Two Indian states ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) plan to introduce new laws on population control and protecting cows.

According to experts, the motive behind such legislation is to target minority communities and polarize communities on religious grounds. The BJP hopes to garner political mileage through such moves, they said.

In India’s most populous northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which will head to the polls early next year, Hindu Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath recently unveiled a draft population control bill that proposes a two-child policy.

The state government has invited suggestions from the public on the draft bill by July 19. The draft bill, which has been uploaded on the website of the State Law Commission, says it was desirable to bring in measures to check the population growth through a two-child policy for eligible couples by providing a series of incentives as well as disincentives.

The draft bill mentions that those violating the proposed legislation would be barred from contesting local body elections, would not be eligible to apply for government jobs, and those already in government jobs would be denied promotions, among other measures. People having more than two children would not get subsidies and benefits from government welfare schemes and would receive food grains and other things at subsidized rates under a government scheme only for four family members.

While Uttar Pradesh proposes to bring a law to curb population growth, the northeastern state of Assam has proposed a new law for the protection of cows, considered holy by Hindus. But critics feel the main aim of introducing such laws is to target the minority Muslim community and divert people’s attention from the government’s failure to provide proper health care and treatment to people when a deadly second wave of COVID-19 hit the country.

Roop Rekha Verma, the former vice-chancellor of Lucknow University, said: “It is not too difficult to understand the motive of the Uttar Pradesh government and what they want to achieve. Their intention is to target members of a particular religion (Islam). Similarly, if we talk about Assam, then there can be no other motive. The aim of the governments in both the states is to target increasingly marginalized Muslims to further alienate them from the society’s mainstream and to create panic among them.”

“They want to create communal disharmony and hatred between Hindus and Muslims. The motive is to create hatred for Muslims among those Hindus and Sikhs who still do not hate them. The BJP led governments want to forcefully instill hatred in them.”

Verma explained how Muslims would be targeted through the population control law.

She said: “The Hindu BJP and radical Hindus have long been arguing that Muslims are producing more children and it would lead to change in the country’s demographic composition and so there should be a law to control their growing population.”

Verma said the government wants to divert people’s focus from other pressing issues.

“In case of Uttar Pradesh, in the last one-and-a half years we have seen extreme mismanagements during the first and second waves of COVID-19. The government allowed large religious gatherings that helped to spread the virus before the second wave of the pandemic hit the state and then they failed to provide treatment to people. So they had to do something to divert attention from all these things and at the same time they also want to consolidate their Hindu vote bank. That’s why they have to take such measures to create hatred among the people. More people are being caught every day in the state in the name of terrorism.”

The population of Uttar Pradesh is 220 million and it is being alleged that the Muslims are contributing more in the growing population compared to other communities. Verma also stressed that many Hindu fanatics have lost their loved ones during the pandemic and so they are angry with the government, and it is necessary for the ruling BJP to somehow win them back through such measures.

She expressed apprehension that the coming times could be worse, maybe there could be communal riots, too. The BJP wants to win the forthcoming state elections, she said.

Cow protection law

Critics feel the proposed cow protection law in the state of Assam will serve no purpose except for widening rifts between the communities.

Azizur Rahman, a leader of Raijor Dal, a regional political party in Assam led by Akhil Gogoi, believes that in today’s situation, there should be a debate on how to support the people who have lost livelihood due to COVID-19-induced lockdowns and restrictions. The Assam government should try to provide succor to these people. But instead, the government is bringing a law to protect cows, said Rahman.

He said: “They want to divert the attention of the people so that they may not talk about the situation arising out of the pandemic. At present, curfew and lockdown is in force in seven districts of the state. But the government feels that there should be a discussion on cows instead of other important issues.”

The Muslims constitute about 34% of the total population in Assam and this bill has been brought keeping them in mind. Apart from this, the tribal or indigenous forest dwelling people will also be hit by the law, Rahman said.

According to the bill, cow meat cannot be sold in the state in areas where members of Hindu, Sikh, and Jain communities live. It also cannot be sold within a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) radius of a Hindu temple.

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