Dr. S.Y. QURAISHI, former Chief Election Commissioner of India (CEC), was also Secretary, Govt. of India Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Director General – National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), Director General – Doordarshan (National Television) and held many other senior positions in the bureaucracy. He is the author of An Undocumented Wonder – the Making of the Great Indian Election, Old Delhi – Living Traditions, Social Marketing for Social Change, Haryana Rediscovered and of course his latest highly celebrated book on population – The Population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India. In a free-wheeling interview with MOHD NAUSHAD KHAN, the former CEC talks about the charge that Muslims are responsible for population explosion and are going to overtake Hindus and other contentious topics like family planning, polygamy and nationalism.
I would like to know your views on the perceived threat regarding Muslim population. Is it a social concern or is it politically motivated?
The accusation that Muslims are responsible for population explosion and are going to overtake Hindus is definitely political propaganda, fraught with mischief to create fear among the Hindus and hatred for the Muslims. There is no doubt about that. In my book (The Population Myth) I have examined this issue and found that there are many myths which have been spread. First of all (the allegation that) Muslims produce many children and they are responsible for population explosion is not borne out by facts and figures and all these figures are from government’s documents, National Family Health Surveys and the Census figures.
How does your book debunk the age-old myth about the burgeoning Muslim population?
The first myth is that Muslims are responsible for population explosion and the impression created is that if a Hindu family has two children, Muslims have ten. Everybody believes that. I have shown in the book, at no point in time the gap between Hindu and Muslim family was more than one child. To be precise 1.1 and that has also come down to less than half a child 0.48 in the last 30 years.
In the last 30 years, Muslims have caught up with the family planning much faster than the Hindus which is why the gap is reducing. It is true that the Muslims birth rate is highest but we should remember that the second highest is that of Hindus because they are not far behind. Therefore, if Muslims are responsible for population explosion, the Hindus are no less so because they are right behind the Muslims. To give it a religious colour (to this) is absurd.
There are some proven factors for high birth rate across communities and they are: 1. Education particularly of girls. 2. Income level or economic prosperity. 3. Service delivery. In all these three Muslims are the most backward. They are least educated, the poorest and the services do not reach to them because health staff is reluctant to go to Muslim pockets calling them “Mini-Pakistan”. When the determining factors are not addressed, the birth rate of Muslims is the highest, although the gap is now 0.48.
The other myth is that Muslims marry four wives to produce too many children. In India, statistically polygamy is impossible because (the) women (for that) do not exist. The gender ratio is adverse against women. For 1000 men, according 2011 census there were 943 women. And two years ago, when I was writing this book this has come down to 922. It means every man does not have one woman. So out of 1000 men, 80 are without a wife because there is no woman. So where is the question of having second, third or fourth women? Therefore this allegation of polygamy is absurd.
But polygamy has almost become synonymous with Muslims. How would you respond to that?
It is true, over the years; Muslims have become synonymous with polygamy. It is also absurd, because, I have quoted a study of the Government of India of 1974. There was a Committee on Status of Women in India which studied the marriage practices across communities and they found Muslims are the least polygamous. The findings of the committee was that incidence of polygamous marriages was 15.25 per cent in Tribal Communities, 9.70 per cent in Buddhists, 6.72 per cent in Jains, 5.80 per cent in Hindus and 5.70 per cent in Muslims. I also tried to corroborate it with the census figures of 1931, 1941 and 1951 and found exactly the same trend that all communities in India have polygamy and the least polygamous are the Muslims. Islam permits polygamy subject to two conditions: marrying orphans and giving them equal treatment. This is something which Muslims also need to understand.
What is your observation on whether Islam is against family planning or not?
This is again a myth from which both Muslims and non-Muslims suffer from. Everybody believes that Islam is against family planning. I have argued in my book from the Qur’ān and Hadith that Islam is not only not against family planning but also Islam is the pioneer of family planning. There is no prohibition on family planning in the Qur’ān anywhere.
Family planning is not a Hindu-Muslim issue. There are 22 states where the incidence of family planning among Muslims is more and birth rate less than that of the Hindus of Bihar. If Islam was a factor for producing more children then in these 22 states Muslims should have produced more children. By that parameter, the Muslims of South are better than the Muslims of North. So there is variation and the range of Total Muslim Fertility Rate (TFR) in Tamil Nadu is 1.74 whereas 2.1 TFR is a replacement level. If the TFR is 2.1 then there will population replacement and no population growth. Population growth will stop. So there is a lot of variation and which rate should be considered to be rate of Muslim growth.
Similarly, TFR of Muslims varies from 1.74 in Tamil Nadu to nearly 4.15 in Haryana in 2015-16. In general, India has large inter-state variations in fertility, ranging from the lowest of 1.56 in Kerala to the highest of 3.41 in Bihar. So fertility rates for Muslims and Hindus vary from place to place. The rate varies according to socio-economic condition of the place and therefore religion has got nothing to do with it and it is not a question of Hindus and Muslims. The rate of TFR of Hindus in Kerala is 1.42 and Bihar it is 3.29. Now, which will be considered Hindu rate of growth?
Many hardliners have claimed that Muslims will outnumber non-Muslims by year so and so. Is there any substance to this claim and what does the data tells us in this regard?
The propaganda made by these hardliners that within 10-15 years Muslims will take over majority Hindus because they are producing more children and are conspiring to capture political power. In this regard, Prof Dinesh Singh, former VC and a distinguished mathematician, prepared a statistical model to find out that with the given pace of Muslims growth when Muslims would overtake Hindus. He said, not even in 1000 years, never; there is no possibility of that at any point of time. If we look at the actual figures, in 1951 there were 30 crore more Hindus than Muslims. Today, there are 80 crore more Hindus than Muslims. So where is the threat, they are growing by many folds and the gap is widening.
As we are celebrating 75th Independence, should we consider our population as an asset or burden?
Population is an asset. Today the term demographic dividend is used instead of population explosion. Demographic dividend means all those productive people. If they are given jobs and are trained they will help in the growth of the economy. I have appealed to Muslims that small family is the best family. You can look after them; can give good education, good health. Whatever is the propaganda of others, they should adopt family planning vigorously and proactively. I have addressed the issue in one chapter on communication strategy as a communication expert as how to make Muslims aware of that and how it is important.