A hardline member of Parliament from India's governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has urged Hindu women in the country to have at least four babies, in order to “protect the Hindu religion,” in comments that critics have said are an effort to stir tensions with the country's Muslim minority.
The comments were made by Sakshi Maharaj, while he was addressing a crowd in the Indian city of Meerut. “The concept of four wives and 40 children will not work in India,” he said, a reference to the fact that Muslim men in the country may have four wives. “The time has come when a Hindu woman must produce at least four children in order to protect Hindu religion," he added, according to the Times of India.
More than 80 percent of India's population is Hindu, while Muslims make up less than 14 percent. Hindu nationalists however, insist that there is a real possibility that the higher birth rate in the Muslim community will lead to the minority becoming a majority in the country of more than 1.25 billion people, according to the BBC.
The comments are not Maharaj's first brush with controversy. In December 2014, he described Mahatma Gandhi's assassin Nathuram Godse as a “patriot”; and his comments have led to stormy sessions in the country's parliament, according to India's NDTV.
The latest comments come at a time of heightened religious tensions in India. A Hindu nationalist group, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has in recent months been conducting what it refers to as religious “re-conversions,” which involve having either Christians or Muslims convert to Hinduism.
Surendra Jain, a spokesman for the Vishva Hindu Parishad, another Hindu nationalist group, said this in an interview, cited by the New York Times: “Christians and Muslims here are brothers and sisters of our blood. They were forced to convert either by allurement or fraud. If some people want to rectify the error of their ancestors, what is wrong with it?”
So controversial is the reconversion issue that it effectively paralyzed the country’s parliament last month, stalling the government's economic reform agenda, according to the Independent Online.
India Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a Hindu nationalist who has been accused in the past of discriminating against the country's Muslim minority. He was accused of inaction while governor of Gujarat when riots between Hindus and Muslims in 2002 killed 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus. The allegation was never been proven but still stirs anxiety among some of India's 176 million Muslims, reports NPR.