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 suggesting that the prevalence of tubectomies as opposed to
vasactomies serving serving indication that "women are becoming increasingly
aware of the problem and want to solve it without waiting for their husbands to
decide on vasectomy."
In regard to IUD, which has been promoted since its introduction in
India in 1963, the method has not proven popular because of the relative
frequency of excessive bleeding and, though more infrequent, involuntary
expulsion. Taking note of the fact that in traditional Indian society
gynecology, obstetrics and other fields requiring intimate contact and
conversation with women are invariably reserved to female doctors only,
Chandrasekhar observes that "the real problem is the lack of sufficient numbers
of dedicated women physicians who are willing to work in rural areas and spend
some time in pre-insertion and post-insertion follow-up of their patients."
The third