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Is the Assam CM’s push for a “two-child policy” a tactic to exclude minorities?

While he tried to soften the blow by condemning the vilification of the community, Himanta Biswa Sarma’s agenda overwhelmingly alienates people from minority backgrounds

Sabrangindia 03 Jul 2021

Image Courtesy:indiatoday.in

Assam is once again poised to take a policy decision related to population control, that appears to unfairly target people from the minority community. Led by newly minted Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the implementation of the “two-child” policy is all set to be toughened.

It is noteworthy, that in 2019, the Assam Cabinet had approved the “two-child” norm as mandatory for getting a government job or continuing in one. Even before this, in 2017, the Assam Assembly had passed a Population and Women Empowerment Policy according to which people with more than two children are barred from contesting local body elections. This was seen as a direct attempt to restrict the number of Muslims in the state administration given their traditionally large families.

Now, Sarma has reiterated his commitment to furthering this policy. Speaking to mediapersons in Guwahati earlier this week, he said, “I am meeting a lot of Muslim intellectuals in the month of July and I am sure they are going to support the state government’s policy, because this is the only way through which we can eradicate poverty and illiteracy from the Muslim minority of Assam,” as quoted by The Indian Express.

A meeting between the CM and various stakeholders from the minority community, including over 150 intellectuals, is expected to take place this weekend, though Sarma says he has the support of notable minority rights groups like the All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU).

Speaking to SabrangIndia, Abul Kalam Azad (Central Educational Secretary, AAMSU) confirmed this with a rider. “We welcome the two-child policy of the Assam government. But it should be applicable to all communities, not just Muslims,” he said.

Growth of Muslim population

Now, there is no denying that child marriage is prevalent among a large number of unlettered members of the community. Also, many of them reject family planning and contraception due to religious reasons. Thus, not only is there a high rate of teenage pregnancies, women continue to bear children for a larger part of their fertile years.

In fact, in a video interview to SabrangIndia’s sister organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), Professor Abdul Mannan of the Guwahati University had explained the reasons behind the growth in Muslim population with an example, “If a Muslim girl is married off as a 14-year-old, she can become a mother as early as at the age of 15 years. Her daughter in turn, if also married off at 14, becomes a mother at 15. Thus, an unlettered Muslim woman can become a grandmother in her early thirties, which is around the time when an educated non-Muslim woman becomes a mother for the first time.” The age difference between generations is therefore shorter.

“There is no doubt that Muslims in this part of the country (Assam)… their number is disproportionately increasing,” said Prof. Mannan. Now, if we leave aside the alleged influx of people from across the border, the second key reason for the increase is internal growth. “I compared census data from different decades and discovered that in areas with a high concentration of Muslims, the number of births is very high,” says Prof Mannan who studied such populations in revenue circles Kalgachia, Bagbor, Mankasar and South Salmara. “I found that in South Salmara where 95 percent of the people are Muslims, children under the age of six comprised approximately 24 percent of the population. This means, one in every four people, is a child under the age of six,” explained Prof. Mannan. The corresponding figure for mixed or non-Muslim neighbourhoods was less than 10 percent.

Hurdles to family planning

Other scholars have also addressed the paranoia surrounding the Muslim rate of growth and even addressed graver issues surrounding the lack of family planning. SY Quraishi in his book The population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India says, “Family planning acceptance is also dependent on delivery of health services to the communities and individuals in question. Here, again we find Muslims lagging. According to NFHS-4 data, only 77 per cent of Muslims women in the age group of 15-49 has received antenatal care from a skilled provider, which is the lowest among all religious groups (Table 4.6). They also lag behind in accessing delivery services at healthcare facilities and receiving advice on family planning from community health workers, as is evident from Table 4.7 and Table 4.8. This results in lower acceptance of family practices by the community.”

