Why statistics-wielding critics hide more truth than they reveal
Lies, damn lies and statistics. This is an often cited phrase of unknown origin to describe the use of statistics to support weak arguments. And this phrase perhaps best describes published recently in a major English newspaper to discredit Assam’s chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s call for Muslims in the state to have fewer children.
It should be noted here that by Muslims, what Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma actually meant was Muslims of Bangladeshi origin speaking Bengal, many of whom practice polygamy and have many children.
Sarma was well justified (read) by asking Muslims of Bangladeshi descent about his condition to have fewer children. The propensity of many men in this community to practice polygamy is well known. There is then a consequent pressure on the land and the scarce resources of the State, in addition to the backwardness of the community itself.
In what was at best a weak and impure attempt to discredit the Chief Minister, the author of the newspaper article (the newspaper also published an op-ed titled “Numbers tell the story” in its June 12 edition 2021 based on the article) cherry- selected statistics. Citing government data, the main argument made by the article – and one that was also used in its title – was that Muslims in Assam experienced the largest fertility decline since 2005-06.
The statistics cited come from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) -5 conducted in 2019-20, NFHS-4 conducted in 2015-16 and NFHS-3 conducted in 2005-06. The fertility rate of Muslims in Assam in 2005-06 was 3.6, and it fell to 2.9 in 2015-16 and fell further to 2.4 in 2019-20. This drop of 1.2 (2005-06 to 2019-20) in the fertility rate of Muslims has been presented as evidence that Muslims in Assam practice family planning. The figure has also been mistakenly compared to the state’s much smaller 0.4 fertility rate drop among Hindus to suggest that Chief Minister Sarma should ask Hindus in the state to practice family planning. .
The article has been cited, reposted on numerous portals and websites, and links to it have been posted widely on social media to criticize the chief minister of Assam and describe him as “community”.
What the article did not mention was that although the fertility rate of Muslims in Assam fell from 3.6 (in 2005-06) to 2.4 (in 2019-20), the The fertility rate of Hindus in Assam was 2 in 2005-06, from 1.8 in 2015-16. and 1.6 in 2019-2020. Thus, the fertility rate among Muslims in Assam, who make up about 40 percent of the state’s population, is much higher than the fertility rate among Hindus in the state.
Incidentally, the fertility rate of Muslims in Assam is higher than the figures for all of India: 2.4 in NFHS-3, 2.2 in NFHS-4 and 1.9 in NFHS-5. Furthermore, the fertility rate of Muslims in Assam is significantly higher than the replacement fertility level – the level at which the overall birth rate is just sufficient to keep population levels constant – which is set at 2.1 .
The fertility level of Hindus in Assam is much lower than the replacement fertility rate of 2.1, which means that the overall percentage of Hindus will decline steadily as Muslims soon outnumber Hindus in Assam. And this, as has been pointed out time and time again in the past, is a source of concern. The Bengali-speaking Muslims of Bangladeshi-speaking Assam, who constitute 70 percent of the total number of Muslims in Assam, are socially and educationally backward; many of them are radicalized and are often a law in themselves in the few districts of the state where they are Muslims of Bangladeshi descent form an absolute majority.
A major loophole of the NFHS is that it brings together all Muslims in Assam as one homogeneous lot when in reality there is a chasm of difference between Muslims of Bangladeshi descent and indigenous Muslims in Assam. . The indigenous Muslims of Assam (read and ) are largely educated, socially and culturally advanced, egalitarian and inclusive whose cultural traditions are often similar to those of the Assamese Hindus.
The fertility rate among indigenous Muslims in Assam, or Assamese Muslims, mirrors that of Assamese Hindus. Assamese Muslims do not practice polygamy and follow the two-child standard (many families even have one child).
If one did not take into account the population of Assamese Muslims (30%) of the overall population of Muslims in Assam, taking into account the low fertility rate of Assamese Muslims, the fertility rate of Muslims of Bangladeshi descent would actually be greater than the 2.4 figure. in NFHS-5.
Demographers say the fertility rate among Muslims of Bangladeshi descent is actually significantly higher than the 2.4 figure in NFHS-5. It would be of the order of 2.6 or even more; much higher than the fertility rate of 1.6 among Hindus in Assam.
Many say that even this figure may be wrong. This is because many Bengali speaking Muslims from Bangladesh are known to respond deceptively to polls and often give false statistics. For example, in the 1991 census, Muslims of Bangladeshi origin declared their mother tongue to be Assamese. This was part of a design to discredit the state’s popular campaign against the large-scale and unrestricted illegal influx of Bangladeshis into Assam. By falsely declaring themselves to speak Assamese, Muslims of Assam of Bangladeshi and Bengali-speaking origin believed that the entire anti-foreign campaign in Assam would be discredited since the census would show no marked drop in the number of speaking people. Assamese as projected by the leaders of the anti-foreigners .
Thus, the 1991 census revealed that 57.81% of the population of Assam spoke Assamese. This was a marginal decrease of about three percent from the figure of 60.89 percent in the 1971 census (the 1981 census could not be taken in Assam due to the turmoil in Assam at that time).
âIn 1991, leaders of the Bengali-speaking Muslim community played an evil game and asked community members to declare their mother tongue to be Assamese. After the census figures came out, they were cited to discredit the unrest in Assam. Census figures were cited to refute the claim that the large-scale influx of Bangladeshis had changed the demographics of Assam, âsaid Satyen Kalita, a former professor of political science at the University of Assam.
But in the 2001 census, most of these Bengali-speaking Muslims reported that their mother tongue was Bengali. And so, the percentage of people speaking Assamese fell from 57.81 percent in 1991 to 48.8 percent in 2001. The percentage of people speaking Bengali in Assam (and this also included Bengali Hindus) is increased from 21.67 percent in 1991 to 27.54% in 2001.
According to the 1971 census, the percentage of people speaking Assamese in Assam was 60.89%, while Bengali speakers made up 19.71% of the state’s population. âThey (Bengali-speaking Muslims of Bangladeshi descent) declared their mother tongue to be Bengali in the 2001 census, because by then the unrest in Assam was long over and they were much more politically organized. They had also gained strength in many districts and no longer felt threatened, âKalita said.
Given this propensity to cover up and falsify the numbers, many residents of Assam estimate the fertility rate of Bengali Muslims of Bangladeshi descent to be much higher than the alleged 2.6. âA large number of women in this community give birth at home and do not go to health facilities. This will make it easy for them to cover up births when it suits them, âsaid a senior health department official.
But even if we put all this aside, the fact remains that the fertility rate of Muslims in Assam is much higher than that of Hindus. And since the fertility rate of Hindus in Assam (1.6) is much lower than the replacement fertility rate (2.1), this means that Muslims (of Bangladeshi origin) should outnumber Hindus. of Assam within two and a half decades. And this demographic shift is clearly and understandably unacceptable to Hindus in the state.
A decline in the fertility rate among Assam Muslims of Bangladeshi descent from 3.6 in 2005-06 to 2.4 in 2019-20 is clearly not enough. At the very least, the fertility rate among Bengali-speaking Muslims in Assam should be brought down to the replacement fertility rate of 2.1. And to restore Assam’s previous demographic make-up, the number even has to drop to 1; this means that a Bengali speaking Muslim woman gives birth to only one child.
What the Chief Minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma, has not said is that the fertility rate among Hindus in the state is expected to increase to at least more than 2. Which means that a Hindu family should have at least two children, if not more. Only this can restore Assam’s demographic balance and pull the state from the brink of the demographic disaster it is currently watching.