Assam: New criteria for government jobs singling out minorities?

Besides two-child norm, violation of Child Marriage Act will also make one ineligible to apply

The State Council of Ministers in Assam on October 21 took a collective decision that come January 1, 2021, no person having more than two children from a single or multiple partners as well as those violating the ‘Child Marriage Act, 2006’ will be ineligible to apply for government jobs, The Sentinel reported.

The Personnel Department has proposed an amendment in ‘The Assam Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1965’, and proposed a new notification titled ‘The Assam Services (Application of Small Family Norms in Direct Recruitment) Rules, 2019’.

The Assam government has set three conditions for participation in government jobs.

  1. Candidates with only two children will be eligible.
  2. Government servants shall strictly follow the norms of a ‘two children family’.
  3. Persons – both, male and female – who violate the legal age of marriage will not be eligible for any employment of employment generation scheme of the government.

The government has however made the following exceptions to the proposed law.

  1. If “an applicant has only one living child from an earlier delivery but more than one child are born out of subsequent delivery, the children so born shall be deemed to be one entity while counting the number of children.”
  2. “A person having more than two living children before January 1, 2021 shall not be ineligible so long as the number of children he/she has before the mentioned date does not increase on after that date.”

Applicants for government jobs will have to submit a declaration stating that they fulfil the set criteria. If on subsequent verification, it is found that the information furnished by the applicant is fake, he/she shall be liable to be dismissed from service.

What set the ball rolling?
India has grappled with unprecedented population growth rates since the turn of the century, and in fact, was one of the first nations globally, to introduce a family planning programme as far back as in the 1st Five Year Plan in 1951. Then during 1980s, “Hum Do Hamare Do” (We Two Ours Two) was popularised through mass campaigns.

However, the country opted to sign the International Conference on Population and Development Declaration in 1994 that prohibited countries from enforcing blanket limits on the number of children, an individual or family can have.

Assam is not the only state to come up with this policy.By 2017, there were at least 12 states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Karnataka, Odisha, Bihar, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh which had called for a two-child limit for government jobs. The policy has reportedly been revoked in Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh.

This year in August, 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 had too propounded the same idea.

Last year, Rakesh Sinha, a RajyaSabha member introduced a private members Bill in the RajyaSabha, 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, reported Investopedia.

The world’s most populous country, as a part of its family planning policy, China too, had introduced the one-child policy in 1979. According to reports, the number of births in China fell around 630,000 in 2017. The country repealed its one-child policy in 2016 to improve the balanced development of population” – an apparent reference to the country’s female-to-male sex ratio – and to deal with an aging population.

The consequences and criticism of the two-child policy
Apart from the most common criticism that interfering with the number of children being born will restrict the number of educated, young people in the next generation, critics say, the government doesn’t need to interfere as the population growth will gradually slow down as people grow richer and more educated.
India could also face an issue with negative population growth, where the number of old people receiving social services is larger than the young tax base that is paying for the social services.In China, this problem is known as the 4-2-1 problem (four grandparents, two parents and one child). The 4-2-1 problem places a heavy burden on the child to support his parents and grandparents both directly and indirectly, and so China has made efforts to prevent this by allowing certain families to have additional children.

The policy is seen as discriminatory towards women. In a country with a high gender imbalance and a preference for male children over females, the implementation of a two-child policy may see a spike in female infanticide – through abortion or infanticide of female fetuses.

This policy could also see a spike in divorce rates and desertions, if a man with a large family wishes to run for office.

Indian women, by and large, are unaware of the two child policy and can be turned away from essential life-saving healthcare services owing to the norm.

This policy will also be restrictive for women with already more than two children and unaware of the norm, from running for political positions, thus leading to a lesser representation of women in the political arena.

This law has increasingly been viewed as anti-democratic because it seeks to prevent people from participating in local self-governance after they have been elected through people’s mandate. This law interferes with the reproductive rights of individuals because it prevents individuals from exercising their right to decide the number of children they choose to have. This law discriminates against young citizens in their reproductive prime, because it creates distinction based on number of children. For example, in Rajasthan the two-child norm was made applicable for births after 1995. This means that whole generations of young citizens who have or wish to have more than two children following the year 1995 are automatically discriminated. Older citizens who have had three or more children before the stipulated cut-off date are not affected. (The Hunger Project, 2013)

In the wake of recent happenings in the country, the two-child norm has been suspected to be a politically motivated move towards minority religions in the country.

Northern and central India have seen a surge in campaigns advocating a population control law. This is rooted in deep Islamophobia, reflecting an idea that Muslims are trying to ‘overtake’ Hindus. Right-wing fanatic individuals and organizations have all blamed the Muslim community for the population explosion in the country and have been staunchly propagating the enforcement of the two-child norm.

Some Hindus, including politicians from the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP, are concerned that the higher fertility rate among Muslims will alter India’s religious makeup. In 2015, BJP parliamentarian SakshiMaharaj called on every Hindu woman to produce “at least four children to protect the Hindu religion.”

Giriraj Singh, union minister of state and a BJP lawmaker, was quoted in local media as saying, “The growing population of the country, especially Muslims, is a threat to the social fabric, social harmony and development of the country.”

It is common knowledge that religion is not a deciding factor in childbearing decisions. For people who are below the poverty line and are not economically strong, the higher the number of children, the more the number of working hands and higher the chances of social security.

Muslims make up around one-thirds of Assam’s population and form a majority in nine districts in the state. According to the last population census in the country, around 32% of Assam’s population was found to be below the poverty line. Sex ratio at birth has reduced from 1033 in 2005-06 to 929 in 2015-16 in Assam. A policy like the two-child policy is likely to further skew the ratio unfavourably. Also, how is it fair to people who have been victims of child marriage but have struggled to achieve an education and wish to contribute to society?

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