Tables from the book reproduced below:

Table 4.6: Percentage of women in the age group 15 – 49 who received antenatal care from a skilled provider lowest for Muslims

Religion

Percentage receiving antenatal care from skilled provider

Hindu

79.3

Muslim

77

Christian

84.2

Sikh

93.6

Buddhist/Neo-Buddhist

93.2

Jain

93.7

Source: NFHS – 4; Mumbai: IIPS

Table 4.7: Percentage distribution of live births among women aged 15 – 49 delivered in health facility lowest for Muslims

Religion

Percentage Delivered in a Healthcare Facility

Hindu

80.8

Muslim

69.2

Christian

78.5

Sikh

92.5

Buddhist/Neo-Buddhist

92.2

Jain

98.1

Source: NFHS – 4; Mumbai: IIPS

Table 4.8: Percentage of women in the age group 15 – 49 who received advice on family planning lowest for Muslims

Religion

Percentage Who Received Advice on Family Planning

Hindu

69.7

Muslim

65.2

Christian

72.6

Sikh

77.1

Buddhist/Neo-Buddhist

81.6

Jain

70.4

Source: NFHS – 4; Mumbai: IIPS

Exclusion cannot be a means of empowerment

However, the solution to this does not lie in punitive measures that lead to exclusion. Greater awareness needs to be created, possibly with the help of community leaders and intellectuals about the ills of child marriage, teenage pregnancies and lack of formal education. When Lakshadweep administrator Praful Patel had tried to implement similar measures to disqualify candidates with more than two children from contesting local body elections, similar concerns about targeting Muslims in the archipelago were raised. It is noteworthy that Muslims are the majority community in Lakshadweep.

In August 2019, PM Modi made a push for population control saying that keeping small families is an act of patriotism. He had asked state governments to launch policies to deal with this issue. Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath too strongly supported the same idea.

Rakesh Sinha, a Rajya Sabha member had earlier that year introduced a private members Bill, seeking to enforce punitive action against those contravening the small family practice. Some state governments have announced disincentives for non-politicians violating the two-child policy including refusal of government rights for the third or higher children, denying healthcare for mothers and children, denying nutritional supplements for women pregnant with their third or higher child, jail and fines for fathers, a general decrease in social services for large families, and restrictions on government position appointment and promotion, as per a report in Investopedia.

Related:

Assam: New criteria for government jobs singling out minorities?
A Brief History of the Insider vs Outsider debate in Assam

Is the Assam CM’s push for a “two-child policy” a tactic to exclude minorities?

While he tried to soften the blow by condemning the vilification of the community, Himanta Biswa Sarma’s agenda overwhelmingly alienates people from minority backgrounds

Image Courtesy:indiatoday.in

Assam is once again poised to take a policy decision related to population control, that appears to unfairly target people from the minority community. Led by newly minted Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the implementation of the “two-child” policy is all set to be toughened.

It is noteworthy, that in 2019, the Assam Cabinet had approved the “two-child” norm as mandatory for getting a government job or continuing in one. Even before this, in 2017, the Assam Assembly had passed a Population and Women Empowerment Policy according to which people with more than two children are barred from contesting local body elections. This was seen as a direct attempt to restrict the number of Muslims in the state administration given their traditionally large families.

Now, Sarma has reiterated his commitment to furthering this policy. Speaking to mediapersons in Guwahati earlier this week, he said, “I am meeting a lot of Muslim intellectuals in the month of July and I am sure they are going to support the state government’s policy, because this is the only way through which we can eradicate poverty and illiteracy from the Muslim minority of Assam,” as quoted by The Indian Express.

A meeting between the CM and various stakeholders from the minority community, including over 150 intellectuals, is expected to take place this weekend, though Sarma says he has the support of notable minority rights groups like the All Assam Minority Students Union (AAMSU).

Speaking to SabrangIndia, Abul Kalam Azad (Central Educational Secretary, AAMSU) confirmed this with a rider. “We welcome the two-child policy of the Assam government. But it should be applicable to all communities, not just Muslims,” he said.

Growth of Muslim population

Now, there is no denying that child marriage is prevalent among a large number of unlettered members of the community. Also, many of them reject family planning and contraception due to religious reasons. Thus, not only is there a high rate of teenage pregnancies, women continue to bear children for a larger part of their fertile years.

