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Insecurities about demographic change are not a problem just in Kashmir Valley

Since we all accept that the fallout of demographic realities can be disastrous for those at the receiving end, then what is so wrong about making India a safe haven for demographically-threatened minorities from Pakistan and Bangladesh?

Written by Suhas Ambale | Updated: October 31, 2020 9:04:57 am
In Jammu. (AP Photo)

The Indian Express editorial on October 29 — ‘J&K reality’ — in the context of the new land laws in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh said that the government has done nothing to assure the people of the former state that their concerns of demographic change are being considered.

On August 6 this year, after the action against Article 370, The Indian Express’s editorial had expressed similar concerns about the “unique demography” of Jammu and Kashmir.

Reading both of these in good faith, one would conclude that demography is a matter of legitimate concern. So, it must follow that demographic change basically alters the dynamics of any place undesirably. This is where the picture gets a little more complex. The established norms of discourse are that demography is a concern but only in Jammu and Kashmir.

However, even that is not correct. Because, clearly, for the mainstream discourse, the demography of Jammu is not a matter of concern. It is only Kashmir where this issue is deemed legitimate.

When concerns about Kashmir’s demography are raised, it is clearly about the percentage of Muslims in the region. In 1981, Muslims were about 94.96 per cent of Kashmir while in 2011, the community’s population stands at about 96.41 per cent. For the sake of the nation’s collective memory, there may also be a need to mention that the only forcible change in Kashmir’s demography so far has come with the barrel of the gun pointed at the Hindus, making them flee the Valley.

Also read | Muslim-Hindu demography of Jammu and Kashmir: What the Census numbers show

The editorial does mention that even Ladakh and Jammu are feeling let down. But has the real demographic situation of Jammu ever been discussed threadbare earlier? They seem to be given a token mention here but not in the context of the real change that Jammu has seen over the years.

The situation in Jammu is quite different from that of Kashmir. Jammu has seen much more demographic change over the decades. Take this fact, for example: The proportion of Muslims in the Jammu region has increased substantially from 30.7 per cent in 2001 to 33.5 per cent in 2011 while at the same time, the proportion of Hindus, Sikhs and others combined (but excluding Christians) has come down from 68.95 per cent in 2001 to 66.13 per cent in 2011.

The power struggle between Jammu and Kashmir in the politics of the erstwhile state, the dominance of Kashmir and the resentment of Jammu are well known.

Further, according to the Centre for Policy Studies, during 2001-11, the population growth of Kashmir Valley of 25.8 per cent outpaced Jammu’s 21.4 per cent. Remember that Kashmir’s population growth is almost exclusively Muslim, while Jammu’s is mixed.

Rohingyas have also been brought to Jammu and settled. Some media reports have estimated the presence of at least 10,000 of them and also say that there is significant public opinion that they must leave.

These demographic concerns of the Jammu region had rarely been discussed till the time Jammu and Kashmir was a state. Neither are these being discussed now.

Are some demographic changes better or worse than others?

Let us accept for a moment that demographic change by people outside of Kashmir is a concern. Why would it be? Because the religious character of Kashmir would change. Because religious demographics often predict medium- to long-term power equations.

If a 96 per cent Muslim Kashmir can be concerned about demographic change by the people of a religion that does not even proselytise, can a 79.8 per cent Hindu India not have legitimate demographic concerns about proselytising religions whose self-professed aim is to convert people out of the Hindu religion into a different religion?

If a mainstream editorial is asking for legal safeguards for Kashmir’s demographic character, shouldn’t it be logical that India, too, may need an anti-conversion law that protects it from demographic change? Then, should foreign-funded missionary activities in India not be restricted, because, clearly, the money comes from somewhere else to change India’s demographic character?

Demographic aggression is a reality, especially in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Since we all accept that the fallout of demographic realities can be disastrous for those at the receiving end, then what is so wrong about making India a safe haven for demographically-threatened minorities from Pakistan and Bangladesh?

Also, in the same context, isn’t the NRC a legitimate exercise? Wouldn’t Assamese have genuine demographic concerns, especially given that the magnitude of demographic change the state has seen is massive?

Opinion | Demographic changes in the Valley could expose New Delhi to international opprobrium

It is good that respectable publications want to discuss demography and accept that they can be predictors of changing power equations but one does wonder why there’s so much concern only for one region’s demography in a secular democracy.

These are questions that, in a healthy atmosphere of public debate, should be discussed and deliberated upon without name-calling and hyperbole.

This article first appeared in the print edition on October 31, 2020 under the title ‘Demography, theirs and ours’. The writer is a public policy professional and research head of a Delhi-based think tank.

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