India's 'Population Explosion' & Two-Child Policy: Myths Versus Facts

PM Modi has said Congress would distribute the country's wealth 'to those who have more children' if voted to power.

5 min read

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday, 21 April, sparked a massive row with his remark that if voted to power, the Congress would distribute the country's wealth "to those who have more children".

Modi's comment at an election rally in Rajasthan's Banswara is in line with the Hindutva narrative that has persistently attacked the Muslim community for alleged high birth rates, as well as claims that they are set to take over India.

This propaganda of a threat from a growing Muslim population has been disseminated by fringe groups and BJP legislators alike.

But how true are these allegations? We debunk a few myths.


Myths Vs Facts: Is There a Muslim 'Population Explosion'?

Although higher birth rates among Muslims have been used as an argument to justify that Muslims are responsible for "population explosion", the differential birth rates between Hindus and Muslims are fast closing up.

PM Modi has said Congress would distribute the country's wealth 'to those who have more children' if voted to power.
As per the 2011 Census report, the Muslim population comprised 14.2 percent of India's population and the decadal rate of growth for this community was recorded at a historic low as well.

While the Hindu population grew by 16.76 percent, Muslims grew by 24.6 percent compared to the data from the previous decade, when Hindus grew at 19.92 percent and Muslims at 29.52 percent.

What this data indicates is that the birth rates in these two communities are slowly covering up. Instead of a state-wide policy, Shailaja Chandra, former secretary in the Ministry of Health, suggests:

"The NFHS (National Family Health Survey) data provides a good understanding of the areas which have high fertility rates in Uttar Pradesh. People should comb the villages that fall on those districts, target only those families, and it doesn’t matter which community, and see that contraception is made available."

Myths Vs Facts: Does Polygamy Increase Population?

It has also been alleged that polygamous practices amongst Muslim communities are responsible for a population spike.

But in his book The Population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India, former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi points out that such a hypothesis ignores two facts – the total fertility rate that indicates average birth per woman and the sex ratio factor – both of which will be unaffected by polygamous practices.

Secondly, polygamy is practiced amongst both Hindus and Muslims in India. The lone study done on polygamy in India done in the year 1974, showed that Muslims were the least polygamous.

PM Modi has said Congress would distribute the country's wealth 'to those who have more children' if voted to power.

Myths Vs Facts: Does Only Religious Difference Determine Population Growth?

Hindus being under threat from a growing Muslim population in the country is seen by many as a political motivated propaganda, primarily because religion alone does not determine difference in population growth.

Some important factors to look at are economic divide, educational divide, and rural-urban divide. For comparison, as per the NFHS IV survey, there's a marked difference between the total fertility rate of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh and Kerala. If it was 3.10 in Uttar Pradesh, in Kerala it was at 1.86.
PM Modi has said Congress would distribute the country's wealth 'to those who have more children' if voted to power.

If we delve further into India's populous state Uttar Pradesh, the fertility rates differ in rural and urban areas. If it is at 2.1 children per woman in urban areas, it's 3.0 children per woman in rural areas. Women with no schooling will have 1.6 children more than women who had 12 or more years of schooling (a total fertility rate of 3.5, compared with 1.9).

Patriarchal notions also play their part in population increase. The survey from Uttar Pradesh found out that, "Women in Uttar Pradesh are more likely to use contraception if they already have a son. For example, among women with two children, 54 percent with at least one son use a method of family planning, compared with only 34 percent of women with two daughters."

The state data does show that Muslim women will have an average of almost half a child more than Hindu women but that factor is not influenced by religion alone. Rather, it pertains to socio-economic conditions such as literacy and income.


Some Other Facts About India's Population Growth

It has been forecasted that India will become the world's most populous country by 2027. And, given the country's massive population, discussions on population control measures have been ongoing since the very creation of India.

The ruling BJP government, too, has indicated that this is an area of focus for them with Prime Minister Narendra Modi posing the concern of a "population explosion" which may cause "many problems for our future generations" in his 2017 Independence Day speech.

What does data tell us about where India's population growth is headed?

Going by the previous census reports, India's population has grown five times between 1901 and 2011. But it has been witnessing an overall decline in the total fertility rate.

An affidavit by the Centre said, “As per the Census, 2001-2011 is the first decade in the last 100 years which has not only added lesser population as compared to the previous one, but also registered the sharpest decline in the decadal growth rate from 21.54 percent in 1991-2001 to 17.64 percent in 2001-2011. ”

The data also showed that at least 25 states already have a fertility rate below 2.1.

When it comes to "population explosion", the Hindi belt is lagging behind, with Bihar and Uttar Pradesh being the states with the highest total fertility rate. However, they, too, are indicating a decline in growth.

Uttar Pradesh, which has consistently had a high decadal growth for the most part, has witnessed a declining growth rate from 25.85 percent in 1991-2001 to 20.9 percent between 2001-2011.

Yet, India is expected to add nearly 273 million people to its population between 2019 and 2050, a UN report said. So, how do we tackle the population problem?


Can Coercive Measures Tackle Population Growth?

The family welfare programme in the country is voluntary. But it's not just Uttar Pradesh and Assam alone that are proposing population control legislations.

Other states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, and Telangana have introduced similar laws in a bid to tackle population growth.

But can coercive policies like the two-child policy help the state governments of Uttar Pradesh and Assam achieve their objective?

In a sense the policy proposals go against the Centre's notion on family welfare programme.

Recently in 2020, the Centre had told the Supreme Court in an affidavit that "international experience shows that any coercion to have a certain number of children is counter-productive and leads to demographic distortions." Such a law, the Centre noted could have the unintended impact of sex selective and unsafe abortions and a further skew in sex ratio.

Shailaja Chandra says the factors to be looked are “not coercive methods, but the question of when to have a child and early marriages”.

“If the girls are married later and they’re allowed to study, certainly benefits of worker participations and all the things that make a difference to a country will fall into place. Unfortunately, neither policies speaks of those aspects,” she says.

(This story was first published on 14 July 2021. It has been updated to reflect Prime Minister Narendra Modi's comment in the introduction.)

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