Almost everyone – from the common man to political parties with their whataboutery – are discussing the draft of the Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill, 2021.
The Uttar Pradesh government has designed incentives for families to stick to the two-children norm – this applies to government workers as well as for the public. These include monetary promises to those below poverty line (Rs 80,000 to the family of a single boy child, Rs 1 lakh for a single girl child), increments for public servants, and subsidies. There are disincentives too – such as setting a limit of four ration cards for government beneficiary families, and barring people from various subsidies. The disincentives are inappropriate because it is like saying, “Our way or the highway”.
According to National Family Health Survey (NFHS) and Census data, Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has almost reached replacement levels—2.1—at the national level. In UP, TFR has gone down from 3.8 in 2005-06 to an impressive 2.7 in 2016 without any coercive measures by the government, and that too across communities.
The proposed bill has acknowledged several aspects of India’s population problem, but completely left out the female foeticide and infanticide, as if we have already dealt with it. The practice is illegal according to the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act of 1994 and Female Infanticide Prevention Act, 1870, but still prevalent in rural areas and, surprisingly, in wealthy families. In 2019, Uttarkashi, a district in Uttarakhand, was under investigation because records of 132 villages in the district showed no girl child being born for three months. This is not a coincidence and potential evidence of sex-selective abortions.
Missing girl child
The State of World Population 2020 report released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said that there were 4.6 lakh missing women at birth in India between 2013 and 2017. The country also accounts for almost one-third of the total 14.2 crore missing females and is second only to China. Advancement in technology is making sex determination, illegal and forced abortions easier. The child sex ratio of India has declined from 945 in 1991 to 918 in 2011, and in UP from 916 in 2001 to 902 in 2011.
Politically speaking, the Uttar Pradesh bill is affecting communal harmony and keeping the pot boiling for the tried-and-tested election-winning polarisation formula. Apolitically speaking, such norms have already proven to be counterproductive globally, and harmful to women. In India, many women may face divorce to prevent their husbands from getting disqualified from elections or government jobs. Large-scale abortions as a possible consequence of this bill may further worsen our sex ratio. The fact is, despite the “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” programme of the government, the condition of girls in India is still deteriorating, and across communities.
There are plenty of reasons behind the current condition of women, such as social preference for boys, the idea that any investment in a girl child goes to waste, pressure of dowry (which is illegal but continues), decline in moral and ethical standards, and increased crimes against women like sexual harassment. Increasing cases of rape also lead to the disempowerment of women, which further results in more parental barriers. On top of that, politicians passing facile and preposterous comments, such as Mulayam Singh Yadav saying, “Ladke, ladke hain…galti ho jati hai (boys will be boys…they commit mistakes),” and UP CM Yogi Adityanath writing, “Women power does not require freedom, but protection and channelisation,” also affect the state of women. Also, the economic opportunities for men are more than that for women. According to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report 2021, India slipped 28 places from 112 in 2020 to 140 in 2021 in 156 countries, becoming the third-worst performer in South Asia.
First, the UP government must attach some clauses in the proposed draft of the population bill recognising the problem of female foeticide and infanticide. Second, the principle that ‘development is the best contraceptive’ should be considered instead of taking coercive measures to lower the population – it will only prove to be counterproductive ten years down the line. Third, poverty and poor reach of health services should be tackled. Fourth, sexual awareness must be spread through nukkad natak and advertisements, and target both men and women. Men need to be educated to uplift the condition of women because, in many families, women are still considered to be inferior to men.
Swiftly moving on to address the elephant in the room, implementation has been a big issue in India and many violators have gone scot-free. In such a scenario, laws will only accumulate, and the state will either remain the same or further deteriorate.
Anas Iqbal is a student of M.J.P. Rohilkhand University, Bareilly. Views are personal.