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Muslims are not going to overtake Hindus in India, says former CEC in a new book

India Today logo India Today 24-01-2021 Roshni Majumdar
S. Y. Quraishi wearing glasses and looking at the camera

logo, company name © Provided by India Today For long, there has been fearmongering around Muslims in the country, which suggests that their religion encourages them to have more children or that their birth rates are somehow linked to the practice of polygamy. It is precisely these kinds of untruths that former Indian election commissioner S.Y. Quraishi debunks in his new book, 'The Population Myth'. Quraishi demonstrates that Hindus and Muslims are on the same end of the spectrum when it comes to fertility rates and that the gap in fertility rates has been narrowing in the past three decades.

Chapter by chapter, Quraishi contests these claims to show that literacy levels, income and access to contraceptives and family planning methods have a far greater role in determining the fertility rates of groups. For example, the reluctance of grassroots functionaries to engage Muslims on family planning practices has left members of the community, especially among the most impoverished sections, to fend for themselves. Quraishi uses data from the National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS-4) to show that 75 per cent of Hindus who use contraceptives obtained them from the public sector. The corresponding figure for Muslims is just 56 per cent. The percentage of women between 15 and 49 who received prenatal care from a skilled provider was also the lowest among Muslims.

Besides access to contraceptives, other factors like education and income are among the lowest for Muslims. A combination of all these factors has contributed to the high birth rates among Muslims.

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There is another important factor that is often overlooked in the overheated debate on communal demography. Though the birth rate among Muslims continues to be the highest among all communities in the country, it has been declining at a faster rate than that for Hindus for three decades. Thus, decadal growth is declining, though inter-state and inter-regional variations continue to exist. Since Hindus also constitute a larger percentage of the country's population, the numbers added too are higher despite the overall decline in rates. This is also why achieving population stability will take a long time in the country.

It is also important to point out that Muslims have been taking to family planning methods faster than their Hindu counterparts in recent decades.This means that Muslims are willing to adopt family planning practices but get left behind due to numerous reasons, beginning with the underperformance or non-performance of health workers and the lack of awareness among them owing to socio-cultural factors.

The National Population Policy has the twin goals of addressing the 'unmet' need of the population who wish to restrict children but don't have the resources to do so, and achieving population stability.

Meanwhile, the bitter politics of population control continues. In 2019, BJP MP Rakesh Sinha tabled the 'Population Regulation Bill' in the Rajya Sabha, which called for action against individuals who had more than two children. Last year too, BJP MPs urged the government to pursue a bill on population control. Like other controversial laws such as the recent 'love jihad' regulations in some BJP-ruled states, these moves serve to focus public (and social media) attention on the perceived threat from the minority. In this climate of fear, Quraishi's book shines a timely light on some dark untruths.

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