India has registered the sharpest decline in population growth since independence, as the most backward states — both in and out of the Hindi heartland — finally slowed down their rates.
During the last decade, the country, however, added 181 million people to its population — more than Pakistan's total population of 170 million — taking India’s figure to 1.21 billion.
But the good news is that this is for the first time in 90 years that India has added lesser people to its population in a decade, according to census commissioner C Chandramouli, who on Thursday unveiled the provisional results of the decadal headcount conducted last month. “This is a positive sign," demographer Ashish Bose said.
Echoed Praveen Jha, a Jawaharlal Nehru University teacher, saying the country appeared to be right on track.
But India's worries are far from over. The country still prevents a large number of girls from being born. The sex ratio has shown a marginal improvement from 933 girls against 1,000 boys in 2001 to 940 this year, although the number of girl children in the 0-6 age group reduced to 914, from 927 in 2001 and 945 in 1991.
Punjab and Haryana continue to have the lowest sex ratio in the country. But those who survive the bias are getting better access to literacy.
What’s more, three in four Indians are now literate, up from 64.8% in 2001. And the number of literate females has increased sharper than males, reducing the literacy divide between the two sexes. The data showed eight states, including most backward states, such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, reduced their decadal growth rate from 25% since 1971 to 20.9 % in 2011.
“It is heartening to see that the geographical spread of the decline is now spread across the country and the 'north-south' demographic gap shows signs of narrowing down,” the report said. “Many of these changes are expected," said PM Kulkarni, a Jawaharlal Nehru University teacher. He attributed the trends not only to economic factors, but also to social changes.
"People don't just want more children, but they want children of higher quality in terms of education, skill sets, etc.”