“The Problem with Nirmala Sitharaman’s Assertion: Why Linking the Well-being of Muslims in India to their Population Growth is Flawed”

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By Qayam Masumi, Edited By Adam Rizvi, The India Observer, TIO, NJ: Nirmala Sitharaman, the Finance Minister of India and a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), addressed the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), a think tank in Washington, D.C. During the event, PIIE President Adam S. Posen inquired about how Western media’s reporting on India’s political climate, including the persecution of Muslims, affects foreign investors’ perception of the country. In response, Sitharaman asserted that India was subject to a “negative Western perception.” She dismissed the accusations of violence against Muslims in India, citing the Right-wing conspiracy theory of “Muslim population growth” to support her stance.

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Sitharaman remarked, “India is home to the world’s second-largest Muslim population, which continues to increase in size. If there is a perception or reality that their lives are difficult or made difficult with the support of the state, which is implied in most of these write-ups, I would ask: Will the Muslim population in India continue to grow at a rate higher than what it was in 1947?” However, using the “growing” Muslim population as an indicator of the well-being of Muslims is problematic for various reasons. Sitharaman’s remarks align with the prevalent propaganda of Hindu supremacists, who claim that the Muslim population is expanding at a disproportionate rate to Hindus. This argument is then utilized by BJP leaders and Hindu extremist organizations to fuel anti-Muslim sentiments and violence against Muslim minorities.

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Sitharaman’s use of the false notion of ‘population growth’ to justify the systematic oppression of Indian Muslims is a distorted propaganda tactic regularly employed by the Hindu far-right to mask the reality of discrimination and persecution faced by Muslims in India. Her stance not only refuses to acknowledge human rights abuses but also poses a dangerous attempt to spread disinformation and mislead the global community about the heinous acts committed against Indian Muslims. It is crucial to disprove and condemn Sitharaman’s rhetoric to ensure that human rights violations are not ignored or left unchallenged.

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Furthermore, various authoritative sources, including United Nations Special Rapporteurs, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the US Department of State, the US Holocaust Memorial, and major human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have presented extensive evidence that the BJP government has actively pursued a divisive and discriminatory agenda, leading to a surge in the targeting of Muslims and other minority groups over the past nine years.

The idea of a “rising Muslim population” has long been a rallying cry for organizations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Jan Sangh, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and other Hindutva groups in India. These groups have expressed anxiety over changes in the country’s demographics, and this concern has been voiced by multiple Hindutva outfits. The RSS mouthpiece, Organizer, recently published an article with the headline “Why growing population of Muslims in India should be a matter of concern.” In another instance, Yati Satyadevanand Saraswati, the Himachal Pradesh in-charge of Akhil Bhartiya Sant Parishad, has urged Hindus to have more children to prevent India from becoming an Islamic country.

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Some facts on India’s demographics

According to census data spanning from 2001-2011, the growth rate of the Muslim population in India reduced to 24.6% from the previous decade’s 29.5%. Additionally, data from India’s National Family Health Survey indicates that the total fertility rate of Muslims declined the most among all religious groups, including Hindus, over the last 25 years, decreasing from 3.6 in 1998-99 to 2.36 in 2019-21. According to official data, the demographic ratio of India shows an increase in Muslims from 9.8% in 1951 to 14.2% in 2011, when the last Census was held, and a decline in Hindus from 84.1% to 79.8%. However, the increase in the Muslim population is just 4.4% points in 60 years. 

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Unprecedented representation and consistent pattern of increasing atrocities, discrimination and violence against Muslims in the history of India’s democracy. 

Currently, there are no Muslim ministers in the Union cabinet for the first time in independent India. Aakar Patel pointed out that none of the BJP’s Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha MPs, nor any of its more than 1,000 MLAs across India, are Muslim. Since 2014, political scientists have highlighted the striking absence of Muslims in public life. Zoya Hasan, a political scientist and Professor Emerita at Jawaharlal Nehru University, noted that Muslim representation in parliament reached an all-time low in 2014. Despite the community’s population more than doubling from 68 million in 1981 to 172 million in 2011, the number of Muslim MPs has decreased significantly, from 49 in 1980 to 23 in 2014. This is a stark under-representation when compared to their population proportion of 14.3%, meaning that they should have at least 77 MPs in the Lok Sabha, but their number is only 23. This lack of representation is unprecedented in the history of India’s democracy. 

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Discriminatory legislation such as the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which are designed to make Muslims stateless and have resulted in widespread protests and violence against the Muslim community throughout India. Additional measures such as the beef ban, anti-conversion laws, and Hijab ban in Karnataka have been implemented to further isolate and marginalize Muslims. Hindu militant groups associated with the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) have been allowed to commit acts of violence against Muslims without consequence, including pogroms, mob lynching, Communal riots during Ram Navami and attacks on their homes, businesses, and places of worship. These incidents highlight a consistent pattern of increasing atrocities , discrimination and violence against Muslims in India, and Sitharaman’s remarks seek to downplay and diminish the seriousness of the issue.

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In light of these circumstances, the finance minister of the Union’s reference to the increase in the Muslim population since 1947 to justify avoiding questions regarding their welfare is reminiscent of the Sangh parivar’s most harmful prejudices. Her remarks not only downplay the seriousness of the issue but also create doubts about the government’s intentions and its dedication to an equal and inclusive democracy that includes all citizens.

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