www.sacw.net > Communalism Repository | 9 September 2004

India: Manufacturing Hysteria - On Census-Inspired 'Nationalism'
A Letter by S. Subramainian and S. Jayaraj

It only remains to hope that the damage can be undone. In a matter of such extreme (and misplaced) sensitivity as is routinely evoked by statistics on the growth of population by religious groups, it is amazing that the Census of India should have gone out of its way to present a wrong picture by including the Jammu and Kashmir population figures for 2001 when that state was excluded from the Census count of 1991. When the necessary correction is made, the spectre of a Hindu majority being swamped by a Muslim minority looms (or should loom) less menacingly on the horizon of 'nationalists' of a certain persuasion. Between 1991 and 2001, the share of Hindus in the national population has declined from 82 per cent to 80.96 per cent (and not 80.5 per cent as reported by the Census); the proportion of Muslims has risen from 12.12 per cent to 12.90 per cent (and not 13.4 per cent as reported by the Census); and the proportion of Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and those of 'other religions and persuasions' has risen from 5.88 per cent to 6.14 per cent (and these groups must therefore, presumably, share a part of the blame for edging the Hindus out of the picture by all of 1.04 percentage points). Further, in comparing rates of growth of the population over the decadal periods 1981-91 and 1991-2001, the state of Assam (where no census was conducted in 1981) should also be removed from the picture across the board. With this correction, it emerges that the rate of growth of the Hindu population has declined from 22.77 per cent over 1981-91 to 20.02 per cent over 1991-2001 (in contrast to the decline from 25.1 per cent to 20.4 per cent as reported in the Census); and the corresponding rates of growth of the Muslim population have been 32.86 per cent and 29.33 per cent respectively (compatible with a decline rather than an increase as reported by the Census). This ought to comfort the 'nationalists', but will not, for one is here dealing with a mentality that is never so unhappy as when it cannot manufacture 'anti-national' threats with which to hysterically whip itself into action.

There is a much larger picture that deserves our attention here. There is little in the Census (or other official data sources) to provoke a reaction that is either sanguine or sanguinary. Yet, the recently vanquished authors of the cheerful `India Shiningí campaign continue to be optimistic about all the depressing information which the Census and allied sources of socio-economic data contain within their covers, while apparently being prepared to be blood-thirsty over wrongly recorded statistics on a matter which, to begin with, is of inconsequential significance in any reasoned appraisal of the state of the nation. The media -- or a substantial enough section of it -- must take a large part of the responsibility for this state of affairs. For the alacrity with which the misleading statistics in the recent Census publication has been seized upon, and broadcast, and hammered home, serves as a remarkable contrast to the equanimity with which incalculably more pressing issues thrown up by the Census and other data sources have been ignored.

In this connection, it is not incompatible with a proper concern for oneís country to occasionally delve into the Census and other official sources of data, whose contents should be a cause for serious worry about the sex ratio and the reasons for its secular decline (to what extent [if any] could it be due to reduced pregnancy waste and to what extent to sex-selective abortion?) Nationalists should not feel apologetic about submitting official statistics on poverty to serious scrutiny, or about analyzing data which suggest that this country has in recent times been transformed into a 'Republic of Hunger', to employ Utsa Patnaik's appellation. Nor is there any dearth of information on the levels and distribution of illfare occasioned by the pathetic state of infrastructure development in the matter of potable water, sanitation, energy for fuel, electricity, roads, schools, public health centers. Is the unemployment situation such as to warrant complaisance ó any more, that is, than what is afforded by neglect of the agricultural sector, rural indebtedness, farmer suicides, the incidence of child labour, the prevalence of wasting and stunting among children, and a host of related phenomena which the Census and other sources should reveal to the interested reader? Is it not more urgent for nationalists, even if not for 'nationalists', to display some concern for the changing age structure of the Indian population, to take some heart from improved longevity, to worry about social security provisioning for a graying population? Is there a case for looking at Census data with a view to studying the patterns of urbanization and migration which obtain and the implications these have for livelihoods and security? The point, one hopes, needs no further labouring.

To return to the source of the present hysteria: what if the Census data were correct? Would that constitute any remote justification for the vulgar fuss it has unleashed when there is so much to worry about that does not even get a look in? Is it necessary to state all over again that fertility is an increasing function of deprivation, and that lowering its level calls for curing the condition of generalized poverty rather than punishing the victim? Does it need reiteration that group-related data -- whether the partitioning of the population is on the basis of age or gender or sector of residence or caste or religion -- serve as a basis for identifying which groups are lagging behind, and by how much, so that targeted corrective assistance may be provided to the affected groups? How often must it be put out that socio-economically relevant classificatory schema are a means to integration, not divisiveness?

The unhappy fact is that illicit dramatizations of misrepresented statistics today are compatible with demands for ethnic cleansing tomorrow. Intellectually, morally, and politically, this sort of manufactured hysteria and diversionary violence must be strongly and uncompromisingly resisted. While expressing solidarity with them, we also call upon the overwhelming majority of persons and institutions who think thus, to rebut the nonsense that is being sought to be thrust upon the country in the name of love for it.

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