Religious Demography Of India

Muslims and Christians constitute security risks for Sangh Parivar
Syed Shahabuddin.
[The Milli Gazette, 16-30 September 2003, p.12]

The Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai, has sponsored the publication of Religious Demography of India based on research by a team consisting of AP Joshi, MD Srinivas and JK Bajaj. The volume has been published with the financial assistance of the Indian Council of Social Sciences Research, a government institution under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, presided over by MM Joshi. And the foreword has been contributed by LK Advani, another leading light of the Sangh Parivar, both members of the Vajpayee government.

It is interesting to note that the book does not introduce the research scholars who have taken immense pains to collect, collate and analyse the population data. The major source is the Census of India, but the book covers religious demography beyond India, in the entire world. Even the Centre is introduced very briefly on the flap in terms of its objects, namely comprehension of the Indian situation and preparation for nation-building. This self-abnegation is in sharp contrast to the normal pattern of self-glorification of the institution and the authors in similar publications.

It is indeed a monumental work, though we may disagree both with its methodology as well as its conclusions, which gives us an insight into the motivation behind this project and the formulation of many national policies bearing on population, national security, culture and education.

One is surprised to note the title itself. It speaks of India, not the Indian Subcontinent. It is true that pre-1947 India stands divided into India, Pakistan and Bangaladesh but the term India is defined by the Constitution and does not include the other two states. Since the book divides the world into well-known geographical regions, it should have been better titled as Religious Demography of the Indian Subcontinent.

Then the research project would not have left out 4 other countries of the Subcontinent: Nepal, a Hindu majority country, Bhutan, a Buddhist majority country, Sri Lanka, a predominantly Buddhist and Hindu Country, and Maldives, a Muslim majority country, though with a very small population. The demographic pattern as well as the pattern of population growth in the Indian Union and the Indian Subcontinent would have been somewhat different. But they would be more pertinent, if seen in the regional context. Perhaps the conclusions then would have been less frightening to the common Hindu.

This may well be the reason behind the methodology adopted. This is confirmed when one sees the delimitation of the areas of high Muslim presence in UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam and of high Christian presence in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, Assam and the NE. Is this academic exercise motivated to raise alarm in the Hindu mind on the Muslim-Christian threat which is vague but can have ominous consequences, if Gujarat is recalled.

Secondly, no attempt has been made to explain the demographic pattern of the areas of Muslim and Christian concentration in the Subcontinent, or even in India, in terms of history. Nor to explain the cultural, social and economic reasons for the differential in the growth rate of Hindu, Muslim and Christian population, nationally or statewise. In the absence of such analysis, the average Hindu reader is likely to ascribe the high rate of growth of the Muslim and Christian populations to conversion from Hinduism to these ‘foreign religions’.

Thirdly, one understands that Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism and even other religions and professions have been included under the umbrella of “Indian Religions” but one cannot understand the inclusion of Jews, Zoroastrians and Bahais as Indian religionists. That confirms the suspicion that the real purpose of this research project is to target only two ‘foreign religions’ – Islam and Christianity – which are regarded as adversaries by the votaries of Hindutva.

This selective targeting is linked both by LK Advani and the research team to the task of nation building. To the ideologues of Hindutva, the concept of Indian Nation is reduced to the vision of Hindu India which, by definition, excludes the religious communities which do not regard India as their poojyabhoomi in line with the old Savarkar definition.

Nation-building is based on integration not on assimilation nor on rejection; it is based on inclusion, not exclusion. The problem is that while Hinduism has been able to assimilate Jainism and Buddhism completely as well as Sikhism to some extent, it has not been successful in assimilating Islam or Christianity except in terms of folk culture in some areas. So the first three are in and second two are out. Other mini-groups are brought in, perhaps to demonstrate the hostility of the Muslims and Christians in contrast to their friendliness. In any case, Parsis or Jews or Bahais do not pose any demographic threat or political challenge to the Hinduness of India, anywhere.

In the preface, the authors themselves speak of the ‘civilisational cultural homogeneity of the people’, which shows that for them the Indian Civilisation is Hindu civilisation and the Indian culture is Hindu culture. This view is erroneous on two counts: First, it completely omits the contribution of other civilisations and cultures which interacted with the Hindu civilisation and culture and generated profound changes in them, indeed transformed them into Indian civilisation and culture. No living civilisation or culture is stagnant or static. It is ever-changing, evolving all the time; it is a flowing river not a stagnant pool. So the Indian culture is not today what it was at the end of the Gupta Age or at the advent of Islam or that of Christianity. Nor will it be the same a century from now. Indeed the pace of transformation in the global village is faster.

Secondly, it ignores the civilisational plurality and heterogeneity within the Hindu society, in every material and religious aspect. Can the grand nation-building project be executed successfully by ignoring these diversities and the common aspiration of all social groups to live their own life and change, if they wish, at their own pace, according to their own internal dynamics, not under coercion from a particular unifying ideological vision ? Will they consent to a melt down and remoulding in accordance with common moulds prescribed by the Sangh Parivar ?

In the preface, the authors note that putting aside the transfer of population at the time of partition, share of ‘Indian religionists’ within the Indian Union has declined by about 2%, over 40 years. There is every reason to think that the slight differential in the rate of growth of Hindu and Muslim populations shall slowly disappear or become negligible with social reform in the Hindu society and with educational and economic development in the Muslim society. It is my view that in the next 50 years, the growth rates will become uniform and their respective proportions shall be stabilised. So the Doomsday may never arrive!

Why does the project focus on the zone of Muslim and Christian threat in border areas of UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam, Kerala, Goa and Northeast ? Read, in the context of the official document, the GOM’s Report on Internal Security, it becomes obvious that in the eyes of the Hinduvadis and the present government, both these communities constitute security risks. So the sub-regions in which they seem to be raising their profile have not only to be kept under special observation but placed under a special regime to nip any separatist tendencies in the bud and to deny and foothold to the enemies in these areas. In short, the NDA Government, in line with the RSS philosophy, simply does not trust the non-Hindus. The government is seriously considering the introduction of multi-purpose identity Cards for Citizens, so that many non-Hindus can be de-nationalised and even thrown out. The government is also working on a Central Law to curb the establishment of Muslim educational institutions and places of worship in the border areas, on the unproved assumption that the Madrasahs train local terrorists and Masjids provide sanctuary and shelter for foreign terrorists! Both operate and construct buildings with foreign money, may be Pakistani intelligence funds.

Coming to the comparison with the rest of the world, the authors ominously focus on the situation in China, in which ‘the proportion and the absolute number of Muslims have declined and Christianity has failed to find a foothold’. They record, rather sorrowfully, that ‘India has not responded like China’, is it a call for action? Is it a call to the Hindu community and to the government to formulate a policy and programme aimed to contain the growth of Muslims and Christians, specially in the threat zones and if possible, reverse it? At least, the authors would like the government to study the methods that China has adopted successfully in dealing with the ‘menace’ and the feasibility of using these methods in India. One may add that in the second half of the 20th century, China and Israel are the only two countries to have adopted state directed demographic changes as a matter of policy.

To sum up, the real motivation behind this research is to play to the communal mindset which as mentioned above, equates Indian history, Indian Religion, Indian culture and Indian civilisation with Hindu history, Hinduism, Hindu culture and Hindu civillisation. It confuses Indianness with Hinduness and projects India as the Homland of the Hindus. But can history be rolled and unrolled like a carpet? Can any living identity sub-Indian or sub-Hindu, be effaced, given the global thrust towards multi-ethnicity and respect for human and minority rights?