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Population control promotes female foeticide, ignores Cairo declaration, national policy

Sanjay Gandhi
By Rajiv Shah 
Yesterday, I did a story, based on an official communique of the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation, on a book launched by it on bonded labour, authored by a retired IAS bureaucrat, Lakshmidhar Mishra. 
At the virtual book launch ceremony, Justice PC Pant, who happened to be Supreme Court judge between 2014 and 2017, and currently is National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) member, linked bonded labour with population explosion, going so far as to say that, to abolish bonded labour you need a population policy as adopted in 1975-76 during the Emergency.
I don’t know if the illustrious Nobel laureate, Satyarthi, present on the occasion, was also shocked or reacted to it. I, as a college pass-out in Delhi, had witnessed how population control was being implemented during the Emergency days under the eagle eyes of Sanjay Gandhi, son of Indira Gandhi. All know what happened then: In the name of two-child norm, forced sterilisation became a norm. Family planning became a bad word, at least in popular perception, thanks to the manner in which it was sought to be implemented. Targets were given to government officials, teachers, health staff for stetilisation! Anyone, especially poor, having the second birth was sterilised forcibly.
Much water has flown down the Ganges, as the phrase goes, since then. The year was 2000. Posted in Gandhinagar as the Times of India man, I was personally witness to the plan by the then BJP chief minister Keshubhai Patel to come up with a new bill in the state assembly making two child norm compulsory. Several disincentives were provided for those having more than two children, including in providing government jobs and government schemes. Despite receiving support from both BJP and Congress legislators, there was one bureaucrat who ensured that the bill didn’t go through: the then health secretary Swarnakanta Verma.
Verma told me, of course off the record, how the bill goes against the letter and spirit of the 1994 Cairo Declaration on Population and Development, adopted under the auspices of the United Nations Population Fund, as also the National Population Policy (NPP), adopted in 2000 by by the Government of India. NPP, Verma told me, was prepared on the basis of the Cairo declaration, hence the bill shouldn’t go through. If I recall correctly, at that time, No 2 in the Keshubhai ministry, Suresh Mehta, was industries and parliamentary affairs minister.
Verma briefed Mehta – under whom, if I recall correctly, healthcare also came – about it, and the matter was settled. I did several stories on how the bill would not be dropped, something Mehta announced in the state assembly, pointing towards how the two child norm went against the UN population policy as also the one adopted by the Government of India. The bill was dropped. Officially, there the policy still remains intact, as is clear from a February 2020 Press Bureau of Information communique.
Whatever I could learn from the Cairo declaration and NPP is this: they stressed on the need to improve healthcare and educational facilities, on one hand, and poverty alleviation, on the other. If necessary goals in these areas were achieved, people would stop producing more children, they suggested. NPP talked of making school education up to age 14 free and compulsory and reduce dropouts at the primary and secondary schools; reduce infant and maternal mortality rate; achieve universal immunization of children against all vaccine preventable diseases; promote delayed marriage for girls, not earlier than age 18, and preferably after 20 years of age; and to ensure institutional deliveries.
The Cairo declaration was surely more forthright, pointing towards how, while there is “delicate balance between population and natural resources”, the population issue “should be seen not in isolation, but within the larger context of sustainable development of the planet for the betterment of humankind: economic activity that increases the quality of life for all people through curbing excessive consumption and generating productive growth; alleviating poverty; achieving sustainable agricultural and industrial production, energy and natural resources in harmony with the environment; and improving health care and the quality of, and access to, education.”
Even family planning, it said, should be seen in the “broader framework of reproductive health care”, pointing towards the need for the “empowerment of women and the improvement of their political social, economic and health status” as “highly important ends in themselves.” It underlined, “Human development cannot be sustained unless women are guaranteed equal rights and equal status with men. In this process women should be seen not merely as the beneficiaries of change but as the agents of change as well. This entails an enhancement of their own gender awareness.”
However, what neither NPP nor the Cairo declaration said highlighted a factor which appeared have acquire strange legitimacy today: Any move towards “restricting” population would lead to female foeticide, as what happened in China, which sought to implement one child norm in order to restrict population control, suggests. In India, there are many advocates for this as well. Some states have also passed laws for this.
Thus, the Gujarat government came up with a law 2005 disqualifying anyone with more than two children from contesting elections for bodies of local self-governance -- panchayats, municipalities and municipal corporations. In Rajasthan, for government jobs, candidates who have more than two children are not eligible for appointment. Somewhat similar laws exists in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, and Odisha.
Interestingly, in 2005 Madhya Pradesh dropped its two-child norm law which barred candidates of local body elections for contesting after it was found to leading to female foeticide, though the official explanation said that it was being dropped.

Comments

In the 1980s, we said, Development is the best Pill. However, by 2001; we found wherever Development has taken place (raod connectivity, supply of electricity, health care facilities and educational institutions), the child sex ratio has gone down except in Kerala. It was Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and to some extent tribal areas of central India that has saved the day. However, by 2011 census clearly shows that wherever TFR has reached below 3, again Child Sex ratio has gone down and this is happened because the Indian mindset is still rooted into Brahmanical feudal patriarchy where having a male child is the most important achievement for the couple. Yes, there should be less TFR not because we want to control population but because we want healthy women and less maternal mortality. However, till move towards either social (non-Brahmanical) patriarchy or Capitalist patriarchy (again non-Brahmanical) we shall be facing the dilemma: lesser the TFR lesser the Child Sex Ratio

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