Population bogey exposes bankruptcy of ruling party’s ideology

Abdul Bari Masoud

All surveys underline that the population in India is stabilising and most of the couples do follow the two children norm. But all of a sudden, the BJP governments in UP and Assam have raked up the population bogey and announced bills to control population in their respective states.
This sudden concern over population growth lies in the deep-rooted obsession of Hindutva with population control of the Muslims. Experts say the RSS has always perceived ‘rising’ population of the Muslims and Christians as a threat to the dominance of Hindutva. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat publicly pronounced that “there is no law that stops Hindus from producing more children.” In fact, in one of its Akhil Bhartiya Karyakari Mandals in Ranchi in 2015, the RSS passed a resolution urging the government to “reformulate” the population policy to check “demographic imbalance”.
Thus, it is an old ploy of the RSS and its political arm to play with sentiments of gullible people as its ideology lacks any positive slogan to bring the caste-ridden society on one platform. Now read the statement of Assam CM, Himanta Biswa Sarma, who stated that population policy is imperative for “development of the minority” and thus focus is on Muslims. While UP CM, Yogi Adityanath hasn’t directly named the Muslims or any particular community. But the proposed bill, when read along with some of the statements of the BJP leaders, lifts the smokescreen. BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj had said in 2015, “The concept of four wives and forty children just won’t work in India but it is high time that every Hindu woman must produce at least four children to protect the Hindu religion.”
If these bills, which seek to bar the violators from contesting elections, government jobs, benefits of welfare schemes, and other government-induced benefits, get through, what will be their impact on the marginalised groups and poverty eradication programmes?
Radiance speaks to experts who opine that it is against the Constitution and bound to fail. Besides affecting poverty alleviation programmes, it will increase female infanticide, unsafe abortion, sex-selective abortion incidences manifold.

Prof (Dr) Amir Ullah Khan, a professional economist who has worked on development issues primarily in the health, education and agriculture sectors, says that BJP’s bogey of Muslims taking over has some traction in UP.
“There is a palpable fear among Hindus in UP that the Muslims are taking over. In Muslim majority towns and villages, the feeling is that the Hindu is being displaced and pushed out. This feeling is then sent out with images of poor Muslim men and women with large numbers of children. The CM is capitalising on this and his rhetoric fuels the fire and gets him popular support. The facts are otherwise, but who cares. Muslim migration to urban areas has actually come down, mobility and use of public transport is now much lower and self-employed businesses have suffered tremendously on account of the stigma and prejudice that followed the Tablighi Jamaat episode during March 2020.”
Dr Khan, who has worked at the UNDP at Project LARGE, also blames certain community leaders for raising the issue.
“Irresponsible speeches by scholars and political leaders urging Muslims to produce more children are met by similar responses from the Hindutva brigade, making the CM’s job of imposing population norms easily saleable. He is repeating his hugely successful experiment carried out as soon as he became the Chief Minister. The spectre of Muslim boys stalking, marrying and converting hapless Hindu girls was nurtured and spread to a gullible population, which again refused to look at the data that pointed to the other direction. Romeo squads were made, the youth were arrested wantonly and the hysteria that followed helped the ruling party in 2019. Now no one even raises that issue, the Romeo is forgotten. The new villain is a miserably poor Muslim family that cunningly and with nefarious designs in the mind produces large numbers of children. Let’s clamp down on this and make them pay dearly, says the new Law”.
He says the two-norm policy is against the Constitution and bound to fail.
“Experts point out that this will go against the Constitution, that it goes against all norms of privacy and that it will discriminate against the Muslims in a big way. But the intention was always political, aimed at the next election and that would have been served well. Just when China is going the way and acknowledging that population control was a failed strategy, we are going ahead and bringing in a draconian, irrational law.”

