The Centre for Studies of Plural Societies (CSPS) organised a Book Discussion on Population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India authored by former Chief Election Commissioner Dr S.Y. Quraishi. The key participants were K.P. Fabian (former Ambassador), Prof. Neshat Quaiser (Retd. Prof., Department of Sociology, Jamia Millia Islamia), Prof. Arvinder Ansari (Director, Centre for Study of Social Exclusion, and Inclusive Policy, Jamia Millia Islamia), Dr Nazima Parveen (Associate Research Fellow, Policy Perspective Foundation), Dr Omair Anas (Director, CSPS), Dr Javed Iqbal Wani (Head of Research and Publication, CSPS). The session was moderated by Dr Azeemah Saleem (Non-Resident Fellow, CSPS).
Highlighting the decades old issue of Muslim stereotype and the political propaganda of blaming Muslims for having ulterior motives of disbalancing the demography, Dr Quraishi began the discussion by explaining his purpose for undertaking such a project which was to counter certain myths being perpetuated about the Muslim population having aversion to Family Planning. He takes on about five myths one-by-one, explaining the rationality behind their perpetuation, and counters each one of them with facts and data obtained from government reports on Indian demography and national-level surveys like National Family Health Survey (NFHS) and Census etc.
Dr Quraishi argued that the fear created by the right-wing leaders about the organised conspiracy by Muslims to overtake the Hindu population and capture the political power is absurd as the Mathematical Model on ‘Population growth comparison of Hindus and Muslims’ prepared by Prof. Dinesh Singh (former VC, Delhi University) and Prof. Ajay Kumar demonstrates that Muslims can ‘NEVER’ overtake Hindus for the next 150 years. Dr Quraishi critically engaged with the concept of Polygamy or polygamous marriages among the Muslims which is frequently advanced by right-wing leaders to support their arguments that Islam is opposed to family planning. He highlighted the Govt. of India study of 1975 that suggested that Muslims are the LEAST polygamous community. Besides the asymmetrical sex ratio of India makes it statistically impossible for polygamy to become prevalent. Furthermore, he explained that the idea of polygamy in Islamic Texts is not only conditional (absolute equality among wives) but contextual also (marrying only widows). The core argument of the book that ‘Islam is not against family planning’, resonated throughout the discussion of Dr Quraishi. He cites numerous verses of the Quran and Hadith that the interpretations of family planning in Islamic teachings prioritise the health of women and children and the responsibility of men to support their wellbeing. In fact, he advances the claim that Islam is the pioneer of family planning.
Dr Quraishi highlighted that the fertility of all communities is contingent upon socio-economic factors like literacy, income, and delivery of family planning services with regional variations. Therefore, the regional analysis of the population problem would be more appropriate for the administration rather than the religious one. He identified the administrative failure as the major reason for ineffective family planning in Indian societies and its negligence of seriously engaging and addressing the issues causing population boom in India. The book discussion ended with policy recommendations. He suggested that the administration should work towards developing the National Population Policy for targeted solutions. Governmental staffs should be trained to address the prenatal and postnatal needs of the people, a comprehensive Resource book must be created for staffs and political leaders for sensitisation and the cross-learning of Ulama of India with Ulama of other country can be encouraging.
The session was later opened for Q&A session. Amb. Fabian commented that the historical trend of shifting population growth among the Indian communities and complements the facts and statistics that Dr Quraishi has unearthed. Dr Parveen highlighted that Hindutva politics is not the only culprit responsible for perpetuating the Muslim population myth and stereotype. Secular political parties like by the Congress has the historical role in the development of the myth as well so does the patriarchal readings of Islamic texts by the Muslim clergy.
Dr Anas ended the session by highlighting the aim of CSPS which is to bring together all the political, social, and cultural perspectives of the country. To promote dialogue for the common interest among all the citizens of the country, to give opinions and to have opinions for the betterment of the country and to have differences and to respect differences which is very important to strengthen democracy. With this aim, CSPS has started a series of discussions on important topics between intellectuals and researchers.
This report is prepared by Kanti Verma, a research intern at CSPS