MOHAN RAO, Times of India
At a public meeting attended by thousands, the leader of the Madhya Pradesh unit of RSS claimed recently that the Muslim population was increasing at a rapid pace, and that this combined with infiltration of Muslims from Bangladesh portended doom for India.
Claiming that this demographic war was being waged across the world, he attributed the break-up of the Soviet Union to such demographic imbalance.
This sort of claim is nothing new. In end-2004, VHP president Ashok Singhal had said Hindus should forsake family planning so that their population does not go down.
Speaking at VHP’s joint meeting of the international board of trustees, he said that the population of minorities, especially Muslims, had been rising at "such a fast pace" that it would be 25 to 30 per cent of the total population in 50 years.
Singhal said it would be "suicidal" for Hindus if they did not raise their population. Later, at the Margadarshak Mandal, the VHP’s apex body meeting in February 2005, a resolution was passed calling upon Hindus to follow the ideal family size set by Lord Krishna’s parents and contribute constructively towards increasing Hindu population.
The resolution also called for checking Bangladeshi infiltration and preventing Hindu girls from marrying Muslim boys.
Krishna, the resolution pointed out, was the eighth child of his parents as was Netaji Bose, and Rabindranath Tagore was the ninth.
The VHP has also opposed access to abortion, arguing that a disproportionate number of Hindu women utilise abortion facilities.
We have also had a huge and unedifying controversy erupt recently when the census commissioner announced the religion-wise data from the 2001 Census, without specifying that these could not be compared to previous figures since the 1991 Census had not been conducted in Kashmir, a Muslim majority state.
The Hindu right created an uproar about Muslims outnumbering Hindus. This despite clarifications issued by the commissioner, showing that the rate of decline of the Muslim growth rate was substantial and indeed sharper than among Hindus.
This paranoid construct of the other has a long history. In 1909, U N Mukherji had written a book entitled Hindus: A Dying Race, which went on to influence many tracts and publications by the Hindu Mahasabha, parent organisation of the RSS.
This book seemed to meet a widespread demand, going into many reprints and feeding into Hindu communalism then coming into its own.
It had a special appeal to Hindu communalists, anxious to create a monolithic Hindu community at a time when there were demands for separate representation by both Muslims and lower castes.
Whipping up anxiety about Muslims would be one way to weld together hugely diverse, and often antagonistic, castes into one community, erasing structural divisions in caste society.
Deeply riddled with inaccuracies and wild flights of prediction, the book nevertheless provided demographic common sense functioning as a trope for extinction.
Also, Hindu communalists believed and continue to believe that India is defined culturally as a Hindu nation, just as Muslim communalists believed in the purity of an Islamic Pakistan.
So communalists of both religions, by evoking demographic fears, subscribed to colonial definitions of Indian society. There was yet another flame stoking these fears among Hindu communalists, resentful of social reform.
The tragic figure of the Hindu widow was central, and indeed emblematic, here. Forbidden to remarry, she was at once responsible for the dying of the Hindu race as she was an allurement for virile Muslim men.
Communalisation of the issue of abduction of Hindu women fitted neatly into this gendered anxiety. Indeed this too was prominent in rumours before the Gujarat genocide in 2002.
This reflected embedding of patriarchy, nationhood and violence against women in discourses on numbers, inscribing on reproductive women’s bodies atavistic anxieties about the future, and the politics of genocide.
The slogan ‘Hum do, hamare do; Woh paanch, unke pachees’ won the leader of the genocide in Gujarat in 2002 a shameful but resounding electoral victory.
Does this also fit with the trope of alleged vegetarianism of Hindus along with the sexual rapacity of non-vegetarian Muslims?
Historian Tanika Sarkar says there is a dark sexual obsession about the allegedly ultra-virile Muslim male bodies and over-fertile Muslim female ones.
In communal violence, rape is a sign of collective dishonouring of a community; the same patriarchy that views the female body as the symbol of lineage, of community, of nation.
The anxieties whipped up over generations about Muslim fertility rates and dying of the Hindu nation, led to the brutal killing of children.
M S Golwalkar, ideological fountainhead of the RSS, wrote that to maintain the purity of its race and culture, Germany purged Jews.
Although we now know that there is no such thing as race, nevertheless racial purity, numbers and culture are yoked together in all fundamentalist discourses.
As Patricia and Roger Jeffery have noted, what has come to be called saffron demography has come to stay, a set of pernicious myths masquerading often as common sense.
The writer is with the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, JNU.