Chhota Parivaar, Khusian Apaar

I still possess a two rupee coin with the message ‘Small Family, Happy Family’ (also Chhota Parivaar, Khusian Apaar in Hindi) inscribed on it and issued on the World Population Day, July 11, 1993. The coin carries the picture of a family of four, the parents and two girls, one holding a set of 11 balloons and the other standing confidently by her father’s side. The picture conveys the message that it is alright to have two daughters, both of them happy.

Population growth has been a cause of worry to the thinkers and policy makers in India. Raghunath Dhondo Karve, the eldest son of Bharat Ratna Maharshi Dhondo Keshav Karve, who published a Marathi magazine titled Samaj Swasthya from July 1927 until 1953, regularly discussed issues of social welfare and pleaded for population control through use of contraceptives.

In 1949, the Family Planning Association (FPA) of India was formed to strengthen a voluntary commitment to advocate for Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH). Soon afterwards, Government of India launched a nation-wide Family Planning Programme in 1952. The programme was given a thrust in 1966, when a separate department of Family Planning was created under the Ministry of Health. It was renamed the department of Family Welfare in 1977.

The population control programme gathered momentum in 1970s. During the days of Emergency from 1975 to 1977, there were reports of compulsory sterilization. It was reported that in September 1976 alone 1.7 million sterilizations were recorded; the figure equaled the annual average for the ten preceding years.  In 1976–77, the programme counted 8.3 million sterilizations, up from 2.7 million the previous year.  Government officials and the over-enthusiastic youth, in their bid to please Sanjay Gandhi, the then Prime Minister’s younger son, committed inhuman excesses. But that does not mean that the basis of the programme was not in the country’s interest.  However, the ruthless and inhuman manner in which it was implemented created public aversion. As a result, a positive programme fast receded. Today there is no emphasis on the necessity of a small family and it has become a taboo for politicians.

I was always concerned over the issue of India’s overpopulation. As a member of Indian delegation, I attended the Asian Conference of Parliamentarians on Population and Development held in Beijing and Bangkok in October 1981. I worked hard preparing the background paper which was presented by the delegation. On July 30, 1982, I moved a non-official Resolution in Rajya Sabha on the need of setting up an autonomous Commission for the purpose. The Resolution, which pleaded introduction of uniform civil code and sought to abolish polygamy and also triple talaaq to divorce a married Muslim woman, was met with opposition from several members including Najma Heptulla, and ultimately I had to withdraw it.

It is a good sign that contraceptive usage as a means to avoid unwanted pregnancies has been rising in India. In 1970, 13% of married women used modern contraceptive methods. The figure rose to 35% by 1997 and 48% by 2009. By 1996, the national family planning programme had been estimated to have averted 168 million births.

The fertility rate in India has been in long-term decline, and had more than halved in the 1960-2009 period. From 5.7 in 1966, it declined to 3.3 by 1997 and 2.7 in 2009. In 2009, India had a lower estimated fertility rate than Pakistan and Bangladesh, but a higher fertility rate than China, Iran, Burma and Sri Lanka. In 2015, fertility rate in India has been estimated at 2.48, which is less than Pakistan’s 2.75 but more than Bangladesh’s 2.4 and Sri Lanka’s 2.1.

According to an estimate, eleven Indian states have reached the desired 2.1 replacement rate level or dipped below it.  The states which have high fertility rates include densely populated states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.  Bihar has a fertility rate of 3.4, the highest of any Indian state. The silver lining is that all these states have shown a declining trend.

In spite of all the promises of ache din, poverty remains a grim reality in India. According to United Nation's Millennium Development Goal (MGD) programme, 270 million or 21.9% people out of 1.2 billion of Indians lived below poverty line in 2011-2012. Poverty alleviation measures implemented by the government are yielding results only slowly and only for a small fraction of our population.

In the 2014 Human Development Index (HDI), India’s overall rank was 135 out of 187 countries surveyed. More than 100 countries were placed in the ‘High’ or ‘Very High’ human development category. India was bracketed with over 40 other countries in the Medium Human Development category (index ranging from 0.550 to 0.700). India’s score for 2013 was 0.586, up from 0.554 in 2012, 0.519 in 2010 and 0.467 in 2008.

