If the Hindutva brigade is to be believed, India will become a Muslim majority country by 2035. Qamar Waheed Naqvi sifts through available data to set the record straight

Photo: Tehelka Archives

Will Muslims outnumber Hindus by 2035 and become the majority in India? Several search results on Google warn how the Muslim population in the country will expand to 92.5 crore, while Hindus will shrink to 90.2 crore by 2035. By 2040, Hindu festivals will no longer be celebrated. There will be large-scale conversions and genocide of non-Muslims, and by 2050, the Muslim population will increase to 189 crore and India will become a Muslim country.

For many years, the Sangh Parivar has been carrying out this propaganda through pamphlets, social media posts and blogs. In October 2013, at a meeting of the national working committee of the RSS held in Kochi, joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale made an appeal to Hindus to give birth to at least three children. Recently, BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj and VHP leader Sadhvi Prachi reiterated it by appealing to Hindu women to produce four children. At a function to mark the 50th foundation ceremony of the VHP in Bareilly, its leader Praveen Togadiareportedly said, “Why all this fuss over the matter of producing four children? When Muslims produce children, no one says a word. Muslims keep four wives and produce 10 children. If you talk about having two children, then make a law. And take action against those who have more than that.”

Shankaracharya Vasudevanand Saraswati of Badrinath’s Badrikashram went a step ahead and appealed to Hindu women to bear 10 children to ensure that the community keeps growing and does not become endangered.

Several questions arise here. Are Muslims intentionally increasing their number so that they become the majority in India one day? Do Muslims really keep four wives? Do Muslim women actually give birth to 10 children? Is polygamy the major reason behind their growing numbers? Do Muslims never adopt family planning and consider it against their religion? Will Muslims outnumber Hindus in the future? And will India ever become a Muslim country?

Interestingly, this propaganda machine does not afflict just India. The fear has gripped certain sections in Europe, too. They claim that the way Muslims are growing in number across the world, Europe will turn into ‘Eurabia’ some day.

Let us analyse the veracity of these claims.

The government’s report on Census 2011 is going to be released soon. The report was prepared a year ago but the UPA government withheld its release in the wake of the 2014 General Election. The Congress-led government feared that the statistics in the report might give Hindutva forces an opportunity to carry out another vicious propaganda campaign and create trouble for the government. In spite of this, the report was leaked. Recently, the leaked report has been published again.

According to this leaked report, the Muslim population has increased from 13.4 percent to 14.2 percent. For the first time, the Hindu population has gone below 80 percent.

In 1961, Muslims were 10.7 percent and Hindus 83.4 percent. In 2001, the Muslim population rose to 13.4 percent and the Hindu population decreased to 80.5 percent. The leaked report suggests that if the Muslim population has gone up, the number of Hindus must certainly have gone below 80 percent.

On the surface, the figures appear threatening and the Hindutva brigade is using it to stir fear among the Hindus, inciting hatred against Muslims.

Photo: Vijay Pandey

But this is only half the truth. There is another side to the story, too. There has been a notable decline in the decadal population growth of Muslims. In 1991-2001, the Muslim population increased by 29 percent, whereas in 2001-11, the increase was only 24 percent, though it is still much higher than the average national decadal population growth of 18 percent. But if the Muslim population growth is closely analysed, one will find that the trend of having small families is on the rise. Spread of education among Muslims will subsequently slow down the population rise.

Myth 1

Muslim women produce 10 children

nfhsThe data collected by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) is a blow to the propaganda spread by the Hindutva brigade. The three surveys were conducted in 1991-92, 1998-99 and 2005-06. We can easily view the change in fertility rate and major trends of family planning and use of contraception during the past 15 years.

In 1991-92, the total fertility rate or TFR (the number of children a woman produces in her child-bearing age) of Hindu women was 3.3, while it was 4.41 for Muslim women. In 1998-99, it came down to 2.78 for Hindus and 3.59 for Muslims. In 2005-06, the TFR of Hindu women was recorded at 2.59, while for Muslim women it was 3.4. Clearly, there has been a steady decrease in the fertility rate of Muslim women during the past 15 years.

