ISSN 2330-717X

All This Fuss About ‘Endangered Demography’ – OpEd

I recently came across an article by Tapan Kumar Ghosh, the fanatic leader of Hindu Samhati, in the IBTL, entitled “Bengal’s doomed Hindu community,” which requires response to correct the confusion and falsity that he has deliberately tried to create in the mind of his readers. He falsely claims that Islamists from Bangladesh have been infiltrating India virtually turning those bordering districts of India-Bangladesh border into Islamist strongholds.

To support his thesis, Ghosh quotes from Bimal Pramanik, the director of Centre for Research in Indo-Bangla Relations (CRIBR), a front that is long known for its anti-Bangladesh bias and anti-Muslim agenda gravitating extremist Hindus for the Hindutvadi cause.

Ghosh writes, “Take the situation in 24 Parganas border district. According to Bimal Pramanik (Endangered Demography: Nature and Impact of Demographic Changes in West Bengal, 1951-2001), ‘The 1981-1991 decade witnessed a massive growth rate of Muslim population, viz. 41.47%. This obviously is due to Muslim infiltration from Bangladesh. Consequently, the share of Muslim population rose from 22.43% (1971) to 24.22% (2001) within three decades, in spite of a massive Hindu immigration from Bangladesh during the same period. It will be more revealing if we go through the Block-level demographic changes. It needs a special mention that a large number of Muslims who had migrated to East Pakistan after Partition came back to this district not only during 1951-1971 but also after 1971, and this remains a persistent trend till today. Another important feature that needs mention in this connection is the continuous in-flow of Urdu speaking Muslims from Bangladesh after 1971.’”

The above statement by Bimal Pramanik (and Tapan Ghosh) tries to create a false impression about the entire cross border movement of people since 1947. It is faulty, to say the least. When India was partitioned some Hindus who did not like Jinnah’s Two-Nation theory volunteered to leave Pakistan and settle in India. Some Muslims, likewise, moved to Pakistan from India. Over the years (and even decades), for a plethora of reasons, which are quite normal for the first generation of refugees, many of the refugees decided to return to their previous homes. And this phenomenon is not unique to any particular religious group.

In a collaborative research work between Johns Hopkins, Harvard, MIT and Fordham universities entitled “The Demographic Impact of Partition: Bengal in 1947,” the authors (K. Hill et al.) note that “Unlike the experience in the Punjab, where the bulk of Partition related migration was over by the end of 1947, migration of Bengali Hindus to India and of Bengali Moslems to East Pakistan continued through 1951, and indeed continued episodically over at least the next two decades.”

So far from the myth that Ghosh and Paramanik try to create in the minds of their gullible readers, we notice that cross border migration of both Hindus and Muslims had continued for quite some time when many Hindus who had migrated to India returned to East Pakistan and similarly many Muslims – both Urdu and Bengali speaking – later returned to India. After Bangladesh became an independent state in 1971, many Hindus who had migrated to India and settled there earlier during the Pakistan era returned to Bangladesh, and many later decided to go back to India.

As to the Urdu-speaking people inside Bangladesh, commonly known as the Biharis who opposed the division of Pakistan, many of them opted to be settled in Pakistan, which did not happen except for a very small fraction. Most of them ended up living in the Red Cross Camps in various cities and later accepted Bangladeshi citizenship. If these so-called Biharis were to return to India, it is conceivable that they would settle in Bihar and not in West Bengal.
When one emigrant group’s (i.e., Hindu) return is welcome while another group’s (i.e., Muslim) return is frowned upon and depicted as ‘Islamist infiltration’, it is not difficult to see clear signs of bias of which Ghosh and Pramanik are guilty of.

Contrary to the claims made by the above Hindu leaders that the decade of 1981-1991 witnessed a ‘massive growth rate of Muslim population, viz. 41.47%’, in the 24 Pargana district there is no data whatsoever to support this outlandish assertion.

To understand the share of Muslim population rising from 22.43% in 1971 to 24.22% in 2001 in 24 Pargana district (more correctly, North 24 Pargana; see Table 1 for the Indian census report 2001), which is falsely attributed to massive Muslim immigration from Bangladesh, one simply has to look at the annual growth rate amongst Hindus and Muslims in an unbiased way, away from slogans and propaganda.

Table 1: Indian Census on West Bengal Population (2001)

#

District

Total Population

Muslim Population

% Muslim

1

Murshidabad

5,866,569

3,735,380

63.67%

2

Malda

3,290,468

1,636,171

49.72%

3

North Dinajpur

2,441,794

1,156,503

47.36%

4

Birbhum

3,015,422

1,057,861

35.08%

5

South 24 Parganas

6,906,689

2,295,967

33.24%

6

Nadia

4,604,827

1,170,282

25.41%

7

Howrah

4,273,099

1,044,383

24.44%

8

Cooch Behar

2,479,155

600,911

24.24%

9

North 24 Parganas

8,934,286

2,164,058

24.22%

10

South Dinajpur

1,503,178

361,047

24.02%

11

Kolkata

4,572,876

926,761

20.27%

12

Bardhaman

6,895,514

1,364,133

19.78%

13

Hooghly

5,041,976

763,471

15.14%

14

Midnapore

9,610,788

1,088,619

11.33%

15

Jalpaiguri

3,401,173

369,195

10.85%

16

Bankura

3,192,695

239,722

7.51%

17

Purulia

2,536,516

180,694

7.12%

18

Darjeeling

1,609,172

85,378

5.31%

Total:

80,176,197

20,240,536

25%

 

For this purpose, let’s take the 1931-41 Bengal census data of the British era (years before large-scale migration along the borders took place) as the basis of our analysis. The census data (Table 2) show that Hindu annual growth rate was less than that of Muslim, e.g., by nearly 0.25%.

