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October 2004
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Muslim Perspectives

Doting on Daughters
By a staff writer
The Census figures reveal that Muslims take better care of their children and do not have an aversion to daughters.

The announcement of the 2001 census figures based on religious classification has shown that Muslims have lower infant and child mortality rates than Hindus, as well as higher sex ratios.

The infant mortality rate among Muslims is 59 per 1,000 compared to 77 among Hindus, while child mortality rates are 83 and 107 respectively, says economist Sriya Iyer in a recent study.

And while female infant mortality rates are higher among Hindus, there is only a slight gender gap among Muslims. These statistics suggest that Muslims take better care of their children and do not have such an aversion to daughters.

Female infanticide and foeticide ensure that future mothers are not born, and so reduce population momentum. This is part of the reason for falling Hindu population growth, but not something Hindus should boast about.

In the race to sensationalise the Census figures, both the media and politicians jump the gun and overlook many positive aspects of the Muslim related figures. Population growth is not the only objective of the Census. It has multi-dimensional utility. It revealed that Muslims may be backward in economic aspects, but are way ahead of other communities when it comes to social and moral issues.

Muslims encouraged Widow re-marriage

Another reason for better sex ratio for Muslims is that widow re-marriage was encouraged by Muslims, but shunned by Hindus, and this greatly affected fertility rates. Hindus and Sikhs had a tradition of killing new-born girls in Punjab and Tamil Nadu. None of these birth-reducing practices should be regarded as role models for Muslims.

Socio-economic factors

In the demographers’ debate on why Muslim fertility rates have been consistently higher than other communities, experts have concluded that socio-economic factors like poverty, status of women and access to education and health care are largely responsible for the higher numbers.

The Census puts female literacy at 50.1 per cent for Muslims against 53.2 per cent for Hindus, only a small difference. But female participation in the workforce is as low as 14 per cent for Muslims, against 27.5 per cent for Hindus. Global research shows that fertility drops when women enter the workforce and earn cash.

As long as women do unpaid work at home and on the family farm, husbands expect them to keep bearing children. But once a woman earns cash from wages or business, having a child means a temporary stoppage of cash income.

Most experts accept that regional and socio-economic factors like poverty and access to healthcare largely determine fertility. The concentration of Muslims is in northern, backward states like Bihar and UP, where fertility is higher anyway.

Muslim women in rural Tamil Nadu, for example, have lower fertility rates than their Hindu counterparts in Bihar and UP. “The key factor is economic,” says Faujdar Ram, head, fertility studies, International Institute of Population Studies. He notes that the gap in the fertility rates of poor and rich, illiterate and educated is as great as that between Hindus and Muslims.

Muslims are more urbanised

Some studies have also shown that Muslims are more urbanised, which is associated with better access to health care, but they tend to occupy poorer city areas with lower levels of infrastructure, and have lower-paid jobs. Their literacy and education levels too are among the lowest, especially among women.

In a recent book, demographers, P. N. Mari Bhat and A J Francis Zavier pointed out that the fertility of Muslims is higher than the bottom-most groups in the caste hierarchy, namely scheduled castes and tribes.

Muslims veering round to small family

The trend shows a definite inclination to a small and compact family. Demographer M.N Karassery said a host of factors have been gauding on the Muslim community to go for small family. Increasing literacy among women, computer literacy, men folk working in Gulf, extreme difficulty of getting housemaids have encouraged many to go in for a planned family.

One of the achievements of the Office of Registrar General, India (RGI) is the creation of a website (www.censusindia. net) which enables the user to have easy access to census data. It is a boon for the community. The intelligentsia now can use the data available at the site and plan for the socio-economic growth and development.

The census figures have made it clear that Muslims will remain backward if the state and region remains backward. If Muslims want to develop as a community, then they should take self-initiatives like other communities and chalk out their development path.

No doubt, the vested interest will raise the non- issues such as Muslim population bomb etc, but instead of being reactive now, the time has come to be pro-active and take the initiative to empower the Muslims by actively participating in nation building through the route of specific community initiatives such as concentrating on education and healthcare.