Explaining Neo-Malthusianism?

On June 30, 2012 by admin

Mohan Rao


Politically correct, influential people in policy making circles in the First World do not, any more, talk of the yellow peril, or use phrases such as population explosion, or metaphors like the population bomb. Nevertheless, neo-Malthusian thinking frames other policy discourses, those on welfare, immigration and the environment being prominent ones.  Soon after the London riots last year, commentators were talking of the undeserving poor, whose council housing should be razed if their children had participated in the riots. The children themselves were referred to as vermin, who needed to be dealt with firmly, with real bullets. At the same time, partly due to the very reach and influence of such doomsday demographic discourses emanating from the West in the past, and the modified ones today, the elites and the middle classes in much of the Third World remain convinced that the cause of social and economic problems in their countries stem primarily, if not only, from population growth.

It is also clear that there is an anxiety among elites in our country about population growth, the belief that this lies at heart of a range of social and economic problems that we face. This belief enjoys widespread appeal in the media and among middle class professionals, including of course doctors. What explains the enormous appeal of this argument? Is it propaganda over the last 50 years, initially stemming from the West, but now deeply internalized in our country?[i]

Many of these beliefs are sanitised in public pronouncements, made acceptable, and yet it is undeniable they represent powerful undercurrents of thinking in an astonishingly wide range of areas. This paper, preliminary and tentative in nature, attempts to explain what seems to be inexplicable. Do these ideas stem from other atavistic anxieties, about tribe and race? This too was evident after the London riots when commentators spoke of a Caribbean culture of violence and laziness taking over the streets of London. Do they arise from their evident simplicity in explaining a deeply fractured world?  Why are they such overwhelming tropes in the discourse of fundamentalisms of various sorts? Does neo-liberalism provide them with impetus?  Why are they entangled with other anti-feminist discourses? How do issues of identity, currently au courant, get imbricated in this?

I begin, then, with the almost irrelevant, if achingly tantalizing, question: what explains this abiding and widespread belief in neo-Malthusianism?  This question, though terribly moot, is difficult to answer with any certainty, since it involves feelings, opinions and prejudices that are not always easily explicable. How does one, for example, explain racism? Or, in India, the profound hold of casteism, the hatred and distaste for the lower castes, especially dalits? Or, the recent growth of suspicion, anxiety, and indeed, hatred and fear, for anything to do with Islam? There are many and complex reasons, some inter-linked. Is it primarily about with economic factors?  It is obviously not only to do with economic factors, although these are no doubt contributory. There are many more reasons, and population arguments also feed into this: the creation and hardening of prejudices, and of fear. In neo-imperial times, creation of fear is a growth industry (Lipschutz and Turcotte 2005)[ii] with sometimes utterly transparent political ends.


I begin this paper attempting to explain the neo Malthusian appeal by examining the astonishing case of Anders Behring Breveik. On the 22nd of July 2011, following the setting off of bombs in central Oslo, this young white man cold bloodedly killed 69 young men and women attending a youth camp organized by the ruling Labour Party at the island of Utoya, not far from Oslo. He wanted to draw attention to the dystopia that awaited Norway because of the appeasement of Muslims by what he called, with utterly no irony, “multi-cultural Marxists”.

When the bombs went off in Oslo, the New York Times reported, and everyone assumed, that this was the handiwork of Muslim terrorists. When the terrorist was identified as a White supremacist, the explanations quickly proffered were the familiar: while not all Muslims were terrorists, most terrorists were Muslim. But of course this is equally untrue. In 2007, two out of a total of 581 terrorist attacks in Europe were carried out by Muslims; in 2008, not one of the 441 documented terrorist attacks was by a Muslim. In 2009, there were 294 terrorist attacks, out of which one was committed by a Muslim. The vast majority of terrorist attacks (237 out of 297) were perpetrated by White, non-Muslim separatist groups mainly in Spain and France ( Europol 2010).[iii]

What is interesting is that Breveik, a Right wing Christian fundamentalist, has left a 1500 page manifesto entitled 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, an event he was attempting to usher in by his barbaric act. The year 2083 that he chose is also symbolically interesting: it represents the 400th anniversary of the Battle of Vienna in 1683 where the invading troops of the Ottoman empire suffered a defeat, ensuring that most parts of Europe did not come under Islamic rule. It is equally interesting that a Polish king took part in that holy battle. Today of course Poland, ruled by extreme Right wing twins, is seen as the heart of pro-family values, a Catholic nation besieged in a Europe that is awash with feminists, pro-abortion and gay- rights people, together emasculating Christianity as much as the Christian male. Poland, it is believed, is the last bastion of pro-family values that will rescue Europe from demographic doom that awaits it if women refuse to breed. The 2008 World Congress of Families was held in Warsaw, where the film Demographic Winter was screened (Posner 2011).[iv] The film, echoing Mark Steyn’s bestselling book America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, predicts the death of European civilizations and the extinctions of her races “too self absorbed to breed” as they are engulfed by tides of Muslim immigrants, leading to the transformation of Europe into Eurabia. This will, it is argued, lead to the paradoxical situation in the future when European feminists will be ruled by Islamic patriarchy, robbing them of reproductive choice that they now exercise to weaken the family, the nation and the race. One other bestselling book is Leon J.Podle’s Church Impotent: The Feminisation of Christianity. Breivik has a solution to the problem posed by Podle. The issue of the hyper-masculine Muslim male and over-fertile oppressed Muslim female is of course familiar to us, immured to long years of saffron demography. I will come back to this later.

Breveik believed that Norway would be a Muslim majority country by the year 2050 since her spineless elites had, in a multi-cultural fit, succumbed to permit endless Muslim immigration.  The fact of the matter is that on the basis of the current population growth rates, Norway will have a Muslim population of seven per cent in 2050, but mad imaginations are not based on facts and reasoning.

Like many White supremacists and Christian fundamentalists, Breveik was a staunch supporter of Zionist Israel, which he saw as an island of Western values in a dark sea of Muslim barbarism. Christian Zionists, said to number 45 million in the USA, of course believe that a Second Coming is only possible if Jerusalem is ruled by Jews. But for Breveik, Israel needed to be supported for another reason: demographic war being waged on it by Muslims, even as Israel goes out to undo the Oslo accord through illegal settlements. The connection to Oslo, again.  Breveik is a new anti-Semite, pro-Zionist and fiercely anti-Arab. This position too entwines with that of the Hindu right in India, of which he was a great admirer. In a curious case of replay of old tropes, Israel is now considered the land of the free and tolerant – to gays, in marked contrast to supposedly homophobic Muslims, even as Israel in a far-reaching PR exercise starts funding various gay pride marches ( Puar 2010).[v]