Dr Syed Zafar Mahmood, OSD in Sachar Committee and expert on demography-related issues, says there is a need to depoliticise and humanise population control measures.
“Politics is the art of gaining power and the craft of retaining it. This proverb says a lot about the shady side of democratic governance. It indicates that promotion of high public morality may not always be well served if the sacred democratic values are perverted to subserve parochial preferences. Thankfully the Supreme Court of India has recently tightened its fiat in order to arrest the rising trend of criminality among electoral candidates. Also, unfortunately, religion is being used the world over to pin down the other and win elections. Humanity is duty bound to take adequate measures for course correction.
“The purpose of prescribing disincentives against higher population is stated to be promotion of sustainable development with more equitable distribution of resources.
“However, at first we need to have our facts right. For working out the change in population one must use different demographic variants like fertility, mortality and migration. These variants are themselves dependent upon socioeconomic factors like type of residence, education and economic status and also culture, religion and the sense of security.
“Another important relevant fact is that, over the last four census-decades, India has witnessed a steady decline in its population growth rate. And, specifically, the Muslim population growth rate too has been declining as reflected from census figures from 1971 to 2011.
“Thirdly it is interesting to know that according to the fourth round of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) while the total fertility rate (TFR) of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh is 3.10, it is only 1.86 in Kerala which is much less than that of Hindus in UP (2.67). Moreover, at the national level, between NFHS-1 and NFHS-4, the TFR declined by 40.8% among Muslims as against 35.5% among Hindus.
“On the other hand, as per NFHS-4, only 9.2% of Muslim females aged 6+ years had 12 or more years of schooling as compared to 14% Hindu females; for males, the figures were 12.7% and 21% respectively. So, better socio-economic prosperity and instilling a sense of security would further improve the situation.
“Nonetheless, restricting the issue of Ration Card to only four family members, debarring the third child onward from Government schemes, from voting in local bodies elections and from Government jobs appear to be unthoughtful restrictions. These will not withstand the legal scrutiny in courts.
“Yes, incentives like two additional increments to government employees, extra provident fund, preference in children’s admission in government institutions, provision of healthcare facilities, insurance, offer of plot / house at subsidised price are worthwhile propositions.”
Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam, Chairman, Institute of Objective Studies, underlines, “Anti-minority sentiments and bigotry spewed by the Hindutva ideologues are recycled to administer their political party’s propaganda, which seem to work in their favour. Stigmatising the disempowered (Muslims and Dalits) with regard to population growth has been used as a ploy for the ‘otherisation’ of these people. The anti-minority nature of the law can be understood as an ‘election ploy’ to feed the propaganda of the party to score political gains.
“In 2016, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat overtly asked Hindu women to reproduce more children as their ‘patriotic duty,’ fuelling the fabricated narrative of Muslims overtaking the entire nation – ‘Which law prevents Hindus from having more children? When their population is increasing, why can’t yours’.”
Referring to UP and Assam’s proposed population control measures, Dr Alam says, “Many ‘population armies’ are employed to curb the birth rate, mostly for people belonging to marginalised communities. Contrary to the belief, these policies are aimed to vilify the marginalised instead of actually focusing on population control measures.
“Problems such as the rise in female infanticide, unsafe abortion, and sex-selective abortion are some of the few consequences of such laws. Another crucial reason for introducing such a bill is to please the proponents of the Hindutva ideology. The state election is round the corner in UP, and nothing excites the right-wing more than demonising the marginalised. The proposed Bill makes the underprivileged more vulnerable to the atrocities of the dominant group.”
As for its likely impacts on poverty elimination schemes, Dr Alam refers to a 2009 report supported by the Panchayati Raj Ministry which indicates that 78% of disqualified candidates belonged to SCs/ STs/ OBCs in 21 districts where the two-child norm was operational. Most of the time, it is always the marginalised who face detrimental effects that impact their democratic rights. Disguised as an initiative to improve the living conditions of people, it propagates the narrative that population explosion is the only impediment hindering the development process of a state.
Men belonging to Muslim, SC, ST communities are stereotyped as hypersexual creatures having no self-control. As Lila Abu Lughod rightly pointed out that orientalist Muslim men are assumed to be womanisers with no control over their libido. Most of the laws related to anti-conversion, love-jihad, and population jihad are presented with the same narrative that people from the marginalised communities are uncivilised and inherently predisposed to violence.
The total fertility rate in 2015-16 declined to 2.67 for Hindus and 3.1 for Muslims (NFHS). Such legislation ignores the fact that the fertility rate is linked to socio-economic and educational factors. Therefore, one can gather that it is used as a trope to distract people from questioning the state’s failure to provide its people with the basic necessities of life. If nothing, India could take a lesson or two from the failure of China’s one-child policy.