Population Control: Will Coercive Measures Work?

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One believes that family welfare must be a part of country’s health planning. — Graphics courtesy: FII

The forthcoming bill by Assam and Uttar Pradesh is guided more by biases and perceptions rather than by the reality of Indian scene.

PROF RAM PUNIYANI | Clarion India

ON the back of population control policy adopted by Assam, where those having more than two children will be barred from contesting local elections and will not considered for promotions in Government service, now UP is coming up with the similar bill, the Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilization and Welfare) Bill, 2021. The claim is that this will control and stabilise the population of the state.

 Both these states are aiming at coercive measures, carrot on one side and stick on the other, to implement this norm. One believes that family welfare must be a part of country’s health planning. The forthcoming bill by these states is guided more by biases and perceptions rather than by the reality of Indian scene. As far as population control is concerned. India was among the foremost countries to introduce family planning measures right from 1952. Initially, it was presented as family planning to control the number of children; later more appropriate word ‘family welfare’ was used as the aim of this program. It was not just to control number of children per couple.

The results of these welfare measures are now reflecting in the population profile and reflected in the women’s fertility rate. The total fertility rate (number of children per woman) has dropped to 2.1 currently from 4.97 in 1980. This is due to the measures which are already operative. As per S.Y. Quraishi, whose book on the issue, ‘The Population myth: Islam. Family planning and Politics in India’ is quite a comprehensive account of the issue, in 24 of the 29 states of India it is already coming close to 2.179, the one indicative of a stable population, 2.1 is a mere replacement level. Even in Assam the fertility rate is 1.9 as per NHFS 5.

 The RSS combine’s Hindu Nationalists see the problem merely as that of Muslims deliberately increasing population to take over the country and convert it into a Muslim state. The ground reality is totally different. Barring the period of Emergency and Sanjay Gandhi’s defamed forced Nasbandi (Vasectomy) programme, the policy worked well and the results are there to for those who care to see beyond the superficial understanding and motivated propaganda. Interestingly it was BJP’s previous avatar Janasangh which was opposed to family planning programs. Even currently BJP associates like VHP are vehemently opposing it. There have been hoards of Swami’s (Sakshi Maharaj) and Sadhvi’s (Prachi) who have been advising Hindu women to produce more children. Not to be left behind RSS Chief K. Sudarshan had also given a call to Hindu women to produce more children.

The choice between ‘coercion versus volition’ is best demonstrated by the fact that Vasectomy which was becoming acceptable norm and India saw a huge surge in the number of males undergoing this minor procedure faced a set back after the coercive measures imposed during Emergency. India was leading the World in Male sterilization numbers before 1975 and the number of vasectomies went up several million per year before 1975. After two years of forced imposition the number came down drastically. Now it is becoming difficult to revive the same.

Earlier people were very appreciative of China’s high handed methods in imposing one child norm. The policy backfired and now the efforts are going on to reverse the trend. So much about the imposition versus encouragement debate! India so far has adopted a humane policy in the matter, which means to understand that number of children per couple depend more on the poverty, illiteracy and health facilities rather than religion.

In sum and substance one can say that this program in India which was trying to improvise on health and education is beginning to yield dividends and even currently population explosion is not a menace if we carefully see the demography. The stark fact is that the women’s fertility rate is not dependent on religion as fertility rate of Muslim women of Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra is lower than that of Hindu women of UP, Bihar and Rajasthan.

The United Nations mantra that the ‘best contraceptive is education’ becomes evident in India as we see that in India the results of family welfare programs are better in states with higher literacy especially among girls. While the laws by BJP Governments don’t mention the religion still the message of targeting Muslim minorities is clear.

So why these Chief Ministers are keen to implement these coercive programs in their states; when what is needed improvement in education, alleviation of poverty and improving the health facilities? Assam has recently seen an election and the new Chief Minster wants to stabilise his power through this polarising move. He has clearly stated that Muslims need to follow the family planning norms. Earlier in June, he had created controversy by saying that, “We can solve numerous social ills in Assam, if immigrant Muslim community adopts decent family planning norms.”

The other worthies from Hindutva stable have clearly articulated the divisive politics by targeting Muslims on the issue. Giriraj Singh, Union Cabinet Minister had said that increasing population, “especially (that of) Muslims, is a threat to the social fabric, social harmony, and development of the country”. Rajasthan BJP MLA Bhanwari Lal had said that unlike Hindus, “Muslims are worried about…how to take over the nation by increasing their population.” The fact is that Muslims are adopting family planning techniques at a faster pace. The decadal rate of their population increase shows bigger decline. The projection is that if present trends go on the population of Muslims will stabilize around 18% by 2050. The phobia which projects that they will become a majority and convert this into a Muslim country seems to be part of political agenda of inciting the communities in communal direction by creating a sense of fear among the Hindu majority.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has stated that the two-child policy is aimed at ensuring “there is a population balance among various communities”. He should know around that half the MLAs of BJP in UP have more than two children. As these things go down to the social media they assume horrendous proportions. The social media posts humiliating the Muslim community abound and are spreading hate using this issue to the hilt. Can one hope that the states will focus more on education, health and poverty alleviation!

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Ram Puniyani is an eminent author, activist and former professor of IIT Mumbai. The views are personal and Clarion India does not necessarily share or subscribe to them.

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