The Islamophobic roots of population control efforts in India
Right-wing Hindu groups demand population control law, based on the long-held belief that Muslims will outnumber Hindus.
Mumbai, India – Across northern and central India, a campaign advocating for a population control law is gaining momentum.
The movement ostensibly seeks to raise awareness over the need to restrain India’s population of 1.34 billion, second only to China’s 1.39 billion.
But its subtext reflects a core belief of right-wing Hindu organizations: that Muslims are trying to “overtake” Hindus.
The campaign, underpinned by Islamophobia, is being promoted in the real and online worlds.
Facebook posts spread the conspiracy theory that the number of India’s Muslims – currently about 200 million – will at some point surpass the 966 million-strong Hindu population, as WhatsApp groups share messages stirring fear and hatred.
And offline, public meetings are being held, blaming Muslims for India’s population explosion.
The Jansankhya Samadhan Foundation (or Population Resolution Foundation) NGO, for instance, is traveling across northern India, gathering support for a two-day march to New Delhi, planned for October.
“If we don’t bring in law now, India will see a civil war very soon,” said Chaudhary, the head the NGO, in an interview with Al Jazeera.
There is a sense of paranoia that the Muslim population is increasing, which is driving the revival of the population agenda.
The Jansankhya Samadhan Foundation supports a two-child norm, with punishment including jail terms for offenders.
Chaudhary claims the group has held 150,000 protests and meetings across nearly half of India’s 725 administrative districts, runs more than 400 WhatsApp groups, and is connected with 100,000 people.
“When we travel across the country, 95 percent of the people say that Muslims are driving India’s population explosion. Hindus tell me, ‘there is no point in telling us to control the population, you should tell the Muslims.’ The thing is, this is the fact.”
Chaudhary’s meetings have been attended by a government minister, Giriraj Singh, and leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary volunteer organization understood to be the ideological parent of the ruling right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP party.
Last year, Singh said that “only one community” was responsible for India’s population explosion, referring to Muslims.
Chaudhary insisted that his organization is non-political.
“Initially, we tried to advocate this with the [Muslim] community. But we were reportedly told by them that for religious reasons, the community will never accept such a law,” he said.
After the October march, his team intends to travel to southern Indian states to mobilize support for a population control bill.
Dr. Al Sharada, director of Population First, a Mumbai-based NGO that works on health and population issues, slammed these calls as dangerous and unadvisable.
“Calling for such a law is an entitled, privileged position and is always aimed at the poor and the disenfranchised,” she told Al Jazeera.
In another example of the online success of the movement, Amit Pandey, a 36-year-old pharmaceutical trader from Lucknow, has amassed over 30,000 followers in just two months on his Facebook page, Jansankhya Niyantran Kanoon (Population Control Law).
He sets aside an hour a day to work on his “cause”, calling on people to write to Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the BJP party, and ask him to legislate population control.
His efforts, he claims, have seen 150,000 letters being sent to Modi on the issue.
Pandey has long believed that Muslims are conspiring against the country.
“In Muslims, there is no humanity. Each of them is a jihadi in his or her own way. With a growing population, they will become huge vote banks and their votes will start mattering more than Hindu votes,” he told Al Jazeera.
He posts several times every day, often misinformation. His page is replete with photos, gifs, and videos – one featuring a right-wing Hindu activist recommending a modern-day crusade against Muslims in Europe, another calling Muslims “Arabic slaves”.
He thinks government data indicating a slowing Muslim population growth rate is fake and manipulated.
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