| Education is the key
Sept. 7: Muslim leaders have come forward to work with the government to attack the root of the community’s relatively high population growth.
Demographers and community leaders agree that low literacy and economic backwardness have led to the growth rate rising in the 2001 census to 36 per cent from 34.5 per cent in 1991.
Qasim Rasool Illyas, the spokesman for the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said: “We recognise that the steep rise in population poses problems for national growth. We are prepared to play our role in partnership with the government.”
The board will approach the government with a plan to remove educational backwardness among Muslims. The census brings out the low level of Muslim literacy at 59.1 per cent compared with 65.1 per cent among Hindus.
A similar difference exists in female literacy rates which have been proved to have a bearing on population growth.
Although not an entirely reliable indicator of economic activity, the census says Muslims had a lower work participation rate of about 31.3 per cent as against 40.4 per cent for Hindus.
“If Muslims remain backward, the difference in (population) growth rates will only increase,” warned demographer Ashish Bose.
He dismissed as mere propaganda that Muslims had four wives and six children but said there was evidence that fertility rates were higher in the community than in others. Bose said the community would have to look at why family size was not smaller.
A Muslim personal law board member said several beginnings had been made with some imams in mosques and madarsas advising that the religion permitted “temporary methods” of family planning such as use of condoms.
National Minorities Commission member Ahmad Rashid Shervani did not feel that religious leaders with a puritanical attitude should be blamed for an aversion to family planning. “Are people in Punjab listening to the jathedars when they ask people not to indulge in female foeticide'” he asked.
Aijaz Ahmed, an expert on social geography who has closely studied the growth of the Muslim population, said the 59.1 per cent literacy rate did not convey the truth as many would be people who can, at best, sign their name. The retired Delhi University professor cautioned against looking at Muslims, or any other community, in isolation from the region where they live.
If people across communities in a particular region are backward, there is a good chance that Muslims would be a notch below Hindus in all development indicators.
Experts cite Mallapuram in Kerala — one of the five highest Muslim-populated districts in the country — where the growth rate is lower than the “Muslim rate of growth” elsewhere. Muslims in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, like the society in which they live, are progressive and have lower growth rates than in the Hindi heartland, said Ahmed.
Community leaders are not jumping to such extreme conclusions on the census as calling it a conspiracy. Ageing politician Syed Shahabuddin said: “I have written and even told .K. Advani that if one wishes to restore the demographic balance, the answer is simple. Create more schools and jobs for Muslims.”
Sayeeda Hameed, a Planning Commission member, drew attention to the fact that, for the first time, Jammu and Kashmir was included in the census, which would have added a substantial number to the Muslim population.