On 27 December 2015, Union Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Giriraj Singh called for curbing the “uncontrolled growth” of population through a uniform policy. Singh said that the time had come to redefine the meaning of “minority” in India, and once again drew attention to the religious data from the 2011 census.
Since the publication of these figures, an old debate has played itself out along predictable lines. What the data shows is that the proportion of Muslims in India has again risen, as it has in every census since 1961. Similarly, the proportion of Hindus (in the way in which the census defines Hindu) has decreased in every census since 1961. It is important to state that both Hindus and Muslims are growing in terms of absolute numbers, but in terms of proportion, Muslims are growing at a higher rate than Hindus. The “debate” has centered on the disproportionate increase of Muslims vis-a-vis Hindus. The fault-lines of this debate are clear. One side states that it is poverty, poor formal education and “backwardness” among the Muslims of India (most of whom are from backward castes) that is responsible for this increase and it is this ”poorness” or “backwardness” that explains the phenomenon. The opposing camp pins the disproportionate increase among Muslims to “Muslimness,” with thinly veiled suggestions that it is the ideology of the Islamic creed, and its specifically theological injunctions against the use of contraceptives that are responsible.
A truth (and there is no single “truth” when we talk of people that are varied in so many aspects) that can be concluded from existing data, supports both positions. For example, while it is true that there is significant variation in Muslim family size and growth rate based on their socio-economic and educational status, there is also geographical variation. The population growth rate among Muslims of the south is lower than the growth rate of Hindus of the upper and middle Gangetic plains (what has broadly always been called Hindustan or the Hindi belt).