India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, has proposed legislation that aims to discourage couples from having more than two children. While the state argues it's necessary to manage their “limited ecological and economic resources at hand,” some have suggested the law represents a sinister example of population control.
The draft bill – which can be read here – looks to dissuade people in Uttar Pradesh, which is ruled by Prime Minister Modi's right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, from having more than two children through a scheme of incentives and penalties.
The northeastern Indian state of Assam, which is also ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, recently announced plans for a similar measure to introduce a “two-child policy” on government jobs and welfare schemes.
Among its many points, the draft bill in Uttar Pradesh suggests denying government jobs, welfare benefits, and the right to contest local elections to anyone who has more than two children. Those already in government jobs who break the “two-child norm” will be blocked from promotions. People who have two children or less also will be offered incentives such as tax rebates, promotions, and concessions in housing schemes. Couples may even be given rewards if one of them undergoes a voluntary sterilization operation.
India's population stands at 1.39 billion people. It is estimated that the state of Uttar Pradesh alone has almost 240 million people, according to the Government of India. If it were a country, Uttar Pradesh would be the fifth most populous in the world. While the national population is currently not as high as China’s population, most forecasts say that India will surpass China as the world's most populous country within a decade. After it reaches this apex, however, the population is likely to decline, just like many other parts of the world.
Is the Uttar Pradesh two-child policy necessary? Not everyone is convinced. Some have suggested that the new proposal for a "coercive" two-child policy is not necessary, and the state should instead focus on contraception and sex education. Others believe that the idea of India's ballooning population is not strictly accurate, arguing that distribution of resources and poorly planned cities are the real issues. According to BBC News, government statistics show that Uttar Pradesh's fertility rate nearly halved from 4.82 in 1993 to 2.7 in 2016. By 2025, it's predicted to be around 2.1.
Some have even suggested the policy might have more sinister intentions aimed at India's Muslim minority. Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has recently said that their two-child policy is the only way to eradicate poverty and illiteracy in the state’s Muslim community. In light of such comments, Rajmohan Gandhi – a historian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi – has suggested that the proposed law in Uttar Pradesh has the “obvious intent” of diminishing India’s Muslim population, which is especially strong in Uttar Pradesh.