demand such measures to ‘control’ the population. India is a democracy, a country where people desire freedom of speech and action.
Recalling the past of population control in the country, Muttreja remembers the 1975 Emergency period, saying, “For a brief period of the Emergency, India resorted to extreme measures like forced sterilisations. This did not go down well with the people at all and affected the family planning programme.” Courtesy The Wire
Disclaimer: Blaming Muslims for India’s population growth is purely Hindutva propaganda - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view