Two-child norm: BJP Chief Ministers' claims contradict government data

Neither Himanta Biswa Sarma nor Yogi Adityanath have cited any study to buttress their claims. How many people in their states have more than two children? Which agency conducted the survey and when?

Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma
Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma

Shalini Sahay

Videos have suddenly appeared on the Internet in support of the two-child norm being contemplated by two BJP ruled states, Assam and Uttar Pradesh. Laws would be introduced, the two chief ministers have said, to debar people with more than two children from receiving government benefits. Food, housing and presumably scholarships and cash transfers etc. are what they have in mind.

Himanta Biswa Sarma also announced that tea tribes and Schedules Castes would be exempted from the proposed norm. If there is a scientific basis for it, it is not yet known. Could he be indulging in vote bank politics instead? He had earlier floated another irresponsible balloon by claiming that alarming growth in Muslim population could encroach on the land belonging to Kamakhya temple in Guwahati.

The videos follow a set pattern. An invisible person asks a child his name. He gives a Muslim name. Then the child is asked how many siblings he or she has. The first one replies 16, the second one says nine and the third one again says 16. It goes on in the same vein and the anchor then dramatically asks why a certain community breeds so many children and why it is so averse to family planning methods. The case is clinched.

UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath
UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath
Virendra Singh Gosain

Those who want to empower people are in favour of the two-child norm, the anchor says, and those who are opposing it seek to appease a community for ‘vote bank politics’. End of the argument. There is actually no argument. The videos are one-sided monologues by unknown people.

While the videos and possibly similar WhatsApp messages serve the propaganda needs of the BJP before the Uttar Pradesh election, it may not be quite that easy to enact a law. Can a law debar a citizen from receiving food ration even after paying taxes due to the state? Even the poorest after all pay taxes when they buy salt, pepper or kerosene oil. What would happen to people who get into a government job and then give birth to more than two children? Will they then lose their job, increments or promotion? Can such a law exclude politicians who get elected to the Assembly or the Parliament?

Neither Himanta Biswa Sarma nor Yogi Adityanath have cited any study to buttress their argument. How many people in the two states have more than two children? Which agency conducted the survey and when? Politicians get away by saying anything but are seldom asked questions.

In their haste in announcing the little thought-out policy (has it been discussed in the Assembly or by the cabinet? Are there cabinet notes?), the two chief ministers displayed their ignorance of the government’s own data.

  • Muslim population was 9.8% in 1951 and 14.2% in 2011 as per the Census. The percentage of Adivasis was 5.6% in 1951 and became 8.6% in 2011.

  • The decadal growth rate of the Muslim population was at a 20-year low in 2011.

  • In 2014, the National Family Health Survey found national fertility rate had fallen to 2.2. Among Hindu women, it was 2.13 (a decline of 0.67%) and among Muslims, it was 2.62, a 0.78% decline).

  • The fertility rate of Muslim women in Kerala is 2.3, in Karnataka 2.2 and Andhra 1.8.

  • In the 2011 Census, the population of Muslims was 17.2 crores, and Hindus were 96.6 crores (79%).

  • Projections are that the number of Muslims could go up to 31 crores and Hindus to 130 crores by 2050.

Contrary to the ignorance displayed by the two chief ministers, population is affected by a host of factors. They include women’s education and employability, food security, maternal health, urbanization, migration as well as the age of marriages.

Easier access to healthcare and contraception by women is yet another key. And in both Assam and Uttar Pradesh, as elsewhere, child marriages are still quite high while access to affordable public health is on the decline.

But the state governments are busy politicizing the issue for political gains. They are taking the softer option by abdicating their own responsibility to ensure health and education and reduce poverty and inequality. Making announcements do not cost much effort, time or money.

A coalition of civil society groups Advocating Reproductive Choices (ARC) weighed in this week to point out that there is no evidence to suggest there is a population explosion in the country. ARC, a coalition of 115 organisations, has pointed out that the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in Assam is 1.9, which is less than the national average of 2.2. Significantly, 11% of the married women in Assam, it claims, have an unmet need for family planning.

A five-State study by former bureaucrat Nirmala Buch concluded that sex-selection and unsafe abortions increased in states that adopted the two-child policy. The move also saw men divorcing their wives to run for local body elections and families giving up children for adoption to avoid disqualification.

Delaying the age of marriage, increased spacing between children and ensuring that girls do not drop out of schools should instead be the priorities in both Assam and Uttar Pradesh.

But then that involves hard work.

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