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Why you should hope the government ignores the census data on Muslims

A lot of schools in India have a house-system similar to the one in Harry Potter. A class may be divided into four groups named after famous figures or even random colours. The allocation is usually arbitrary; the first 15-20 numbers in the rolls call go to a certain house, the next 20 to the next, and so on. 

Imagine if the students were free to choose their own houses after the initial allotment. The population of some houses may go up, and others may go down. This may be random or based on individual preferences. Some may have an aversion for the colour that they are allotted, or a preference for a different one.  

How the figures of these individual houses move may be of interest to the prefects of the individual houses. But should the teachers or the schools’ principals spend their time wondering what house accounts for what percentage of the student body?

A news report in the Times of India on Thursday cited source-based census data suggesting that the Muslim population has grown 24 per cent between 2001 and 2011. 

Many comments that follow the online version of the piece are Islamophobic, and some go into a frenzy about an impending Muslim takeover of India. The 24 per cent figure is higher than the national one of 18 per cent (if the source-based data is correct). But this ignores the fact that the Muslim population growth is actually slowing down. Also, that the total population of Muslims has gone up only incrementally, from 13.4 to 14.2 per cent of the total population- a staggering 0.8 per cent. 

And just like the case of the principal and the prefect, the figures should only concern religious leaders; not the government. 

Governments must be immune to Gods of all colours.  The reason is practical. A diverse country can only be kept together if the government recognises everyone’s right to their own beliefs but does not adopt any single one as its own. 

Even Genghis Khan recognized this. He forged one of the largest empires in history which included territories in China, Korea, Russia, Europe and even the Middle-East. But he realized that he would not be able to keep his subjects under his reign if he imposed his world-view upon them. The Mongols for all their violence during conquest, did not force their preferences on the different people who ultimately came to make up their empire-whether this was to do with dress, architecture, food or even religion.  Jack Weatherford in his book ‘Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World,’ explained how the Mongol conquerer dealt with the issue.  

‘…Genghis recognized the disruptive potential of competing religions. In one form or another, virtually every religion from Buddhism to Christianity and Manichaeanism to Islam had found converts amongst the steppe people, and almost all of them claimed not only to be the true religion but the only one…Genghis Khan decreed complete and total religious freedom for everyone. Although he continued to worship the spirits of his homeland, he did not permit them to be used as a national cult,” it said.

There is something to learn from everyone, even Genghis Khan. 

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