At regular intervals, Hindutva's leading lights remind Hindus of the perils threatening the community, and what they need to do to tackle them. A favourite advice is that Hindus must reproduce more, to counter-balance the rising tide of Muslim population waiting to inundate Bharat desh.
The latest in the long, illustrious, gleamingly saffron line is Swami Govindadev Giriji Maharaj of the Bharat Mata Mandir in Haridwar. Swamiji was speaking at the Dharma Sansad organised by the Vishva Hindu Parishad in Udupi, Karnataka, and said that till the Uniform Civil Code is implemented, Hindus should have at least four children. Otherwise, said the seer, "We have seen that India lost those territories wherever Hindu population reduced, resulting in demographic imbalance."
Swamiji brought in the Uniform Civil Code because he feels while "unfair laws" are restricting Hindus to having only two children, Muslims are populating the country without curbs or controls. The second part of the statement is more difficult to understand. Last history was reliable, no territory had drifted away from independent India because Hindus did not make up ballast weight. But then, we are no seers.
Here is some context: According to Census 2011, Hindus make up 79.8 per cent of India's population. Muslims make up 14.23 per cent. The Muslim population is growing slower than in the previous decades, and its growth rate has slowed more sharply than that of Hindus.
However, facts are minor concerns when the welfare of your community is at stake. Before this, BJP MP from Unnao, Sakshi Maharaj, had advocated the same formula for maintaining healthy Hindu numbers. Firebrand Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader, Sadhvi Prachi, too had exhorted Hindus to reproduce sufficiently, and after an uproar, had "clarified" that she asked Hindu women to only have four children, not "30-40 puppies", like some other communities.
Of course, before them all went the Great Leader himself, with his hum paanch, humare pachees (we five, our 25) witticism in Gujarat in 2002 (There is math behind this: All Muslims have four wives, and each wife on an average produces five kids, see?).
Bad advice, bad intent
When great passions rise, common sense recedes. According to the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), over 30 per cent youths aged 15-29 in India do not have jobs, education or training. The World Bank estimates that between 2010 and 2030, the population in this age group will increase by more than 200 million. How many more youths can be employed as gau rakhshaks?
Natural resources are already stretched to breaking point. Why do the well-wishers of Hindus want more children born than the country has the capacity to support?
Well, in 2016, Vasudevanand Saraswati, the Shankaracharya of Jyotir Mutt, had assured: "Discard the two-children norm. Have 10 instead, don't worry about who will fend for them, god will take care of your kids."
Such statements are also mischievously communal, seeking to portray Muslims as a community that reproduces irresponsibly.
Having children is a personal decision
However, such appeals to religious groups are problematic in another way. Children are not brought into the world by merely wishing for them, it is a decision that changes the life of the parent forever.
While both the mother and the father are impacted by the presence of a baby - economically, socially and psychologically - for a woman, it also has physical and physiological repercussions. With gender roles still strictly enforced in a largely patriarchal society, the job of bringing up the child - providing time, care - is also considered more a woman's responsibility.
Recognising this, the Supreme Court had recently upheld a woman's right to give birth or undergo an abortion, without the consent of her husband.
Advice such as every Hindu should have four kids takes away the agency of the parents to decide both for their lives and that of their children's. Child bearing is not a duty to a nation or a community. It is a personal decision that shapes the lives individuals.
Statements such as that of Giriji assume women to be baby-producing machines, who will hike output when the community demands it. The children born this way are to be faceless statistics, a collective strength to take on an imaginary threat, not individuals with rights to the best care and resources that can be provided to them.
What kind of assembly-line produced families do these leaders visualise when they trot out such advice? Coincidentally, perhaps, most such leaders do not have families of their own.
Every woman has the right to choose how many children she wishes to have and when, depending on her mental preparedness. Every father has a say in what kind of family he seeks to create. Every child deserves parents who are emotionally ready for it.
Personal choice is not a concept the saffron brigade best understands. But if they seek to position themselves as champions of a community, they should refrain from advice that would negatively impact not just individuals, but the nation as a whole.