To ensure a population balance among various communities, the government of Uttar Pradesh in India wants to implement a two-child policy and a voluntary sterilization program.
With a population density double the national average, northern India is one of the most populous regions in the world. More than 220 million people live there, more than most African, European, and South American countries combined.
According to critics, the policy targets minorities and coerces women.
Large families would be penalized by making them ineligible to run in local elections and receive state government jobs, promotions, and benefits.
Tax rebates and additional compensation for government jobs are among the incentives for voluntary sterilization. Subsidies on the purchase of a home and land are also available. Employees of the government receive even more pay benefits if they only have one child, and the child is provided with free healthcare and education until the age of 20.
If it’s a girl, an incentive of INR 100,000 ($1,333) will be provided, and if it’s a boy, it’ll be INR 80,000 ($1,066).
Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister Yogi Adityanath told Indian media that a family might want a second child only if an adequate interval between first and second birth.
“The new population policy is not only concerned with stabilizing population growth, but also providing a path to prosperity for every citizen,” he said upon introducing the measures. He added that lowering the fertility rate will empower women to make informed decisions about their lives.
The request of public input
The Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilization, and Welfare) Bill 2021 was open for public suggestions for a specific period. Since then, the deadline has passed.
Some oppose the bill. Experts call the policy coercive, similar to China’s one-child policy, especially for its women.
“Every time there is population control, it has led to violence against women’s bodies,” said feminist activist Kavitha Krishnan.
India’s history of sterilization
At the time, the Indian National Congress government began a mass sterilization campaign that resulted in millions of people being forcibly sterilized in the 1970s. Many media outlets still report on women who die in sterilization camps run by government authorities.
“Population control measures can lead to a spike in sex-selective practices and unsafe abortions given the strong son-preference in India, as it has been witnessed in a few states in the past,” claims Poonam Muttreja, who is executive director of nonprofit Population Foundation of India.
“China is a prime example of the proven inefficacy of coercive policies, and [it] exemplifies that India must not adopt [them],” Muttreja pointed out. In 2015, China abolished its one-child policy and adopted a two-child policy. Beijing announced in May 2021 that couples would be able to have up to three children.
Currently, China is facing a shortage of young, working people, which will profoundly impact its economy.
Effects of the sterilization incentives
According to Krishnan, who is the secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, the policy’s proposal to control women’s right to run for public office or receive government benefits is undemocratic.
“How many women in India have the autonomy to decide how many children she has?” she said.
It is documented that women have faced violence – even death – from pressure from their families to have or abort children. There is already a skewed sex ratio in India that is unfavorable to women.
Muttreja said Indian women are still disproportionately burdened with contraception and family planning that depend on female sterilization. “To date, there continues to be a widespread aversion to vasectomy, very low condom use, and lack of male responsibility in family planning,” she points out.
Shashi Tharoor, an opposition leader from the Indian National Congress, claims that the proposed policy is a thinly veiled attempt to target a particular community. Their motives are both political and communal, according to him.
Experts have contested claims of India’s population explosion as a source of anxiety behind the measures.
Muttreja claims the concern about a population explosion is unsubstantiated by national and global data.
India’s population is on the verge of stabilizing. Data from the Indian Census population database from 2001 to 2011 indicate that India has already begun experiencing a slowdown in population growth and a decline in fertility rate.
Sterilization campaigns are associated with Islamophobia as well. There are 1.3 billion Muslims in India, and in Uttar Pradesh, they make up close to 19 percent of the population. In many Hindu nationalist-leaning groups, false statistics and conspiracy theories have been used to allege that Muslims are causing population problems.
The government of Uttar Pradesh is proposing a similar population control law to that in seven other Indian states.
As an alternative to enforcing a two-child policy, some experts think the state could learn from countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, which brought down fertility rates by increasing birth control options and investing in women’s education.