Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, a Deobandi cleric turned perfume baron turned politician has shocked almost everyone by asking Muslims to produce more children. His comment came following the Assam government's new criteria for providing employment to people having two or less children. Ajmal, whose political outfit, AIUDF, is a prominent player in Assamese politics –irrespective of the fact it has remained on opposition benches ever since it was formed some fourteen years ago, has clearly baffled many among the community.
The assumption is not without credence that the latest announcement of the state government limiting the government jobs to people with two or less children targets Muslims. It has come as a bolt from blue for people reeling under the NRC shock. Around 19 lakh people have been excluded from the NRC list and rough estimates suggest that at least 6 lakh of them are Muslims.
Many people claim that the directive is aimed at Muslims and there must be some truth into int. However, the state being among the poorest of the poor, at the bottom of pyramid when it comes to per capita income, a large number of poor and not just Muslims may have large families with more than two or more children. So the latest action from the state government will not just bite the Muslims but all the poor people of an impoverished state. The policy is anti-poor and should have been opposed on such ground, without religion being dragged into the discourse.
The policy to limit job opportunities to small families of two children has been in the making for quite sometimes. Merely last year, the Supreme Court said that the birth of a third child will disqualify a person from contesting a panchayat poll. Three years ago, in the year 2016, the apex court had upheld a decision of Haryana when the state decided to frame minimum qualification to contest elections. Assam is not the only state that has set a two child norm for getting government jobs, there are at least a dozen states that have called for the two-child limit for government jobs. This includes states like Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Maharashtra besides other states. States like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh that had earlier supported such norms have withdrawn the proposal.
What Badruddin Ajmal said?
Ajmal, who studied at the famed Islamic seminary in Deoband, while criticizing the state’s two-child norm said that the Muslims will continue to produce children and the fear of losing government jobs will not impact them. He went on to add that "Muslims will continue to produce children and they will not listen to anyone despite the government bringing a law to stop Muslims from having jobs".
If that was not enough, he went on to add, "Our religion and I personally believe that those who want to come to the world will come and no one can stop it. Whatever laws you make, they will have no impact on the Muslims. Tampering with nature is not good. Muslims will do whatever they want to bear children. Don't shout later that we have more children. Don't fight with nature”.
Ajmal, seems to be targeting the poorest of the poor, by opposing the Assam government’s stance on the child limiting norm. His personal loss in assembly elections in the year 2016 had not just come as a rude shock to him but even his opponents, who thought his victory was a foregone conclusion. By siding with the poor over the directive of the state government, he must be trying to solidify his base among Muslims and Dalits.
The cleric turned politician, whose outfit AIUDF has 14 members in the state assembly left many people, including many Muslims flabbergasted. While this was an indefensible act of foolishness or a calculated move by a desperate politician to seek votes, one of his supporters who edits a Muslim magazine had the audacity to support him by writing a few paragraphs. “More children ensure better options for the parents when they are old and in need. Generally when one son or daughter in law rejects parents due to any reason then one comes to assist them…Very few Muslim parents are in old age houses or abandoned by the children because of clear and strong religious instructions for the children that they need to take care of their parents by all means. Muslim parents have more options to chose when they are old”.
Poverty and higher birth rate correlated
Not just Ajmal, but his defenders also willfully forget the fact that people who usually go for larger families are the ones who are poverty stricken and don’t have access to contraceptives or health facilities. Ajmal and his ilks should know that many Arab countries who thrive on oil money and can afford huge families by their argument, tend to have smaller families. In Qatar the birth rate is 1.91 births per woman, in UAE it is just around 1.75, while in Iran it is merely 1.66. Closer home, we have the lowest birth rate in Bangladesh, where poverty eradication program of the government has seen enormous success.
Birth rate coming down among Indian Muslims
Apparently this is the reason that the fertility rate has come down considerably among Indian Muslims. Improving literacy levels among the Indian Muslims besides improved economic condition and access to contraceptives seem to have helped bring down the fertility rate among Muslim women in the country. In the year 1992-93, the fertility rate among Hindus was 3.3 per woman, while among Muslims it was 4.4. This came down to 2.8 among Hindus and 3.6 among Muslims in the year 1998-99. This went down further in 2005-06 when it stood at 2.6 for Hindus and 3.4 percent for Muslims. But the next survey in the year 2015-16 amazed almost everyone when it was found that the fertility among the Muslims had come down to 2.6 per woman from 3.4 a decade ago. Among Hindus the fall in fertility was rather moderate as it came down to 2.1 from 2.6.
There is no denying that Muslim politicians have thrived on ignorance, poverty and illiteracy among the masses in the country. However, I wonder how a person of Ajmal’s caliber can speak so senselessly given the fact that he is not just among the foremost entrepreneurs of Assam and runs a huge business empire but also runs a large number of educational institutions across the north eastern state.
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a New Delhi based author and commentator. His forthcoming book 'Ulema's Role in India's Freedom Movements with Focus on Reshmi Rumal Tehrik will be out in October