By S. GOPIKRISHNA
The Supreme Court of India recently upheld the decision to dis-qualify a member of a village council in the Haryana for violating the two-child norm, which sets a limit of two to the number of children a couple can have. Chief Justice R.C. Lahoti and Justices G.P. Mathur and P.K. Balasubramanyan, observed, “it was in the national interest to check the growth of population by casting disincentives even through legislation.”
The underlying logic is crystal clear: When a publicly elected official breaks a rule, how can an ordinary citizen be expected to follow the law?
Well, that makes sense to everybody excepting an interesting medley of the extreme leftists and extreme rightists who have denounced the opinion amidst much screeching and screaming.
Some have expressed “concerns” about the legal validity of the observation. Should they file for judicial review, they would learn that the judges’ comment, exemplifying obiter dicta (a minor conclusion that can’t be challenged on its own), can’t be reversed; the objectors would emerge sadder but wiser.
There are others who believe that the ruling violates fundamental rights, fundamental to a functioning democracy.
As the decision in question itself pointed out, fundamental rights are not absolute and can be curtailed through legislation. Certainly, this has been the thrust of many rulings on issues related to alleged human rights abuses in regions witnessing strife between separatists and the Indian Army. While there exists no direct connection between national security and overpopulation, there is evidence to indicate that overpopulation causes poverty, which in turn propels frustrated members of society towards terrorism. The fact that such situations seem to be replicating themselves throughout India with remarkable regularity lends support to mechanisms that curtail a fundamental right.
Lastly, there are those who echo the Christian Church’s doctrine and argue against birth control.
Well, India’s secular nature should ideally separate State policy from religious opinion. The fact that Christian majority countries like Belgium, Denmark, and Canada have courageously disagreed with doctrinal teachings and undertaken social engineering in the interests of an integrated and just society should inspire the secular government to spurn the unsolicited opinions of religious leaders.
In the absence of the government’s political will to curtail population growth (probably because of its negative impact on the present government’s vote banks) and the growing gap between the haves and have-nots, who can fault the judges for drawing attention to an obvious shortcoming? The judges are worthy of our collective approbation for calling a spade a spade. They deserve bouquets, not brickbats.
Toronto-based S. Gopikrishna writes on issues pertinent to India and Indians.
No, this is an invasion of privacy
By RAJEEV SRINIVASAN
There are two good reasons to oppose this sort of big-brother behavior on the part of the State. The first is that the “popula-tion-is-the-root-cause-of-all-evil” premise is now in question. The second is that the State has proved incompetent at macro-level issues, and so it will do even worse in deeply personal matters.
Is India’s population a strength or a weakness? In the good old Malthusian days doom-sayers were certain that India was overpopulated and that this was the reason for all its ills. One can’t be so sure any more. It is increasingly likely that the problem is economics, not demographics. Development is the best contraceptive, not ham-handed edicts.
India may not be overpopulated: 57 percent of India’s land is arable, assuming (yes, this is a big if) there is proper irrigation. Today’s projections suggest that India’s population will stabilize at 1.5 billion, and that may not exceed the carrying capacity of the land. The Cassandra-like predictions of Lester Brown and the Club of Rome about the world running out of resources have proven to be excessively pessimistic.
India is far less crowded than densely populated, and rich, European countries like the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Belgium. The difference? The Europeans looted capital. The United Kingdom transferred at least $10 trillion of capital from India, and that makes the difference: British affluence is a function of past capital accumulated.
Today, India’s young population is seen as a net plus. Europe and Japan face a rapidly graying population. India’s demographic advantage is in having a producing and consuming populace well up to the year 2050.
Nevertheless, there is no case for unbridled population growth, which brings about undesirable demographic shifts. The better-off areas are growing much slower than the dirt-poor areas. Muslims are increasing faster than others everywhere in India, which tends to lead to separatism—as in Partition.
But I believe it is not the State’s business to intrude into people’s personal lives and impose one-child or two-child norms. The result of China’s one-child policy: 30 million excess Chinese men who will never find wives, and China will have to go to war to kill off these men.
The Nehruvian Stalinist State in India is infamous for being involved in things that it had no business being in: hotels, airlines, telephony. It also ignored things it should have been in: ports, electricity, roads, airports. With this record, it is guaranteed that the State will bungle up badly in this area too. Remember Sanjay Gandhi and mass sterilizations?
Do you really want the Indian State in your bedroom? I doubt it.
Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from Piscataway, N.J.