In the aftermath of the 2002 carnage, Narendra Modi often mocked Muslims with the slogan: ‘Hum do, hamare do; Woh paanch, unke pachchees! (We are two, and we have two children; they are five, and they have twenty-five children!)’ In this he was only recirculating another favourite myth of Hindu nationalists, that Muslims are deliberately breeding many children and will one day outnumber Hindus in their ‘own’ land. He was also underlining with his discourse of ‘we’ and ‘they’, the ‘otherness’ of Muslims. He followed this up with what I believe is probably the single most offensive statement made by a head of government in independent India against a segment of his own people. Asked why the government was not establishing relief camps for the two hundred thousand people displaced by the carnage, he replied, ‘I don’t want to set up baby-producing factories.’ Seven months after Narendra Modi became prime minister, BJP MP from Unnao, Sakshi Maharaj, similarly made a call—widely reported in the national press—to Hindus to correct the alleged reproductive excesses of Muslims by producing four babies each.

I once met a local VHP leader in Ahmedabad who did not know who I was. ‘How can we live with these people?’ he asked me. ‘If you go to a typical Muslim home early in the morning, what will you see? The door of a tiny one-room kutcha house will open. First, the man will emerge in his blue lungi. Then his four wives will walk out, followed by fifteen-twenty children. Then there will be a herd of goats. And after that come a squawking brood of chickens. I don’t know how they live. But we cannot live with them.’

I doubt whether he actually ever saw this ‘typical’ Muslim household but he is not only convinced that it exists but that it abounds, that it is the rule rather than the exception. Ram Puniyani points out in his Communal Politics: Facts versus Myths to all who are willing to hear his words of reason that ‘the male-female ratio cannot permit the “luxury” of four wives to the Muslim males unless three-fourths (75 per cent) of them go without marriage’. He shows from the 1981 census, that for every 1,000 Muslim females there are 1,068 Muslim males. ‘One has to conceive of gigantic mental acrobatics…to believe that all Muslim males can have four wives.’ He also points to an earlier (1961 census) report which showed that the incidence of polygamy was slightly lower among Muslims (5.7) as compared to Hindus (5.8)!

Nivedita Menon also points to data from the National Family Health Survey showing that Muslim and Hindu women have the same fertility rate for the same age and economic level. She shows that the fertility rate of Muslims in states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala is far below that of Hindus in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar or Rajasthan, for instance. Fertility rates are higher in poorer communities, and it is only this which explains the slightly higher growth rate for Muslims overall because, on average, Muslims are poorer than Hindus.

Social scientist Mohan Rao and historian Tanika Sarkar also remind us that the alarmist saffron demographics have an old vintage, whipping up anxieties over generations about galloping ‘Muslim fertility rates’, their uncontrolled breeding and the dying of ‘the Hindu nation’. Rao points to a book written in 1909 by U. N. Mukherji called Hindus: A Dying Race, which deeply influenced the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS. Hindutva websites typically claim, shrilly, that ‘Islam is gradually gobbling up India by demographic aggressions or increasing their population. They are increasing their number through (1) polygamy, (2) deliberate rejection of the family-planning measures (3) illegal infiltration of Muslims from Bangladesh and (4) conversion of Hindus to Islam.’ To illustrate what ‘saffron demographics’ entails, Rao points to a speech in 2004 by VHP president Ashok Singhal that Hindus should give up family planning so that their population does not decrease. Singhal claimed that the population of minorities, especially Muslims, had been rising at ‘such a fast pace’ that it would be 25 to 30 per cent of the total population in fifty years. Singhal also said that it would be ‘suicidal’ for Hindus if they did not raise their population. Likewise, Rao quotes a report from The Hindu about a massive public meeting in 2005, attended by the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, where the leader of the Madhya Pradesh unit of the RSS claimed that the Muslim population was increasing at a rapid rate, and that this, combined with ‘infiltration’ of Muslims from Bangladesh, portended doom for India. The VHP, he says, also opposes abortion because they allege that a disproportionate number of Hindu women utilize abortion facilities.

Similar alarmist fears of being demographically submerged by large-scale immigration of Muslim people, and the mythical hyper-masculine Muslim male and the suppressed but highly fertile Muslim female, suggest a much wider appeal of anti-Muslim demographics.

Mohan Rao describes the curious and chilling case of the 2011 Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, who claimed that Norway would become a Muslim-majority country by 2050 (although current trends would take the Muslim population only to 7 per cent by that year). Breivik felt a close affinity with Hindutva ideologies; they share a common dread of being submerged by swelling populations of Muslim people. In the manifesto he left behind, Breivik describes the slaughter of Hindus in the Hindu Kush by Muslim invaders, and the appeasement of these aggressors and the victimization of Hindus by ‘cultural Marxists’ who allegedly controlled the Indian government.

I had assumed that the hate mythology of love jihad was a new innovation wrought by communal organizations. But, according to historian Mridula Mukherjee, its roots go as far back as the Partition, with the demonization of the meat-eating Muslim male as a sexual predator, contrasted with the effete, vegetarian Hindu. Rumours were deliberately engineered by communal Right-wing Hindutva organizations about Muslim men abducting Hindu women resulting in what historian Tanika Sarkar describes as ‘a kind of penis envy and anxiety about emasculation that can only be overcome by violence’.

In recent years, it is this disturbing phenomenon which has evolved into the ‘love jihad’, a myth so implausible and fanciful that it would be laughable were it not so deadly. In the conception of ‘love jihad’, good-looking Muslim boys are trained in madrassas to lure Hindu girls into fake love affairs. They are equipped with the necessary instruments for romantic entrapment—attractive clothes, trendy gadgets and motorcycles— all to lure unsuspecting Hindu girls into marriage. The girls are then converted into Islam, married and used to produce large numbers of Muslim progeny. There are other even more fanciful versions as well, that the love jihadi later uses the Hindu girl as a sex slave, or trafficks her.125 The assumption is not just that Muslim boys are trained to ‘lure’ Hindu girls, but also that young Hindu women are empty-headed, lack any agency or discernment, and are unable to protect themselves without the vigilant intervention of their male coreligionists.

Love jihad has resulted in prolonged, low-intensity communal mobilization and violence against Muslims over the last few years in the coastal areas of Karnataka; contributed to communal tension between Muslims, Hindus and Christians in Kerala; and is the main basis on which hate was ‘created’ for a high-intensity attack against local Muslims in Muzaffarnagar in 2013, leading, ultimately, to the state-wide polarization of Hindu voters across Uttar Pradesh against their Muslim neighbours, and the ascension of BJP to power in the state.

Looking Away: Inequality, Prejudice and Indifference in New India
Author: Harsh Mander
Pages: 464
Price: Rs 495
Publisher: Speaking Tiger