This is a review of Religious Demography of India, A.P. Joshi, M.D. Srinivas and J.K. Bajaj, Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai, 2003, pp. i-xxii + 358, Rs. 800.
I wrote it in October 2003 when I was working for The Hindu, but unfortunately, it never got published. The issue of “religious demography” remains as important today as ever and the carnards spread by Hindutva propagandists as vile as ever, therefore I am posting this review.
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My two year old daughter often picks up the TV remote and furiously punches its buttons in imitation of her parents, to try and get to her favourite animal channels. Sometimes she is lucky, most often she misses her mark completely. She notices that her animals come on screen when her parents press the buttons on the remote. She is not aware of how the TV functions and what relation is the remote to the pictures on the screen. For her it’s a simple equation between pressing the buttons on the remote and watching the tigers frolic.
Reading the book under review reminded me of my daughters struggle with the TV remote. But before we go to that let me state the main assumptions and arguments of the book.
The book begins by dividing the Indian population into two basic categories—the “Indian Religionists” and those who are not Indian Religionists. The authors define Indian Religionists as a residual category of all those who are not Muslims or Christians. In the preface they state “…this book is concerned mainly with the heterogeneity introduced by Islam and Christianity…”(xviii) into the “…civilisational and cultural homogeneity of her [India’s] people”. Apart from the inexplicable inclusion of Jews and Parsis among the Indian Religionists, the assumption that heterogeneity was brought to India’s culture and civilisation by Islam and Christianity is not only historically incorrect, but can also be construed as a gross insult to the cultural achievements of the people of India before the coming of these religions. Moreover, it is also incorrect to claim that religion was the only, or even primary, contribution of those who came to India in the middle ages, either as members of invading armies, as traders, as fortune seekers or as refugees.
But to move on to the main argument of the book.
Here are three physicists who look at a century long series of Census data for the country and ask the question, whose population is growing faster—the “Indian Religionists” or the “non-Indian Religionists”?
No where in the book do the three authors explain the co-relation between religious affiliation and demographic trends. They could very well have asked whether the population of those who brush their teeth with toothpaste or of those who use the traditional Indian Neem was growing faster, or whether Idli and Sambar eaters were increasing their population as against the Aloo Parantha eaters! All of them actually have the same irrelevance as a causal relation to population growth.
In other words, one can take any category, howsoever ludicrous, run it through a series numbers and come up with elaborate results in weighty tomes. These would all, if one had the time, money and patience (or should one say, ideological perseverance), produce “illuminating results”. One could even argue that unless urgent steps are taken, the future of Aloo Parantha was in danger! That tonnes of data have been churned through tables and graphs and put between fancy hardcovers does not make a credible argument. It is merely a simulacra of an argument, just like my daughters playing with the TV remote is a simulacra of her parents actions.
Whatever the problems with the method or lack of it, the results they come up with show that Hindus are to become a minority in India due to unchecked growth in the population of the Muslims and Christians.
To quote the authors, “Indian Religionists have suffered a loss of more than 11 percentage points between 1881 and 1991 in India as a whole [pre-partition India]…”. Further, “It is, howeve, even more significant that the losses have been highly pronounced in border regions, especially since Independence.” And so the authors warn, “Existence of such distinct pockets formed the demographic basis of Partition of the country in 1947”.
So obviously, it is historical inevitability at its truest (More Muslims = Partition). So we were all wrong when we blamed the British for their “Divide and Rule” policy or when we agonised over who and what led to the Partition. In fact even historical records are wrong when they show that the almost wholly Muslim province of North West Frontier Province had a Congress Government well into Independence and merged with Pakistan out of geographical necessity, more than anything else.
Despite all the ideological and disciplinary arguments, demographers have accepted that socio-economic factors like income, education, access to health and social security, possibilities for upward social mobility, etc are the causal factors for demographic trends. Today, if anyone makes an argument that these are not the prime factors for demographic change but rather religious affiliations, this needs to be argued out and proved to be a debatable hypothesis. Merely placing religious identity parallel to demographic changes does not prove any causal link. This is where the basic argument of the book is fundamentally flawed.
In fact, recent United Nations projections for population (The State of World Population 2000) trends show that culture, religion, etc have very little bearing on either population growth or on use of contraceptives. Even in India, NSS data and other Government data indicates that it is lack of access to education, stable income and social vulnerability, not their religion, which makes Musilms, Dalits and Tribals go for larger families (see Mohan Rao, “The Chimera Of a Muslim Population Growth Rate” http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/Organisations/healthnet/SAsia/repro3/mohanrao.html ).
The significant aspect of this book is that it is the first attempt to provide an academic garb to the century long propaganda that Muslims are swamping India. Similar “calamitous” predictions are to be found in the writings of Dayanand Saraswati, Swami Vivekananda, V.D. Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar. Adolf Hitler’s unambiguous exposition of this theory which links fertility with “alien” populations and sees in that a threat to national security has discredited any such talk in today’s world.
That such an argument, with its disturbing lineage, is put forward and is endorsed by no less than our Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, who “commend[s] this work to all Indians, but especially to the political leaders, strategic thinkers, administrators and those entrusted with the task of keeping peace and order in the country”(xvi) [italics mine], is as clear an insight into the dangerous minds with their tortured ideologies which rule our country today.