By S Gurumurthy

Demography is destiny”, said Augustus Comte, a French philosopher of the 19th century. Demography, to use a simple definition, means the religious, cultural, or any secular, composition of a nation’s population. As the French were the first to understand the ideas of nation-state and national interest that originated in the 18th and 19th centuries, they could realise the criticality of demography to a nation-state. History testifies that shifts in ethnic or religious demography materially alter people’s identity, attitudes, nationality and even worldview. 

A recent example of what religious demographic shift could do is the separation of East Timor as a Christian state from out of the Muslim-majority Indonesia, simply because 99 per cent Timorese had become Christians. A decade before, it was politically incorrect to talk of religious demography. But, after 9/11, the US-West, which had assumed the end of religion in modern secularity, woke up to the reality of religion. And once the West got alerted, true to its nature, it became serious. It has initiated a number of studies on religious demography, but under the garb of researches into ‘spiritual capital’, a more acceptable form of study into religious demography. A study supported by John Templeton Foundation defines spiritual capital as ‘the effects of spiritual and religious practices, beliefs, networks and institutions that have a measurable impact on individuals, communities and societies’. Is it anything different from religious demography?

Despite the fact India has suffered the most from demographic shifts in the past and continues to suffer even now, to interrogate secular India from the perspective of religious demography is virtually impossible. But an honest inquiry into Indian history will reveal how, in the past, religious demographic shift in any area in India has not only carved that area out of the mainland, but, the separated cousins have even turned inimical to the mother society. Pakistan that separated from India waged two direct wars with India and losing both, it has started a covert war of terror on India. Not many Indians today are conscious that Afghanistan was part of the larger India or that Khandahar was from where Khandari of Mahabharata originated. Afghanistan ruled by Buddhist kings had resisted Islamic invasion for long. See what is Afghanistan today. It is now the land of the Taliban. Viewing anything non-Islamic as un-Islamic, the Taliban have gunned down the Bamian Buddha statues which Mohammed Gaznavi and Nadir Shah had tried centuries earlier but failed. Now, Afghanistan’s geography remains the same. But the Afghans have lost their Buddhist soul in the demographic shift. The Talibanised Afghanistan no more resembles the Buddhist Afghanistan. This is the cultural shift which religious demographic shift causes.

Look at what were today’s Pakistan and Bangladesh a few hundred years ago. The Sind in Pakistan was the birthplace of the Vedas and the Puranas. Of the 52 Shakti Peetas sacred to Hindus, two are in Pakistan; seven in Bangladesh. But a huge religious demographic swing from Hindu majority to Muslim majority saw Pakistan, West and East, move out of India. In the areas that constitute Pakistan now, there was no Muslim population prior to Islamic invasion. The Muslim population was just 1/6 when Moghul emperor Jehangir (1605-’22) ruled, according to his memoirs (Tarikh-Salim-Shahi). But it was the continuing religious demographic shift that saw the Muslims become majority in many parts later. And by 1941, the Muslim population in today’s Pakistan had risen to 80 per cent; the share of Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jain (ie, Indian religions), that constituted the remaining 20 per cent then, has tumbled now to just two per cent. In the areas that constitute Bangladesh today, the colonial officials themselves were stunned when, in the 1872 census, they found Muslims, not Hindus, in majority, despite the fact that even as late as the early 15th century a Hindu King, Raja Ganesh, was ruling Bengal. Jinnah could begin the movement for Partition of India only because he knew that the Muslim majority in West and East would make it a fait accompli. And it did. But, the Partition is not the end of the story.

In the year 1941, the share of Indian religious adherents constituted 34 per cent in the area that is now Bangladesh. But, by 1951, that had come down to 23 per cent and further down to 10.3 per cent in 2001. So the demographic religious shift away from Hindu majority not only divided India physically and carved away over 9.51 lakh sq km of land from the mainland but has also shown that where such shift leads to intolerance, like in Islamic Pakistan and Bangladesh, most of the adherents of Indian religions had to abandon the partitioned geography, and come to the mainland. In contrast, in India, while the share of Indian religious adherents has fallen from 87.22 per cent in 1941 to 84.22 per cent in 2001, that of Muslims has risen from 10.45 per cent to 13.43 per cent. It is not just higher fertility rate of 18.74 per cent among the Muslims (against the national average of 15.93 per cent) as compared to 15.55 per cent among the adherents of Indian religions, that is the reason for the rise. Thatthe rise was also due to infiltration across the border from Bangladesh is the real concern.

This is noticeable in the unusual rise in Muslim population in the border or near border districts of Assam, Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The demographic invasion is manifest in the fact that in this border belt the share of the Muslim population in the country has risen by more than eight per cent since 1951, that is five per cent above the national average rise of three per cent for Muslims. In Assam alone the rise is over eight percent. Likewise in Bengal, the rise in the share of their population since 1951 is 9.5 per cent, that is 6.5 per cent over the national average rise. The border district of Murshidabad in Bengal is Muslim majority (64 per cent); two others, Maladah and Uttar Dinajpur, are nearly so. In Bihar and Jharkhand also the Muslim share of the population has risen by more than eight per cent. This demographic shift is caused by Bangladeshi invasion. A world-class work on Religious Demography of India by the Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai, has brought out these and other critical facts.

The demographic invasion by millions of Bangladeshis has pushed the national border into India along Assam, Bengal and Bihar. It is the verydemographic invaders who are being smuggled into the National Register of Indian Citizens in the Census 2011, via the Population Register, to be gifted with uncontested citizenship and decorated with National Identity Cards.

QED: When will secular India realise that demography, not geography, is nation, and demography, not iron fence, is the border?

The Author is a Chartered Accountant and a popular columnist in Indian Express and The New Indian Express, and has been associated with various corporate deals like the transfer of L&T cement division to AV Birla Group. This article has been sourced from Express Buzz, in interest of ensuring that information is available to public.

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