India: Hindu Nationalists Stoke Fears of Muslim Population Growth

Altaf Ahmad
2015.09.01
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150901-IN-togadia-1000 Pravin Togadia, international working president of the nationalist Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) group, adjusts a garland during the launch of the “Hindu Ahead” movement in Ahmedabad, India, March 31, 2013.
AFP

Some right-wing Hindu nationalist leaders are raising alarms over newly publicized census data showing that India’s Muslim population barely increased since 2001 in contrast to an ever so slight dip in the numbers who belong to its religious majority.

The parallel shrinkage and growth, respectively, in the Hindu and Muslim populations has prompted one right-wing Hindu leader to warn that the majority is now being threatened by “ethnic cleansing,” after the government released religion-based census data on Aug. 25.

According to figures from the 2011 census, Muslims now represent only 14.2 percent of a total population of 1.2 billion people, but the segment grew by 0.8 percent from 2001, compared with a population of 940 million Hindus, which shrank by 0.7 percent during the same period.

Although India’s last nationwide census was publicized in 2011, the public release of demographic data on its religious make-up was delayed for four years. According to a report by Channel News Asia, the previous government, led by the Congress party, had deliberately stalled the data’s release because it revealed an increase in the Muslim population.

Hindus make up nearly 80 percent of the world’s most populous democracy, which is now governed by an alliance led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“To ensure that India remains a Hindu-majority nation, Hindus must act immediately. They should get ready for ethnic cleansing, like it was done in Afghanistan and Kashmir,” The Indian Express newspaper quoted Pravin Togadia, a leader of the right-wing Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), as saying last week.

Shiv Sena, another Hindu nationalist group, went farther, prescribing a solution to reverse this “ominous trend” and ensure that Hindus remained firmly in control of India.

On Aug. 29, Veenu Lavania, a Sena leader, announced a reward of 200,000 rupees ($3,012) for each Hindu family, if it produced at least five children between 2010 and 2015, the Press Trust of India reported.

Deepening misery

Although their numbers are small, Muslims represent the nation’s largest religious minority. Yet despite their segment’s slight demographic growth since 2001, the socio-economic condition of Indian Muslims has deteriorated over the past two decades, experts warn.

Salahuddin Siddiqui, a professor of economics at Delhi University, pointed to census data showing how Muslims’ access to education, health services and jobs had declined from 34.5 percent in 1991 to 24.5 percent in 2011.

“This data suggests that the minority communities’ economic backwardness has increased due to the inattention of successive governments,” he told BenarNews.

“Muslims are highly skillful. The increase in their numbers would have helped to contribute to the economy, if successive governments cared to address their problems, especially the lack of opportunities and unemployment,” he added.

Maulana Arshad Madani, president of Jamiat-ulema-Hind, one of India’s largest Islamic associations, agreed that more and more of its Muslims were living in misery.

“It is sad that Hindu politicians are making an issue out of the marginal increase in Muslim population,” he told BenarNews.

“The Muslims are suffering for want of good education, healthcare and other facilities since India’s independence. Hunger and unemployment are the serious issues that the minority community members are faced with,” he added.

‘Unwanted animosity’

However, there are leaders in the Hindu community who condemn comments made by the hard-line nationalist groups.

“The VHP and Sena leaders are making pointless assertions that could create an unwanted animosity among people of two faiths,” Swami Agnivesh, a prominent Hindu leader and social activist, told BenarNews.

“Learned Hindus will reject the controversial statements of such leaders …,” he added.

“These groups should refrain from doing politics over such flimsy matters. India is the largest democracy in the world, and leaders of all religious groups should strive for strengthening communal harmony among people of different faiths living in the country.”

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