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Small Families, Less Women Cut India's Sikh Population

Suhasini | OneWorld South Asia
07 September 2004
NEW DELHI, Sept 7 (OneWorld) - India's release Monday of the country's 2001 religion-wise population Census, reveals that the 19 million strong minority Sikh community has reduced in numbers from 24.3 percent in 1991 to 18.2 percent in 2001, and has one of the lowest sex ratios of women to men.

The 2001 Census results show that, while the sex ratio (number of females per thousand males) among India's 24 million Christian population increased from 994 in 1991 to 1009 in 2001, the sex ratio among Sikhs was just 893.

Disturbed by the stark gender discrimination, the chairman of India's National Minorities Commission, Tarlochan Singh plans to call an urgent meeting of Sikh religious leaders and members of the intelligentsia to discuss how to arrest the decline in female population.

"This disturbing trend should be checked promptly," he declares.

Singh is not perturbed by the decline in total Sikh population, attributing it to positive factors. As he puts it, "There has been a massive exodus of Sikhs abroad - some 2.5 million of the community have emigrated in search of better avenues. They enjoy a good standard of living and have adopted strict family planning methods."

Welcoming the population decline, Simranjit Singh Mann, President of hardline Sikh political party, Akali Dal (Amritsar), remarks, "The reduction is a healthy trend, as it has cut down on the flab, leaving mainly well-educated Sikhs who are economically emancipated. This could provide a model for the rest of Asia."

In sharp contrast to the Sikh community's adherence to family planning, the Census findings show a steady increase in the population of two of India's largest minorities - Muslims (138 million) and Christians (24 million).

R.P Singh, member of the Sikh Forum (an association of Sikh intelligentsia) who discussed the findings Tuesday, stresses that, "Sikhs are not in a race with Muslims and Christians in terms of numbers, but we need to be more strategic in our thinking to control political systems across the world, especially in countries like the US, UK and Canada where Sikhs proliferate."

Currently the community which constitutes a miniscule minority in France, is pressing for the right to wear turbans, holding that the headgear forms a distinctive part of their identity.

Singh emphasizes that the tenets of the Sikh religion include equality of the sexes, terming the skewed sex ratio findings of the Census indicative of the entire peasantry class in northern India, where feudal attitudes still hold sway.

"We are going to ask the government to initiate a campaign to change their mindset," he says.

Over the past few years there have been a slew of media reports on the rising popularity of sex determination tests and female foeticide in northern India, where a female child is regarded a liability, due to the lack of inheritance rights and the dowry system.

Members of the community caution that the dwindling numbers of Sikhs should not disqualify them from seeking government employment. For instance, seats in the Indian Parliament, in the armed forces and the civil services should not be allocated on the basis of population.

Declares Mann, "There should be no population quotas, recruitment should be purely on merit. As it is, the federal government has curtailed recruitment to the army and central police services from Punjab."

Long regarded as India's granary, Sikhs are in a majority in the northern province of Punjab.

Interestingly, four minorities in India have recorded the highest literacy rates in the country - topping the list are the predominantly business vegetarian Jain community who boast a 94.1 literacy rate, followed by Christians (80.3 percent), Buddhists (72.2 percent) and Sikhs (69.4 percent).

Not surprisingly, as compared to the economically advantaged Sikhs and majority Hindus, the data shows the percentage of Muslim workers to total population, is just 31.3 percent. While 31.3 percent of Hindus are cultivators, only 20.7 percent of Muslims fall in this category.

For the minorities commission this is cause for concern. Remarks Tarlochan Singh, "I am worried about the sharp increase of poverty and illiteracy among the Muslims and plan to summon their leaders for a meeting."

Hindus comprise 827 million of India's 1.028 population.
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