India: Hullabaloo on Population

As soon as the data on the growth of population of religious groups were released by the office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner on September 6, 2004, they were seized by the Hindu communal elements to grind their political axe. They began ringing the alarm bell that the Hindus were going to be reduced to the minority status in the foreseeable future! The ‘danger’ of India becoming an Islamic country was underlined!


One does not know why an inaccurate summary instead of the full text of the report was distributed to the press. The press handout stated: “Among the six major religious communities the decadal growth rate of the Muslims is the highest (36%).’ Surprisingly this statement was not qualified by stating that no census took place in Jammu and Kashmir in 1991 and in Assam in 1981.Had necessary adjustments been made, the rate of growth of the Muslim population during 1991-2001 would have come down to 29 per cent.


One is surprised that J. K. Banthia, heading the national census outfit, was unaware of the age-old propaganda by the Sangh Parivar that the Muslims were not interested in family planning and were increasing their population faster than the Hindus so that their political clout could increase. The Sangh Parivar and its leaders have been arguing on this line for quite some years. Their main contention has been two-fold. First, the Muslims under their own law are allowed to have as many as four wives at any point of time. Second, it has been alleged that there has been a continuous large-scale infiltration of Muslims from Bangladesh into the neighbouring regions of India. In the course of time these illegal migrants have been grabbing the job opportunities that could have otherwise gone to the Indians, especially Hindus. With these two ‘arguments’ attempts have been made to create communal tensions and foment riots.


This point of view was elaborated in the writings of Balraj Madhok, a former president of the erstwhile Jan Sangh. Inspired by the Sangh Parivar, Sudhir Laxman Hendre came out in 1971with a book Hindus and Family Planning: A Socio-political Demography. Just a few lines from this would have sufficed to convince Banthia to tread carefully: “…the birth-rate of the Hindus under the British Rule was permanently lower than the Birth-rate of Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. Between 1881 and 1931, the Hindus increased by 55 per cent and the same trend continued. The Hindus who were 68.2 per cent of the total population in 1931, dwindled to 65.9 per cent in 1941, but the Muslims maintained their upward trend and increased their numbers from 22.1 per cent in 1931 to 23.8 per cent in 1941.” Further, “In 1951, the Hindus were 85 per cent of the total population…. The Hindu majority declined by 2 per cent to 83 per cent in 1961… The percentage of the Hindus to the total population according to my calculation will be less than 80 per cent in 1971 census.”


The above statement was patently bogus because 1941 census was incomplete because of the Second World War and internal turmoil and there was no point in comparing the 1931 census with 1941 census.


 When the BJP-dominated government was in power, the ICSSR (Indian Council of Social Science Research), under the inspiration and encouragement from L. K. Advani, the then deputy prime minister, tried to carry Hendre’s exercise further and use its funds and the prestige to propagate Sangh Parivar’s line on a wider scale. Sangh Parivar’s demands for a common civil code as well as identifying Bangladeshis in order to drive them out were the direct outcome of this line.


Every student of history of economic thought knows that population has always come handy to the people opposed to socio-economic progress. Malthus came out with his An Essay on the Principle of Population to reassure the propertied classes who were panicky after the French Revolution and its growing impact on the British society. Intellectuals like William Godwin, his son-in-law Shelley, Wordsworth and Coleridge were all singing hymns in its praise. Malthus, without any firm statistical basis (the first population census in Britain took place only in 1801), came out with a seemingly scientific theory to explain the growth population and its relationship with the stock of food. He told the toiling masses that they were poor and wretched not because of exploitative production relations but by not controlling the growth of their own population.


Many years after Malthus died and his theory was consigned to the dustbin, his ghost was resurrected as neo-Malthusianism. In the 20th century both Mussolini and Hitler used it to further their own agenda. After the Second World War, a number of so-called experts funded by Western countries and financial institutions came out with fanciful theories like the imminent danger of spaceship earth sinking if the newly independent countries were not forced to control their population. In 1972 the Club of Rome came out with its pseudo-scientific study Limits to Growth, which was lavishly funded by both Italian MNC like Fiat and other bigwigs in the Western corporate world. Thirty two years after it, The New York Times (August 30) has come out with an article saying that “Demographic ‘bomb’ is fizzling to a ‘pop’!”


Coming back to the Sangh Parivar’s contention, one has to state that the number of a person’s children has not been found to be related to the number of his wives. One may look up Hindu mythology to find that many kings could not have children in spite of their practising polygamy. King Dashrath had three queens but could have only four sons and one daughter after performing yajnas. The father of Dhritrashtra and Pandu had two wives but had to resort to Niyog to get two sons.


The East India Company had brought in the Doctrine of Lapse by which it confiscated the kingdoms of a number of rulers who failed to produce a natural heir even though they had many wives. The non-recognition of adopted sons as heirs was one of the causes of the 1857 revolt.


In recent history, in Bengal and Bihar a number of  zamindars failed to produce any children in spite of marrying several times. To give just two examples, the last Maharaja of Darbhanga could not produce any child even though he had two wives. The same happened to the last Maharaja of Bettiah, who also had two wives. The last Maharja of Banaras was the adopted son of his father. One can go on multiplying the examples. Thus  Narendra Modi who tauntingly says of Muslims: ‘four begums and twenty five children’ is simply indulging in a false and malicious propaganda. 


In this connection one needs to look up Josue de Castro’s Geography of Hunger (first published in 1946 and translated into as many as 25 languages and later issued in its revised version as Geopolitics of Hunger). Castro, a Brazilian diplomat and scholar, once  headed FAO. According to him, the growth of population is inversely related to the intake of protein-rich food. In other words, the rich produce less children. The poorer a person, the more children he has. Castro had referred to the history of European ruling dynasties to bring home this point.


In our country, poverty coupled with the incidence of large-scale unemployment, illiteracy, poor medical facilities, bad housing conditions, high infant mortality rate and a lack of optimism about future is the main cause of higher rate of population growth among the lower classes. One should expect the Sangh Parivar to reflect on this after keeping its political agenda in abeyance.



Girish Mishra,
mail: [email protected].













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