Table 2:1931-41 Population in joint-Bengal (British Census – without the Tribals)

Year =>

1931

1941

Total population in ‘000

48811

%

58838

%

Hindu

20670

42.3%

24244

41.2%

Muslim

27245

55.8%

32745

55.7%

Annual Hindu growth rate

1.61%

Annual Muslim growth rate

1.86%

 

It won’t require an Einstein to do the math and find that Muslim proportion in 24 Pargana and some other Indian district has now gone up after decades (Table 1). Bottom line: for the Muslim population to grow to 24.22% after 30 years in North 24 Pargana it did not require any infiltration from outside; it was all natural, organic growth.

Anti-Muslim fanatics and bigots like Ghosh and Paramanik willfully twist and hide facts to prove their voodoo endangerment theory. They won’t tell their mesmerized audience lots of things fundamental to understanding migration statistics but are in the habit of making mountains out of moles to prove their concocted theory, which only implants hatred and intolerance in a world that is increasingly becoming global and connected where the borders of yesterday are either being viewed as too artificial or losing old meanings. It is no surprise, therefore, that half a million Indians are working inside Bangladesh today remitting nearly four billion US dollars to India. But such information won’t be shared by chauvinist guys that are in the business of selling poison pills to foment division and animosity between religious groups.

Ghosh believes that the West Bengal government – CPI (M) and TMC alike – has been in the habit of appeasing Muslims. Forgotten there is the mere fact that Muslim share in government jobs is below 4% statewide in spite of Muslims comprising more than a quarter of West Bengal state’s population. Is that appeasement or discrimination? Hateful provocateurs like Ghosh usually have tunnel vision when it comes to the ‘other’ people.

In 2005, the Indian government appointed the Sachar Commission to investigate whether Muslims were disadvantaged in social, economic and educational terms. The commission concluded in 2006 that the socio-economic condition of most Muslims was as bad as that of the Dalits, who are at the bottom rung of the Hindu-caste hierarchy, also referred to as the “untouchables.” It found that the overall percentage of Muslims in bureaucracy in India was just 2.5% whereas Muslims constituted above 14% of Indian population; Muslims who should have qualified for affirmative action were not getting it, even though they were living in greater poverty than some groups that were getting the benefit. Though heavily urban, Muslims had a particularly low share of public (or any formal) jobs, school and university places, and seats in politics. They earned less than other groups, were more excluded from banks and other finance, spent fewer years in school and had lower literacy rates. Very few were admitted in the armed and police forces.

Nearly eight years have passed since the report was released. Has the condition of neglected Muslims improved in India? A 2013 study by an American think-tank, the US-India Policy Institute, assessing progress since the Sachar report, bluntly concluded that Muslims have “not shown any measurable improvement”. Even in education, Muslims’ gains were typically more modest than other groups’. Too many official efforts to direct help, for example by spending more on schools in Muslim districts, also failed; funds got stolen or diverted to non-Muslim recipients. Muslims continue to face daily discrimination. They have to hide their religious identity or pretend that they are Hindus for even a menial job.

As noted by social activist Prof. Ram Puniyani, soon after 2002 communal violence in western Gujarat state several Hindu organizations launched a propaganda campaign asking Hindus to boycott Muslims in all day-to-day dealings, much like what Wirathu and his 969 Fascist Movement are doing today in Myanmar.
Let Ghosh and his ilk compare the dismal job status of minority Muslims in ‘secular’ India against minority Hindus employed in the government sector of Bangladesh, which he calls an Islamic Republic. Hindus in Bangladesh represent less than 10% of the population and yet their share in the public sector is several fold their share in the population (interested readers can view my blog http://drhabibsiddiqui.blogspot.com/ to see a short list of top ranked Hindu bureaucrats working within the Bangladesh government).

It is sheer falsehood that Bimal Pramanik and Tapan Kumar Ghosh are trying to sell to create hatred and intolerance against Muslims. As brain-children of Goebbels and followers Hindutvadi fascist theology they know too well that if falsehood is oft repeated it achieves the veneer of truth and some are sure to swallow it. They are counting on it, and it is for conscientious people on all sides to challenge them and defeat their heinous design to divide us into hateful camps. Surely, falsehood is ever weak and bound to be defeated.


About the Author

Dr. Habib Siddiqui
Dr. Habib Siddiqui
Dr. Habib Siddiqui has a long history as a peaceful activist in an effort towards improving human rights and creating a just and equitable world. He has written extensively in the arena of humanity, global politics, social conscience and human rights since 1980, many of which have appeared in newspapers, magazines, journals and the Internet. He has tirelessly championed the cause of the disadvantaged, the poor and the forgotten here in Americas and abroad. Commenting on his articles, others have said, "His meticulously researched essays and articles combined with real human dimensions on the plight of the displaced peoples of Rohingya in Myanmar, Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosovo and Palestine, and American Muslims in the post-9/11 era have made him a singular important intellectual offering a sane voice with counterpoints to the shrill threats of the oppressors and the powerful. He offers a fresh and insightful perspective on a whole generation of a misunderstood and displaced people with little or no voice of their own." He has authored 11 books, five of which are now available through Amazon.com. His latest book - Devotional Stories is published by A.S. Noordeen, Malaysia.

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