Measures for poverty reduction in India enjoy only limited success mainly because of the population explosion. No economic or social growth can be achieved unless population growth is controlled. China and India are world’s two most populous countries, accounting for 1.34 billion and 1.21 billion people respectively. The pace of population growth in the two countries, however, is not similar. China and India record decadal growth of 5.43 per cent and 17.64 per cent respectively. The gap has narrowed from 238 million in 2001 to nearly 131million in 2011. If the present trend continues, India is projected to overtake China in about twenty years.

India’s population rose from 330 million in 1947 (after partition) to 361 million by 1951, 439 million by 1961, 548 million by 1971, 683 million by 1981, 846 million by 1991, 1.028 billion by 2001 and 1.21 billion by 2011. In such a scenario, India faces an uphill task to push its development initiatives and secure the welfare of its people. While India accounts for a tiny 2.4 percent of the world’s surface area, it sustains a huge 17.5 percent of the global population. It has therefore been necessary to implement family planning measures with all seriousness.

It is unfortunate that family planning operations do not always take place under hygienic conditions. On November 8, 2014, 83 women attended a sterilization camp at Takhatpur in Chhattisgarh’s Bilaspur district. Over the next two days, 13 of those women died and 20 were hospitalized with serious infections.  Reports of such incidents earn a bad name for the programme.

In an  essay titled “Population Policy: Authoritarianism versus Cooperation,” eminent economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen argues that voluntary control or "cooperative" route seems to act faster than the use of "coercion" in reducing family size and birth rates. He analyses the 1990-91 data in respect of Kerala and China to establish that the voluntary method adopted in Kerala was more effective than the coercive method implemented in China. What mattered in fact was female literacy, their life expectancy and knowledge of reproductive health.

I have always said that India is a nation of young people. It is heartening to note that India has more than 50% of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65% below the age of 35. It is expected that, by 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan. The population control programme will not significantly alter the demography. It will help us produce a skilled workforce and enhance the scope for better employment opportunities to both our young women and men.

The task ahead for us is to end the deprivation which the poor, particularly poor women in India suffer, by extending education, better nutrition and healthcare and employment opportunities to them. They must realize the benefits of small family and must adopt family planning voluntarily to secure the future of their children. Only a happy family can ensure a happy society, a happy nation. A small family is a happy family.

 

Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed   with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood,” reads Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted and proclaimed by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948. However, there is a huge gap between the ideal and the real. Ideally, women and men are equal in all respects. But in reality, there is discrimination against women in every walk of life—in family, education, employment and in the society at large. In a largely patriarchal society, most families prefer a son to a daughter.

As per 2011 Census, there are 943 women per thousand men in India. Among the states/ UTs, only Kerala and Puducherry have positive sex ratio—1084 and 1038 respectively. On the other hand, Haryana, Delhi and Chandigarh record low figures of 877, 866 and 818 respectively. In Daman and Diu, the ratio is as low as 618. The Census data exposes this grim reality when, biologically, a woman has a longer lifespan than a man. The appalling sex ratio portends an ominous trend—in the days to come there may not be as many young women for our young men to marry.

Odisha, however, records a better sex ratio than the national average. Of course, at 978, it still requires vast improvement. The ratio is better among the tribes than among others—it is 990 at the national level. In Odisha, the sex ratio among the Scheduled Tribes’ population is 1029 females per 1000 males.

Read More : Breaking the Glass Ceiling - Barriers to Women's Empowerment

Unfortunately, women face discrimination almost everywhere, from womb to tomb. Sex determination is a crime; but it is carried on clandestinely in clinics and nursing homes. In a family, women usually eat the last and the least, after serving every other member. Naturally, in a poor and even low middle class family, there is not enough food left for them. National Family Health Survey-3 indicates that 55 per cent Indian women are anaemic. And so far as education is concerned, the family gives priority to boys. People erroneously think that boys are the sole bread earners of the family. 2011 Census data shows that the percentage of literacy of India stands at 74.04, male literacy at 82.14 and female literacy at 65.46.

