Atif Sheik 

he PR also mentioned the increase or decrease in the country’s population during the first decade of the current century. It said, “The proportion of Muslim population to total population has increased by 0.8 percentage point (PP) in 2011. The proportion of Hindu population to total population in 2011 has declined by 0.7 PP; the proportion of Sikh population has declined by 0.2 PP and the Buddhist population has declined by 0.1 PP during the decade 2001-2011.

The said PR had another aspect which was the growth rate of population of followers of various religions. It reported: “The growth rate of population in the decade 2001-2011 was 17.7%. The growth rate of population of the different religious communities in the same period was as follows: Hindu 16.8%; Muslim 24.6%; Christian 15.5%; Sikh 8.4%; Buddhist 6.1% and Jain 5.4%.”

This PR was not released as a news item rather it was aimed to achieve some other objective, and to know those goals, we need to analyse it from two perspectives. First, since the census was conducted in 2011, what was the intention behind releasing its data after a gap of four years? Second, why this angle was conspicuously highlighted that the population of Hindus has declined while that of Muslims has seen a considerable growth? Why not one but two parameters were used to present it more elaborately?india_citizenship_bill_GettyImages_1187715629

As for the first perspective, it needs to be kept in mind that the elections to the sixteenth Lok Sabha were conducted in 9 phases from 7 April 2014 to 12 May 2014 and the results thereof were declared on 16 May 2014. As per the results, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—of the National Democratic Alliance—achieved an absolute majority with 282 seats out of 543, and its candidate Narendra Modi took office on 26 May 2014 as the 14th prime minister of India. On the one hand, the ruling BJP has a reputation for its fervour for making and implementing anti-Muslim policies, while also having deep linkages with extremist and ultra-radical Hindu outfits and organization, on the other. And, PM Modi’s hands are also tainted with the blood of innocent Muslims who were killed in Gujarat pogrom of 2002 when he was the Chief Minister of that state. Right from the moment the BJP set its hands on power in India, it has set basically two targets: consolidate hold over, power and implement Hindutva ideology. hh

In this backdrop, if we see the timing and contents of the said PR, it becomes evidently clear that BJP released the data, after one year of taking power, officially from a particular angle of religious affiliation only as a politico-religious card it has played with an objective to consolidate its hold over power and to create an environment that would be conducive to proliferation and implementation of Hindutva ideology.

Hence, by exploiting the said press release to its favour, the BJP used Indian media to create a sense of Malthusian fear that the number of India’s Muslims will, at some point, surpass that of Hindus as the population of Hindus is decreasing while that of Muslims is increasing. But, in fact, the Muslim population has witnessed a steep decline, a fact corroborated by the following figures:

Between 1991 and 2001, the population of Indian Muslims grew by 29.64% which has declined to 24.60% during the decade 2001-2011. And, if we apply the parameter of percentage points, as used in the PR, we find that on a whole Muslim population declined by 4.92 PP between 1991 and 2011.

The BJP’s Islamophobic policy of creating bogey of so-called growth of Muslim population in India paid off as it won a landslide victory in elections to the 17th Lok Sabha, which were conducted in seven phases from 11 April 2019 to 19 May 2019, by winning 303 seats in the 543-strong lower house of the Indian parliament. This overwhelming victory also gave Modi a conviction to enforce such policies and laws that may help in making the dream of radical and extremist Hindu outfits of making India a Hindu Rashtra come true. The pivotal step in this regard was to increase, maintain and organize data related to Hindu population in India. One may ask a question here that when Hindus constitute 79.8% of India’s total population—and minorities only 20.2%—then why the BJP government is doing so? Answer to this question warrants an in-depth study of various aspects and backgrounds.x1080

Let’s start with India’s claim of being a secular country. In this regard, US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a report titled “Constitutional and Legal Challenges Faced by Religious Minorities in India” in February 2017. The report says:

“India terms itself a “secular” country; however, its concept of the term is vitally different from the comparable American idea of secularism—which requires complete segregation of church and state and also the French model of laïcité which guarantees the neutrality of the state toward religious beliefs, and the complete isolation of the religious and public spheres.” It further says, “The preamble of the Indian Constitution disallows the formation of a theocratic state and precludes the state from identifying itself with, or otherwise favouring, any particular religion. Additionally, the constitution encompasses several provisions that emphasize complete legal equality of its citizens irrespective of their religion and creed and prohibit any kind of religion-based discrimination between them. But neither in laws nor in practice does there exist any separation between religion and the state; in fact, the two often intervene in each other’s domain within legally prescribed and judicially settled parameters.”

These revelations in this report and the Hindutva ambitions of the incumbent government in India have busted the myth of “secular India”. The government is not only actively involved in managing the affairs of Hindu temples but is also making decisions to propagate and spread the Hindu religion.Layout 1

Second aspect is the glaring contradictions in the Indian constitution itself. For instance, in its Article 25 (1), the Constitution guarantees that “all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion.” But, the explanation of clause 2(b) of the very article denies this right as it says, “In sub-clause (b) of clause (2), the reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly.”

