Monday, September 01, 2008

"Murderous identities and population paranoia"

Over at Himal South Asian, Mohan Rao's article "Murderous identities and population paranoia" explores the uses and misuses of popular demography in the wider world and particularly in India, host to a very large and diverse population. Indian Muslims, a population marked by period fertility rates higher than the average for Hindus and consequently a higher rate of population growth--over the 1991-2001 period, the Muslim population grew by 30% while the Hindu population grew by 20%--are the subject opf theories not wildly different from Eurabia claiming that Muslims will outreproduce Hindus and take over the country.

Although the population argument is seen to lend itself to a variety of prejudiced political projects across the world, the 20th century has also witnessed ‘communalisation of demography’ in the Subcontinent. In India, this has helped propel the discursive power of the communal myths (and outright lies) that surround the population question – or what some have termed ‘saffron demography’, an idea that carried particular weight in the election in Gujarat soon after the 2002 anti-Muslim carnage. Ethnic nationalism, combined with various fundamentalisms, gives saffron demography a particularly vicious punch. Of course, the communalisation of the population question is not unique to India. Present within Southasia (and many parts of the rest of the world), it seeks to legitimise offensive policies against minorities in order to build political consensus across newly created political majorities, fixed around ascribed identities that are all too often manufactured. Such a proposition is useful not just in manufacturing these majorities, but also in instilling fear, which is seen to bear political dividends.

There is an offensive slogan currently in use in North India, which is a play on a popular population control slogan of yesteryear – Hum do hamare do; woh paanch, unke pachees, which crudely translates as ‘We [Hindus] are two and have two children; they [Muslims] are five and have 25 children’. The suggestion is simple and beguilingly appealing, but also deeply flawed. The reference is, of course, to the fact that Hindus are not allowed by civil law to have more than one wife, while Muslims in India can have four. What this does not reveal is that data clearly shows that unlawful bigamous or polygamous marriages are more prevalent among Hindus than among Muslims. For example, as per the available data, the percentage incidence of what are called polygynous marriages (in which a man has more than one wife) is 5.8 among Hindus, while it is 5.73 among Muslims. What this also overlooks is that, assuming a situation of relatively equal males and females, a Muslim man with four wives would actually contribute less to population growth than if each of the wives were to be married to different men. Another oversight is that Muslims, like Hindus, are not a monolithic, homogenous community. Muslims in Kerala or Tamil Nadu, indeed in South India in general, typically have smaller families than Hindus in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in North India. Clearly, then, religion is not the main issue at play.

In response to a recent series of articles in the Indian press attempting to debunk myths about high Muslim population growth rates, this writer received a barrage of vehemently critical letters. Some suggested a change of name and conversion to Islam; others argued that he was an enemy both of Hindus and of India in general, and that he should go to Pakistan. Some others offered some bizarre facts to ‘refute’ what was being said. There was a long letter, enclosing two papers presented at international conferences for non-resident Indians, arguing that Muslims seek, through population growth, to overrun Europe. The correspondent was a retired inspector-general of police, a member of what seems to be a front organisation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) named the Patriotic Front. What is remarkable among these people is that facts are relatively unimportant; they are useful only if they further prejudice.


Although I'd quibble with some of his arguments on the role on demographics in determining wider political and cultural trends, the article's quite worth reading.

6 comments:

Charly said...

"The data is "unadjusted" (without excluding Assam and Jammu and Kashmir); 1981 census was not conducted in Assam and 1991 census was not conducted in Jammu and Kashmir"

I know that Jammu and Kashmir has only about 1 % of the population of India but that is around 7% of the muslim population. I think that if you don't count them in one census and you do count them in the other that you will get not completely useful numbers.

There is another issue. Populations don't only grow by birth but also by conversion which the quote "the possibility of low castes declassifying themselves as Hindus was a motivating anxiety behind the origins of Hindu communalism" does point to as important

Anonymous said...

It is almost a cottage industry among Indian (as well some foreign) social scientists to publicly denounce the inanities uttered on Muslim demography. Regular debunking is no doubt useful.
Unfortunately, such denunciations carry usually little scientific weight and Mohan Rao's latest remarks are typical of this poor level of reasoning.
The observations on polygamy are based on some mysterious data of unknown source (polygamy and other forms of multiple unions are totally ignored in Indian surveys). The reasoning that follows is based on complete ignorance of polygamy itself, especially its demographic mechanisms based on age difference between spouses and intense divorce and remarriage rates. There is a lot of literature on polygamy from African countries, which shows that the link between polyginy and fertility is indeed more complex.
Then there is the comment on lower fertility among Muslims in Kerala (where they do have however distinctly higher fertility than Hindus or Christians as anywhere else in India). He could have said as well that fertility is lower among illiterates in Kerala than among educate mothers in Bihar. Would this show that education is irrelevant to fertility? Again, a case of poor or biased reasoning.
I’m afraid writers like Mohan Rao are best when trading half-truths with equally uninformed writers from the other side. Granted, understanding higher fertility among Muslims as observed in most Asian countries (Thailand, Nepal, Philippines, China, central Asia, Sri Lanka, etc.) is not easy. But an effort should made to incorporate faith-based demographic strategies into the repertoire of tactical resources available to individuals. And the Muslim strategy based in particular on higher investments in family building (compared to say women’s education and economic autonomy) is a distinct illustration of such behaviours. Now, ask Kosovars and Lebanese Shiites: it may at times work pretty well in the end. The problem is that you got to survive the interval...

