RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat today said India needs a policy for population control “equally applicable to all”, and cited “religion-based imbalance” and “forced conversions” to raise the spectre of the country breaking apart. He cited East Timor, Kosovo and South Sudan as examples of “new countries that emerged because of religious community-based imbalances”.
He was speaking at the annual Dussehra rally of the RSS, the mentor body of the ruling BJP.
“Along with population control, population balance on religious basis is also a matter of importance which cannot be ignored,” he stressed in his speech, in Hindi.
“Population require resource, or it becomes a burden,” he added, “There is a view that population can be an asset. We need to work on a policy keeping both aspects in mind.”
He said women’s health must be “certainly kept in mind” in any policy on childbearing. Today’s Dussehra rally also happened to be the first time the RSS invited a woman as chief guest — mountaineer Santosh Yadav — for its annual event.
#WATCH | Population imbalance leads to changes in geographical boundaries… Population control & religion-based population balance is an imp subject that can no longer be ignored…So a holistic population policy should be brought & should be equally applicable to all: RSS chief pic.twitter.com/hYU6itnO47
— ANI (@ANI) October 5, 2022
Essentially reiterating a key agenda of the RSS and its affiliates, he said, “Birth rate is one reason; conversions by force, lure or greed, and infiltration are also big reasons.”
The BJP’s central government, however, does not seem to agree with the idea of a population control law, even though it is proposed repeatedly by party members and RSS leaders.
When it came up in Parliament
In April this year, in a discussion on nominated Rajya Sabha member Rakesh Sinha’s Bill for such a law, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said family planning and better healthcare have ensured stabilisation of population anyway.
“The total fertility rate has come down to around 2%… It tells us that the family planning mission is moving towards success,” the minister said. Mr Sinha later withdrew his Bill. Opposition members have said family planning should not be a matter of coercion.
Fertility rate — average number of children a woman is expected to have — in India is now 2.2 after the 2011 census, down from 5.9 in 1951. Experts say a rate of 2.1 can ensure a stable population. India is thus close to the ideal. Developed countries such as the US and Canada are much below this and struggling with ageing populations.
What research says
On the question of “imbalance”, recent research shows India’s religious demography since Partition (1947) has been “largely stable”, despite some differences in growth rates.
Fertility rate among Muslims, the main religious minority, is the highest among all major communities but has been declining fast. It’s now almost equal to that of Hindus, according to a report last year by Pew Research Center.
From 1992 to 2015 — in just over two decades — Muslim fertility rate declined from 4.4 to 2.6.
For Hindus, it went down from 3.3 to 2.1.
“Gaps in childbearing between India’s religious groups are much smaller than they used to be,” said the research.
In terms of share in India’s total population, from 1951 to 2011, Muslims grew by over 4 points to 14.2 per cent. Hindus grew in numbers but their ratio in India’s population declined by about 4 points to reach 79.8 per cent. Both communities have since slowed their growth and are coming to the same fertility rate.
But the Pew research made another key point — that religion is not even a main factor affecting fertility rates. Regional, cultural and financial conditions play big roles too. For instance, women in central and northern states have more children as compared to the south.
The report looked at the three factors that the RSS chief also happened to mention today — fertility, migration, and conversions. It found no evidence of the high numbers of undocumented immigrants, nor did it see any significant impact of conversions on India’s overall make-up.