Over the past month, the issue of India’s vast population has been trending in news conversations as Assam and UP are mulling implementing population control laws that incentivise having no more than two children. The UP government has proposed the Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill, 2021, and is taking suggestions till 19 July.
The Population Control Bill includes incentives for those that follow the two-child policy and punishes those that don’t, in essence.
Some of the incentives for those that follow the policy include:
Those that don’t follow the policy will be ineligible to:
While I disagree with the principle of the bill, the incentives should be universalised. Regardless of how many children a couple has, these incentives need to be implemented for the welfare of the entire population.
Punishing those that don’t comply with the proposed bill does away with the purpose of “welfare” that the state supposedly wishes for.
While we have elected leaders in the parliament accused of rape and murder, denying those with more than two children to contest local elections is ironic. In the new Union Cabinet, 42% of the ministers declared they had criminal cases against them.
The bill states, “In Uttar Pradesh, there are limited ecological and economic resources at hand. It is necessary and urgent that the provision of basic necessities of human life including affordable food, safe drinking water, decent housing, access to quality education, economic/livelihood opportunities, power/electricity for domestic consumption, and a secure living is accessible to all citizens.”
Whenever the question of population control arises, it is often at a time when the social conditions have disintegrated. The reasons for the systemic problems of poverty, hunger, homelessness and dwindling resources like food and shelter is not the number of people in a country, but the disproportionate distribution of resources.
Poverty and other social ills are not a result of overpopulation; they are directly affected by the few people who control capital. It’s, thus, not overpopulation that leads to these problems; it’s the hoarding of capital by a few and conditions of exploitation that need to be in place for the capitalistic system to thrive.
The population of a country is often used as a scapegoat for these problems. We often hear people say that India’s population has held back the development and welfare of the masses. That is a false assumption.
According to estimates by the UN, 40% of food produced in India is wasted and 194 million people go hungry every day. Thus, India does not have a resource issue; it has a policy and systematic issue.
In a recent report by The Print, Kerala and Punjab received the highest level of basic services amongst the asset poor. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, on the other hand, were the worst performers. Access to basic resources made “Kerala’s poor, UP’s rich”.
We see that Kerala has managed to control its population while UP hasn’t. Social conditions play an important role in how many children there are in a family. According to census 2011, India has over 10 million child labourers.
In order to survive, the poor look at children as assets rather than an expense. The exploitation of labour has led to children being seen as a set of helping hands in low-income families.
Therefore, it’s not far fetched to conclude that improving the social conditions of the poor would automatically lead to better family planning.
The bill also proposes introducing population control as a subject in secondary schools.
In China, they had to scrap their one-child policy due to the ageing and shrinking of the workforce.
While there has been opposition from mainstream parties to the bill, right-wing groups have also raised a voice against it. But the reasons in both cases are either based on jingoistic appeals/viewing people as commodities or racism/Islamophobia.
A Samajwadi Party MP questioned where we would get the “manpower” from in case of war. VHP and other right-wing groups, on the other hand, suggest that the bill wouldn’t stop Muslims from procreating, in turn, hinting at the “fear” of Muslims outnumbering Hindus in India.
The bill states, “Attempts would be made to ensure there is a population balance among various communities in the state. Extensive campaigns would be run in communities, groups, and geographical areas where fertility rates were higher.”
Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma recently said that the difference in population growth rate between Hindus and Muslims was “dangerous”. Being BJP ruled states, UP and Assam seem to be eyeing this bill for political motives rather than welfare. It won’t be surprising if the policy is used to harass and target particular communities in the future.