Randy said...

charly:

"the possibility of low castes declassifying themselves as Hindus was a motivating anxiety behind the origins of Hindu communalism" does point to as important

The belief in this possibility, yes. Have there been widepsread conversions among the lower castes to Islam? Buddhism and, more recently, Christianity are the major religions I've heard more frequently mentioned in this connection.

As with many things, people can be afraid of the possibility of lower castes' conversion to Islam if they want to be.

anonymous:

"The reasoning that follows is based on complete ignorance of polygamy itself, especially its demographic mechanisms based on age difference between spouses and intense divorce and remarriage rates."

It's possible for that man. Then again, subtracting women from the marriage market leaves some men short of wives.

If you'd post citations to talk on fertility in African polygamous contexts, you'd be more than welcome to do so.

Then there is the comment on lower fertility among Muslims in Kerala (where they do have however distinctly higher fertility than Hindus or Christians as anywhere else in India). He could have said as well that fertility is lower among illiterates in Kerala than among educate mothers in Bihar. Would this show that education is irrelevant to fertility?

It would show that whether by belonging to most prestigious social groups or by acquiring cultural capital through education, people born into happy circumstances are more likely to conmplete their demographic transition than people who are so excluded. Minority population, especially relatively disadvantaged minorities and/or relatively isolated minorities, will take time to converge to the behaviours of majority populations. Religion is only one of many factors influencing fertility.

In India's case, I'd suggest that the most advanced social conditions tend to exist in southern India, and that southern India's Christian and Hindu populations have benefitted more from post-independence trends than the region's Muslim populations, accordingly not so far along the demographic transition.

I'd be tempted to argue that this pattern, of Hindus and Christians doing better than Muslims, exists in most of India's states. I'd also point out that there is a lot of variation among Indian states. Keralan Muslims might lag behind their Hindu counterparts, but both are far, far ahead of their peer groups in Uttar Pradesh.

The Muslim share of the Indian population will rise, I don't doubt, but not nearly as much as you seem to believe. (A lazy set of calculations on my part lead me to believe it could be in the 15-20% range.) Is there actually Muslim-majority, or even Muslim-plurality pocket of territory of note outside of Kashmir?

As an aside, do you know anything about demographic patterns among members of the lower Hindu castes?

As

Anyway, there is this recent this news from Canada.

Looking at individual faith groups, Muslim women were having 2.41 children per woman in 2001 – the only religion with a replacement birth rate (considered to be 2.1 children per woman). Hindus rated second at 2.0, while Buddhists, Orthodox Christians and women who had no religion at all registered at the opposite extreme, with 1.34, 1.35, and 1.41 children per woman respectively. Protestants and Roman Catholics were having children at near the national average at 1.57 children.

What are Hindus and Muslims doing that Christians--indigenous Canadians--are not? Actually, it probably is that very large numbers of Hindus and Muslims aren't adopting the family patterns of wider Canadian society because these religion's practitioners have only relatively recently come to find themselves in Canada..

But an effort should made to incorporate faith-based demographic strategies into the repertoire of tactical resources available to individuals.

What could this possibly mean?

the Muslim strategy

So is it just Malayalam-speakers in Kerala and Hindustani-speakers in Uttar Pradesh who have a common strategy, or does this also extend to Arabophones in Syria, French whose ancestors came from North Africa two generations ago, Cape Malays, and your average Indonesian? Colour me impressed.

And strategy? For what? The Yugoslav government recorded Muslims as constituting three-quarters of Kosovo's population in the early 1920s and the narrow confessional balance in Lebanon hasn't been hleped by the migration of Christians from their relatively sere homeland. For whatever that's worth.

Argh. Facts, people, facts, with citations and everything, are wonderful if you're critiquing something.

ramki830 said...

@randy - do you know anything about demographic patterns among members of the lower Hindu castes?

The Indian Government publishes data on two categories of lower Hindu Groups - Dalits and Adivasis. The fertility rates among these two groups is substantially higher than the fertility among other Hindus. The population of Adivasis has gone up from some 10 million in 1900 to over 80 million in 2001 (8 fold increase) even though the overall population of India as a whole has gone up 4 fold in last 100 years . The percentage of SC/ST (Dalits+Adivasis) in total population has gone up from 18% in 1950 to 25% in 2001. A large part of the relative poverty among Adivasis could be due to the high birth rates, since a large family with many kids has less incentive to save and invest in things like higher education.

ramki830 said...

Another interesting factor which we demography enthusiasts fail to understand is regarding emigration and its impact on fertility. Take the case of Kerala , in India.. Kerala is held as the poster child for demographic transition . The problem is that the emigration of Keralites into other states is totally ignored. Millions of kerala adults have emigrated to other Indian metros and they are likely to be counted as being belonging to the population of Delhi, Maharashtra, TN or Karnataka. It is interesting to note that the trend of Kerala youth migrating to other states/outside India for work and settling down accelerated from 1970s.. which is when the population growth slowdown in the state was reported.population? Given that not more than half of the adult working population can be employed in kerala,

SESALMONY@aol.com said...

On the need for scientific education regarding the human overpopulation of Earth in these early years of Century XXI...........

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Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population,
established 2001
http://sustainabilityscience.org/content.html?contentid=1176