Thiruvananthapuram: The jump in the number of Assembly seats in Malappuram from 12 to 16 following the 2010 delimitation had raised the concern in some quarters that “unbridled” population growth in the district benefited the Muslim community politically even as non-minority communities with better population control lost out elsewhere.
In all, Malabar gained an extra eight Assembly seats following the delimitation, in direct proportion to the rise in the number of voters. Across Malabar, the population size had shrunk at a slower pace than elsewhere in the State.
The number of seats in Malabar reflected the differential total fertility rate (TFR) for the State and fertility rate for the Muslim community. The Muslim population has a high TFR of 2.6 as against 1.5 for Hindus as of 2001. The TFR for Christians in Kerala is further lower summing up to a TFR for the state at 1.7 which is much below replacement level of fertility.
Dr K C Zachariah at the Centre for development Studies has projected the size of Muslim population to be double that of Christians and the total Hindu population to fall below 50 percent by 2051. The figures were worked out on the basis of the religion data on the 2011 census.
The apprehension is that the Muslim community has gained and other communities are being penalized for keeping their population under check.
Demographers, however, allay the fears about one community forever benefiting from the slower decline in the rate of population growth. They say population decline mismatch is a transient phenomenon. In another 20 years, fertility rates across communities in Kerala will converge or even out.
Prof Mishra U S at the Centre for Development Studies points out that if the Muslim community has been slow to catch up with the rest of the communities in declining fertility rates, the pace of fertility decline among Muslims has been much faster.
In fact the fertility transition began in the state in the 60’s to accomplish the current state of low fertility in 40 years which would have been attained much earlier but for the lag to catch up by the Muslim community. However, the catch-up is visible and rapidly under way.
Kerala Muslims have lower TFR than Hindus in most of the Indian states. Fertility rates among Muslims will fall further in tandem with the improvement in higher education and employment rates among Muslim girls.
In the interim, politicians should not exploit this phenomenon for petty po0litical interests because it could spawn misapprehensions among non-Muslim communities and foment communal discord. Demographic changes are inevitable and communities in Kerala will soon achieve uniform physical quality of life indices, presenting a more homogenous society in terms of social advances.
Dr Zachariah said his projections should help planners discount exaggerated claims about community strength by respective community leaders. He said he was not overly concerned about the outcome of the social impact of demographic changes because religion would not play as important a role it had played. “Religion as factor of development has been exaggerated”, said Dr Zachariah.