It is not surprising that each year the VHP organizes summer camps both in Norway and Denmark where Islamophobic speakers of Indian origin hold forth (Kaur 2011).[vi] Breviek’s manifesto devotes a special chapter to India and what he calls the “Hindu Holocaust”. This was the Hindu Kush mountains where Hindus were apparently slaughtered during the medieval “Islamisation” of the subcontinent. This is based on the claims of a Belgian supporter of Hindutva, Koenraad Elst, who is also known for the advice to the West on making life for Muslim minorities so difficult that they will either give up Islam or go back to where they came from! “ If the name Hindu Kush relates such a horrible genocide of Hindus, why are Hindus ignorant about it?”, asks Breveik. He attributes it to the Muslim appeasement policies of the government of India and the rewriting of history under its behest. “The victimization of Hindus, thus not only took place historically at the hands of Muslim aggressors, but now they are doubly victimized by “cultural Marxists” as well who control government” (cited in Kaur 2011:28).[vii] His admiration for the RSS, the BJP and the VHP, is clearly related to their anti-Muslim violence: “the only positive thing about the Hindu right wing is that they dominate the streets. They do not tolerate the current injustice and often riot and attack Muslims when things go out of control, usually after the Muslims disrespect and degrade Hinduism too much” (ibid). What he does not remark upon is saffron demography that so fits in with his own demographic anxieties. Not surprisingly BJP MP B.P.Singhal endorsed Breveik’s ideas (ENS 2011).[viii]

Here we have then the coming together of the extreme Right-wing Christian fundamentalism, anti-feminisms, racisms and demographic anxieties about the dying European race. Early twenty-first century echoing early twentieth century fears, tied now to Islamophobia and global politics of oil.


Racism is of course linked with neo-malthusianism, and not just because they emerged together. But we must begin, then, with a brief genealogy of neo-Malthusianism. Genealogies are fundamentally about accepted, legal, marriages and births. The late nineteenth century marriage of colonial anthropology with craniometry and the “science” of “race” produced the “science” of eugenics. Framing these disciplines, it must be noted, was the reality of colonialism that mid-wifed and nurtured these disciplines. Eugenics, of course, is a parent of neo-Malthusianism and of socio-biology. The American anthropologist D.G. Brinton argued, in praise of anthropometry:

The adult who retains the more numerous fetal, infantile or simian traits is unquestionably inferior to him whose development has progressed beyond them. Measured by these criteria, the European or white race stands at the head of the list, the African or Negro at its foot. (Brinton, 1890 cited in Gould 1981: 116).[ix]

Thus anthropology taught us, and anthropometry and craniometry quantified, the following: natives and savages were child-like, effeminate, instinctive, sensual, unreflexive, irrational, less intelligent, and in thrall of customs and traditions. Strangely, they were also hyper-sexual and thus tended to breed too much. In Kipling’s words, half-devil and half-child, these sullen new-caught people.[x] They were of course to be The White Man’s Burden, incapable of self-rule. This was of course evident from the position of women in these societies.

At the same time psychology also showed us that “the metaphysical character of women was very similar in nature to those which men exhibit at an early stage of development. The gentler sex is characterized by a greater impressibility, warmth of emotion, submission to its influence rather than that of logic” (Gould 1981: 117).[xi] Blandly stated, racism, anti-feminisms and colonialism come promiscuously together, with the colonizer to send forth the best he breeds to quell the sullen natives.[xii]

Armed with these insights, eugenics set out to improve the human race through two policy prescriptions: decreasing unwanted populations through negative eugenics, i.e. not permitting populations that exhibited undesirable characteristics to breed; and providing incentives to the best and brightest to breed through positive eugenics. The victims of negative eugenics have been the “feeble minded”, the tubercular, the alcoholic, the “indigent”, the “congenital criminal”, the mentally retarded, the insane, lepers, epileptics, the “feeble minded”, the “degenerate”, immigrants and of course the poor, who apparently bred all these characteristics especially if they were black or coloured. All this, with the supreme imprimatur of science, like theology, unquestionable, since this was truth. Benjamin Franklin noted, “I could wish their numbers were increased. Why increase the sons of Africa, by planting them in America, where we have so fair an opportunity, by excluding all blacks and tawneys, of increasing the lovely white and red?” (cited in ibid: 32).[xiii],[xiv]

According to Francis Galton, eugenics would breed out the vestigial barbarism of the human race, manipulating evolution to bring the biological reality of man into consonance with his lofty moral ideas of what mankind could, and indeed should be. He thus argued, “what nature does blindly, slowly, and ruthlessly, man may do providently, quickly and kindly” (Galton, cited in Kevles 1995: 12)[xv] Eugenics was thus a scientific substitute for the orthodoxies of the church, a secular religious faith. Eugenics was also tied to the destiny of the imperial nation. Such a nation, it was felt, required much more than merely economic and military power. It also demanded an efficient way of ensuring that its population was kept fresh, energetic, efficient and productive by ensuring that its fresh flow of population is mainly recruited from the “better stock” ( Rao 2004).[xvi] Indeed, this was one strong impetus to introduce maternal health programmes in many countries (Oakley 1986).[xvii]

A prominent eugenist in Germany wrote:

Because the inferior are always numerically superior to the better, the former would multiply so much faster—if they have the same possibility to survive and reproduce—that the better necessarily would be placed in the background.  Therefore a correction has to be made to the advantage of the better.  The nature (sic) offers such a correction by exposing the inferior to difficult living conditions which reduce their number.  Concerning the rest the nature (sic) does not allow them to reproduce indiscriminately, but makes a relentless selection according to their strength and health conditions ( Hilter, cited in Bondestam 1980: 16).[xviii]

The “correction” he offered to nature’s lethal ways was called the Final Solution.  Adolf Hitler included, among others, Jews, communists, gays and gypsies in his grand design. What is not well known is that the Holocaust would not have taken the ghastly toll it did had the US immigration laws not been changed earlier to keep out certain races not Nordic. Jews seeking to immigrate were of course excluded ( Brunius 2006).[xix] Indeed, that the eugenic laws in Nazi Germany were framed along laws in the USA.

It was this, the Final Solution, that discredited eugenics, although the ideas underlying it were widely shared. Indeed, the liberal US Supreme Court Justice Holmes found eugenic sterilisation constitutionally valid for the general good of the population. Further, as Brunius shows us, eugenic laws, framed by racism, were widely welcomed by the medical profession, the media, and by law-makers. But similar attitudes, similar feelings come to surface in many new avatars, all too distressingly frequently. In other words, it is the current political context that this idea appears to address, as it waxes and wanes, sometimes shrill, sometimes subdued, but at all times invariably, inextricably, linked to contemporary politics. Numbers of the Other, provide the frisson.

As the eminent German poet Enzenberger notes, the proportion of foreigners in Germany at the end of the twentieth century – when vicious anti-immigrant ideologies came to the fore, often accompanied by brutal attacks on “foreigners”– was well below that in the Germany before the First World War, when there was no such xenophobia. In Germany, itself a country of migrants, of many “races”, “The Aryan was never more than a risible construct” (Enzenberger 1992:38 ).[xx] Enzenberger adds:

It is of course no accident that the image of the life-boat recurs in the political discourse about immigration, usually in the form of the assertion, ‘The boat is full’. That this sentence is inaccurate is the least that can be said about it. A look around is enough to disprove it, as those who use it know. But they are not interested in its truthfulness; they like the fears it conjures up (ibid: 24) (emphasis mine).

