Religious Demography Of India

Religious Demography in India extols an
exclusivist political creed

By B.G. Verghese

A recent book launch had L.K. Advani, home minister and deputy prime minister, eulogise Religious Demography in India authored by A.P. Joshi, M.D. Srinivas and J.K. Bajaj of the Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai. The authors classify the people of India as either Indian Religionists (Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and tribal) or non-Indian Religionists (Muslim and Christian) and, implicitly, Indian and foreign. This is a thesis articulated by Savarkar, Hedgewar and Golwalkar and now preached by the Hindutvavadis extolling 'cultural nationalism', an exclusivist political creed with little reverence for true faith and tradition.

Advani's foreword quotes Augustus Comte, the French philosopher, as saying that demography is destiny. Why? Because "knowing, predicting and controlling the social and economic pressures created by our changing demographic patterns is essential for the noble task of nation-building". The ghosts of Partition still haunt memory. Yet, rather than build anew, he speaks of the "strategic pressures" of India's external and internal demography and calls for rigorous observation and analysis of the changing demography of different religions. This, he believes, is of "paramount importance in maintaining the integrity of our borders, and peace, harmony and public order within the country".

Narendra Modi is keeping careful watch in Gujarat and, in another context, the MMA in Pakistan. Both represent birds of a feather on either sides of the border. The Sangh parivar invented the two-nation theory and still clings to it. Some nation-building.

Redefining demography: In his foreword to the book, L.K. Advani (right, with Narendra Modi) looks upon demography as realpolitik

The statistics are culled from over 100 years of census data. Advani's foreword advocates that the census organisation take note of this volume. This indicates "several areas where detailed data needs to be collected and that of the previous censuses reorganised" so that future editions of this book are "more complete and rigorous".

Religious Demography of India speaks of "pressures" building on Indian Religionists (IRs) from Christianity and Islam, with their population "suffering" a decline from 86.64 per cent to 85.09 per cent between 1901 and 1991. The thesis is that IRs enjoy overwhelming dominance in northwestern, central, western and southern India (less Kerala). But in "the heartland and eastern regions" comprising Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Assam, IRs are "under great pressure". In the border regions of J&K, the northeast, Goa, Kerala, Lakshadweep and Nicobar the IRs constitute a third or less of the population or are a minority.

The inference is that India's "cultural and civilisational homogeneity" is threatened by those who look on it "as a source of oppression and backwardness". This ideological prejudice is manifest in "protection of distinctive ways of life of religious minorities", especially those belonging to Islam and Christianity. So there it is. India's pluralism and diversity that the Constitution proudly proclaims, is the enemy within, a cancer that must be contained if not eradicated.

The volume contains some bogus sociology. Sample this. Indigenous faiths lost ground during Islamic rule and western dominance. With decolonisation, the share of Asian and African populations in the world rose sharply after 1951 largely to neutralise the gains made by Europeans during the previous hundred years. Wrong. The population explosion was caused by modern medicine and measures to combat famine.

The authors do not explain why, if IRs constitute a single happy family, Buddhists and Jains suffered decline in India during the transition to the medieaval period. Nor do they tell us why caste "backwardness and oppression" linger to this day, compelling many to change faith. Ambedkar warned that this would happen 50 years ago. Nor again does this thesis explain the pogrom against Sikhs in Delhi in 1984.

The Constitution proclaims a common and equal citizenship. But the volume would deny this basic feature. It views all Indians as potentially antagonistic religious categories. The Constitution protects India's diversity and tradition of accommodation. The authors see this as a political and cultural threat.

The ministry of human resource development has constituted a task force to improve all levels of education in India. Among its terms of reference is one that would define and promote a 'national culture'. Is this the 'cultural nationalism' of Hindutva and the Sangh parivar? India will not be bludgeoned into a cultural sameness by sundry cavemen. The blurb on the dust jacket of the book calls on India to start afresh and "get into the task of nation building with an abiding passion". We have been warned.
(The writer is at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi, and a columnist.)