Narayan S. Raja's Posting: Muslims -- not a "problem"

Gene Thursby gthursby at
Wed Dec 13 22:33:13 UTC 1995

	Unlike some serious-minded participants in the Indology list, I
found the posting from Narayan Sriranga Raja quite lively and refreshing
and to the point.  I would like to recirculate his posting, and then 
comment at the end of it. 

	On Mon, 11 Dec 1995, Narayan S. Raja wrote:

Meanwhile, back on this planet, in Jambudvipa:
	As I recall, the %ge of Muslims in India has grown from about 8-9%
in 1947, to about 12% now. Even assuming that a relative increase in %ge
of Muslims is a "problem" (itself an obnoxious and questionable
assumption), the above numbers don't indicate a very serious problem (3-4%
in 50 years).  Further, migration from Bangladesh probably accounts for a
big part of that increase.
	In another 50 years, Indian population is likely to have
stabilized.  Even if the %ge of Muslims has grown to, say, 20%, that
doesn't outnumber the rest of us Kama-Sutra-readin', fast-breedin',
Brahmin-feedin', Manu-Smriti-heedin' Hindu dudes and dudettes. 
	The sky is not falling.  This is not the end of civilization as we
know it.  Also, have some decency and don't talk of our Muslim
fellow-citizens as a "problem."

	There is a colonial and post-colonial tradition of preoccupation 
with birth-rates and population growth in South Asia that reflects and 
feeds "communalism."  The category "communalism" is a contended one, as 
are so many that are in use among social scientists and humanists 
worldwide.  With the popularity of deconstructive and postmodern 
approaches among scholars, any singular generalizing and reifying nominal 
is suspect.  However, I believe the term continues to be useful as a 
descriptive and analytic tool (even though it is suspect, at times 
politicized, and certainly a boo-word).
	Among historians in India, there has been longstanding interest 
in the analysis of communalism at Jawaharlal Nehru University.  It was 
signaled by joint publication of three papers under the title Communalism 
in the Writing of Indian History (Delhi: People;s Publishing House, 1969) 
by Romila Thapar, Harbans Mukhia, and Bipin Chandra.  Later Bipin 
Chandra, during his long materialist phase, was University Grants 
Commission National Lecturer.  His lectures on this theme were published 
as Communalism in Modern India (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1984; 
rev. ed. 1987).  There is also a retrospective collection of Bipin 
Chandra's papers under the title Ideology and Politics in Modern India 
(New Delhi: Har Anand Publications, 1994), which is a useful 
supplementary source, and contains a severe but accurate review of my own 
early and imcomplete study of the 1920s that came pout under the 
expansive title Hindu-Muslim Relations in British India (Leiden: E.J. 
Brill, 1975).  I trust Bipin Chandra's judgments, even when they have to 
be read through his own ideological orientations.
	But to focus more sharply on the concern about birth-rates and 
population growth (as, I would say, one component of communalist 
concern), the locus classicus for this is in Swami Shraddhahanda's Hindu 
Sangathan -- Saviour of the Dying Race (Delhi: Author at Indraji Press, 
1926).  It was widely influential, and opens with a section headed "The 
Hindus -- A Dying Race" in which Shraddhananda tells the story of his 
encounter with Colonel U. Mukerji in the Arya Samaj hall in Calcutta in 
February 1912.  The Colonel had been studying the 1911 Census Report and 
had concluded (by extrapolating from the statistical material published 
there) that within 420 years there would be no more Hindus, while 
"Muhammadans" would cover the subcontinent.
	Shraddhananda's Hindu Sangathan was a tract for the times (albeit 
a lengthy one at 141 pages) and served to enlist volunteers and funds for 
the project of shuddhi or "reconversion" to "Hinduism."  But, like 
Savarkar's Hindutva and other tracts for the(ir) times, the argument 
continues to circulate, inspire, worry, and even inflame people.
	From a mathematical-analytical perspective, it would be well to 
follow back the numerical bases for this line of reasoning and worrying.  
If we were to do so, we would find something like a variation on Zeno's 
paradox, namely a kind of faulty reasoning and self-defeating paradigm.  
We also would find a misappropriation of data that was problematic to 
begin.  Rather than go into detail, please refer to the work of historian 
Kenneth W. Jones.  In particular, see his "Religious Identity and the 
Indian Census," in N. Gerald Barrier, ed., The Census in British India: 
New Perspectives (New Delhi: Manohar, 1981), 73-101; his "The Negative 
Component of Hindu Consciousness," Indo-British Review, 19, 1 (1991?), 
57-72; his chapter in Robert Frykenberg, ed., Delhi Through the Ages 
(Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1986).  In addition, there is relevant 
material in his volume in the New Cambridge History of India series, 
titled Socio-Religious Reform Movements in British India (Cambridge, 
1989) and in his early work Arya Dharm: Hindu Consciousness in 
19th-Century Punjab (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976; 
repr. by Manohar in Delhi).
	Theodore Wright, Jr., also has a very useful article on the 
subject of communal fears based on census/population data, but at the 
moment the reference eludes me.
	In short, there is a wealth (or glut) of scholarly material 
relevant to the specific topic of birth-rate and to the more general 
theme of communalism.  For readers who are interested but have no 
background, I recommend The Politics on India since Independence by Paul 
Brass in the New Cambridge History of India series (2nd ed; Cambridge, 
1994) and Dutch scholar Peter van der Veer's Religious Nationalism: 
Hindus and Muslims in India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 
1994).  There are also several useful chapters by Daniel Gold and others 
in the volumes edited by Martin Marty and Scott Appleby in the so-called 
"fundamentalism" series  that has been published in recent years.
	Finally, sound scholarly work on this and closely related topics 
has been going on for at least three decades.  Some of the best current 
work, to which I would be glad to direct interested inquirers, is now 
being done by scholars in India, e.g., Gyanendra Pandey and others.  It 
is a vital and dangerous theme, and seems to me to call for measured 
doses of serious engagement along with light-hearted humor -- such as was 
contributed by N. S. Raja.

Gene R. Thursby
University of Florida
P.O. Box 117410, 125 Dauer Hall
Gainesville, FL 32611-7410  USA

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list