Yet, Germany is one of only two modern states that allow its “lost tribes” a right to return. Israel is of course the only other. Two nations tied by a complex history of brutal bloodshed, both believing that nationality is in blood, both riding the tiger of fascism at various times, Germany in the past, and Israel, today.  Tying in with this idea, or sometimes even a metaphor of nationality, is the essentialism of numbers. This essentialism of numbers, is in a potent stew with the urge for the authentic and unsullied, the politics of identity, creating fears about the numbers of the Other. Again, these have a heritage in romantic Germany that so influenced the romance of a nation-in-being in India in the RSS (Nussbaum 2007)[xxi], with the military organization being borrowed from Mussolini’s brown-shirts ( Casolari 2000 ).[xxii]

There is today in neo-liberal times, a reified politics of identity, feeding into neo-Malthusian anxieties. There is a paradox here: while neo-liberalism exalts and celebrates the individual, identities are increasingly drawn in communitarian terms, and carved in heartless stone. Sen notes wryly that we have today a “discipline of identity” based on the unfounded assumption that we must have a single or principle identity that we “discover” (Sen 2005: 350).[xxiii] Of course, this discovery is most often of a spurious ethnic kind, forgetting that the ethnic, or the nativist, is only one among many claims to loyalty, and indeed that there is frequently nothing authentic either about imagined ethnicity.  Wedded here are essentialisms of various kinds: nativist post-modern, with fundamentalist neo-Orientalism, with right-wing neo-liberalism. Uniting all these essentialisms is also a fervent anti-feminism, seen as both tarnished by the Enlightenment project, anti-traditional and derivative (Sangari 2001).[xxiv] It is thus no accident that the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt (Ali 2002),[xxv] the murderous Hindu fascists, George Bush and Anders Breveik echo each other in derivative irony. Entirely missing in these discourses is the notion of imperialism or neo-imperialism, which indeed gilds them, even as it holds them together.

The uncanny similarities between Malthusian times and the nineteen nineties have been widely noted. Both periods were characterized by a relentless drive to create free markets, “not by chance nor as a result of spontaneous development, but as an artefact of power and statecraft. In nineteenth century England it was the outcome of the project of classical political economy; now it is a monetarist project, to create a global market society largely unconstrained by public action” (Wuyts 1998: 34).[xxvi]  This new global market was to be created by the second wave of imperialist globalization enveloping the world, led by the Bretton Woods institutions, with new rules framed by the WTO. Imperialist globalisation sups comfortably at the same table with fundamentalisms; while doing so it also feeds it fresh blood. This is not only through the empirical truth that imperialism has funded fundamentalisms in various countries (Mamdani 2004),[xxvii] but also by fracturing broader identities, in a situation of a smaller cake for the masses, encourages the growth of political forces that feed on each other, along ethnic or religious lines (Patnaik 2003).[xxviii] From Yugoslavia, to Rwanda and now Iraq: the same story authored by imperialism unfolds sadly (Mamdani 2001).[xxix] Population arguments have contributed in all of them, appealing to community, to race, ideas of purity and blood. In all these cases, blood is defined by patriarchy.

What is frightening is that the atavistic appeals to blood, to tribe and to race, seem to carry so much power when we finally know there is no such thing as race. Current post-modern distrust of the modern state, and its violences, and the invocation of naive nativism feed their poison into this. Thus Algeria for the Algerians – who should not be in France! But in a world where historic revisionism is current, where new “tribal wars” are unleashed every day[xxx] with the coining of a new and frighteningly aseptic phrase to describe it, ethnic cleansing, it is eminently desirable to retrace the links between neo-Malthusianism, eugenics and the Holocaust. It is an irony of history that victims of the Holocaust, in one of the first modern countries created on the basis of religion, in order to supposedly protect their “race” are perpetrating yet another one today. Thus the population growth rate among Palestinians is frequently evoked in order to stoke fears among Israelis who are not Zionists (Avnery cited in Hartmann and Hendrixson)[xxxi]. By engendering fear and anxiety about the future, what neo-Malthusianism successfully does is evoke complicity in morally offensive policies among people.

The collapse of multi-national states as in Yugoslavia, the yearning for ethnically pure “nations of blood and ties” that caused and were a consequence of this collapse, have something tragic to teach us.  The horrible implications for huge sections of the population, ethnically cleansed into post-colonial states that have forgotten their anti-imperialist histories, is too recent to be forgotten.

Ethnic nationalism, combined with the essentialism of numbers, implies that “ one is in the grip of a love greater than reason, stronger than the will, a love akin to fate and destiny. Such a love assists the belief that it is fate, however tragic, that obliges you to kill” (Ignatieff 1993: 10).[xxxii]  History is then reworked to create the fiction of ethnic purity in the past, in which “ history is the savage play of ascriptive sympathies and antipathies, in which the ‘natural’ condition of groups of different origins is one in which they are wholly apart” (Al-Azmeh 1993:9).[xxxiii]

Thus, invoked in the rape and genocide of Muslims in Bosnia is the appeal to concocted history, to ethnic tribalism in all its gory, and ancient, essential symbols:

Miraculous Virgins make their scheduled appearance. Lurid posters show shafts of light touching the pommels of mysterious swords, or blazoning the talons of vicious two-headed eagles as more than a million Serbs attend a frenzied rally on the battle site of Kosavo where their forbears were humiliated in 1389, and hear former communists rave in accents of wounded tribalisms. Ancient insignias, totems, feudal coats of arms, talismans, oaths, rituals, icons and regalia jostle to take the field. A society long sunk in political stagnation is convulsed: puking up great rancid chunks of undigested barbarism ( Hitchens 1992 cited in Al-Azmeh 1993:10).[xxxiv]

The politics of nostalgia, of fictive identities, swirling with unresolved conflicts with neo-imperialism, create post-modern states painfully emulating the nation states imagined in Romantic Germany, as a nation of volk, of people of the soil, of primordial ties embedded in an ancient culture, in a fierce anti-Enlightenment discourse. This is of course eerily familiar to those of us in India, witness to pogroms against Muslims launched by the Sangh parivar. As Baber has shown, communalisation and racism are intertwined, often enough with cultures, to produce fictive ascriptive identities (Baber 2011).[xxxv]

The onslaught against the Muslims, is accompanied by concoction of history which is a mélange of myths and fiction, accompanied by the invention of “traditions”, the classification of Indian culture as “essentially” Hindu culture and so on. Fundamentalist demography is built upon these layered tissues of lies and populist myths to create a political community of Hindus. As with all fundamentalisms, these are also carved on the bodies of women. Internalising – with bewilderment, hurt and anger – colonial descriptions of Hindus as effeminate, the new identity that is sought to be created is virulently masculinist.[xxxvi] Along with the semitisation of Hinduism ( Jaiswal 1991)[xxxvii], there is an attempt also to make Hindu males more virile, more dangerous, more predatory, more like the allegedly Muslim male. Could this explain the huge increase in violence against females that we have also simultaneously witnessed?