Women face violence and intimidation. Such reports appear in the press almost every day. In December 2014, a lady was allegedly raped in a taxi in Delhi by its driver when she was returning home after attending a dinner. In Kolkata, a Japanese young lady complained that a man who introduced himself as a tourist guide used her ATM cards to drain her bank accounts and almost forced her to have sex with him. The rape and murder of a mentally-challenged Nepali lady in Haryana’s Rohtak in early February this year caused anger and indignation throughout the country. Only a few days ago, it was reported that the body of a seven-year-old girl, who was allegedly raped and murdered, was found in a hotel at Lonavala near Pune. And I do not know how many more such cases will come to public by the time this write up appears. In the wake of increasing gender-based violence, safety and security of girls and women assumes great importance.

Violence against women occurs at home, in public spaces such as roads, marketplaces and gatherings. In most of the rape cases, offenders are not strangers. Countrywide statistics reveal that during 2013, offenders were known to the victims in as many as in 94.3% of rape cases. In certain cases, offenders were relatives, colleagues, employers, neighbours and even family members. What else could be more shocking than this?

Society expects women to conduct themselves the way it prescribes. And in some parts of north India, khap panchayat orders honour killing for someone who refuses to follow its diktats! The mere perception—which may not always be right-- that a woman has brought ‘dishonor’ to her family or community is enough to violate her right to life.

Laws have been enacted to deal with acts of violence against women. But mere law is not enough; action is necessary. It is necessary to bring reforms in every sphere of administration, particularly in the police. It is also the duty of the community and the civil society to work towards eliminating gender-based violence and ensuring safety, equality and dignity of women.  True, good progress has been achieved in providing better opportunity to girls and women in education and other fields of life. The pace, however, must be very rapid to ensure equal status to women in every walk of life.

Read More :  WOMEN AS AGENTS OF CHANGE

International Women’s Day is observed on 8th March every year to raise public awareness on the rights of women. Although National Women’s Day was observed by different countries on different days since 1909, it was in 1975 that the United Nations started celebrating the day on the 8th of March. Since then the World Conference on Women has been held in different countries across the world, the first one in Mexico in 1975, the second in Copenhagen in 1980 and the third in Nairobi in 1985. The fourth conference was held in Beijing in 1995 and fifth one is going to be held this year. It was a matter of great joy for me that my wife late Justice Sunanda Bhandare was a member of the Indian delegation to the 1st World Conference on Women held in Mexico in 1975. All through her life she worked hard for the empowerment of women. But for her untimely death, she could have been the first woman Chief Justice of India.

Today we live in a world of human rights. After two bloodiest world wars in the last century, the urge for peace ushered in an era of human rights through the formation of  United Nations. The focus is increasingly on gender equality and empowerment of women. No longer do we live in a society governed by physical prowess, which has been substituted by a society governed by brain power.  In physical power, nature has made men stronger than women but, in a knowledge society, this imbalance is corrected and women have greater parity than men with regard to brain power. Physical strength has been rendered redundant. Things now happen with the push of the finger—be it a computer, a television remote or a telephone set.

In a world governed by brain power girls are equal or even superior to boys.  We notice that girls outshine boys in board, university and various competitive examinations. As the Chancellor of several universities in Odisha, I have noticed that women far outnumber men among gold medalists. We see women excelling in various fields such as teaching, nursing, medicine, administration, banking, engineering and information technology. In all these areas, we have seen how a knowledge society is creating opportunities for women to excel. However, the opportunities for progress available to women are far less than those available to men. The government as well as the community must work towards removing the inequality. Women are capable of higher achievements and they must reach the top.

Change of our mindset is of foremost importance. It should not be viewed as a mere slogan of a few activists only. "Women's Rights are Human Rights" as Hillary Clinton said in her address to the fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing on September 5, 1995

Patriarchal society must be replaced by an equal society. People must see women at an equal footing with men. As Mahatma Gandhi has said, “Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacities. She has the right to participate in the minutest details in the activities of man, ad she has an equal right of freedom and liberty with him.”  There should be equal opportunity in education, health, economic empowerment with gainful employment. Equality, dignity and safety of women are the three major issues that need to be addressed. Empowering women is empowering the humanity.