‘’Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear’’, read the side view mirror as Rajesh embarked on his road journey. Hailing from North India but having lived his entire life in Maharashtra, he was largely unexposed to the geographical diversities of the country. Hence he was excited about this expedition, driving on the coastal road from Panvel on NH 66 overlooking Western Ghats and with Arabian Sea on the other side in some places.
First stop Ratnagiri, slightly over 300 kms from Mumbai, the place known for its mangoes, weather and proximity to the pristine beaches of Ganapati Phule. But amidst all this beauty there was something amiss which took Rajesh by complete surprise, large number of mosques and madrassas sprawled up in the town he believed to be predominantly Hindu.
After a brief rest there he continued his journey till he entered into Goa. Having enjoyed the beaches and the nightlife of Goa, Rajesh was reluctant to continue his journey further, but he somehow forced himself inside the car to resume the journey.
He had almost forgotten about the observations he made at Ratnagiri and the Konkan belt prior to that. However the same images of demography change came back as soon as he entered Karnataka. Starting with Karwar and Sirsi in the Uttara Kannada some places resembled the image he had in mind of neighboring country, further down at Bhatkal the resemblance was even more striking. Having driven for long he wanted to break for some rest but continued nonetheless until he reached some place he’d be more comfortable with. Finally he halted at Udipi.
Goa might have made him forget the images of demography change, but now he could just not get it out of his mind.
He persisted nevertheless, totally unmindful of the fact that there’s much more in store for him. After entering into Dakshin Kannada , there were some towns close to Mangalore with less than 50% Hindu population. Mangalore itself has less than 68% Hindu population with Muslims and Christians almost equally making up for the remaining numbers.
Further down south along the coastal route there were more and more towns and districts with significant Muslim and Christian population. Whether it was Mallapuram, Kasargod or even the coastal districts like Alappuzha or the ancient Indian trade hub Kozhikode (Calicut). Rajesh enjoyed the beauty of God’s own country but didn’t spend too much time there and continued further to stop at Kanyakumari. He visited the Vivekanand memorial and was surprised to see so many Churches near to that place. By then Rajesh had already grown despondent.
Even bigger shock awaited him
Each time Rajesh tried to forget about or downplay it, he received an even greater shock, his next stop Rameshwaran- one of the holiest places for Hindus delivered a body blow to him. He was dumbstruck when he saw a board prohibiting entry of outsiders (Non- muslims) at the entrance of Athiyuthu, Puthuvalassai, Panaikulam villages in the same district. Rajesh never recovered from that shock. On his onward journey along the eastern coast line again he saw large church structures in villages of Coastal Andhra and Tamil Nadu indicating the dominance of evangelical bodies, but all that paled in comparison to what he had witnessed at Rameshwaran.
He drove upto Odisha and prayed to Lord Jagannath in Puri before driving across the breadth of the country to come back to the place he started from.
After a long and arduous journey, which left him more stunned than he might have anticipated, he tried his best to pretend that he was not moved by the demographics change he has witnessed. But on the very next day after his return, while discussing with friends, his anxiety became apparent. Being devout Hindu he just could not resist ringing the alarm bell.
Religion Census 2011
So what really petrified Rajesh?
Rajesh had read about the events leading to partition of India in 1947, when the majority-minority ratio was 3:1. Watching mainstream media for all these years made him believe that the worst was behind him and an event like that would never reoccur. Even reading through the latest religious census data published in 2011 (released later when BJP came to power in 2014), he somehow missed the signs of the impending danger. Media too downplayed the rise in minority population, by drawing wrong references to suggest that Muslims and Christians have grown at a slower rate than the decade earlier. Rajesh too bought into that folly, hook, line and sinker.
His travel down the coastal route not only debunked all the theories media had built up but also opened his eyes to the dangers which are far more real than imagined.
What are the major challenges of Demography change?
History is replete with examples of whenever Muslim population becomes majority, the minorities are either forced to embrace Islam or left with the option to either flee or die. It happened more than a millennia ago in Zoroastrian provinces in Central Asia and Persia (Iran), now natives Parsis are reduced to zero in those countries.
Mahabharata has mention of modern day Afghanistan. It was Hindu kingdom, after that it became Buddhist before falling into the hands to Islamic invaders. Bamiyan in Afghanistan had the largest Buddha idol before it was blown to pieces by Taliban at the start of 21st century. Pakistan, Bangladesh were all part of large Hindu kingdom that we all know. Even as per the census just before partition, Karachi had Hindu population in majority.
But Hindus disappeared fast and now are reduced to mere 1-2% of the population in Pakistan and we continue to read countless stories of atrocities meted out on Hindus in Pakistan. Though Bangladesh has 8-10% Hindus (down from 32% at the time of partition) news of Hindus getting hacked to death there is becoming common these days.
In India too we’ve seen exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir Valley in 1990. And recently in Kairana in UP.
Why does the situation portend a bleak future?
All the locations Rajesh travelled through are along the coastal route. Areas closer to sea develop much faster due to commercial activities and vital for the sustenance of any economy. Ports are essential for keeping the supply lines running and also in most cases act as the defense bases to protect against the naval maneuvers of enemies.
If seen in the context of essential supplies, one would shudder even at the thought of losing control over the coastal territory. We’ve seen how some developed countries used evangelical organizations active in the south in their attempt to thwart Kundunkulam Plant near Tuticorin TN.
Who’s to say that Christian population in the coastal regions in the south can’t be turned against India by powers that be in Vatican. Similarly we can ignore the threat of the booming Muslim population in coastal region at our own peril.
Likewise, growing minority population in West Bengal, Assam are also ticking time bomb. Losing control over any one of these territories would mean losing access to North East entirely.
Can the situation be salvaged? What must the government do?
As the old English proverb goes “A stitch in time saves nine”. If the government acts now still the damage can be undone. To begin with Government must use the 2011 religion census data and devise a strategy to tackle with this menace panchayat by panchayat.
Step 1- Ban religious conversions- Implement a strong Anti-conversion bill in lines with the one we have in Gujarat. This would invite a strong push back from evangelical lobby in the west, be that as it may, it must still be pursued. Simultaneously, government must do background check and stop giving visas to missionaries masquerading as philanthropists.
(Note-Already some work is happening on this count, banning NGOs involved in money laundering and conversions using nefarious means was a step in the right direction)
Step 2 – Remove Government control over temples- The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Act 1951, enables government to take over donations and land belonging of temples. This has led to exploitation of temple wealth and dis-empowered temple as the institution. Moreover in many instances the appropriated temple land was given over to Churches and Wakf boards. Late Andhra CM YSR Reddy almost gifted Thirumala hills (where Tirupati temple is situated) to Church, only for the High court to intervene and thwart the move.
(Note -Subramanium Swamy is already fighting a case in SC for this already)
Step 3 – Security watch- Government should keep vigil on every Panchayat with minority population above 15%. Encourage setting up of Hindu enclaves in the region to offset the demography change. Increasing Hindu population will ensure that Muslim votes would hold little sway over political decisions.
These developments only can help deal with the challenges following change in demography, inaction would be detrimental to the future of the country and Hindu population.