As Malouf has observed, the rush for identities, to seek some fundamental allegiance, often religious, racial or ethnic, leads to murderous identities of blood. Responding to imagined atavistic fears and anxieties, we seem to be heading towards what Malouf describes as the age of “global tribes” (Malouf 2001).[xxxviii]

Imbricated in this is the celebration of the pure “community” even as ideas of the nation are scoffed at, when development is supposed to be automatically and necessarily linked to violence. This is accompanied by a deep distrust of ideas of rationality, curiously described as Western, in a bizarre reflection from Orientalist mirrors. Embedded in this discourse are spurious ideas of oneness with nature in the pre-modern past, of equally innocent ideas of the wholeness in human affairs in those golden ages, a forgetting that a tribal past was a past of constant and continuous warfare. In short, that a tribal past, an ethnic past, a past celebrating blood ties, was equally oppressive: to a large majority of women and men, the ants of these societies, put to labour and set to breed. My fear is that revocations of this past, suitably re-worked, would also mean a divestment of citizenship rights that tribal communities of course did not know about, or have any use for. For as opposed to the membership of a tribe, what is at stake is citizenship in a nation.

Sometimes, in sophisticated formulations, instead of race and tribes, what is often invoked today is “culture”, reified, petrified, timeless and endlessly frozen. As Al-Azmeh observes, “In the 1980s this relegation of the non-European world to irreducible and therefore irredeemable particularlism was officiated, with increasing frequency and clearly as a mark of bewilderment, under the title of ‘culture’, which became little more than a token for incomprehension: each ‘culture’ is represented as a monadic universe of solipsism and impermeability, consisting in its manifold instances of an essential self,” (Al-Azmeh 1993:21).[xxxix] The politics of the east is east, and the west west with never the twain meeting is played out with new tropes, new metaphors, all of which of course elide the reality of imperialism, even as they privilege the essentialisms of difference and timeless culture. The Other, thus constructed, is then ineluctably outside the human pale. And then, their numbers begin to threaten. Should we then, not fear Them, hate Them? Should we do nothing, will they engulf Us?

Being outside the human pale, is what makes their numbers threatening, and genocide possible (Mamdani 2001 ).[xl] Or the widespread use of rape and violence against women and children – from Bosnia, to Rwanda to Gujarat.

Lionel Penrose, a British physician who was one of those questioning the central tenet of eugenic thinking, the heritability of mental disorders and intelligence, was equally puzzled by the frequent assertion among the elites that feebleminded people had strong sexual drives. There was simply no empirical evidence for these claims, and yet there were frequent calls for eugenic sterilisation – although of course sterilisation is known not to decrease the libido. Penrose offered a Freudian explanation that is appealing. He wrote:

It is a well-known psychological mechanism that hatred, which is repressed under normal circumstances, may become manifest in the presence of an object which is already discredited in some way.  An excuse for viewing mentally defective individuals with abhorrence is the idea that those at large enjoy themselves sexually in ways which are forbidden or difficult to accomplish in the higher strata of society. The association between the idea of the supposed fecundity of the feebleminded and the need for their sterilization is apparently rational, but it may be emphasized by an unconscious desire to forbid these supposed sexual excesses. It is of course well known that advocates of sterilization never desire it applied to their own class, but always to someone else (Penrose cited in Kevles 1995:108).[xli]

Could this equally be an explanation for neo-Malthusian ideas about the reproductive profligacy of the poor? Could this be the explanation for the irrational communal anxieties about the Muslim rate of population growth among a section of Hindus in the country? The frequent slogan “Hum do, hamare do; Woh paanch, unke pachees” won the leader of the genocide in Gujarat in 2002 a shameful but resounding electoral victory. Does this also tie in with the trope of the alleged vegetarianism of Hindus along with the sexual rapacity of non-vegetarian Muslims?

Sarkar notes that “there is a dark sexual obsession about the allegedly ultra-virile Muslim male bodies and over-fertile Muslim female ones” (Sarkar 2002: 2874).[xlii] Recounting the unspeakable horrors perpetrated on Muslim women and children in the Gujarat genocide, she offers the following explanations. In communal violence, rape is a sign of collective dishonouring of a community; the same patriarchy that views the female body as the symbol of lineage, of community, of nation – and their purity – would besmirch an entire community as impure and polluted once “their” women are raped. There are also the calculated, and politically charged rumours spread of Muslim men luring away Hindu girls, “ a kind of penis envy and anxiety about emasculation that can only be overcome by violence”. And finally, the anxieties whipped up over generations about “Muslim fertility rates”, of their uncontrolled breeding and the dying of “the Hindu nation”, led to the brutal killing of children, the new blood of the “Muslim race”.

Nussbaum has argued that the creation of virulent masculinities is perhaps a part of the project of nationalisms of the European variety. Emulating this project other communities, other nations of blood and tribes, are also creating masculinities of the European sort. She notes that Israel and India are both seats of construction of this notion of virulent masculinities, both directed at Muslims, classified in colonial discourse as a “martial race”. Those scoffed at as effeminate or over-intellectual, not manly enough to command empires, set out to recreate themselves in colonial mirrors, creating a style of masculinity that is associated with the oppressors in the past, much as they recreate colonial definitions of history. This too is responsible for the horrors of Gujarat, as is the essentialism of numbers, as they wreak murder and rape, “annihilating the female” both in themselves and in the Other (Nussbaum 2007).[xliii] Linking this sadistic sexual violence with fascism, Sontag similarly argues that this was “the ideal incarnation of fascism’s overt celebration of the righteousness of violence, the right to have total power over others and to treat them as absolutely inferior…acted out in a singularly brutal and efficient manner” ( Sontag 1980:99).[xliv]

As early as 1909 U.N.Mukherji had written a book entitled Hindus: A Dying Race, which went on to influence many tracts and publications by the Hindu Maha Sabha, the parent organisation of the RSS. [xlv]  This book seemed to meet a widespread demand, going into many reprints, feeding into Hindu communalism, and helping create it. It had a special appeal to Hindu communalists at this time, anxious to create a monolithic Hindu community, in the face of demands for separate representation emanating from both Muslims and lower-castes. Whipping up anxiety about Muslims would be one way to weld together hugely diverse, and often antagonistic, castes into one community, erasing the structural divisions in caste society. Indeed it has been noted that “for Hindu communalism, it (the book, A Dying Race) had a more direct resonance as Hindu communalism was now preoccupied with numbers…the possibility of low castes declassifying themselves as Hindus was a motivating anxiety behind the origins of Hindu communalism “(Datta 1999: 18).[xlvi] Deeply riddled with inaccuracies, wild flights of prediction of the future with utterly no basis, the book nevertheless provided “demographic common sense functioning as a trope for extinction” (Datta 1999: 23).[xlvii]Also fundamentally, the Hindu communalists believed – and continue to believe – that a nation is defined “culturally” as a Hindu nation, just as Muslim communalists believed in the purity of an Islamic Pakistan. So neatly did the communalists of both religions, Hindu and Muslim, by evoking demographic fears, subscribe to colonial definitions of Indian society! The Censuses of the period also contributed (Cohn 1987).[xlviii] Although England never collected religious data in her population despite all her religious wars in the past, in India, on the other hand, following 1857, religious data on Hindu and Muslim populations were regularly collected and disseminated, from the 1872 Census onwards. Justifying this, the Census Commissioner of 1931 wrote “India is the most religious country in the world” ( cited in Bhagat 2001).[xlix] What this also did is to create homogenous Hindu and Muslim communities where none existed. We must, however, remember that this discourse emerged at an embattled political space, as colonialism was contested, as political classes were formed, as the working class was congealing, and early feminist ideas were gaining ground. None of these, of course, configure in the communalist discourse.

