UP, Assam’s population control policies in line with RSS demand
The announcement by two Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states, Uttar Pradesh and Assam, about their intent to introduce a population control policy is in line with the demand of the party’s ideological fount, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, for a nationwide policy to check what it calls “demographic imbalance”.
On Sunday, UP, the most populous state in the country with an estimated 220 million population, announced a new policy that will incentivise population control. A draft bill of the Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill, 2021, has been created by the state’s law commission with the intent to incentivise those with two children through preference in government jobs and social schemes such as free or subsidised ration.
In Assam, a similar policy is being discussed. In the state with an estimated population of 36 million, the government is also considering a two-child policy for access to government schemes. In 2017, the government introduced the Population and Women Empowerment policy that mandated government officials to abide by the two-child norm. Notably, SC and ST communities and tea garden workers in the state will be exempt from this policy.
For long, the RSS has advocated a pan-Indian law that would be uniform for all communities and override religious or social restrictions pertaining to family planning. The policy, the Sangh functionaries explain, will check the “imbalance” in total fertility rates (TFR) or the average number of children a woman will have during her childbearing years, claiming that even in states with the ideal TFR of 2.1 such as Kerala, there is a mismatch among communities.
In 2018, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat pitched for a common law to ensure “demographic balance”. He said there should be a population policy applicable to everyone and implemented without exception.
While the opponents of the RSS and the BJP perceive the population control policies as coercive and intended against minority communities, senior functionaries of the Sangh say the intent of a uniform law is to bring uniformity in the TFR rates and in turn stabilise India’s burgeoning population.
“In 2015, when the RSS, passed a resolution seeking a population policy, it clarified that the policy should be drafted keeping in view the availability of natural resources...,” said an RSS functionary, asking not to be named.
The clarification notwithstanding, the resolution makes a pointed reference to the Sangh’s concerns about what it calls “severe demographic changes” brought forth by its analysis of the religious data of Census 2011. “Vast differences in growth rates of different religious groups, infiltration and conversion resulting in religious imbalance of the population ratio ... may emerge as a threat to the unity, integrity and cultural identity of the country,” the resolution had said.
Union minister for minority affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, while speaking in Rampur on Sunday defended the policy and said population control is the need of the hour.
SY Quraishi, former chief election commissioner and author of the book, The Population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India, however, said 25 of the 29 states have already reached the ideal TFR of 2.1 without coercion, and any forced intervention will lead to a backlash from all communities. “The population of Muslims is not increasing any faster than that of Hindus. Muslims are increasingly adopting family planning measures faster than Hindus and 20 years ago if Hindus had one child and Muslims had 2.1 that difference has now come down to half a child,” he said.