The World Today for September 15, 2021

NEED TO KNOW

INDIA

Demography, Meet Destiny

India is slated to surpass China and become the most populous country in the world before the end of the decade. By 2050, according to the United Nations, as reported in the Hindu, India will have 1.64 billion residents while China will have 1.4 billion.

Now leaders of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, are proposing policies to limit the size of families. They’re saying they aim to curtail explosive population growth and the challenges it creates. Critics say the party, which advocates for Hinduism to play a greater role in India’s technically secular government and society, is simply trying to curtail the growth of the Muslim community.

Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu monk who heads the government of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, with 220 million people, has proposed rewarding families with no more than two children with perks like higher salaries, real estate subsidies and cheaper utility bills, Nikkei Asia reported. Families with only one child would receive more rewards. Parents of more than three children would lose access to social safety net programs and become ineligible for seats in the state legislature.

BJP officials in other states are proposing similar measures.

Curbing population growth has its benefits, including imposing less of a burden on the environment, the Boston Globe argued in 2015 after China announced the end of its one-child policy. But China’s policy was also brutal and took a psychological toll on people, National Public Radio added.

Defenders of India’s Muslims are already raising alarm bells. As former election official S.Y. Quraishi wrote in ThePrint, an Indian news website, the policy appears to feed on stereotypes in India that Muslims are having too many children and threatening to eclipse the Hindu majority. Countering that purported trend appeals to BJP’s voters, Quraishi claimed.

As the Indian-based Telegraph noted, BJP politicians in Assam are targeting Muslim women who live on chars, or sandy river islands, where fertility rates are high. The newspaper suggested that illiteracy, early marriage and a labor-intensive agricultural economy explained why people living on chars tended to have more babies.

BJP leaders rejected allegations the party is targeting Muslims. “The new…population policy is for all and not just one community,” Uttar Pradesh government spokesman Siddharth Nath Singh told the Washington Post. “It will inevitably ensure sustainable development with reduced inequality in income distribution.”

Around half of Indians use contraception, according to an Indian Express op-ed by population expert Shriya Bajaj and Socialist Party politician Sandeep Pandey. Educational campaigns to move that number up would likely achieve similar curbs on population growth without the controversies, they argued.

Controversies drive folks to the ballot box, though.

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