Charu Gupta’s work, based on examining the many tracts produced by the Hindu right-wing, providing an excellent analysis of communalization of population and its gender implications, notes one such tract, which states:

Some Hindus argue that what do we have to do with increasing our numbers? We should be more concerned with preserving the seed of our true Aryan identity. Dear, what do you mean by protection of the seed? In every census, the number of Hindus is decreasing while that of Muslims and Christians is increasing. And you are just concerned with the protection of the seed! Our aim should be to increase numbers, first and foremost ( Cited in Gupta 2004:4303)[l]

There was yet another flame stoking these fears among Hindu communalists, resentful of social reform. Emblematic here was the tragic figure of the Hindu widow.[li] Forbidden remarriage among the upper castes – now increasingly emulated by sanskritising lower castes – she was at once responsible for the dying of the “Hindu race” as she was an allurement for virile Muslim men, a danger within the sacred heart of the Hindu household, waiting to be profaned. Fitting neatly into this gendered anxiety was the communalisation of the issue of “abduction” of Hindu women. Indeed, this too was prominent in the form of epidemics of rumours before the Gujarat genocide in 2002. Thus the embedding of patriarchy, nationhood, and violence against women in discourses on numbers, inscribing on reproductive women’s bodies atavistic anxieties about the future, and the politics of genocide.

Recently we have had leaders from these groups opposing family planning among Hindus, claiming there is a “demographic war” (www.newkerala.com, 2005). [lii] The leader of the VHP enjoined Hindus not to accept family planning as their numbers were going down, even as those of Muslims were increasing. At a public meeting attended by thousands, and in the presence of the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, the leader of the Madhya Pradesh unit of the RSS claimed that the Muslim population was increasing at a rapid pace, and that this, combined with infiltration of Muslims from Bangladesh, portended doom for India. Claiming that this “demographic war” was being waged across the world, he attributed the breakup of the Soviet Union, to such “demographic imbalance” (The Hindu:2005:5).[liii] The same groups have also opposed access to abortion, arguing that a disproportionate number of Hindu women utilise abortion facilities (Rao 2001).[liv] We have also had a huge and unedifying controversy erupting  when the Census Commissioner announced the religion-wise data from the 2001 Census, forgetting to add that these could not be compared to previous figures since the 1991 Census had not been conducted in Kashmir, a Muslim majority state ( Jayaraj and Subramaniam 2004).[lv] The Hindu right created an uproar about “them” out-numbering “us” in our own country, with a lot of help from the national media. This was despite clarifications issued by the Census Commissioner, despite figures showing that the rate of decline of the Muslim growth rate was substantial and indeed sharper than among Hindus. Indeed what has come to be called “saffron demography” has come to stay, “a set of pernicious myths” masquerading often as “common sense” (Jeffery and Jeffery 2005:447).[lvi]

In an extraordinary work, Anandhi reveals how neo-Malthusian concerns were transforming upper-caste anxieties about the lower castes, now asserting themselves, in Tamil Nadu (Anandhi 1998).[lvii] She notes the ease with which the upper class neo-Malthusian agenda interweaves with the upper caste agenda of Brahminical Hinduism to reduce women to merely reproductive bodies requiring male control, in a reimbrication of patriarchy. A number of men, predominantly Brahmin, involved in the early debates on birth control, members of the Neo-Malthusian League in Madras in the early twentieth century, invoked Brahminical texts that apparently regulated the sexuality, and thus the birth rate, among Hindus. Thus is achieved the seamless welding of “Hindu” with upper-castes, the conflation of upper caste practices and norms as Hindu ones. Thus Krishnamurthy Ayyar, noted that, in the case of Hindus, the Code of Manu imposed certain marriage practices that were anti-natal, although curiously he does not mention a deeply embarrassing topic of debate, namely the situation of widows in upper-caste Hindu society. This apparently prevented over-population of Hindus, while conversely creating over-population of those communities not similarly guided by the code of Manu. He also added that the upper caste dietary code of vegetarianism was perfect for regulating reproduction by dampening sexual appetites:

Taking the people of India, the birth rate among the Brahmins, particularly those of Madras and other purely vegetarian communities is the lowest except among the Parsees.[lviii] The Mohammedans who partake of animal foods have increased from 1881 to 1921…the Brahmins, who are purely vegetarian, there was no increase between 1891 and 1921, but a fall (cited in Anandhi 1998:143).[lix]

What was central to the arguments here were the reproductive excesses of the lower castes (and of the Muslims), their unbridled sexuality, the need therefore for upper caste normative control – defined in terms of desexualizing lower caste bodies. As Chakravarty has argued, what Brahminical patriarchy feared, indeed what was supposed to have brought on Kaliyuga, was miscegenation, “the purity of women has a centrality in brahminical patriarchy, because the purity of caste is contingent upon it” (Chakravarthi 1993: 579).[lx]  In short, the lower castes had to practice birth control both to improve the Hindu race and to emulate the upper castes who supposedly practiced continence except for reproductive purposes.[lxi]

As Ayyar observed:

As long as the germ cells belong to the race and human beings are their trusted custodians, birth control should not be resorted to unless it is for considerations of health or economic conditions. If it is practiced with the view to shirk responsibility and to lead a life of merely carnal pleasure, it is committing a crime towards the race (Ayyar cited in Anandhi 1998: 144).[lxii]

What is curious, and indeed striking, is that although there is anxiety about the sexuality of the lower castes, Hindutva does not seem to reveal obvious anxieties about the numbers of the lower castes. On the one hand, as the experience of Gujarat indicates, this could be related to the fact that Hindutva anxieties are largely focused on the growth rates of Christians and Muslims and that they see the dalits and the lower castes as foot soldiers in their fratricidal war. On the other, this could be related to their obvious role as perhaps the sole producers of value. The statement of a landlord in Tamil Nadu to Human Rights Watch illustrates this:

In the past, dalits enjoyed the practice of untouchability…the women enjoyed being oppressed by men. Ladies would boast that my husband has more wives. Most dalit women enjoy relations with men. They enjoy upper caste community men having them as concubines. Anything with dalits is not done by force….Without dalits we cannot live. We are landholders. We want workers for the fields. Without them we cannot cultivate or take care of our cattle. But dalit women’s relations with other men are not out of economic dependency. She wants it from him. He permits it. (Human Rights Watch 1999: 31).[lxiii]

