Who will decide how many children an Indian woman should bear?

Some Church Bishops encourage large families, while male Chief Minister ministers plan two-child laws, has anyone asked the women?

Financial AidImage Courtesy:nbcnews.com

It is not known if the Bishop of the Syro Malabar Church’s Pala diocese is an expert on reproductive rights of women. However, he has recently announced financial aid to those families who have five or more children in his diocese or jurisdiction. The sops were announced by the Pala bishop Mar Joseph Kallarangatt during an online meeting he had called, reported the Manorama. The sops will be given to couples who have been married after 2000. Posters to that effect were also put in circulation in the area. They, translated in the media reports stated, “Year of the Family, Live the joy of God’s love includes a monthly scholarship of Rs 1500, starting from the fourth child and to all future kids of a family, will be given education with scholarship at the church-run St Joseph’s College of Engineering and Technology, besides free medical facility for every child after the fourth will be offered at the church-run hospital.”

However, as soon as this announcement began to be reported by the media, the church leader said he stood by his words. Fr Joseph Kuttiankal, who heads the Family Apostolate under the church, told the media that the process of receiving applications for the grants will start soon and “most probably, we will be able to hand out assistance from August.” While the assistance of Rs 1,500 per month for families with five or more children, may seem meagre, it is the scholarships for engineering studies and free medical aid for pregnancy-related needs from the fourth child that may be a bigger incentive for many. According to a report in the New Indian Express, the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Pala seems to be concerned about the community’s dwindling numbers. They have reportedly already called for “early marriages, larger families and avoiding contraceptive measures”, however none of that seem to have had much effect. When all else fails, it is hoped that financial aid yields the desired results. 

The news report quoted Fr Joseph Kuttiankal, director of the Family Apostolate saying the aid was offered because, “Often, families stop having children after the second or third child is born because of the increasing expenses involved in raising them.” He added that his church also “took into account the call for a larger family concept of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC).” However, he conceded that the call was not given based on any survey on birth and fertility rates among the community. “Having an organised system in the eparchy — right from the bishops to vicars of parishes — it is easy for us to understand the situation of families in the Church,” he declared. According to the news report the  KCBC had in 2008 initiated the concept of ‘larger families’ with three or more children. In 2017 the bishop of Thamarassery diocese had issued a pastoral letter “exhorting believers to ensure that their boys get married before the age of 25 and girls before they turn 23,” and the Idukki bishop had “issued a pastoral letter advising Church members to give up the use of contraceptives and other birth control measures.” No one knows if the Bishop had the consent of all the childbrearing age women members of the church, who would be the ones to get pregnant and give birth.

This plan seems to be in flow from the right wing’s selective narrative of the number of children a woman must bear. The male leadership, across religions, seem to have appointed themselves the decision makers of pregnancy and childbirth. 

Make more babies, woman!

The Dainik Bhasker recently reported from Rajasthan’s Bhilwara district, how hundreds of women here, over 40 years of age are being forced to become pregnant till they give birth to a male offspring. The women told Dainik Bhaskar that they were reduced to being “child-producing machines” even though their bodies felt “broken”. The report is based on data released by the PCPNDT (Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994) cell in Rajasthan. Bhilwara record showed that last year, 52 women above 40 years of age, who already had five daughters each, were “forced to become pregnant” to try for a son. There were over 2123 women of other ages who were pregnant after three daughters each and many had in fact had a pregnancy each year.

Apart from the obvious desire for a son, it is also the narrative that Hindu population will suffer, that right wing leaders, mostly males, have continuously given a call for women to produce more children. Most ‘notable’ are Sakshi Maharaj, and Sadhvi Prachi, who over the years have said things like “a Hindu woman must produce at least four children in order to protect Hindu religion.” 

Now, make less babies! 

In the states that want women to produce less children the situation is even more complicated. After the Uttar Pradesh State Law Commission proposed the Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilization and Welfare) Bill, 2021, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) has asked the state government to remove the one-child policy norm from the draft. According to news reports, the VHP thinks this clause can “lead to furthering of the imbalance between different communities”.  

Recently, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) sent its comments/suggestions to the Uttar Pradesh State Law Commission over the proposed Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilization and Welfare) Bill, 2021. The comments/suggestions drawing reference from some experiments and worldwide trends that have shown that there is a “direct and deep correlation” between basic civic amenities and healthcare available for women, (including facilities for personal sanitation and hygiene) from marginalised sections, their access to education and health needs, nutrition etc., that also facilitates ready acceptance of population control practices. 

Crucially, the autonomy of women was explained thus: “Chapter II of the Bill lays down all such incentives and disincentives of having more than 2 children, that will hamper a woman’s ability to make an informed decision. It violates her right to privacy, autonomy, that consequently impinges on her reproductive rights.”

In the past, Bharatiya Janata Party politicians such as Surendra Singh have also taken on themselves to decide how many children a woman must have. In 2018, he said that Hindu families should have more children as “a gift from god”. He had told the media that every Hindu should have at least five children. He said this will make India “become strong, when Hindus are strong,” adding that Hindus were at a risk of becoming a minority if there is “no balance” in population control. This has often fed into communal anti-Muslim hate on the ground. Hindutva leadership often accused Muslims of having more children, and telling Hindu women to have more children too.  No one seems to be asking the women if they even want to have more children at all.

In yet another corner of the country, Assam  Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, like Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath, wants to take decisions related to population control. However, these “two-child” policy proposals also appear to unfairly target people from the minority community. 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 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.

It is yet to be seen if any of these men in power have had extensive discussions on reproductive rights, with the women who are the most impacted by any population relation policies. If yes, it is yet to be seen when those discussions will be put out in the public domain.


CJP moves NBSA against Zee News’ ‘Population Control’ show
No intention to bring in two child policy, fertility rates have declined: Centre in LS
CJP writes to UP Law Commission over the draft Population Control Bill of 2021
Is the Assam CM’s push for a “two-child policy” a tactic to exclude minorities?



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