Population Growth of India: Myths vs Realities
Population Explosion: Myth or Reality?
Indian population grew by 181 million during the decade 2001 - 2011. In percentage terms it is 17.6% per decade or 1.76% annual. It translates into an average increase of about 49,000 per day. To be fair, not all this increase is because people make more babies but includes immigration from neighboring countries like Bangladesh and Nepal.
The current Birth rate is about 20 births per 1000 population; in 2001 it was 24.3. It depends upon both the level of fertility and age structure of the population. The Death rate per 1000 is 7.48 compared with the figure of 8.74 in 2001. Both rates are gradually decreasing, indicating increasing level of social development
The size of the population is alarming for most people, specially for those living in the West. They dream nightmares and catastrophes thinking about the future and call it “Population Explosion” or a ticking “Population Bomb”. This originated in the US presidential election campaign of the 1960s and soon caught the fancy of people. The rhetoric is certainly scary; as all nightmares are! However, as daylight arrives the nightmares vanish.
The logic of this nightmare runs on these lines:: How the growing number of mouths will be fed in the future given the fast depletion of natural resources and limited food supply? Then there is another worrisome picture that comes from the issues of global warming and climate change. Increasing frequency of natural disasters (particularly untimely rains, sudden floods and droughts) is going to affect the food crop production.
The concern is logical. But a simple analysis of global consumption pattern tells where the problem lies. One only needs to look at the per capita consumption of everything in different countries. People in the most "developed" or rich countries consume the most, but the logic gets spilled over to the poor countries. It is made to look as if the increasing number of the poor will soon begin to eat away all the food on the planet. Certainly, the biggest threat to the planet'e well-being is not the growing population of poor people but the ever increasing consumption in the so-called developed nations.
I wonder why this simple fact does not get discussed by those who are worried about the future of the world? It is a fashion to blame the poor for every ill of the world.
Latest Religious Population Trend
The latest census data shows that the Hindu population dipped below 80% for the first time since 1947. It declined to 78.35% in 2011 from 80.45% in 2001. The Muslim population increased by 24% between 2001 and 2011, against the national average of 18% per decade, although the growth rate was smaller than 29% during the decade 1991 – 2001. Thus, share of Muslims in the total population increased from 13.4% to 14.2% over the decade. The highest rise was witnessed in Assam, from 30.9% in 2001 to 34.2% in 2011. It is, however, largely due to illegal influx of Bangladeshi immigrants.
The share of other religious groups like Sikhs and Christians remained steady: at a little over 2% each since 2001.
Trend among Religious Groups
An interesting fact of democratic and secular India is the falling population of the majority Hindus which is matched by the corresponding increase in the population of the Muslim community. It is because the use of modern methods of contraceptive is rather low among Muslims. The NFHS-3 data of 2005- 06 clearly revealed that the prevalence of modern contraception is the highest among Jains (69%) and lowest among Muslims (36%). Around 50% of Hindus are protected by some modern method like sterilization, pill, IUD, condom, etc. The proportion of people sterilized is twice as high for Hindus as for Muslims.
As per 2011 census, the Indian Muslim population is around 170 million which is about 13.4% of the national population and next only to Indonesia and Pakistan. Muslims in India are poorer and less educated than other religious groups. These characteristics are often associated with higher fertility rates.
50% World Population Lives in 6 Countries
# of Children per Woman
1965 - 70
1975 - 80
1985 - 90
1995 - 00
2005 - 10
Source: United Nations Population Division
Population of India
Since the most ancient time, India has witnessed arrival of people from the Iranian plateau, Central Asia, Arabia, Afghanistan, and the West. It was the prosperity of the region that attracted invaders and traders alike. The latest beneficiaries were the colonial British who arrived as traders in the form of East India Company and stayed as occupiers until the WW-2 weakened them and forced to depart. Indian people and culture absorbed these influences to produce a unique racial and cultural synthesis. The plunder of India for centuries, particularly during the 200 years of British occupation, deprived it of the natural development process. It is this lack of development that is basically responsible for both high population and poverty that exist today.
Although India occupies only 2.4% of the world's land area, it supports over 17.3% of the world's population.
About 70% of the people live in more than 550,000 villages, and the remainder in about 200 towns and cities.
Almost 40% of Indians are younger than 15 years of age;
more than 50% of its population below the age of 25 and
more than 65% hovers below the age of 35.
It is expected that, in 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan; and, by 2030, India's dependency ratio should be just over 0.4. Dependency ratio is nothing but total number of people below 15 and above 64 divided by those in the productive age group of 15 – 64.
For example, if a population of 100 consists of 12 children under 15, 18 elders above the age of 64, and rest of the 70 people in the productive age group, then the dependency ratio would be (12+18)/70 or 30/70 or 0.43.
Compare India's demographics with those of the Europe and Japan.
Aging in Europe and Japan
The Ageing of Europe, also known as the graying of Europe, is a social phenomenon in Europe characterized by a decrease infertility, a decrease in mortality rate, and a higher life expectancy in European nations. The "graying" of Europe specifically refers to the increase in the percentage of Europe's elderly population relative to its workforce.
