Newsclick interviewed Amit Sengupta from Delhi Science Forum on the recently released Religion based Census Data. Amit explained that if one keeps aside the polarization attempts being made by current government, the data is promising as it shows decline in the rate of population growth. But he also criticized government for the fact that data was not released with the explanatory notes and is hurriedly prepared as it does not throw light on socio-economic indicators. Amit explained that one must use census not only as a medium of counting heads but as a research for preparation of various policies. These policies in long run can be used as a medium for socio-economic upliftment of the communities but the current data provides inadequate information. He also points out that these loopholes must have been fulfilled and it just shows governments intention of pushing these communities into marginalization. Commenting on the time of data release, Amit points out that the current dispensation wants to polarize communities for upcoming Bihar elections.
Pranjal - Hello and welcome to Newsclick. We are going to discuss about the recently released census based on religion lines. To discuss the issue, we have with us Dr. Amit Sengupta from Delhi Science Forum.
This census data has been released quite late. What are the key findings of this data which has been released and why in so hurry?
Amit Sengupta - Look at the major findings, then actually it is good news; if you look at the data in an un-biased fashion. Because what it shows that, there is a circular drop in the growth rates of population. The population is still growing in India, unlike in many developed countries where it is stabilised and somewhere it is started go down. We still have a growing population but across all religious groups, we see that the rate of growth has gone down, so we are growing at the slower rate; which means that, we would approach a stabilisation rate in the next two or three decades. What is also interesting in this data is that, the most socio-economically backward Muslim population, the fall in the rate of growth has been the fastest, which also should be seen as a good news because it is in some sense, it is an indication of some social and economic advance in the Muslim community as well. If you are looking in a very neutral perspective, unfortunately this whole exercise has been communalised to a very large extend and even the timing has been criticised, I think legitimately, as being connected with the announcement of the election in Bihar and brazen and blatant attempt to try to polarise the electorate on communal lines. Now as I said, if you look at the data, there is no reason for that to happen. There is no reason why any particular community should feel threatened. But unfortunately that is how, particularly in this dispensation, all data, research findings are sort to be given a certain spin, in-order to be able to buttress the claims of the ruling dispensation.
P - When you releases census or data on the census, there is a specific mention of various points like say growth rate, it's comparison with poverty rate. So is there something in this data also which has been done?
AS - That is also one of the striking features of how this data was released. Normally you need to also understand why do we collect census data? It is not just to count the number of people but it is also a tool for planning. So census data actually can give a valuable information in terms of where you need special attention, which community is? If you are going to provide data based on communities, on religion, on cast, etc, then it makes sense. It doesn't make sense just count numbers and say that there is so many people are Muslims, so many people are Dalits. It make sense only if you are going to be able to use that as a tool for planning to actually pay special attention to certain groups who seem to be lagging behind in various socio-economic parameters. This time around, when the religious data was announced, there was absolutely no associated information or analysis that was provided by the census department to try to make sense of the data. So in the absence of that, the headlines just said that the Muslim population is growing faster than the Hindu population, which is a total distortion of the entire finding of the data.
P - The data also specifically talks about the employment rate is above 20+ years of age of youth. So is there any striking features in these points also, like in the growth of employment and per capita expenditure, per capita income?
AS - The data actually doesn't, the census data doesn't. In fact, this is what the census, when they released the religion data on census. This is the kind of analysis that they should have also provided that, why is that certain communities are growing at a faster rate than other communities? The reasons are well known. They are known in India, they are known globally. But these reasons have not been explicitly stated this time around and the major reason for that is, it is a global experience that the community, that as socially and economically backward have a higher rate of population growth for many reasons, especially, it is related to the fact that when you have low employment which Muslims have significantly lower work participation rates, when you have lower participation in higher education and you have data which shows that consumption expenditure in Muslims is significantly lower than the other communities, all these contribute to a higher rate of population growth because essentially what it means that, people or families are ensuring against a future where they do not see many opportunities and believe that the children are the only ensurance that of the future. So this is you can see globally, trends of raising populations in situations where on one hand you have improvements in nutrition, etc contributing to that but on the other hand because the families still do not feel secured in their social and economic environment that you have higher population growth. This starts going down, when the rate of growth starts going down or population actually starts decreasing, only with significant economic and social development in these communities. So what the data actually points is that, the associated data, not what was released by the census. Because census will release only the crude data but the associated data which is again from public sources shows that there is a lot that needs to be attended to as regards social and economic development in Muslim communities and this is been also echoed by various committees including the Rajendra Sachar committee, the Amitab Kundu committee. So none of these are actually rocket science but what is unfortunate is that all these has not been discussed in the context of the census data regarding the higher rate of growth of Muslims. What is not also been discussed for example is that the rate of growth is falling much faster in Muslims than other communities.
P - So when you talk about the various indicators, socio-economic indicators, are there any various other significant findings there in the census data?
AS - Actually curiously, there are two, it is not present in the census data. But if you look at the associated data from other public sources, there are two other reasons which actually drives population growth among Muslims and both of them in themselves are positive features. The 2011 sex ratio shows that, the sex ratio among Muslims is significantly higher than among the rest of the population and among the Hindu population; about 954 Muslims and 935 or 938 for other communities. Also, other associated data shows that, the child survival rates among Muslims is higher than among other communities, including among Hindus. So both these mean that, less girls are dying among Muslim communities or less girls are been killed among Muslim communities as compared to others. So more are surviving and more children are surviving. Now both these mean that, finally this will have an effect on the growth rate of the Muslim population. These are the kinds of things that are not at all been talked about. What we are talking about is that something that is entirely different and motivated.
P - On the first question also you pointed out how and why this data has been released at this specific period of time and you have been raising this question of why this issues have not been discussed. So, I mean how do we draw a parity between these two points? Can you throw some light on why? I mean if you look at the newspaper reports, it has been specifically given on the headlines that Muslims are growing at much faster rate than Hindus. So why is such condition when we see the current regime which is in power?
AS - Religion based data has been used historically in our country in other situations in-order for the ruling sections or the elite and powerful to be able to continue their role and suppress those who are less fortunate. It is been used for example in Palestine and in fact has been the powerful motive force for the resettlement of the Jewish population in Palestinian territories, which still continues. It has been used in South Africa during the Apartheid days, saying that the high growth of the colored and the black population in South Africa is going to in danger, the rule of the white population in South Africa. So this is classically known as a ploy that is used. In British India, this was used to polarise the communities. It was used for example, during the partition of Bengal, where the ploy was really to break apart a state, where you had this tirings of this first, sort of revolutionary upsurge in India. So this is been known and the ploy at the moment of trying to release this data without any caveats, without any explanatory notes, without even not looking at the positive trends that the data shows is a continuation of this kind of trend where you want to use data in a motivated manner in order to divide and polarise communities. You know in absolute terms, why should it in the 21st century matter if there is an 'x' number of Hindus and 'y' number of Muslims? Finally I think we should be moving towards the situation where we can clearly argue that it doesn't matter, what faith person idea to, what matters is that, we are able to attend to the needs of all people, regardless of their religion or caste. Now, obviously that kind of maturity is not present in the present dispensation and they would rather quibble-over differences between communities and use that, and not actually attend to those needs of the under privileged, the under classes that required attention.
P - Thanks Amit for giving us your time and as if the government releases the proper data, I will come back to you on this issue again. Thanks a lot.
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