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Population Explosion: Why India Should Avoid Coercive Population Control Policies

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Are Indians Against Small Family Norm?

Among many issues PM Narendra Modi raised from the ramparts of Red Fort on 73rd Independence Day, the issue of “Population Explosion” was very critical. He emphasised, “small family is good for the society, nation… High time the nation debates this and brings a law if needed… Else we will soon run out of resources”. It is because virtually, all major problems that confront India today, relate in some critical way to the galloping population. It leads to a massive diversion of national investable resources to consumption, which could otherwise be used for increasing investment and productivity and for improving the quality of public services like education, health, sanitation, provision of safe drinking water, etc.  That could be the reason why PM Modi brought up the issue of population explosion.

Some 45 years ago, in the late seventies, India embarked on an ambitious population control programme to curb the growing population pressure on the nation. It was the brainchild of the then PM, Indira Gandhi, and her son, Sanjay Gandhi, who oversaw the execution. But its implementation was faulty, so Indians did not support the programme after the demise of Sanjay Gandhi in 1980.

A failure to stabilize India’s population will have significant implications for the future of India’s economy. Image via Getty

PM Modi has to understand that the situation has changed dramatically in the last four decades, and there is no need to implement coercive methods or laws to control the population. The number of Indian women, including Muslims, wanting to have another baby is falling fast, as per National Family Health Survey-4 (2015-16). Only 24% of the married women between 15 and 49 years want a second child. For men, the corresponding proportion is 27%, down from 49% a decade ago.

However, India’s demography is mind-boggling. India’s population in 1947 was 33 crore, and in 2018 it was 135 crore. In the last seventy years, it has quadrupled. India now contains about 18% of humanity (i.e. every sixth person in the world is an Indian). China is the only country with a larger population—in the order of 7 crores more in 2018 as compared to 30 crores in 1990. The Indian population grew at an annual rate of 1.24% during 2010-15. On the other hand, China registered a much lower annual growth rate of population (0.61%) during the corresponding period. Based on the analysis of recent data, it is estimated that India will overtake China in the next 3–5 years that is before 2025.

The current population growth in India, however, is mainly caused by unplanned pregnancies. Around five in ten live births are unintended/unplanned or simply unwanted by the women who experience them, and these births trigger continued high population growth. Approximately 26 million children were born in India in 2018, and out of this, about 13 million births could be classified as unplanned. Further, based on the National Family Health Surveys (1 to 4), it is estimated that in 2018, around 430 million people out of 135 million in India were a result of unplanned pregnancies. The consequences of such pregnancies are being reflected in widespread malnutrition, poor health, low quality of education, and increasing scarcity of basic resources like food, water and space.

While India’s population continues to grow by 1.6–1.7 crore annually, 1.4 crore women—especially in the lower economic strata including Muslims—seek to postpone childbearing, space births, or stop having children; they are not using modern methods of contraception. This is also known as the “unmet need” for contraception. Often, women with unmet need for family planning services travel far from their homes to reach a health facility, only to return home empty-handed due to shortages, stock-outs, lack of desired contraception and/or non-availability of doctors and paramedical staff or poor quality of services. When women are thus turned away, they are unable to protect themselves from unwanted/unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. And this type of incomplete control over the reproductive process reduces the prospects for an early decline in the rate of population growth.

Incidents of unplanned pregnancies can be dramatically reduced, if not eliminated, within the next five years by simply providing reproductive services as per the needs of clients, as had been done in Andhra Pradesh during the nineties. If Andhra—with little outside help—could manage its population growth under relatively low literacy and high poverty (Literacy Rate of A.P. in 2011 was 67.7% compared to 67.1% in Rajasthan, as per 2011 Census), there is no reason why other states, especially, Four Large North Indian (FLNI) States of Bihar, MP, Rajasthan and U.P.—with lesser problems and increasingly generous support from the centre—should fail so spectacularly in managing unwanted fertility.

The people of the FLNI states are not against small family norms. While general knowledge about family planning is almost universal, access to modern methods of contraception services and products is a big problem in these states.

India must ensure that every child is a wanted one. So the government must provide client-centred reproductive health services with special reference to poor performing states. It will help in meeting women’s needs for family planning, and that would help in avoiding numerous reproductive health-related issues. Women who are able to delay or stop childbearing when they wish to are more likely to meet their children’s educational goals, earn a living and support their families and manage changes in their environment and natural resources. Reducing incidences of unplanned pregnancies will help in achieving the national goal of population stabilization at the earliest.

The need of the hour, thus, is to create confidence among policymakers and programme managers, especially in poor-performing states, that a breakthrough is possible. There is no need to implement coercive measures like a one-child norm or to provide incentives and disincentives. The real need is to provide services in un-served and underserved areas by realigning the capacity of the health system to deliver quality care to suit the needs of clients. A failure to stabilize India’s population will have significant implications for the future of India’s economy, that was the concern, one can see on PM Modi’s face while he was talking about this issue from Lal Qila.

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Do Indians want more children?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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