Another related fact is that the population of Europe as a percentage of the world population is rapidly decreasing and is expected to keep declining over the next forty years.
Aging of Japan
According to Japanese Health Ministry estimates, the nation's total population will decrease by 25% from 127.8 million in 2005 to 95.2 million by 2050 and its elderly population (aged 65 or above), which comprised 20% of the nation's population in 2006, is expected to increase to 40% by 2055.
Clearly, Europeans and Japanese never imagined this scenario, say 30—40 years ago.
Conclusion: The sheer growing numbers of young population in India a few decades later combined with growing graying populations and negative population growth in the so called developed world is certainly a cause for concern, at least from the global political perspective.
After this comparison, let us see several misconceptions around population growth in India.
Six Common Misconceptions
1. Population of India is Growing too Rapidly.
This is plain WRONG.
The population of India grew rather sharply during 1960s and 1970s. It was due to rapid progress in public health network, eradication of epidemics like small pox, control on Malaria, and various other healthy measures to reduce child mortality rate. Thereafter, emphasis on family planning measures taken up at national level slowly but steadily checked the rate of population growth and this decline is still continuing. The average number of children per family 60 years ago was about 6, but now it is less than half of that and still declining. Sheer numbers may be scary but one can clearly see that there is no increase in the population growth rate and certainly not population explosion.
Whatever population growth is there is not because people are making more babies but simply because there are too many people in the reproductive age group. A very high proportion of population is young – demographic dividend, as labeled by population experts. This is giving push to population growth, it is known as population momentum in their language.
2. Population should be small/restricted for Better Development
This is another baseless statement similar to the metaphor “small is beautiful”. USA has a big population; after China and India, and is the most populous nation on the planet. China and India are the fastest growing countries in the world!! Development depends on how well one trains and manages the productive population (in the age group 15 – 64). Of course, there are other factors such government policies, social culture, and history; but population numbers alone can not be the criteria of development.
3. How about Food-Grain shortage and Hunger-Deaths?
Contrary to popular belief, hunger has nothing to do with shortage of food in the present day world. If people die of hunger it is because they don't have access to food. The reasons lie in the politics of development and inequality - regional or global. The economic model as practiced in the world today inherently favors the rich and powerful and creates a lopsided distribution of wealth. India is no exception; there are few who are counted among the richest in the world, while a large proportion of people are poor, even poorer than people in Sub Saharan region by some estimates. Further, due to foolish governance millions of tons of food grain often rot in the government warehouses every year. Even the Supreme Court of India has directed the government to distribute vulnerable food grain stock to the poor.
Food shortage is more of a governance and distribution problem, not a population problem.
4. Urban middle class has smaller families but poor and rural people have bigger families
This might be only partly true and the reasons are rather low awareness due to lower education levels and low access to family planning tools by the rural poor. So, the reason is poverty. Yet, the fact is: the average family size has decreased in last sixty years. In the 1950s, the average number of children a woman had in her life time (called Total Fertility Rate (TFR)) was about six; now it is less than three (about 2.7). In many states it has gone below 2.
The real reason for still higher TFR in some parts of India (say, in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Madhya Pradesh) is due to weak family planning program and lack of easy availability of suitable contraceptives to the rural population. In fact, about a quarter of the population growth is due to non availability of contraceptives according to population experts. However, as the development is reaching villages the situation is expected to improve.
5. Population Control is Necessary for Environment Protection
This is only superficially true. The real threat to environmental damage is the increasing demand from middle (and rich class) for more electricity, water, and fuel; in short, people are consuming natural resources at much higher rate than ever before. Poor in India don’t drive cars, and are still away from water and electricity to a large extent. It is the changed lifestyle of people with money that is a bigger threat to environment than the poor; in fact, they are too poor to destroy nature or ecology! It is the resource-guzzling lifestyle of the rich that threatens environment and nature and hence, the global well-being.
6. Introducing One- or Two-Child policy in populous states will solve the Population problem
People often site the One Child policy of China as a global success story. However, such dictatorial policies can not find acceptance in a democratic state like India. Besides infringing on human rights and forcing abortions it also distorts child sex ratio (in favor of male child). Even policies encouraging lesser numbers of children by giving incentives can lead to skewed child sex ratio as has been observed in some Indian states as well as in other countries.
Additionally, a one child policy leads to total break down of family culture, because after the first generation there are no uncles, aunts, or cousins, besides leading to the psychological single child syndrome. Sure enough, China is already seeing the side effect of having a population raised as pampered lonely children deprived of the benefits of growing in a family atmosphere. This may not sound an issue to those coming from the culture of individualism, but is clearly an issue of social importance.
You may like to read: The Dark Side of One-Child Policy of China
Global Population Growth
This article is inspired by the one day roundtable held in New Delhi (Jan, 2011) on “Population and family Planning: Contemporary Challenges & Opportunities”, organized by the National Coalition on Population Stabilization, Family Planning & Reproductive Rights.
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