In its annual report for 2017, the USCIRF reported: “…As a result, members of these faiths are subject to Hindu Personal Status Laws, and they are denied access to social services or employment and educational preferences available to other religious minority communities.” Moreover, in articles 29, 30, 350A and 350B, the words like ‘minority’, ‘minorities’ and ‘minority groups’ have been used, but with no explanation thereof. Another contradiction is that the constitution explicitly describes those belonging to Sikh, Jain or Buddhist religions as Hindus but the country established a Ministry of Minority Affairs in 2006, the apex body for the central government’s regulatory and developmental programmes for the minority religious communities in India. It notified Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Zoroastrians (Parsis) and Jains as minority communities in The Gazette of India, on 27 January 2014, under Section 2(c) of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992. Furthermore, data related to these six religious communities have been collected and released separately whereas according to the “The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950,” which was amended in 1990, “… no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu, the Sikh or the Buddhist religion shall be deemed to be a member of a scheduled caste.”Difference-Between-Caste-and-Religion

Third aspect is that the enumeration of three big groups of Indian population, i.e. Scheduled Tribes (also called Adivasi), Scheduled Castes (sometimes called Dalits and untouchables) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs), can lay bare India’s claim that India is a Hindu-majority country. Results of 2011 census show that the population of Scheduled Tribes was more than 145 million—8.63% of country’s total population. Similarly, Scheduled Castes were over 201 million in number (16.63%). Moreover, as per ‘Handbook of Health and Welfare Statistics’ (released in September 2018), the population of OBCs in India in 2011-12 accounted for 44% of country’s total population—minorities on a whole constituted only 20.2%.

So, in this backdrop, having an overwhelming majority of those having extremist Hindutva ideology in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha—two houses of the Indian parliament—is indispensable to erasing India’s secular identity and making it a Hindu Rashtra. And, for that, making alterations and amendments to the country’s constitution is inevitable. Take, for instance, the case of Scheduled Tribes. These tribes were never enumerated as Hindus in any census carried out in pre-Independence India; rather all their data was collected in separate columns. Results of 1941 census, which are easily available on the internet, evidence this fact. India’s Ministry of Tribal Affairs recognizes more than 104 million people, who are out of the official caste system, as Scheduled Tribes (indigenous groups) and most of them follow Animism or other traditional beliefs, but in official census figures, they have been shown as Hindus. As a result, in this census, as much as 80.39% population of Scheduled Tribes has been considered Hindu while 9.92% Christians and 1.79% Muslims. Moreover, the proportion of Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains has been mentioned in the population data of Scheduled Tribes but Animism has not been mentioned at all. So, does it mean that a large chunk of this population abandoned the religious beliefs of their forefathers and converted to Hinduism? It seems absurd and ridiculous! But, for the sake of argument, let’s accept that it actually happened. Then, what about the fact that seven out of 29 States and Union Territories of India have laws on religious freedom—Orissa (1967); Chhattisgarh (1968); Madhya Pradesh (1968); Arunachal Pradesh (1978); Gujarat (2003); Himachal Pradesh (2006) and Rajasthan (2006)—which ban religious conversion carried out by force, fraud, or other inducements? Isn’t treating these tribes as Hindus a violation of these laws? What is the legality of this mass fraud committed only to show the numerical majority of Hindus in India?IndiaTv5f3285_Census

Let’s analyse religious conversion in India from another angle. As per the Constitutional Order of 1950, Scheduled Castes shall consist only of Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists and as per Article 341 of the Indian Constitution there were, by 26 October 2017, as many as 1284 scheduled castes in India. And, to make them avoid religious conversion, the law gives them some so-called privileges (Scheduled Castes have been given a quota of 15% in admissions to institutions of higher education, and government jobs), but if they convert, they can no longer enjoy those privileges. However, if they reconvert to Hinduism, these privileges stand restored. (I have used the word ‘so-called’ because how a societal system that is so enchained in its cruel caste system and that does not even recognize Dalits as humans can give them privileges?) The caste system divides Hindus into four main categories: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras. It further divides 3000 other important castes into an additional 25000 sub-castes. Outside of this Hindu caste system were the achhoots—the Dalits or the untouchables. A report published in Times of India on Dec 7, 2009, read: “In a first-of-its-kind study on a large scale, representing 98,000 Dalits across 1,655 villages in Gujarat, it comes out that 97% respondents feel they have ‘no entry’ at certain places in their own villages, including a temple or where a religious ceremony is taking place.” It, in fact, means that Dalits have to face religious discrimination at all levels and it is an undeniable reality that this discrimination, poverty and violent attacks on them have made their lives miserable and wretched. As per USCIRF International Religious Freedom report, on average, every week nearly 13 Dalits are killed, 5 houses of hem demolished, 3 Dalit women are raped and 11 Dalits are physically abused—a Dalit is subjected to a crime every 18 minutes. This state of affairs is the reason why Dalits are growingly converting to other religions.

The reason behind the growing rate of conversions is not that Dalits want to follow another religion or code of life but because they completely reject Hinduism which, to Hindu nationalists and radical outfits, is against their dream of a Hindu Rashtra where the upper caste has the supreme authority over state affairs. This is why the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is a right-wing party with close ideological and organisational links to Hindu nationalist organisations like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), is actively working to halt Dalit conversions. Although the Indian Constitution protects Indian citizens’ right to choose and practice any religion they want, the BJP enacted anti-conversion laws in various states it rules. In 2013, in Gujarat’s Junagadh when around 60,000 Dalits and members of other lower castes converted to Buddhism, the BJP government of Gujarat ordered an investigation and arrested local Dalit-  Buddhist leaders. In 2014, in Madhya Pradesh, when four Dalits converted to Islam due to caste humiliation and oppression, the police arrested them.

…to be continued

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