The extent of Uttar Pradesh’s population can be visualized by the fact that if it were an independent country, it would be the fifth most populous in the world. With overburdened healthcare systems, low literacy rates and few resources, it is generally agreed that the state needs to take steps to control its population.
However, is a coercive law, the intent of which does not seem to be supported by evidence and the implementation of which is likely to take away the rights of many citizens and affect the most marginalized disproportionately, really the answer?
India had its last decennial census in 2011, according to which Uttar Pradesh’s population had grown by over 20% since 2001. Such an increase has been a consistent trend. The state’s population has grown by 26% from 1991 to 2001. However, due to viewing only absolute figures and amidst the lack of the amplification of critical demographic information by the mainstream media, it is often missed that Uttar Pradesh has made significant progress over the past decade.
Because of population momentum, the population has continued to rise despite reproducing fewer children than previous generations. The population growth rates are declining, and if the current trend continues, it is projected for Uttar Pradesh’s total fertility rate (TFR) to reach 2.1 by 2025, thereby stabilizing the population.
This is the same TFR that Uttar Pradesh aims to reach through enacting the population control bill in a decade. When this is how the statistics look, one is compelled to wonder: why do we need such a law at all when we are already on the path to meeting its goal and that faster than it envisions?
Reading through the draft of the bill that was open to public opinion gives substantial hints of the law’s draconian nature. Some consequences of having more than two children include turning ineligible to apply for government jobs, getting promotions in the same, contesting elections to local bodies and receiving government subsidies.
People belonging to poor socio-economic sections of society are much more likely to be in contravention of this act. As established by many surveys, including the National Family Health Survey, Dalits, Adivasis, and other oppressed communities tend to have a greater number of children.
It is poverty and factors stemming from the same (lack of education, little access to contraception etc.) that creates such situations. Instead of uplifting people, why is the state adamant about taking away opportunities from them, potentially trapping them in a vicious cycle? If read into law, the bill is equivalent to legally sanctioning the hegemony of the privileged upper class (mostly, Savarnas).
Moreover, these disincentives and revocations ultimately affect children too who may be brought up in poor economic circumstances, perhaps losing access to education and basic utilities. Why does the law leave space to punish children for simply being born, something over which they had no control? The possibility of increased sex-selective abortion and resultant skewed sex ratios is another area of concern, hampering the strides made towards gender equality so far.
The bill also reeks of ableism. It states that “… an action of an individual shall not be deemed to be in contravention of the two-child norm under this Act, if either, or both, of his children born out of the earlier pregnancy suffer from disability and the couple conceives a third child subsequently.”
Thereby, the state seems to be ignoring the very existence of a disabled child, perpetuating that the problem lies within a disabled person and not an able normative society. Also, there is no clarity about the cases of neuro-divergent people who may often be diagnosed years, or sometimes even decades, after the rights of their parents might have already been taken away.
Additionally, the implementation of any such law may have adverse effects on women in a patriarchal society. On paper, the law does say that incentives apply only to couples undergoing voluntary sterilization.
However, de facto, men generally make decisions alone, and many women are bound to lose whatever choice they had over their bodies. In the presence of additional benefits, they may be forced to sterilize after a single child, even if it is against their individual choice. Similarly, if they are forced to bear more than two children, they lose access to empowering options (like jobs, promotions etc.) despite having little, if any, say in the matter.
Apart from that, polygamous marriages are legally valid for Muslims in India. According to the draft of the bill, two children can be born from the polygamous arrangement as a whole to prevent the contravention. Therefore, for many Muslim women, the enactment of the bill creates the risk of losing their right to have children altogether.
In Uttar Pradesh and many surrounding areas, an Islamophobic myth is widely believed. Though not corroborated by any statistic, people hold that Muslims have more children to outnumber the majority Hindu population.
Many suspect that the bill is politically motivated; it is being used as a strategy to gain support for the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections. Of course, this cannot be said for certain. But then, if this is not the aim of the government, the question remains: based on improvements in Uttar Pradesh and the prospective disastrous implications of the population-control bill, what is?