November 28, 2005

Fury in India over call for more Hindu babies

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A leading Hindu hard-liner has
angered women and Muslims by pressing Hindus to have as many
children as they can to avoid being swamped by Muslims.

K.S. Sudarshan, who heads the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh
(RSS), the ideological parent of the Bharatiya Janata Party
which led India until last year, said a higher Hindu birth rate
was vital to check a "population imbalance."

"Whenever new people come to me for blessings, I tell them:
'Not less than three (children)'. The more you can, the
better," he said at a function broadcast on television

Women's groups in Asia's third-largest economy, with a
billion-plus people, said they were insulted and one group
labeled the Sudarshan's stand an "agenda of hatred."

"It is implied in his statement that a woman's reproductive
faculties are to be employed solely to fulfil the agenda of a
Hindu nationalist state -- like a reproductive machine," said
Malini Bhattacharya, a leading activist.

"As if the question of a woman's right does not even arise
-- her right over her own body and health."

The RSS holds considerable sway among the large,
conservative Hindu population, especially in impoverished
northern India.

It has often expressed concern about what it calls a higher
growth rate among Muslims, especially in areas bordering Nepal
and Bangladesh where India says illegal immigrants, mainly
Muslims, infiltrate into the country.

More than 80 percent of secular India's people are Hindus,
more than 13 percent Muslims and the rest Christians, Sikhs and
other minorities. The Muslim community grew almost 30 percent
between 1991 and 2001 according to census data, while the
number of Hindus rose 20 percent. Both growth rates are lower
than a decade earlier.

But the RSS is worried at the higher growth rate among
Muslims and has called for a strict implementation of
population control -- such as the government's declared policy
of a two-child family -- for Muslims.


After Sudarshan's comment, the big central state of Madhya
Pradesh, ruled by the BJP, said it would consider dropping a
policy barring people with more than two children from
contesting local council elections. It is not clear if the move
was prompted by the RSS stand.

"There is a difference between the growth rate of Hindus
and the Muslims," RSS spokesman Ram Madhav told Reuters. "While
all religions should flourish, we want this demographic
imbalance to be checked.

"What the RSS chief was trying to say is there should be a
uniform population control policy. You cannot have population
control for a certain section while there are imbalances in
other sections. If Hindus want to have three children, why not?

"India's Hindu character should be maintained. If there are
over 80 percent Hindus, it should remain so."

Population is one of the biggest challenges for India's
rapidly growing economy, where planners push for a "two-child"
norm. But the policy is rarely implemented strictly.

Pointing to recent riots in France, Madhav said the RSS
felt population imbalances were a real threat.

"Imbalances in India's demography are worrying us," he
said. "What is happening in France today? What is the reason
for it? Is it not an outcome of demographic imbalance?

"India is not realising the threat."

Leading Muslims said there was no threat.

"Demographic imbalance is one of the emotive issues the RSS
uses to polarise Hindus and nurture (a) fear psychosis in the
majority community," Zafarul-Islam Khan, editor of The Milli
Gazette, a leading Muslim newspaper, told Reuters.

"Serious research ... has shown the claim that Muslims are
reproducing more than other communities is false."

(Additional reporting by Sanjay Sharma in BHOPAL)