In Conclusion

“Most Americans Want Immigration Drastically Reduced” reads a full-page advertisement in Harper’s of October 2004 (Vol.309, No.1853: 19), put forth by Negative Population Growth. It goes on to argue about the “catastrophic effect of overpopulation on our environment, resources and standard of living.” Neo-Malthusian underpinnings are evident in some of the security discourses on refugees, and are at the heart of dominant global discourses on the environment. We only need to remember that as soon as elections are announced in the U.K., immigration becomes an issue, not just for the Conservatives, but also for the New Labour of Tony Blair. At the same time, a sub-discipline of “strategic demography” has emerged, that seeks to locate the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in the “youth bulge theory, ” i.e. that population growth in Islamic countries, characterized by a high proportion of youth, spells political hazards, not just to democracy in their own countries but to the so-called free world (See Hendrixson, Anne (2004), Angry Young Men, Veiled Young Women: Constructing a New Population Threat, Cornerhouse Briefing No.34, December). This does not explain the rise to dominance of fundamentalism in the United States, which of course has no youth bulge, but such matters of truth or rigour rarely troubled demographic discourses in the past, and obviously do not, today. In other words, the population growth argument remains compelling, explaining just about everything, and thus of course explaining nothing.

The issue of population is of course a field where a rational and historical examination of facts is often clouded, occluded, rendered opaque.  Neo Malthusian arguments are truly protean, they are like Vishnu’s avatars, taking myriad forms: that poverty in our country primarily persists due to population growth; that the poor do not know what is good for them and for society as a whole, behave irrationally, and thus need to be educated; that population growth among religious communities is because some religious groups seek to outbreed and take over “our” country; the belief that affirmative action for the dalits presents a threat to social well-being and indeed that all welfare schemes represent a waste of productive investments; that “we” as a nation are in a bind, and, having tried everything, the only way out is that the poor can and indeed must be coerced to control their numbers; that population growth represents the main threat to the environment; that population growth in Third World countries can act as a security threat to the interests of freedom and democracy in the world and so on. Now of course, with the global war on terror, youth bulge theories have contributed to, and drawn sustenance from, global Islamophobia. Lurking at the heart of all these discourses, crazily, simplistically, is the idea of neo-Malthusianism, a simple arithmetical one.

At the most obvious level as to why people believe what they do, it is true that many people have, for hundreds of years, believed in something simply because this is “common sense”. The belief that the earth is flat and that it is at the center of the universe is one such belief that lasted centuries, and still apparently has followers. This, of course, begs the question as to what is common sense and how this is created, or indeed constructed.

Neo-Malthusianism offers a simple ordering of a complex, fractured and frightening world. In this ordering of the world, God is indeed in His heaven and all would be well had it not been for the predilection of the poor, the Them, to breed quite so incontinently. It is a profound alchemy of the mind that endows society with biological characteristics, all the better to control and recreate it. It allows us to think of the world without dangerous ideas of re-ordering a deeply unjust social order, indeed blaming victims, the “them”, who would otherwise threaten “us” with their demands for equality and justice. It is not only a beguilingly simple explanation of the world, this explanation has also the imprimatur of the state and all powerful organs of dissemination of knowledge and information, constantly reiterated and restated in any number of ways. Indeed, it might perhaps not be an exaggeration to state that more resources have been spent on creating this common sense over more than a hundred years than any other such idea in the world. Lurking below the surface, these ideas have always a strange way of resurfacing in what are perceived by some as incomprehensibly apocalyptic times, when the world as we know it stands threatened, or is changing too fast for our liking, when we yearn for a prelapsarian age of innocence and glory, when things were said to have been so much simpler. Thus the re-invention of tradition (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983)[lxiv], the entirely understandable fear of the heartless immorality of the modern, indeed of the demands of the hitherto dispossessed – which is also fundamentally part of this modernity.

Yet another factor is the ease, or the appeal, of linear or closed system thinking. It is thus not surprising that so many biologists, equating human societies with agglomerations of mango-flies or other instinctive creatures, frequently offer doomsday scenarios of population growth, as if humans are not reflexive, learning, reacting, eternally changing.

Nothing perhaps is more appealing to crude “common sense” than the many images of humankind such thinking creates: the image of human societies as crawling, over-breeding insects in a finite jar, or of organisms in a petri dish. But the imagery is not always crude, appealing to the most insentient in us. Most such images of the population question undoubtedly appeal to the altruistic: the images of starving children, hungry mothers, eyes powerfully accusing, along with the message of over-population. Indeed we are then exhorted to do something about it by contributing to population control in Third World countries. What many of these images also appeal to is the immediate, the un-reflexive, thus a-historical, in a world profoundly troubled by history and impatient with it.

Writing quite innocently about the communalization of population in India several years ago, I was utterly astonished, indeed frightened – which, I suspect was the intention – by the responses I received, in the form of many many postcards. I was labeled anti-Hindu, and many of the writers hoped that I would move to Pakistan, where they said my wife would get raped. A decade later websites run by Non Resident Indians in the USA, anxious about their Hindu-ness, while they had forsaken their country, repeated similar venom. This too could be inexplicable, indeed unthinkable: here are the self-proclaimed best and brightest, at the acme of their professional careers in the land of milk and honey, writing what can only be described as pornography.

How does one explain this? What this essay has attempted to do is to understand how ideas of population, of neo- Malthusianism, are re-configured, re-constructed and moulded by other ideas, of race, of gender, of community, and indeed nationhood. It does not seem to matter at all that neo-Malthusian ideas are repeatedly shown to be historically and empirically shallow. They bafflingly gild many disconnected discourses, giving the politics of numbers contemporary bite and pungency.

The novelist Julian Barnes, similarly baffled by the appeal of Thatcher, notes that her achievements were truly remarkable. She revealed that it was possible at times to do the truly unthinkable. She taught us that:

You could survive while allowing unemployment to rise to levels previously thought politically untenable. You could politicize hitherto unpolitical public bodies, and force the holy principles of the market into areas of society presumed sacrosanct. You could sharply diminish union power and increase employer power… You could make the rich richer and the poor poorer until you had restored the gap that existed at the end of the last century…. You could do all this and in the process traumatize the opposition …and even manage to get votes from the unemployed” (Barnes 1999: 546).[lxv]

How did she manage this? One, alas all too banal way, was, of course, by appeals to demagoguery and chauvinism. The second was what Barnes calls the “gut appeal to nature. ” But of course a nature modeled on capitalism, of nature red in tooth and claw, much as Darwin did with talk of the survival of the fittest. [lxvi]  Thus natural is constructed to mean the celebration of supreme and un-curtailed self-interest of the rich, and competitiveness in society.

