Indian Church Leaders Applaud National Government’s Confirmation of a ‘Coercion-Free’ Population Policy

The nation’s Catholic bishops pointed out there is no demographic justification to advocate for such a policy, given that India’s population is stabilizing without it. But pro-life efforts continue in the wake of anti-life efforts.

Above, Sunny Kattukaran of V4L (‘We for Life’) explains the dangers of abortion at a street exhibition in New Delhi in 2014. The exhibit included models of unborn babies, shown in detail at right. Such outreach is meant to share the dignity of life amid formal or informal policies targeting population control.
Above, Sunny Kattukaran of V4L (‘We for Life’) explains the dangers of abortion at a street exhibition in New Delhi in 2014. The exhibit included models of unborn babies, shown in detail at right. Such outreach is meant to share the dignity of life amid formal or informal policies targeting population control. (photo: Anto Akkara photos)

The Church in India has hailed as “laudable” the federal government’s declaration that it will not pursue a “coercive” population-control policy in the country, which is the second-most-populous nation in the world after China.

“That the government of India [has told] the Supreme Court that it does not go for coercive population-control policy is laudable,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) said in a statement. 

“It admits that the existing population-control system is voluntary. It is just and due, as it respects the rights of couples to determine the size of their family,” Archbishop Thomas mar Coorilos, chairman of the CBCI’s doctrinal commission, told the Register Jan. 28. 

The CBCI reaction follows the federal Ministry of Health and Family Welfare categorically telling India’s top court last month that India’s current population policy is “voluntary in nature, enabling couples to decide the size of their family and adopt the family-planning methods best suited to them, according to their choice, without any compulsion,” ANI, India’s leading multimedia newswire service, reported. 

This statement from the federal government came in response to a petition filed by a lawyer who is a prominent member of India’s ruling Hindu Nationalist BJP party, demanding enforcement of a two-child norm to control the population growth in India. With an estimated 1.38 billion people, India is likely to overtake China as the most populous nation by 2027, according to the U.N. Population Division

According to analysts, concerns about the relatively high population growth rate among India’s Muslim minority were the likely motivation for the court case initiated by the BJP lawyer. But since being elected in 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP government has made no moves to institute a coercive population-control policy at the national level.

“The argument of the BJP advocate in the Supreme Court that a ‘two-children policy has to be implemented’ must be subjected to public discussion and scrutiny,” said Archbishop Coorilos, who heads the Thiruvalla Archdiocese of the Syro Malankara Church in the southern Indian state of Kerala.


Population-Growth Figures

The present population figures, Archbishop Coorilos added, “do not present an alarming situation to be qualified as population explosion.”

“India’s fertility rate declined from 5.9% in 1951 to 2.3% in 2011 … [and] a fertility rate of about 2.1 is a bulwark figure for ensuring a broadly stable population. India is expected to reach replacement level of fertility of 2.1 soon. Far from exploding, India is actually close to stabilizing its population, and this has been achieved without a draconian one-child policy or coercive contraception,” noted the CBCI statement. 

“The Economic Survey of India 2018-19 clearly states that the population growth rate has been slowing down in recent decades. It mentions that the population growth rate of 2.5% annually during 1971-81 has reduced to 1.6% during 2011-16. Many significant states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana, which, at one point, were well-known for their large population, are now experiencing a deceleration in population growth,” the statement also pointed out. 

Rebutting the theory of a destructive “population explosion,” the CBCI statement asserted that “population remains the critically significant factor for India’s economic growth, as it represents a large number of young, employable people, producers of goods and a huge consumer market.”

“To hold people as a liability carries the vestiges of the outdated Malthusian theory of population,” the statement said. “Inefficient and corrupt governments accuse population as being the reason for poverty. The real issue in India, as a rule, is not poor production of food grains, but the inefficiency of governments in the distribution of food materials across the country in affordable ways.”

While India has never followed China’s lead in terms of instituting a population-control policy that mandates coercive measures to limit the number of children a family is allowed, in 1970 it became one of the first nations to legalize abortion and to utilize it as a population-control measure. 

Subsequently, government employees with more than two children were denied maternity leave, and some government jobs were unavailable to parents with more than two children. Similarly, several states passed amendments to deny the right to contest village or municipal elections to parents with more than two children. 

Sterilization campaigns were another feature of India’s population-control efforts. During India’s controversial national emergency from 1975 to 1977, there were anecdotal incidents such as buses packed with office workers being directed to government hospitals in New Delhi, where all the adults were subjected to vasectomy surgery. 

And due to the rampant son preference among Indian parents, the sex ratio for children below 6 years of age has steadily declined from 961 (for 1,000 boys) in 1981 to 919, as per the 2011 census. The state of Haryana, bordering New Delhi, has 834 girls for 1,000 boys, with rampant female feticides reported, despite the passage of several pieces of legislation intended to stop the practice of sex-selective abortions.


Problems Persist

Despite the formal changes at the policy level disavowing coercive practices, psychologist Antonio Carvalho said “the vestiges of the past persuading and encouraging couples to opt for sterilization still continues.” 

“This approach has gone deep into the minds of even illiterates who are apologetic about having a third child,” Carvalho told the Register, speaking from Belgaum in southern Karnataka state.

“My wife is a pediatrician in government service. Many doctors share with us how they had been [given] set sterilization targets for population control and had to follow it,” said Carvalho, who works among the rural population along with his wife. 

This approach had led to shocking fatal incidents, with young women dying from botched sterilization surgeries at health camps by government doctors in their bid to meet the tough targets set by the health department and earn the government incentives for carrying out higher numbers of sterilizations.

The Register reported extensively on the deaths of more than a dozen young women in the impoverished region of Chhattisgarh state in central India in 2014. 

The death of 29-year-old Chaiti Bai from the primitive Baiga tribe at a sterilization camp exposed the callous attitude of the doctors desperately trying to meet their government targets, even though Indian law forbids sterilization among the members of the endangered Baiga tribe.

Earlier in 2012, Chhattisgarh had made headlines following the unethical hysterectomies of more than 2,000 poor women by unscrupulous doctors in private hospitals, in order to claim government insurance payments of Rs 30,000 ($430).

Following the continued protests over such incidents, the Supreme Court of India stepped in in 2016, banning sterilization camps.

Despite such curbs, flaws still remain in the system.

The pro-life advocacy group V4L (“We for Life”), a Catholic network of laypeople, including doctors, has been carrying out a dedicated campaign against abortion across the country. 

V4L conducts regular awareness programs publicly, including exhibitions and documentaries in schools, colleges and for other audiences displaying models and pictures of the child in the womb and the brutal abortion process to spread awareness against abortion.

“Sterilization camps may have ended in remote areas,” Sunny Kattukaran, who heads V4L, told the Register. “But the new practice in the health system is distribution of abortifacient pills even in advanced pregnancy cases.”

Register correspondent Anto Akkara is based in Bangalore, India.