India by numbers

The main lesson of the 2011 census: Stop using demographic data as a political weapon

The timing of the release of information on religious communities comes suspiciously before Bihar goes to the elections.

I love Haryana. It has the best Murrah cattle: a bull from Kurukshetra recently fetched an offer of Rs 7 crores. Despite the khaps and the traffic jams and water crisis, Gurgaon – the state's pride – is most likely to achieve smart city status in the near future.  It is also, after Bihar, the state where Christianity has made its surge this century, according to the religion-wise data of the 2011 census released this week. That has got some people, especially the local media, very worried.

The Haryana figures showed an 85.22% rise in the Christian population. That is huge by any count. There are visions of large-scale conversions. There have been several incidents in the recent past that show that local politicians have been trying to milk the issue, for perhaps the figures were leaked to them, as was done in some other states for Muslims. Not so long ago, Jhajjar's district magistrate enforced section 144 of the criminal procedure code relating to unlawful assembly to prevent worship inside a house that was being used as a church. Elsewhere, a church building under construction was attacked.

According to the 2001 census, Haryana  had a mere 27,185 Christians.  In the 2011 census, this figure has gone up to  50,353. That works out to an increase of 23,168 more people.  Most of this is because people from Delhi and other states bought apartments in Gurgaon and Faridabad, which serve as bedroom communities for the capital. Migration to Haryana's industrial towns is another reason for the increase in Christians. In absolute terms, the number of Hindus in Haryana grew by 35 lakh 15 thousand people. Sikhs increased by 73,000.

Stagnant numbers

The census shows a stagnation, if not a small decline, in India's Christian population. The government's press release on the census said that there has been "no significant change in the proportion of Christians and Jains" but does not explain at what level change becomes significant.

In fact, Christian-majority Nagaland  shows a marked decline of 2.83%. Nagaland, in the Sangh books, is deemed to be a state where the Christian majority poses threat to the security of India. It is only in states where the numbers were small that there is a notional rise in the percentage of  Christians. This is because the base value of the Christian population is so small that even a minor increase in numbers shows up  as a rise in percentage. This is the situation in Haryana.

The government, after selective leaks for the past year or so, has officially stated that the proportion of Hindus in the total population in 2011 declined by 0.7 percentage points over the decade; the proportion of the Sikh population declined by 0.2 percentage points and the Buddhist population declined by 0.1 percentage points. The proportion of Muslims increased by 0.8 percentage points.

Demography ought to be a subject of development economists and planners but it has, since perhaps the Emergency of 1975, become a weapon for politicians. The Bharatiya Janata Party, and its theoreticians and ideologues in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are masters at wielding it, as is obvious from a cursory look at the official RSS mouth pieces, the Hindi-language Panchjanya and the English-language Organiser.

Targetting Abra

Muslims are the main target. But the RSS has also made huge political capital (and vast sums of money) from devout Hindus among the NRI diaspora, claiming they will be swamped and overwhelmed by the “alien Abrahamic religions” of Christianity and Islam. Venomous slogans have been coined against both Muslims and Christians. While Muslims are presented as pro-Pakistan and terrorists, Indian Christians are painted as secessionists who devour Indian cultural values. To counter this, Sangh leaders have been calling for the disenfranchisement of Christians, curbs on Muslims and exhorting Hindu women to have anything from four to ten children in this Demographic Great War.

In fact, the population of Sikhs and Buddhists is proportionately decreasing. Buddhists, especially, have been one of the major religions in India for 2,500 years and their current figures are cause for civilisational concern.

So where are the  "cryptic Christians" of Sangh folklore, who list themselves as Hindus or as people of no religions?  It isn't implausible that some Christians may not tell the census enumerator their religion, opting for “no-religion". One of the causes is the criminal ban on Christian and Muslims converts from former untouchable castes being allowed to avail of employment, electoral and education reservations. Dalit Sikhs and Buddhists, also egalitarian religions, face no such ban. This matter is now in the Supreme Court. It is effectively a strong nation-wide anti conversion law operating on the Dalits.  But all this talk of crypto-Christians is also political diatribe.

Misrepresenting tribal faiths

Enumerators also routinely write "Hindu" for any person who names a tribal religion, or even if she says she is an atheist.  This explains the small numbers that turn up for “other” religions despite the very large numbers of tribal people in Central India who are of pre-Aryan and pre-Hindu civilisations.

The crucial thing is the timing of these releases.  A large component of Narendra Modi’s 2014 election campaign was the vitriol against Islam. The entire Sangh edifice is built in response to the Muslim presence in India. It uses Islamophobia as an effective mobilisation and polarising tool. The Bihar elections are going to be held soon. Bihar has a sizeable Muslim population. The timing of the release of this religious community data is definitely aimed at influencing the electorate.

Many have been demanding for long that India release all quantified and desegregated data of the decennial census soon after the census exercise is over, instead of releasing it in driblets to suit its political imperatives and motives. The caste survey has just been completed, but the government has not released that because the results may not suit the party whose political base still continues to be the upper castes and the aspirational middle-income classes.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.