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Religion just one facet of India’s population explosion debate | Analysis

Expressing concern over a “population explosion” in India, Union minister Giriraj Singh last week suggested, for the second time, that Indians with more than two children be deprived of their right to vote.

india Updated: Jul 18, 2019 06:15 IST
Vijdan Mohammad Kawoosa
Vijdan Mohammad Kawoosa
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Image for representation
Image for representation(REUTERS FILE PHOTO)
         

Expressing concern over a “population explosion” in India, Union minister Giriraj Singh last week suggested, for the second time, that Indians with more than two children be deprived of their right to vote. Singh stressed religious interference as one of the obstacles in controlling population growth.

A Hindustan Times analysis shows that religion does play a role in determining the number of children a couple has, and Muslims tend to have more children than other religious groups. However, if Singh’s prescription of depriving couples with more than two children of their voting rights were to be implemented, significantly more Hindus would end up losing their voting rights than Muslims. This is because religion is not the only determinant of fertility rates, which are also influenced by class, caste, age-cohort and educational background.

Data from the fourth National Family Health Survey (NFHS), conducted in 2015-16, shows that nearly every second married Muslim woman in India has more than two living children, compared to just one in three married Hindu women. Share of women with more than two children is even lower among religious groups such as Christians, Sikhs and Jains.

However, the differences in number of children are bigger when it comes to factors other than religion. For instance, nearly 60% uneducated Indian women have more than two children, compared to just 6% women who have attained higher education.

 

Similarly, the share of women who have more than two children is less among younger and wealthier women. A woman’s caste, too, plays a role here – 38% women among the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities have more than two children, compared to 29% women from upper-caste communities. (See Chart 2)

To be sure, these socio-economic parameters do not determine fertility independent of religion. Muslims have a higher share of women with more than two children even within these socio-economic parameters.

For example, 21% women in the richest 20% households of India have more than two children. But religion-wise, a higher share of Muslim women have more than two children compared to Hindu women in the richest households – the difference is of 17 percentage points. This difference on the basis of religion is seen in the age, education and class categories as well.

Does the higher number of children among Muslims suggest that they would one day overtake Hindu population in India? According to the 2011 Census, Muslims formed about 14% of the country’s population. Using population growth figures of Hindus and Muslims, Sachin Mampatta, in an article in Mint newspaper, found that growth in Muslim population was actually falling faster than that of the Hindu population. Mampatta found that if the growth rate trends seen from the latest census data sustain, four out of five Indians will still be Hindu even when the Muslim population peaks.

Who will lose the most if Singh’s proposal of taking away voting rights from couples with more than two children is implemented? Muslims, poor, uneducated, old and people from certain caste and tribe groups have a larger share of people who would lose their right to vote because more of them have more than two children. In terms of religious group, Muslims would be the biggest losers, as nearly 49% of Muslim couples have more than two living children.

However, in absolute terms, the story is drastically different. Of about 36% Indian couples who have more than two children, Hindus constitute an overwhelming 83%, compared to just 13% Muslim couples. Even among Hindus, the share of socially deprived is significantly large. Survey data for only married partners with same religion and caste group has been used for this analysis.

First Published: Jul 18, 2019 06:05 IST

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