Maria Wirth is a German and came to India for a holiday after finishing her psychology studies at Hamburg University. She visited the Ardha Kumbha Mela in Haridwar in April 1980 where she met Sri Anandamayi Ma and Devaraha Baba, two renowned saints. With their blessing she continued to live in India and dived into India’s spiritual tradition, sharing her insights with German readers through articles and books. For long, she was convinced that every Indian knows and treasures his great heritage. However, when in recent years, she noticed that there seemed to be a concerted effort to prevent Indians (and the world) from knowing how valuable this ancient Indian heritage is, she started to point out the unique value of Indian tradition.
It seems to be still undecided whether India’s huge population of presently 1270 million is a boon or bane. Occasionally one hears that the number of children should be restricted. Then one hears that it is an advantage that India has so many, especially young people. What is the truth?
For the common man, the experience is that there are crowds wherever he goes – in hospitals, to get admission in schools or colleges, on roads, in railway station, in pilgrimage centres, even in prisons. The infrastructure is clearly stretched to its limits and the competition for jobs and seats in educational institutions is unbelievable.
Yet Indians seem to be still relaxed, as China has even more people. Only in 2030, India is set to take the number one position as the most populous country in the world. On the third position is USA with 315 million, then Indonesia with around 250, and so on.
However, the media and even research papers usually don’t mention an important fact when they compare India’s population with that of other countries: the area available for the residents.
Everyone in India knows from direct experience that the country is densely populated. But only few know how the population density of India relates to that of other countries. Here are some figures (partly from 2010) that will shock:
China is three times the size of India. So if it had the same population density as India, it would have a population of 3.700 million instead of 1.330. The USA, about the same size as China, also would have 3.700 million inhabitants instead of mere 315 million. Australia would have 3.000 million instead of only 20 million. Kazakhstan would have around 1.000 million instead of only 15. Mongolia would have 600 million instead of the unbelievably low 3 million. Indonesia would have 720 instead of 250 million. Russia would take the cake. If it was as densely populated as India, it would harbour 6.130 million, instead of hardly 150 million. Of course, Russia has many inhabitable places. So let’s go to Europe.
The 27 countries of the EU have around 500 million people. They would have 1600 million, if the EU were as densely populated as India. Germany would have 140 million instead of the present 81. United Kingdom would have 95 million instead of 62. Italy would have 110 million instead of 58. France would have 200 instead of 62 million… It is mindboggling. Imagine what would happen, if all the French people moved into Germany to reach 140 million. There would be a big revolt.
Compare this to India’s Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. These two states, which are among the densest populated in India, have an area that is a little smaller than Germany. However, instead of 81 million, over 300 million people live in those two states, plus tigers, leopards, elephants, monkeys, etc. Germany would not only need to accommodate the whole population of France, but also that of Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. This situation is inconceivable. People would be at each other’s throat.
It is intriguing why world population reports generally focus on the high population growth in Africa, and overlook the incredible density of today’s India, which is getting denser and denser each day.
In Africa, 1.110 million people live in an area that is around ten times the size of India. That means, if the whole world population of 7 billion moves to Africa, there is still place for another 5 billion, till people were packed as tightly as they are in India today. Even if the countries in northern Africa are excluded and only the area south of the Sahara is considered, there is place for the whole world population plus an extra 3 billion.
Are these facts purposely obfuscated? Are the white “liberals” in the US, Canada, Australia and South America worried that they will be questioned on what basis their countries refuse entry to people from other nations when they themselves had taken over these vast lands and their mineral wealth unjustly only a few centuries ago and had pushed the indigenous population into a corner or killed them?
Maybe they need not fear these questions – at least not yet – from Indians. ‘Overcrowded’ is a relative term. Most westerners have a low threshold in tolerating many others around. It affects their mood badly. “Hell is other people” Jean Paul Satre, a French philosopher famously said.
Indians have a different mind-set. They feel that each creature – human or animal – has an equal right to be on this earth. They adjust to a given situation. It does not seem to make them unhappy. The unbelievable crowds at the Kumbh Mela are proof. They are energising. There is colour and vibrancy to life. There is a joyful, uplifting atmosphere. People are good natured and helpful to each other.
Those qualities are probably the key: as long as people are good natured and helpful to each other, living closely together is no problem and even enriching, provided the availability of food, jobs and infra-structure can keep up with the population.
