Friday, May 05, 2006

RSS Demographics: "Hum do, hamaare satrah"

The bizarre demographics of paranoid Hindutva

Demography is destiny. People are mere abstractions, tiny fractions of the demographic aggregates that serve the larger causes of history.

In Sri Lanka, newly elected President Mahinda Rajapakse appoints a Prime Minister known to be a hardliner on the ethnic question, distinguished for a recent declaration that unfettered Sinhala procreation is a necessary weapon in the war against the minority Tamils.

In the U.S., Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington – his “clash of civilisations” thesis looking rather jaded and worn -- turns his attention to the threats posed to the American identity by the changing demography of the southern U.S.

In Israel, the chastening realisation that Jews may soon be a minority in the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, provokes a hasty stampede out of Gaza, converting a land once held captive by soldiers and settlers into the world’s largest unsupervised prison.

And in India, the man who disavows a political role and yet commands enough authority to determine who should lead the country’s principal opposition party, exhorts every Hindu family to have at least three children. Anything less, he says, would be inadequate to beat back the threats to national identity posed by Muslim demographics.

Having set underway a tortured process of leadership change in the BJP, RSS chieftain K.S. Sudarshan evidently believes that a change in personnel is only part of the mission. A concern that goes far beyond the immediate task, to be accomplished before the year-end, is to lay down ideological parameters for the new BJP president. Demography is a key ingredient of this ideological core of the Hindutva project. And Sudarshan underlined that with his participation in the function marking the re-release of a book that has run the gauntlet of critical scrutiny, and come out distinctly the worse for it.

It is not known if the revised edition of "The Religious Demography of India", a book co-authored by two physicists and one metallurgist – none of them distinguished for his knowledge of the social sciences – is any less misconceived in its statistical procedures and any less rabid in its message than the first. Ashish Bose, one of India’s leading demographers, had in reviewing the initial offering, held that neither the methodology nor the interpretation of data stood up to scrutiny. And from this assessment, he proceeded to pose a key question, with careful understatement: “are scholars entitled to manipulate census statistics in the way these unknown scholars from an unknown institute have done?”

Manipulation of statistics is clearly the essence and the message was rather crudely summed up in Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s brazen encouragement of cultural animosity against the Muslims, in his “hum paanch, hamaare pachees” sneer, delivered from an election campaign platform in 2002.

In Sudarshan’s rendition, the jibe directed at the religious minorities is converted into an exhortation to the majority. Hindus, he urged, should not be beguiled by official slogans such as “hum do, hamaare do” or its more conservative variants. Their patriotic duty was to ensure at least three children in every family, though any figure above that would be still better. Perhaps taking his cue from the book that he was releasing, the RSS chief proceeded to lay out the laws of numerical progression for families, based on various configurations of reproductive behaviour. A family with twelve children, he pointed out illustratively, would in 120 years, have engendered 1,200 descendants.

Sudarshan’s arithmetic is of a piece with that employed in the book he chose to sanctify with his presence. It is a methodology that yields the alarmist conclusion that by 2050, “Indian religionists” will be reduced to a minority in “India”. The definitions confound all commonsense, since “India” in this rendition is all of present-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Sudarshan’s demographic war in this sense, goes far beyond the territorial frontiers of India.

The Arya Samaj leader Lal Munshi Ram, or Swami Shraddhanand as he later came to be addressed, had in the early years of the last century, raised the alarm that Hinduism was under siege, and could only be salvaged by performing the purificatory ritual of shuddhi on the entire Muslim population within the Indian subcontinent. But in the interests of ensuring a hospitable living space for the religious nationality, he insisted, the wild frontiers too needed to be tamed. Once the shuddhi of the Indian population was completed, the missionaries of the new nationalism needed to turn their attention to Afghanistan and perhaps even beyond.

In refurbishing these messages for the age of globalisation, Sudarshan, and the authors of Religious Demography, bear witness to the unlearnt lessons of history. Despite all the bloodshed and human suffering it has caused through its career, historical revanchism still retains sufficient appeal to demand that the social sciences submit to its demands. Heights of methodological absurdity are the inevitable outcome, not to mention rhetorical excesses that would make the worst demagoguery pale in comparison.

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