Let us simplify the figures to understand it better. Suppose there are two samples: 1,000 Hindu women and 1,000 Muslim women. According to the data above, if one Hindu woman produced 3.3 children in 1991-92, 1,000 Hindu women would have produced 330 children. Similarly, 1,000 Muslim women would have produced 441 children, that is, 111 babies more than the Hindus. In 1998- 99, 1,000 Hindu women gave birth to 278 children, while the number of Muslim children was 359, i.e., only 81 more than Hindu children. The decrease is quite apparent. And finally, in 2005-06, 1,000 Hindu women gave birth to 259 kids, while the same number of Muslim women bore 340 children. The difference again comes to 81.

nfhs2Here, two things are clear. One, the total fertility rate of Muslim women has constantly declined between 1991 and 2006. In fact, the decrease in the TFR of Muslim women between the second and third NFHS was not much behind that of Hindu women.

In 1998-99, 1,000 Hindu women gave birth to 278 children and in 2005-06 they bore 259 children; i.e., 19 children less. For 1,000 Muslim women, the difference was exactly the same with 359 children in 1998-99 and 340 in 2005-06.

Secondly, Muslim women can produce only one child more against their Hindu counterparts, though the average comes to even less than one (0.81).

It turns out that the myth of Muslim women producing 10 children is utterly baseless. The fact is that Muslim women produce less than four and even 3.5 children on an average. Their fertility rate was 3.4 in 2005-06. And looking at the trend, it must have slid further now.

Photo: Tehelka Archives

However, it is true that the fertility rate of Muslim women is still higher than the Hindu women. Why is it so? The figures of NFHS have the answer. The data clearly backs the fact that the fertility rate is high among the poor and uneducated section. It comes down as we go higher up in terms of economic prosperity and education level.

nfhs3If we look closely, we notice that with increase in education, the fertility rate witnessed a steep fall and went below the replacement level of 2.1. Let us define replacement level here. If a couple has two children, their children will replace them after their death. That is, if each couple produces two children, the population will remain stable. But since as per the natural birth rate, the number of girls is less than boys, the fertility rate for the replacement level is taken at 2.1. That is, as long as the fertility rate is 2.1, the population will remain stable. If the fertility rate is below 2.1, the population starts decreasing.

Anyway, the table above clearly shows that with rising levels of education, the fertility rate dips.

Let us now look at some economic figures.

Notice how the fertility rate declined with increasing economic prosperity. The Sachar Committee report sheds light on the state of illiteracy and poverty among Muslims. If attention is paid on improving the condition of Muslims, it will certainly lead to a decline in the fertility rate.

Myth 2

Muslims are against family planning

The figures revealed by NFHS have busted this myth completely that Muslim families do not adopt family planning; that they are against it, calling it un-Islamic.

However, data collected in the NFHS reveal that Muslim women are readily acquiring modern methods of contraception such as condom, IUD, pill, sterilisation, etc. In fact, there has been a rise in the incidence of such usage.

The following table compares the trend among Hindu and Muslim women acquiring modern methods of contraception.

Clearly, there is a rising awareness among Muslim women about contraception though they still lag behind Hindu women in terms of family planning. However, while the use of modern contraceptive methods among Hindu women increased from 37.7 percent in NFHS-1 to 44.3 percent in NFHS-2, going up by 6.6 percentage points, among Muslim women this figure went up from 22 percent in NFHS-1 to 30.2 percent in NFHS-2, an increase of 8.2 percentage points.

nfhs4Similarly, the increase in the use of contraception among Hindu women was 5.9 percentage points between NFHS-2 and NFHS-3, while it was 6.2 percentage points for Muslim women, 0.3 percentage points more than the Hindu women. According to NFHS-3, 21.3 percent Muslim women and 39.9 percent Hindu women underwent sterilisation.

In case of family planning, the same holds true. The more prosperous and educated a family is, the more are its chances of practising family planning. According to NFHS-3, only 34.6 percent women in the poor sections were adopting modern means of contraception. Among the middle class, the number is much higher at 49.8 percent, and in the higher classes, it was 58 percent.

