The Population Growth Rate in India

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The Population Growth Rate in India

For many years concern has been voiced over the seemingly unchecked rate of population growth in India, but the most recent indications are that some success is being achieved in slowing the rate of population growth. The progress which has been achieved to date is still only of a modest nature and should not serve as premature cause for complacency. Moreover, a slowing of the rate of population growth is not incompatible with a dangerous population increase in a country like India which has so huge a population base to begin with. Nevertheless, the most recent signs do offer some occasion for adopting a certain degree of cautious optimism in regard to the problem.

One important factor which is responsible for viewing the future with more optimism than may previously have been the case has been the increase in the size of the middle class, a tendency which has been promoted by the current tendency to ease restrictions on entrepreneurship and private investment. It is a well-known fact that as persons become more prosperous and better educated they begin to undertake measures designed to eliminate the size of their families. (The obvious exception would be families like the Kennedys who adhere to religious strictures against artificial birth control, but the major Indian religions have traditionally lacked such strictures.) Ironically, the state of Kerala which had long had a Communist-led government had for many years represented a population planning model because of its implementation of programs fostering education and the emancipation of women. The success of such programs has indicated that even the poorer classes can be induced to think in terms of population control and family planning through education, but increased affluence correspondingly increases the pressure for the limitation of family size, for parents who enjoy good life want to pass it on to their children under circumstances where there will be enough to go around. In contrast, under conditions of severe impoverishment there is not only likely to be lack of knowledge of family planning or access to modes of birth control, but children themselves are likely to be viewed as an asset. Or, perhaps one might more accurately say with regard to India, sons are viewed as an asset. We will have more to say later about the relationship between gender and population growth, but here we may make the obvious point that if a family seeks sons it may also have to bring into the world some "unwanted" daughters, thereby furthering the trend towards large families. Under conditions of severe impoverishment, attended as it has traditionally been by high childhood mortality rates, "it has estimated for India that in order to have a 95 per cent probability of raising a son to adulthood, the couple had to have at least six children."

In general, direct efforts on the part of government to promote family planning have had only limited success in India. In large part this has been due to the factors which have traditionally operated in Indian culture and society to promote large families, of which more will be said later. Here, however, it might be noted that the most common family planning modes have proven difficult to implement under Indian conditions. Where government efforts are concerned, "for mass consumption only three methods are...advocated: sterilization (vasectomy for fathers and tubectomy for mothers), IUDs and condoms." Sterilization has traditionally met with strong resistance among uneducated sectors of the population who associate it with loss of virility or feminimity, and, often being irrevocable, it has been a source of understandable concern in a society where couples who may already have several children risk losing some or all of them as a result of such factors as epidemics earthquakes or floods. Resistance to sterilization has traditionally been strongest among men, Chandrasekhar...
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