Chief Minister Ajay Bisht aka Yogi Adityanath presented THE UTTAR PRADESH POPULATION (CONTROL STABILIZATION AND WELFARE) BILL, 2021 in the legislative assembly last week. The preamble of the proposed Bill states: “A Bill to revitalize efforts and provide for measures to control, stabilize and provide welfare to the population of the State by implementation and promotion of two child norm and for matters connected therewith and incidental thereto.” The Bill gives three rationales for implementing two child norm:
Limited economic and ecological resources which includes primary necessity of the people such as affordable food, safe drinking water, decent housing, access to quality education, economic/livelihood opportunities, power/ electricity for domestic consumption etc.
Second concern is promotion of sustainable development and equitable distribution of skewed resources of the State;
Third concern is to ensure availability, accessibility and affordability of quality reproductive health services to achieve the goal of population control, stabilization and its welfare in the State through healthy birth spacing measures.
Section 3(11) of the Bill defines two child norm - ‟means an ideal size of a family consisting of a married couple with two children”. The proposed Bill intends to implement it mainly through measures of incentives and disincentives. Chapter II of the Bill elaborately discusses these conditions. Incentives offered to the public servants include two increments, a subsidy towards buying a house site, soft loans at nominal interest rates to construct or buy a house, a rebate on charges levied on utilities, maternity leave for 12 months with full salary and allowances, 3 per cent increase in employers’ contribution to the National Pension Scheme, and free health care and insurance to the spouse.
Disincentives or revocation of incentives (Section 8-12) consist of : Debarring from benefit of Government sponsored welfare schemes, Limiting ration card units to four members, bar on contesting local body elections, bar on applying for government jobs and promotion in government service, denial of government subsidies.
Studies on the success of India’s southern states in containing population growth indicate that economic growth as well as attention to education, health and empowerment of women work far better as incentive to smaller family size than punitive measures. In areas with high poverty, low economic growth and fewer educated women, fertility levels tend to be higher. Studies clearly indicate further that any population policy based on punitive measures tends to doubly exclude the poor and the marginalised sections in a multiply stratified society. Empirical evidences across the globe as also studies on fertility transitions in India agree with the growing evidence that Indian women, across economic and social strata, would have fewer children if they could exercise their choice fully. Any government interested in supporting fertility decline, then, must go to work on the education and empowerment of women, providing them with reproductive choices.
Changes in the agrarian sector in the last two decades, through neo-liberal policies, have led to an acute yet unnoticed deprivation in rural India. This deprivation rooted in the growth- led developmental ideology has impacted the agrarian sector severely, reducing the size of cultivable land, migration to urban location and has influenced the fertility choices of married women. The different components of power structure and their confluence (intersectional dynamics) influence the participation of women in the decision- making process regarding the number of children. Therefore, it varies from region to region. Scholars like Prof. Kancha Ilaiah and Sylvia Karpagam observe that Dalit and Adivasi women, consigned to the bottom of the caste, class and gender hierarchies, suffer multiple forms of discrimination from patriarchal structures within their own families and society at large. The proposed Bill is going to intensify existing discriminatory structures and will impact the health of women from marginalised sections.
The availability of contraceptives is limited and method of spacing became expensive due to private provision in India. Male/rich/upper caste- centric policies which are only seemingly gender responsive and caste- neutral are dominant and camp approach for family planning is one such policy. Institutional and structural failures and restricted demands for their resurrection contribute to the weakening of social justice mechanisms and legal capacity to resist expansion of deprivation and disparities. This has created a situation of skewed choice for rural poor women who have little option but to seek the only available method of population control, female sterilization, and that too provided in the mass sterilization camps often violating all the national and international prescribed standards. The proposed Bill focuses on sterilisation and the language of the Bill clearly indicates the same (the government employee receiving incentives is referred to as “him” and “his spouse”)
However, it has remained primarily a programme of controlling numbers rather than an assertion of reproductive and human rights that India had affirmed at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994 and in its National Population Policy (NPP), 2000. Though as policy, both these documents speak about doing away with targets and incentives in FPP, in practice, it still continues despite major tragedies in the past. The ambitious goals of family planning policies and counting numbers, not people and their lives, encourages coercion of women and compromises on quality. India’s commitment to family planning 2020 is based on the argument that to provide contraceptive service to 48 million couples there is no other way for the policy makers but to continue with crude camp approaches, targeting more and more vulnerable women. The aforementioned bill clearly emphasizes the same path and may lead to more tragedies in the name of population control.
We have to analyse this specific Bill in the context of another regressive law to have a comprehensive understanding. On 24th November, 2019, Uttar Pradesh became the first Indian state to promulgate an ordinance, the Unlawful Religious Conversion (Prohibition) Ordinance, 2020 making ‘forced conversion for marriage’ punishable with ten years imprisonment and fine. This too is linked with the argument of ‘demographic aggression…. of over-populating Muslim’ disproven by the decadal census data itself. Irrespective of hue and cry in media, Hindu population decline is but marginal and in a decadal projection does not have much demographic significance. If one examines closely the previous two rounds of census data it clearly shows the discrepancies in this argument and very well indicates how politically manipulative it is.
The content and tone of the Bill have a distinct anti- Muslim bias. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has stated that it not only aims to bring fertility levels down, but also, notably, to “ensure there is a population balance among various communities”. Uttar Pradesh where the ruling BJP has not held back from communalising issues like inter-faith marriage, conversion or citizenship rights putting them to political use, is not alone in bringing about such policies. The BJP-led government in Assam, too, plans to implement the two-child norm.
Judiciary also has sometimes given sanction to Malthusian population policies enforcing two- child norm irrespective of its blatant violation of fundamental rights ensured by the Constitution of India. This is evident in judgements in cases like Javed and Ors v. State of Haryana (2003) and in Rameshwar Singh and Ors vs State of Haryana (2018) by the apex court in continuation of National Population Policy 2000, yet another brain-child of the earlier Vajpayee- led BJP government.
Women’s movements in India had made it clear to all governments that family planning targets, coercive methods, and invasive and hazardous family planning methods were unacceptable given the toll they took on women and the girl child. International Conference on Population and Development at Cairo in 1994, declared that “development was the best pill”. The resolution adopted by 179 countries including India, stated that there was a need to focus on human lives rather than on demographic targets. Ignoring the voices of women’s movements and moving towards coercive population control measures calls for intensification of struggles against the authoritarian government and its anti- women and anti-poor policies. It is also important to develop political and ideological resistance against:
A. Malthusian political propaganda of conceiving people as burden not as human resource and a need for equitable distribution of wealth and natural resource conservation.
B. Use of the false thesis of “demographic aggression” for communal polarisation and ‘othering’ of the Muslim community in contemporary India.