Kalinga Lit Fest: Is Islam being misunderstood in ‘New India’

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New Delhi, March 21 (IANS) During a panel discussion at the Kalinga Literary Festival (KLF), former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi and Journalist-Author Ghazala Wahab debunked the bogey of “hum paanch hamare pachchis” rhetoric and dispelled several misconceptions.
Debunking the bogey of hum paanch hamare pachchis’ rhetoric, Quraishi observed that it would take over 600 years for the Indian Muslim population to take over the Hindu populace.
Speaking at the “Bhava Samvad” of the Kalinga Literary Festival (KLF) with author-journalists Ghazala Wahab and Rasheed Kidwai, Quraishi, writer of ‘The Population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India’ (Haper Collins India) said,
“Contrary to the much hyped claims about explosion of the Indian Muslim population, Muslim fertility rate is falling in line with the Hindu fertility rate, and gap between the growth rate of the population of the two communities is closing fast, so there is no fear of them ever outnumbering the majority community.”
Quraishi, an IAS Officer who was the CEC during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, lamented that the government, mainstream media, scholars and NGOs are failing to dispel the misconception that the numbers of the Muslim community are multiplying by leaps and bounds.
Ghazala Wahab, author of acclaimed book, ‘Born A Muslim – Some Truths About Islam in India (Aleph)’ insisted that the misconception was part of a ‘conscious propaganda’. She regretted how Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002, had mockingly referred to “hum paanch hamare pachchis” making the discourses biased.
Wahab said during the course of research, she came to know about many cases where ordinary Muslims were either hiding their Islamic identity or were reverting back to their faith due to coercion, fear and intimidation. She also added how the community is insecure today, and how a section of the Hindu community is showing empathy – thus giving a hope to the idea of India. However, the state is increasingly keeping a distance from showing the much needed empathy.
While moderating the session, Rasheed Kidwai, who is also Adviser to the KLF said it is significant that persons of the stature of Quraishi and Ghazala Wahab had to write books to clear misconceptions about Islam. He contextualised the discussion around the fundamental changes taking place in ‘New India’.
Quraishi said he had requested his friend, Dr. Dinesh Singh, a distinguished scholar and former Vice Chancellor of Delhi University to use a mathematical model to decipher population statistics. “What Dr. Singh revealed is part of my book. Going by the official statistics, Muslims of India are never going to overtake Hindus, even 600 years later…”
Qurashi said while it is true that Muslims’ birth rate is highest, but it is also a fact that Hindus’ birth rate is the second highest and there is difference of less than one child between a Hindu family and a Muslim family, which means to say that if Muslim family has five children children, Hindus have four, therefore, they are not very far behind, he argued. He argued that the birth trend has made a big shift in the last four decades since the Muslim community has adopted the family planning actively, also the growing literacy rate and upward mobility have significantly controlled the earlier trend and now the modern couple are having one or two child in general.
“The Hindu right wing is exhorting the majority community to produce a large number of children to avoid being outnumbered by the Muslims, but I would still appeal to the Muslims not to be provoked by this call, and take to family planning. We in India cannot afford a procreation war,” Quraishi said.
According to Ghazala Wahab, Muslims are facing an identity crisis of sorts in recent years. “Muslims didn’t worry about asserting their identity all these years since Independence — even if you look at Muslims looking or behaving in a stereotypical manner in films and popular media, there wasn’t much protest against that,” Ghazala told Kidwai, adding, “By and large, Muslims felt comfortable with their identity and knew when something was an exaggeration.
“What’s happened over the past few years is that this Muslim identity and appearance is being used to target them. Previously, nobody would really bother to look at a Muslim woman in a full ‘burqa’, or men in checked ‘lungi’ or ankle-high pants — it was just a part of the landscape. Now, this exact identity has become a reason for insecurity, because the Muslim people are being heckled in transportation, and in more extreme cases, being lynched and killed.”
The participants however, drew satisfaction that a majority of Indians regardless of caste, religion or region, had positive, inclusive and welcoming attitude towards the the Muslim community.
Quraishi underlined the need for proactive-ism, social media literacy while Ghazala Wahab underlined the need for reforms within the Muslim community, education, women empowerment and engagement as some tools to overcome the current atmosphere of anxiety and fear.
KLF is India’s leading literature festival, in 2021, its annual program is scheduled on July 30-August 1 at Hotel Swosti Premium, Bhubaneswar.

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