If nature was indeed this way, who were we to intervene? Perhaps it is hubris to intervene? Nature, in other words, appears to tell the listener that the poor and other victims of the system are merely reaping what they sow, just as the rich and the privileged do.  What Thatcher did, much as Malthus did before her, was to argue that the poor had no moral right therefore to welfare. What she also did was to reduce the enormous complexities of social life to simple homilies, replacing hesitation and questioning with granitic certitudes, set in cold stone. In short, the success of neo-Malthusianism is the reduction of unpredictabilities, of uncertainties of life, of the political with the hard givens of Malthusian arithmetic, thus depoliticising politics. The success is precisely in naturalizing the social and therefore the contingent, giving it a timelessness, a timelessness as fragile as anything carved on stone.

As the new wave of globalisation, sharpens inequalities, accentuates the rate of exploitation, and the dispossession, of the poor globally, increases the transfer of resources from the poor to the rich countries, neo-Malthusian discourses serve to both naturalise these processes, as provide natural explanations for sharp political conflicts over resources, natural, social and intellectual. Fundamentalisms, anti-feminisms, and racisms are congealed into this.

[i] Often the same organizations, today arguing for reproductive health and rights, were involved in creating the population explosion concept. They have the same attached academics and NGOs. Recently, of course, their numbers – and reach – have dramatically increased, in response to increasing NGO-isation of the health system, most often in response to donor/lender demands. What needs to be sufficiently explored, and it hasn’t been, is why and how these donor/lender agencies command so much clout, given their relatively small contribution to India’s health budget.

[ii] Lipschutz, Ronnie D. and Turcotte, Heather (2005), “Duct Tape or Plastic? The Political Economy of Threats and the Production of Fear” in Betsy Hartmann, Banu Subrmaniam and Charles Zerner (Eds), Making Threats: Biofears and Environmental Anxieties, Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham.

[iii] Europol (2010), “ EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report” accessed at http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cmsUpload?TE-SAT%202010.pdf on 23rd September 2011. I am grateful to Mukul Kesavan for this reference.

[iv] Posner, Sarah (2011), “Breivik’s Demographic Warfare and the American Right’s Demographic Winter”, accessed at http://www.newage islam.com/New AgeIslamMuslimsAndIslamophobia on 27th July 2011.

[v] Puar, Jasbir (2010), “Israel’s Gay Propaganda War”, The Guardian, 1st July 2010, accessed at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jul/01/israels-gay-propaganda-war, accessed on 20th September 2011.

[vi] Kaur, Ravinder (2011), “The Intimate Enemy”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.XLVI, No.35, 27th August.

[vii] Kaur, Ravinder (2011), Ibid.

[viii] Express News Service” (2011)” The Norwegian Killers Ideas are not Entirely Wrong: BJP MP, B.P.Singhal”, 27th July.

[ix] Gould, Stephen Jay (1981), The Mismeasure of Man, W.W.Norton and Co., New York.

[x] Rudyard Kipling (1899), The White Man’s Burden
                    Take up the White Man's burden
                    Send forth the best ye breed
                    Go bind your sons to exile
                    To serve your captives' need;
                    To wait in heavy harness,
                    On fluttered folk and wild
                    Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
               Half-devil and half-child.

[xi] Gould, op cit.

[xii] These tropes hang heavy and loom over neo-Malthusian discourses in contemporary times, when we are enveloped in the second wave of globalisation.

[xiii]  Gould, op cit.

[xiv] For how eugenic ideas, fused with Evangelical Christianity, about the Other influenced US soldiers in their many wars in South America, see Greg Grandin (2006), Empires Workshop: Latin America, the United States and the Rise of a New Imperialism, Metropolitan Books, New York..

[xv]Francis Galton, cited in Kevles, Daniel J. (1995), In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.

[xvi] Rao, Mohan (2004), From Population Control to Reproductive Health: Malthusian Arithmetic, Sage, New Delhi.

[xvii]  Oakley, Ann (1986),The Captured Womb: A History of Medical Care of Pregnant Women, Basil Blackwell, London.

[xviii] Adolf  Hitler in  Mein Kampf, cited in Bondestam, Lars and Bergstrom, Staffan (Ed)(1980), Poverty and Population Control, Academic Press, London.

[xix] Brunius, Harry (2006), Better for all the World: The Secret History of Forced Sterilisations and America’s Quest for Racial Purity, Alfred A.Knopf, New York.

[xx] Enzenberger, H.M. ( 1992 ), “The Great Migrants”, in Krauts, Granta 42, Penguin London.

[xxi] Nussbaum, Martha (2007), The Clash Within: Violence, Hope and India’s Future, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.

[xxii] Casolari, Marzia (2000), “Hindutvas Foreign Tie-Up in the 1930s: Archival Evidence”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.XXXV, No.4, Jan 22nd.

[xxiii] Sen, Amartya (2005), The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity, Penguin, New Delhi.

[xxiv] Sangari, Kumkum (2001), Politics of the Possible: Essays on Gender, History, Narratives, Colonial English, Tulika, New Delhi.

[xxv] Ali, Kamran Asdar (2002), Planning the Family in Egypt: New Bodies, New Selves, University of Texas Press, Austin.

[xxvi] Wuyts, Marc (1998), Malthus, Then and Now: The Novelty of Old Ideas on Population and Economy, Dies Natalis Address, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague.

[xxvii] Mamdani, Mahmood (2004), Good Muslims, Bad Muslims: Islam, the USA and the Global War Against Terror, Permanent Black, Delhi.

[xxviii] Patnaik, Prabhat (2003), The Retreat to Unfreedom: Essays on the Emerging World Order, Tulika, New Delhi.

[xxix] Mamdani, Mahmood ( 2001), When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism and the Genocide in Rwanda, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

[xxx] For a critique of this concept, and how they are framed by both colonialism and imperialism, see Mamdani (2001).

[xxxi] Uri Avneri (2002), “ A Jewish Demographic State”, cited in Betsy Hartmann and Anne Hendrixson “Pernicious Peasants and Angry Young Men”, in Hartmann, Subramanian and Zerner (Eds), op cit.

[xxxii] Ignatieff, Michael (1993), Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism, Penguin, London..

[xxxiii]  Al-Azmeh, Aziz (1993), Islams and Modernities, Verso, London.

[xxxiv] Christopher Hitchens (1992), “Appointment in Sarajevo” cited in Al-Azmeh, ibid.

[xxxv] Baber, Zaheer (2004), “’Race’, Religion and Riot: The ‘Racialisation’ of Communal Identity and Conflict in India”, Sociology, Vol.38, No.4.

[xxxvi] Anand Patwardhan’s documentary of 1995, “The Father, Son and Holy War “ explores this theme with its trenchant – and sharp- documentation of the Hindu right-wing’s project.

[xxxvii] Jaiswal, Suvira (1991), “Semitising Hinduism: Changing Paradigms of Brahminical Integration”, Social Scientist, Vol.19, No.12, December.

[xxxviii] Malouf, Amin (2001), In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong, Arcade Publishing, New York.

[xxxix] Al Azmeh (1993), op cit.