Hence, the myth that Muslims do not practise family planning turns out to be baseless, too. Until a few years ago, it might have been true. But during the past 30 years, the view regarding family planning among Muslims across the world has changed.

The fact is that the fertility rate has dropped heavily in several Muslim countries. Bangladesh and Iran have set a wonderful example in this regard. In Iran, the fertility rate has gone down from eight to two and it is believed that if it continues this way, the population will begin to decline.

Photo: AP

According to a study carried out by PEW Research Center in 2011 titled The Future of the Global Muslim Population, the fertility rate in 49 countries and territories with a Muslim majority was 4.3 in 1990-95, which is expected to drop to 2.9 in 2010-15 and further to 2.6 in 2020- 25 and 2.3 in 2025-30, i.e., a little over the replacement level of 2.1.

It means that if the fertility rate follows this pattern, not only will the Muslim population become stable after 2040, it will, in fact, begin to decline.

According to a policy review by prominent demography experts Nicholas Eberstadt and Apoorva Shah (Fertility Decline in the Muslim World: A Veritable Sea- Change, Still Curiously Unnoticed, 2011), the past three decades have witnessed a decline of 41 percent in the fertility rate in these 49 Muslim majority countries, while the average drop in the global fertility rate was recorded at 33 percent.

Around 22 Muslim majority countries recorded a decline of 50 percent or more in their fertility rate. Of these, 10 countries recorded it at 60 percent, while in two countries — Iran and Maldives — it was more than 70 percent.

Clearly, Muslim countries have not only realised the need for population control and family planning but are, in fact, running a comprehensive campaign in this regard. However, it is true that certain Muslim countries and a few ignorant Muslims do claim that children are a blessing from god and if god allows them to be born, he alone will sustain them. But all population-related studies across the world, including India, have drawn one conclusion — the fertility rate is quite low in prosperous countries and among prosperous sections of society.

The economic condition is possibly a factor behind it, too. For poor families, more members mean more earning hands. As such, if population is to be controlled, there is a need to improve the economic condition of poor people.

Myth 3

Polygamy is leading to a spike in Muslim population

nfhs5According to recent figures, the sex ratio among Muslims is 936:1,000; i.e., for every 1000 males, there are 936 females. It means 64 Muslim males in every 1,000 will remain unmarried. Now, if some Muslim men practise polygamy, it would decrease the number of women further and as many more men would have to stay single because the number of women is less.

Polygamy can lead to an increase in population only if women outnumber men. Let us understand it with an example. Suppose 100 out of every 1,000 Muslim men wish to take a second wife. In that case, 1,100 women are needed. But the number of women is only 936, which means only 836 men will be able to marry, while the rest 164 will remain single. Hence, this belief that the practice of polygamy among Muslims is causing their population to rise is false. It would be possible only if the sex ratio were skewed in favour of women, which is not the case.

Secondly, if the number of women is 936 and the fertility rate is 3.4, the number of children born will remain 936×3.4. It means polygamy may increase the number of members within a family, but it will not affect the overall population since the number of women and the fertility rate are constant.

Another point that is often ignored is the fact that the life expectancy is nearly three years more for Muslims as compared to Hindus. In 2005-06, the average age of Hindus was 65 years, while it was 68 years for Muslims. In layman’s terms, a Muslim lives three years longer than a Hindu on an average.

In addition to this, the mortality rate of Hindu children under five years of age is 76, while it is 70 for Muslim children. Statistics suggest that the child mortality rate among Muslims has remained consistently lower than among Hindus. These factors also contribute in boosting the Muslim population.

Population rise is an issue of serious concern. But the solution is not what the RSS, Togadia or the Sangh Parivar have to offer. The solution is that the government creates awareness and takes development to each and every doorstep as soon as possible, provides education facilities and runs a comprehensive campaign of family planning programmes. The government needs to make people understand the gravity of the issue. Things will change. After all, didn’t the polio campaign succeed, too?