February 18, 2024

A Hindutva-Based Population Policy

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THE finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, in her interim budget speech announced the setting up of a high-powered committee “to study the challenges of fast population growth and demographic changes”.  The announcement of such a committee in a budget speech was itself a curious one.  If the government intended to frame a new population policy based on a committee to study population growth, it should have found a mention in the president’s address to parliament.

The purpose of the high-powered committee is also unclear as the fact of “fast population growth” is itself a contestable one.  Further, without the census being conducted, where is the hard data which can be relied upon by the committee.

One has to view the background in which such a step in the sphere of population control and policy is being taken.  In his Vijayadashami address in October 2022, the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, had called for a population control law that would be “equally applicable to all”. He had warned of the dangers of “religion-based population imbalance” saying that it could lead to creation of new countries such as happened in East Timor, South Sudan and Kosovo. He had concluded that: “Along with population control, population balance on a religious basis is also a matter of importance which cannot be ignored”.

Bhagwat’s speech and other literature produced by the RSS constantly harps on the “religious imbalance” created by infiltration from across the borders and forced conversions.  Bhagwat, in his speech, had stated that religions belonging to “Bharatiya origin” came down from 88 per cent to 83.8 per cent while Muslim population, which was 9.8 per cent, increased to 14.22 per cent between 1951 to 2011.

The RSS has been darkly hinting that religious conversion and infiltration resulting in religious imbalance especially in border areas can emerge as a threat to the unity, integrity and cultural identity of the country.  

It is this concern of the RSS that has now led to the announcement of a high-powered committee to study fast population growth and demographic changes.  That this is not a short term proposal is evident. Neither have the members of this high-powered committee been named nor is it expected to submit a report before the Lok Sabha election. The creation of a new population control policy is going to be a project to be put into place presumably in the third term of the Modi government.

The religious imbalance which the RSS propagates and the fears arising from the Muslim population’s high rate of growth are not based on any scientific data.  The National Family Health Survey, 2019-21 found that the difference between Hindu (1.94 children per woman) and Muslim (2.36 children per woman) fertility was only 0.42 children per woman.  The Muslim fertility rate has been steadily falling. It was 3.39 as per the first National Family Health Survey (1990-92) and now it is 2.36.  The trend in the last two decades has been that Hindu fertility has dropped by 30 per cent against 35 per cent in Muslim. In fact, the rate of decline in population growth in Muslim has been greater than in Hindu in the last twenty years.  Hindu-Muslim fertility rates will be on track to absolute convergence presumably by 2030.

The BJP-RSS idea of population control and a new population policy is caught in contradictory impulses.  On the one hand, the Hindutvavadis want to check population growth, so that the resources of a developing country are adequate to meet the needs of the people.  Narendra Modi, in his first Independence Day speech in the second term in office in 2019, called the “population explosion” a cause for concern.  At the same time, an underlying concern of the RSS is the necessity to check the Muslim population’s rate of growth to curb what it calls “religious imbalance”.  The RSS is particularly concerned about the “demographic change” in the areas bordering Bangladesh in Assam and West Bengal.

In Uttar Pradesh, a precursor to the new population policy was announced in 2021 by the Adityanath government.  A document `Population Policy, 2021-2030’ was released, according to which “attempts would be made to ensure that there is a population balance amongst various communities”.  A package of incentives and disincentives are proposed in this document to ensure the two child norm per family. The Adityanath government can be expected to ensure that they are strictly implemented when it comes to Muslim beneficiaries of government schemes. 

The real issue for the Hindutva forces is not fast population growth in general but what it considers the higher growth rate of Muslims through infiltration and conversions.  That is why, what is in the works is a Hindutva-based population policy. 

This also explains partly why the Modi government has not held the quinquennial census, which was due in 2021 and which could have been held after the Covid in 2022 or 2023.  The RSS-BJP wants a National Register of Citizens to be prepared to prevent infiltrators from acquiring citizenship rights and buying land.  The preliminary step towards creation of a National Register of Citizens is the National Population Register. The government had declared at the time of the adoption of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act that they would move towards the National Register of Citizens and during the 2021 Census, the National Population Register would also be updated alongside.

So, under the cover of a new population control policy, the Muslim population would be targeted for checking the so-called religious imbalance.  The National Population Register and the National Register of Citizens based on it would place curbs on citizenship based on religious identity.

The RSS project of curbing the `non-Bharatiya’ population will be taken up in right earnest.  This is the camouflaged purpose of the high-powered committee that has been announced.

(February 14, 2024)








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