In fact, in a video interview to SabrangIndia’s sister organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), Professor Abdul Mannan of the Guwahati University had explained the reasons behind the growth in Muslim population with an example, “If a Muslim girl is married off as a 14-year-old, she can become a mother as early as at the age of 15 years. Her daughter in turn, if also married off at 14, becomes a mother at 15. Thus, an unlettered Muslim woman can become a grandmother in her early thirties, which is around the time when an educated non-Muslim woman becomes a mother for the first time.” The age difference between generations is therefore shorter.

“There is no doubt that Muslims in this part of the country (Assam)… their number is disproportionately increasing,” said Prof. Mannan. Now, if we leave aside the alleged influx of people from across the border, the second key reason for the increase is internal growth. “I compared census data from different decades and discovered that in areas with a high concentration of Muslims, the number of births is very high,” says Prof Mannan who studied such populations in revenue circles Kalgachia, Bagbor, Mankasar and South Salmara. “I found that in South Salmara where 95 percent of the people are Muslims, children under the age of six comprised approximately 24 percent of the population. This means, one in every four people, is a child under the age of six,” explained Prof. Mannan. The corresponding figure for mixed or non-Muslim neighbourhoods was less than 10 percent.

Hurdles to family planning

Other scholars have also addressed the paranoia surrounding the Muslim rate of growth and even addressed graver issues surrounding the lack of family planning. SY Quraishi in his book The population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India says, “Family planning acceptance is also dependent on delivery of health services to the communities and individuals in question. Here, again we find Muslims lagging. According to NFHS-4 data, only 77 per cent of Muslims women in the age group of 15-49 has received antenatal care from a skilled provider, which is the lowest among all religious groups (Table 4.6). They also lag behind in accessing delivery services at healthcare facilities and receiving advice on family planning from community health workers, as is evident from Table 4.7 and Table 4.8. This results in lower acceptance of family practices by the community.”

Tables from the book reproduced below:

Table 4.6: Percentage of women in the age group 15 – 49 who received antenatal care from a skilled provider lowest for Muslims

Religion

Percentage receiving antenatal care from skilled provider

Hindu

79.3

Muslim

77

Christian

84.2

Sikh

93.6

Buddhist/Neo-Buddhist

93.2

Jain

93.7

Source: NFHS – 4; Mumbai: IIPS

Table 4.7: Percentage distribution of live births among women aged 15 – 49 delivered in health facility lowest for Muslims

Religion

Percentage Delivered in a Healthcare Facility

Hindu

80.8

Muslim

69.2

Christian

78.5

Sikh

92.5

Buddhist/Neo-Buddhist

92.2

Jain

98.1

Source: NFHS – 4; Mumbai: IIPS

Table 4.8: Percentage of women in the age group 15 – 49 who received advice on family planning lowest for Muslims

Religion

Percentage Who Received Advice on Family Planning

Hindu

69.7

Muslim

65.2

Christian

72.6

Sikh

77.1

Buddhist/Neo-Buddhist

81.6

Jain

70.4

Source: NFHS – 4; Mumbai: IIPS

Exclusion cannot be a means of empowerment

However, the solution to this does not lie in punitive measures that lead to exclusion. Greater awareness needs to be created, possibly with the help of community leaders and intellectuals about the ills of child marriage, teenage pregnancies and lack of formal education. When Lakshadweep administrator Praful Patel had tried to implement similar measures to disqualify candidates with more than two children from contesting local body elections, similar concerns about targeting Muslims in the archipelago were raised. It is noteworthy that Muslims are the majority community in Lakshadweep.

In August 2019, PM Modi made a push for population control saying that keeping small families is an act of patriotism. He had asked state governments to launch policies to deal with this issue. Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath too strongly supported the same idea.

Rakesh Sinha, a Rajya Sabha member had earlier that year introduced a private members Bill, seeking to enforce punitive action against those contravening the small family practice. Some state governments have announced disincentives for non-politicians violating the two-child policy including refusal of government rights for the third or higher children, denying healthcare for mothers and children, denying nutritional supplements for women pregnant with their third or higher child, jail and fines for fathers, a general decrease in social services for large families, and restrictions on government position appointment and promotion, as per a report in Investopedia.

Related:

Assam: New criteria for government jobs singling out minorities?
A Brief History of the Insider vs Outsider debate in Assam

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