New Delhi: If Indian MPs were concerned about population control, childbirth and child raising in India, they could have rallied for more access to safe contraception or for men taking on the burden of sterilisation in India instead of women (86% of sterilisations in India, which are often risky, are done on women) or for a societal push towards adoption (there were only 3,276 adoptions in India in 2017, and this number has been falling annually) or even for wider and safer access to abortions.
Instead, 125 parliamentarians managed to unite to petition the president of India for a two-child norm in the country.
These are, of course, serving parliamentarians who could introduce bills in parliament themselves or petition the government to do so. The president really has no role in suggesting, introducing or implementing public policy in India. But for reasons best known to this contingent of MPs, they have petitioned the president.
Earlier this year, at least four PILs were filed in various courts, by petitioners also asking for a two-child norm in India. Their prayers were vague, asking for rewards and punishments to people based on how many children they have and penalties such as disallowing people from contesting elections. The Supreme Court dismissed it, saying that this was a policy matter.
In a parliament question earlier this month, before this petition by 125 MPs was reported in the news, the government clarified that it did not have any plans of introducing a two-child norm or any legislation on this.
The rhetoric of the two-child demand coupled with its anti-Muslim tones is being seen from the streets to the parliament. Auto rickshaws in Delhi have recently been carrying posters on the matter, to prevent “India from becoming Pakistan.”
Civil society organisations write to MPs against their petition
Advocating Reproductive Choices (ARC), a coalition of about 170 civil society organisations, has written to the MPs providing a detailed critique of the thrust of the petition. They call the move by the MPs “draconian.”
Firstly, on the matter of data, India has been expecting a slowdown in population growth and a decline in fertility rate. North Indian states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh contribute to 40% of the Indian population. Southern states like Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have achieved a significant reduction in fertility, without resorting to coercive methods such as bans on procreation.
Majority of the Indian population is in the reproductive age, and there is a 13% unmet need in contraception or about 30 million married women who are unable to access contraception according to recent government data.
Government data also says that most women would like to have only one or two children, which implies they are already aware of issues around multiple children and have a view and choices they would like to exercise. Social factors like the demand for sons over daughters also prompts people to pursue procreation. A cap on children can end up being a burden on women, making them go through even more unsafe abortions.
ARC also says that population growth is a socio-economic problem and thus warrants a socio-economic solution. Access to education, including ensuring that girls stay in school, and access to healthcare including family planning services, is the sustainable policy solution, they say.
Population control and politics
Population control in India, as a matter of politics, has long been a byword for anti-Muslim politics, with the Muslim community being seen as being “profligate” in the matter of childbearing.
Hindu leaders have widely used this rhetoric, asking the Hindu community to embark on rapid procreation to “counter” Muslims.
In 2015, BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj said Hindu women should produce four children to “protect” Hinduism. He also made a reference to “four wives,” a possible reference to Muslims who are allowed to take four wives under specific circumstances (such as the women being orphans). According to government data, Hindus have historically been more polygamous than Muslims.
In 2016, at an RSS event, a Hindu leader said the community should have ten children so that Narendra Modi can become prime minister again. Shyamal Goswami, a BJP leader from West Bengal, also reportedly asked Hindus to have five children each.
This year, BJP MLA Vikram Saini said, “Until a law on population control comes into existence, my Hindu brothers, you should keep producing babies.” He also suggested four or five children as a minimum. Surendra Singh, another BJP MLA also said this year that Hindus must have five children each for “balance”