Fuss over numbers

WHAT’S all this fuss about growth of Indian Muslims? But then population figures of Muslims in India have always been a source of furious debate. Little wonder, latest Census reports projecting a 36 per cent increase in Muslim population have the hardliners in the majority community up in arms.

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Published: Thu 9 Sep 2004, 9:05 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:48 AM

While BJP sees a ‘grave threat’ to India’s stability in the Muslim growth, VHP envisions conspiracy theories at work to turn Hindu majority India into a Muslim state.

Well, you can’t do much about the hallucinations of a paranoid mind. But let’s look at it this way. The Census in question, conducted in 2001 on the basis of religion by an army of two million enumerators, shows a remarkable increase in the Hindu ranks, too. It is not as if the Muslim growth is taking place at the expense of other communities. Interestingly, The Times of India has ripped apart the growth theory in a front-page report. The daily points out that the earlier two census exercises in 1981 and 1991 had left out the Muslim population in Assam and Jammu and Kashmir. While J&K is known as the only Muslim majority state of India, it’s little reported that Assam also boasts of a large Muslim population. Since the latest Census includes both Assam and J&K, Muslims appear to have grown by leaps and bounds which is not the case. The adjusted growth rates reveal that Hindus are not far behind Muslims so far as the growth is concerned.

To be frank, this whole debate about population growth should shift its focus. It is time to realise that it is not the number of children or producing children that is important. The stress should be on whether these children are properly taken care of. It must be ensured that they are provided with essentials like food, education and health care. In fact, population growth is directly related to living standards of a community. If the Muslim population is growing in India, it is because of the dismal status of the community in general and Muslim women in particular. Studies indicate that 59 per cent of Muslim women have never attended school, 60 per cent of them are married by the time they are 17 and only 12 per cent of them are employed. These parameters have a direct bearing on family size.

By the same logic, industrial and high-income countries in the West show a sharp drop in birth rates. In many advanced countries like Singapore, the governments are running campaigns offering various sops to boost birth rates. England is trying to create conducive conditions for working mothers. The English schools will soon have working hours of 8am to 6pm to help working moms. They need not worry about childcare any more and do not have to employ nannies by paying 150 to 200 pounds.

In fact, it is exceptions like India and China (which has one-child norm) that are preoccupied with population control. Otherwise, the world over, most advanced countries are encouraging their citizens to have more children. This debate over numbers should be directed at focusing on development and poverty alleviation.

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