‘Hamare Baarah’ Sparks Debate as Data Belies Muslim Fertility Rate Perceptions


Mohammad Alamullah | Clarion India

NEW DELHI — The Bombay High Court has allowed release of the controversial film Hamare Baarah on the condition that certain scenes be removed and disclaimers added. However, it has reignited political rhetoric portraying Muslim population growth as a threat to the Hindu majority, an argument that crumbles under scrutiny when confronted with actual data.

The June 19 high court’s decision came after the Supreme Court intervened in the case and on June 13 stayed the release of the film. The apex court also left the decision of the film’s release on the high court.  

Historically, slogans like “Hum Paanch, Hamare Pachchees” (Five of Us, Our 25) have perpetuated the stereotype of Muslim families having disproportionately large numbers of children. However, recent data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2019-20 and other reliable sources paint a different picture.

“The data clearly shows that fertility rates among Muslims have been declining steadily over the past few decades. The notion that Muslims have significantly higher fertility rates than Hindus is outdated and incorrect,” stated Dr. Ayesha Khan, a demographer.

According to the 2011 census of India, the growth rate of the Muslim population initially outpaced that of the Hindus. However, a detailed analysis of fertility differentials between Hindus and Muslims using data from these years shows a clear convergence, despite regional variations, challenging the narrative of a rapid Muslim population increase surpassing the Hindu majority.

Dr. Sameer Patil, a social scientist, explained: “The convergence in fertility rates between Hindus and Muslims is a significant trend often overlooked in political discourse. It is crucial to base our understanding on empirical data rather than stereotypes.”

Further analysis highlights that Hindu fertility rate dropped five per cent less than Muslim fertility over the past two decades. If current trends continue, there could be an “absolute convergence” in Hindu-Muslim fertility rates by 2030. NFHS data also indicates fertility rates for all religious communities decreased in the last 20 years, with the Muslim rate halving from 4.4 in 1992-93 to 2.4 in 2020-21. A Pew Research Centre study corroborates these findings, noting a general decline in fertility rates across Indian religious groups and a narrowing gap between communities.

Education, healthcare, and socio-economic development are critical factors influencing fertility rates. The Population Foundation of India found states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, with better access to these resources, exhibit lower fertility rates compared to Bihar, suggesting socio-economic development plays a larger role in fertility than religion.

NFHS data also reveals higher education among mothers associates with lower fertility rates. Among religious groups, Muslims are most economically disadvantaged, evidenced by lower enrollment rates in higher education and poorer health outcomes in the 2006 Sachar Committee Report, underscoring investments in education, economic development, livelihoods, food, nutrition, healthcare, sexual and reproductive health services, and gender justice to address population growth concerns.

“The focus should be on improving access to education and healthcare for all communities, especially economically disadvantaged ones,” said Rafiq Ahmed, education advocate. “Blaming religion for higher fertility rates is not only incorrect but also harmful.”

The rhetoric around Muslim fertility impacts Muslim women’s rights to make reproductive choices, violating life and dignity rights. Discussions on population growth and fertility should focus on sexual and reproductive health rights, individual choice, and resisting politically motivated propaganda.

“To vilify a community through misinformation and compound unjust treatment experiences normalisation is unacceptable, discriminatory, offensive, misleading, and promotes divisiveness,” a feminist spokesperson said.

“Feminists and rights advocates must challenge and resist polarisation with fact, data, and protection for reproductive outcomes,” said reproductive rights activist Meera Shenoy. “A debate should ensure everyone has resources and rights for informed reproductive health choices, for a just, equitable society.”

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