And if people are not good-natured and helpful, life is depressing even if everyone lives in a spacious bungalow.
This brings up the question, “Are Indians good natured?” They generally are, and probably more than other people. There are few countries where the attitude of “live and let live” is as pronounced as in India. “All are one family” is the traditional attitude.
Of course in India, too, there are criminals who are hard to reform. India, however, faces also danger from religious fanatics. Many Indians have been converted to Islam and Christianity, and they are taught to feel superior and look down on Hindus and on their own ancestors as well. Both these religions condemn harshly “idol worship”. They consider it an unpardonable affront to the “true God”. ‘Idol worshippers will burn eternally in hellfire’, claim Bible and Quran.
In the Indian tradition, among other methods, murtis are worshipped as a representation of the Divine. And it makes sense: the creative power of the universe naturally has to sustain each part, from the sun to mosquitos, to human beings and to stones. Everything is permeated by the one divine consciousness. So, the Divine can be invoked and worshipped in any part. If only the dogmatic religions were open for a genuine debate and ready to experiment, even they would realise that murti puja can help develop love for the Divine.
Fundamentalism has been rising in the dogmatic religions in recent years and there is the danger, as it happened earlier in Indian history, even as late as in 1990 in Kashmir, that a call is given to the “despicable idol-worshipping” Hindus to convert or else they will gravely suffer. We know it is possible even in our times.
However, in tune with the financial and political clout of the dogmatic religions, the impression is created, as if the Hindus are the dangerous fundamentalists that threaten the peaceful fabric of India. The Indian and international media push this line with amazing success – proving Goebbels right. “Militant, fundamentalist Hindus” are blasted without mentioning that the fundamentals of Hindu Dharma are benign, unlike those of the dogmatic religions. Truth is turned on its head.
It is a challenge to start a genuine debate on truth and the role of religions, and make those Indians, who follow dogmatic religions, realise that they have been misled: demeaning or even harming fellow human beings will never get them heaven or paradise. It simply cannot be. There will be a rude awakening. Whether one is reborn does not depend on whether one believes in it.
The source of all life is naturally like a mother. She is loving and won’t forsake her offspring. It is absurd to believe that billions or trillions of human beings will burn for ever in a huge cauldron of fire after Judgment Day, if this day ever comes.
Christianity started propagating this absurd claim and Islam obviously found it useful, too. It is useful for frightening simple minded people into submission to an ideology that wants to expand all over the globe. Two such ideologies compete today under the tag of religion for world dominion and both consider India as a fertile ground to increase their numbers.
Is it not time to give those, who were brainwashed into obnoxious dogmas, a chance to become free? From my own experience, it was a big relief when I lost faith in the unverifiable Christian dogmas. And I am not alone. Millions lost this faith. Priests in Europe don’t dare anymore to preach that “heathen go to hell” though it is still the official Christian doctrine. They know they would lose even more of their sheep. In India, priests still dare to preach it and, as I just read, even an IAS officer in Tamil Nadu dares to rant against idol worshipping Hindus.
The majority of Indians has an exceptionally tolerant mind-set. This majority may include many of the converts who have not cut their roots but, because of community pressure, do not openly express their doubts about the dogmas they are supposed to believe. The atmosphere in India is still special. Faith in the Divine comes naturally to all Indians. If there is a country that can show to the world how a big number of people can live together in peace and harmony on little space, and even have room for tigers and leopards, it is India.
However, India cannot afford in her midst youth being brainwashed into hating their fellow countrymen, because they call the Divine by another name and use other methods for worship. This would lead to disaster. Unfortunately, the clerics of both dogmatic religions do incite their flock to look down on Hindus, if not worse. ‘Hell is guaranteed for them, if they don’t convert’, is propagated. It is probably the biggest, most harmful superstition and certainly against any scientific temper that Indians are meant to develop. Curiously, I never heard rationalists take up this issue.
The clerics should be asked to give proof that Hindus will burn in hell. If they can’t – and they cannot – they should drop this claim and appreciate the Rishis’ observation: Truth is one – the wise call it by many names.
Let the Highest be worshipped under many names – as God, Jesus, Allah, Brahman, Ishwar, Bhagwan, Ram, etc., but acknowledge that Truth is One and it is too big to fit into any book.
Is it asking for too much?
By Maria Wirth