[xl] Mamdani (2001), op cit. Mamdani notes the ease with which over-population arguments were used to explain the genocide in Rwanda, even as he shows how the colonial constructions of race, carried over into post-colonial institutionalisation of citizenship, were both powerful factors in the genocide at Rwanda, but to carry this out, the victims were first to be denied humanity. See also Greg Grandin (2006), Empires Workshop: Latin America, the United States and the Rise of a New Imperialism, Metropolitan Books, New York. Grandin shows us that the much earlier genocide in Latin America, indeed the genocides in the Americas, was possible only because Indians were deemed not human, not fit for redemption into humanity.

[xli] Kevles, Daniel J. (1995), op cit.

[xlii] Sarkar, Tanika (2002), “ Semiotics of Muslim Terror: Muslim Children and Women in Hindu Rashtra”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.XXXVII, No.28.

[xliii] Nussbaum, Martha (2007), The Clash Within: Violence, Hope and India’s Future, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.

[xliv] Sontag, Susan (1980), “Fascinating Fascism” in Under the Sign of Saturn, The Noonday Press, N.Y.

[xlv] Curiously Sidney Webb wrote his tract The Decline of the Birth Rate at about the same time. He was concerned the English were committing “race suicide” with the population of England becoming increasingly Jewish and Irish (Jayal, Niraja Gopal (ed) (1987), Sidney and Beatrice Webb: Indian Diary, OUP, Delhi.). The Webbs, Wells and Shaw, were all fervent believers in eugenics.

[xlvi]Datta, Pradip Kumar (1999), Carving Blocs: Communal Ideology in Early Twentieth Century Bengal,O.U.P., Delhi.

[xlvii] Ibid.

[xlviii] Cohn, Bernard S.(1987), “The Census, Social Structure and Objectification in South Asia”, in An Anthropologist Among Historians and Other Essays, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

[xlix] Bhagat, R.B (2001), “ Census and the Construction of Communalism in India”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XXXXI, No. 47, November 24th, 2001. What Bhagat also shows us is the enormous problems the census faced in classifying people they enumerated.

[l] Gupta, Charu (2004), “Censuses, Communalism, Gender and Identity: A Historical Perspective”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.XXXXIV, No.39, Sep 25th.

[li] It is interesting that it was the semiotics of this image that was conjured up by some women members of the BJP, protesting the possibility of Sonia Gandhi exercising her citizenship rights to the Prime Ministership of the country.  These MPs threatened to tonsure their heads if Ms.Gandhi was elected the PM. A tonsured head is of course the sign of an upper caste widow in Hindu society. The matter, they argued, was not of rights and the Constitution, but Hindu emotion that over-rode these rights. Thus is wedded anti-feminism to communalism, with women BJP members making a patriarchal bargain. While the appeal of course is to the timeless, and to culture, albeit upper-caste ones, what was being fought over was much more quotidian.

[lii]  http://www.newkerala.com/ (30 December 2004),” VHP Supremo Asks Hindus to give up Family Planning”.  The PTI reported from Rohtak on December 29th that the VHP president Ashok Singhal said Hindus should give up family planning so that their population does not
go down. Speaking at the inaugural session of VHP’s joint meeting of the international board of trustees and the central management committee, he said population of minorities, especially Muslims, had been rising at “such a fast pace” that it would be 25 to 30 per cent of the total population in 50 years. Singhal said it would be “suicidal” for Hindus if they did not raise their population. He said that it was essential to build a Ram temple at Ayodhya for ‘dharmik azadi’ (religious freedom) of the Hindus. Further, at the Margadarshak Mandal, its apex body meeting in February 2005, a resolution was passed calling upon Hindus to follow the ideal family size set by Lord Krishna’s parents and “contribute constructively towards increasing the Hindu population” (“VHP asks Hindus to Abandon Two Child Norm”,The Statesman, Wednesday 16th February 2005). The resolution also called for checking Bangladeshi infiltration and preventing Hindu girls from marrying Muslim boys. Krishna, the resolution pointed, out was the eight child of his parents as was Netaji Bose, and Rabindranath Tagore, the ninth!

[liii] Staff Correspondent (2005), “RSS sees ‘demographic war’”, The Hindu, 24th January 2005.

[liv] Rao, Mohan (2001),“Female Foeticide; Where Do We Go?”, Issues in Medical Ethics, Vol.IX, No.4, October.

[lv] Jayaraj, D. and Subramaniam, S. (2004), “Manufacturing Hysteria: On Census-Inspired ‘Nationalism’”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XXXIX, No.39, Sep 25th.

 24. Jeffery, Roger and Jeffery, Patricia (2005), “Saffron Demography, Common Wisdom, Aspirations and Uneven Governmentalities”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.XL, No.5.

[lvii]Anandhi, S. (1998), “Reproductive Bodies and Regulated Sexuality: Birth Control Debates in Early Twentieth Century Tamilanadu” in Mary E.John and Janaki Nair (ed), A Question of Silence? The Sexual Economies of Modern India, Kali for Women, Delhi.

[lviii]This sentence is riddled with minefields, defeating his own argument, since he notes that non-vegetarian Parsees also had low birth rates. Nevertheless there is a curious, and entirely incorrect, characterisation of Brahmins as strictly vegetarian. Indeed the Brahmins of Kashmir, who consider themselves the Brahmins of Brahmins, are non-vegetarians, as also the Brahmins of Bengal and South Kanara. But today at the height of Hindutvavadi resurgence it is being asserted that all Hindus are essentially vegetarian in a move to deny beef to the dalit and Muslim communities.

[lix]Anandhi, S. (1998), op cit.

[lx] Chakravarthi, Uma (1993), “Conceptualising Brahminical Patriarchy in Early India: Gender, Caste, Class and State”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.XXVIII, No.14.

[lxi] This indeed was Mahatma Gandhi’s position on birth control.

[lxii] Anandhi, S. (1998), op cit.

[lxiii] Human Rights Watch (1999), Broken People: Caste Violence Against India’s ‘Untouchables’, Books for Change, Bangalore.

[lxiv] Hobsbawm, Eric and Ranger, Terence (Eds), The Invention of Traditions, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

[lxv]Barnes, Julian (1999), “Mrs.Thatcher Remembers” in Ian Hamilton (Ed), The Book of Twentieth Century Essays, Fromm International, New York.

[lxvi] Tennyson might well be turning in his grave if he knew how his famous line “Nature red in truth and  claw” inspired not just Thatcher and the Bushes, pere and fils, but also the Hindu right and the Islamic Brotherhood and indeed all those who favour the current  neo-liberal world order.!


A medical doctor, specialised in public health, Mohan Rao is Professor at the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is the author of From Population Control to Reproductive Health: Malthusian Arithmetic(Sage, 2004) and has edited Disinvesting in Health: The World Bank’s Health Prescriptions (Sage, 1999) and The Unheard Scream: Reproductive Health and Women’s Lives in India (Zubaan,2004), and, with Sarah Sexton, Markets and Malthus: Population, Gender and Health in Neoliberal Times (Sage 2010)

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