Modi’s ‘population control’ rhetoric and the Sangh’s confusion

The RSS is highly confused about whether to get Hindu women to breed endlessly or restrict Muslim women from doing so, since Modi’s words seem to be more focused at Muslims than Hindus

Modi’s ‘population control’ rhetoric and the Sangh’s confusion

Sujata Anandan

Some time ago, a friend with a large extended family, who was conflicted with most of them over their blind support to the BJP, pointed out to the irony of Hindu practices of the past generations mirroring the Muslim family practices they raged against. “Yet they do not see how they are discriminating against one class of citizens while it simply just does not occur to them to practice what they preach.”

The dispute was mostly about how Muslims marry more than once and have multiple children from each wife – the “hum paanch, hamaare pachees” rhetoric dinned into the heads of the people by Narendra Modi from the time he was the chief minister of Gujarat.

By those multiples of five, around the time Modi was raging about the Muslim propensity to breed, then sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) K Sudershan had advocated that every Hindu woman have at least five children to counter the alleged growth of the Muslim population in the country.

At the time I had recalled horror stories from Romania which I had visited a few years before and discovered how women had celebrated the death of their dictator, Nicolae Ceaucescu.

Why women particularly? Now Ceaucescu was very impressed by the burgeoning populations of both India and China. And while both these nations had been trying desperately to control their population figures, Ceaucescu had an opposite view – India and China were important to the world only because of their population, he thought and wanted even his country to become as populous for other nations to take it seriously.

Accordingly, he had banned contraception and abortions in Romania. If a woman had an unwanted pregnancy, she just had to bear the child or resort to not very savoury means for termination. For example, a leading Romanian actress of the time told me how her unwanted pregnancy destroyed her relationship with her husband.

For she had had to resort to a surreptitious abortion on her kitchen table that had both her and her doctor sweating in fright and later causing her much infection that almost killed them both – she of disease and the doctor would have been shot if the authorities had discovered he had conducted an illegal abortion.

She just ceased relations with her husband after that to avoid the horror and terror of an unwanted pregnancy and there were hundreds of women in her country whose family relationships were similarly destroyed because of Ceaucescu who actually had a bedroom police to raid people in the middle of the night to see if they were using condoms or other contraceptives!

They were most happy when he was killed and after that the hospitals were simply full up with abortions and the most sold items from pharmacies were contraceptive pills.

I had said then that India could become another Romania if the authorities ever rendered women’s primary responsibility to remain barefoot and pregnant in their kitchens all their lives.

Of course, in the many years of education and awareness, well off urban families had voluntarily begun restricting their children to just two or even one but that is still not the case with the lower middle class or the poor.

When a maid arrived at the home of one of my bigoted friends who had refused to have more than one child, I had thought she would be horrified to discover that this woman had seven – five daughters and two sons. Obviously, the five daughters were in pursuit of the sons.

Since my friend had just the one daughter I thought she would be upset at the maid's propensity to breed. But she said “Good! I am glad she has produced so many. We have to counter the Muslims!” So, the poor should be our breeding machines while the privileged do pretty as much as they please?

It is at this point this other friend I mentioned at the start of the column countered by asking her - hadn’t her parents and grandparents been countering the Muslims all their lives? Her grandfather had had three wives and 22 children off all the three. Her parents too had at least half a dozen siblings each. “So how come you still need to match up the Muslim population?”

While that temporarily shut up the bigot, I now feel the RSS is highly confused about whether to get Hindu women to breed endlessly or restrict the Muslim women from doing so. For now Modi has come up with the exemplary suggestion of the need for population control in the country.

But I think that is directed more at Muslims than at Hindu women who in certain social strata have no choice but to bear children endlessly until they produce the much wanted son.

In the Emergency years Mrs Indira Gandhi's son Sanjay Gandhi tried to enforce population control through forcible sterilisations and we all know how that episode ended. Even China with its one child norm has had an uphill task restricting its population and I wonder if any givernment.will succeed in this exemplary aim unless it undertakes a whole lot of sociological reorientation of the people to begin with.

Quite apart from the desire for sons, in the slums of towns.and cities and the rural areas of the country, poverty is such a major issue that people continue to look upon children as hands rather than mouths to feed.

Unless the government makes it compulsory for every child to be in school until at least matriculation and facilitates that study with economic support, the hands-over-mouth attitude will continue to prevail. Urban Muslim families are already as progressive as urban Hindu families and I have not seen any so far where there might be more than one wife or more than two-three children.

So it is necessary for both the RSS and Modi to divest themselves of the myth that Muslims breed more than Hindus – it is all a question of education, awareness and economic status which is strangely converse to the propensity to breed among both Hindus and Muslims – the wealthier you are, the fewer children you want to have.

With Aadhar cards and other government intrusion, it might be easier for the government to penalise people breaking the two-child norm. However, there were similar suggestions soon after the Emergency. Such tactics didn’t work then and are unlikely to work even today.

Meanwhile, the RSS should make up its mind on whether it wants Hindu women to breed more or Muslim women to breed less. It is not likely to succeed in either target.

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