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India’s population overtakes China’s, but numbers mask a bigger story

washingtonpost.com | April 14th, 2023

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Short Summaries

India’s Population Growth
India’s population of 1.4 billion is projected to overtake China’s as the world’s largest this month. The gap in birthrates is reflective of an overall north-south economic and demographic divergence within the country. India’s efforts to curb its population growth resulted in a national family planning program in the 1950s, followed by forced sterilizations in the 1970s. As the country’s economy developed, birth rates decreased naturally.

Imbalance Between North and South
While the southern states, where women’s literacy and education rates are higher, have made more progress, the north still lags behind. The Indian state of Tamil Nadu offers cash rewards for women who agree to be sterilized, with a $240 reward for having two daughters. While this stems from traditional preference for sons, gender imbalance is on the decline following a campaign against sex-selection abortions, though Bihar has struggled with providing contraception and remains conservative in attitude. Bihar’s strategy is to emphasize female education with programs like providing bicycles to girls for travel to school.

Political and Economic Consequences
India’s population growth leads to political consequences and economic divide between North and South. Accredited Social Health Activists work to promote contraception to women who lack family planning knowledge.

Detailed Notes

India’s Population Dynamics

•Two pregnant women, Vaishnavi Logabiran and Malika Begum, recently gave birth to a boy and a girl respectively, adding to India’s 1.4 billion population, projected to surpass China’s this month.

•India’s fertility rate differs widely by state, with 1.8 children per woman in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, comparable to the US and Sweden, and three in the agriculturally fertile province of Bihar, contributing to demographic divergence.

•Women in southern states have better access to contraceptives, family planning, education, jobs, and social status, leading to smaller families and greater prosperity.

•Vaishnavi has a graduate degree and two kids while Malika, who married as a teenager and never went to school, already has four children at 22.

•The north-south population and development gap poses a challenge but also an opportunity in terms of federal spending and parliamentary seat allocation.

Northern states of India struggle to create jobs and lift women out of poverty

•Development efforts are underway to provide enough jobs for the poor, northern states of India.

•Women like Malika often fall behind, despite India’s booming economy, set to overtake Germany’s.

•Malika did not learn to read, and had a fourth child she did not want due to fear of contraception side effects.

•India’s government tried to reduce birthrates through a national family planning program, which included forced sterilization.

•Tamil Nadu and Kerala, with higher literacy rates, better healthcare, and women’s education, have seen a decrease in population growth.

•The activist and politician E.V. Ramasamy’s movement in Tamil Nadu emphasized women’s education and influenced state administrations.

•In Tamil Nadu, incentives are given to girls to complete education and delay marriage, but literacy rates remain low, especially in Bihar.

Family planning policies in India and their impact

•Vaishnavi, a woman from Tamil Nadu, received a fully-paid education and became an accountant for a chemical company.

•The state’s public health system provided free maternal care for Vaishnavi when she became pregnant.

•Family planning policies in Tamil Nadu encourage women to have no more than two children and offer free temporary contraceptive options.

•Women who agree to be sterilized after having two daughters receive a cash reward worth about $240 and placed in a trust fund for their daughters.

•India’s preference for sons has led to a gender imbalance, but the gender ratio has improved in recent years due to a national campaign against sex-selection abortions.

•Bihar lags behind other states in terms of family planning programs, but the government has prioritized improving women’s education to mitigate this.

•Conservative attitudes in Bihar make it difficult to promote contraceptive use, causing some women to request hormonal injections to hide their contraception use.

The challenges of family planning in India

•Women in India are becoming more aware and proactive about family planning than their husbands.

•The failure to close the north-south demographic and economic divide in India is leading to political consequences.

•In Bihar, pressure for public-sector employment leads to riots due to limited government job openings or military recruitment.

•Southern states like Tamil Nadu, which expect population decline, sometimes experience friction from northern migrant laborers.

•YouTubers were recently arrested in Bihar for producing a fake video of migrant workers being beaten in Tamil Nadu, causing national uproar and political tension.

•Front-line workers, like Nusrat Jahan from the Indian government’s Accredited Social Health Activist program, face challenges in encouraging family planning.

•Some women in Bihar don’t know where to get birth control and have misconceptions about contraception.

•Women, like Malika and Guljari, want smaller families but lack education and support for family planning.

•Poverty and the inability to feed and educate their children are driving forces behind the need for family planning in India.

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