Monday, 26 September 2011

Growing Population in India and Islam: Some Facts

Devendra Kothari
Differential population growth rates and fertility can be major political issue in India. There is a widespread feeling that the main cause of population explosion in India is due to the   higher fertility among Muslims as compared to other religious groups, especially Hindus.  Even some argued that the growing demographic imbalances in India should indeed be matter of serious concern as they seem to have serious repercussions on the very survival of the “Indian civilization”[1]. This post discusses the issue and provides facts/information for rational analysis and conclusions.

India is home to many religions and cultures in the world. Various religions like Hinduism apart from Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism started in India. With 80% of India's population, Hinduism is the most dominant religion in India. Islam is the second most dominant religion in the country with 13% Muslim population. Jain, Sikhs and Christians are also present in the country but in a very small proportions and their share is declining. The Hindu religion is present in almost every nook and corner of the country. On the other hand, the Muslims are mainly concentrated in the States of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Maharashtra, Kerala, Assam, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

India has the third highest concentration of Muslims worldwide after Indonesia and Pakistan. The Muslim population was 138 million out of a total population of 1028 million in 2001. Percentage wise, Muslims were about 13.4% of the total population, as compared to 80.5% Hindus (including Scheduled Castes and Tribes) and 6.1% other minorities (Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, etc.). Currently, the Muslim population is around 170 million, as per the estimated figure for the year 2011.  The annual growth rate among Muslims has averaged 2.7% between 1961-2001, which is well above the national average population growth of 2.1% and the Hindu growth rate of slightly less than 2%.

A large body of available research has argued that cultural and religious factors caused high fertility among Muslims[2]. But how far it is a valid assumption needs further research. No doubt, Muslims have higher fertility rates than those in other religious groups.  Based on the National Family Health Surveys (NFHS) data, it can be said that rate of Muslim fertility is the highest among all the religious groups in India, as shown in Table 1. The total fertility rate (TFR) is almost half a child higher for Muslims than for Hindus in 2005-06. However, as compared to NFHS-1 (1998-93), the Hindu-Muslim fertility differential declined significantly from 1.11 children per woman in 1992-93 to less than 0.5. It is interesting to note that the Muslims recorded the highest decline in fertility among major religious groups in India, as shown in column 5 of Table 1.  It appears that TFR, or average number of lifetime births per woman, has fallen among Muslims in India since the mid-1990s, following the same trend as many countries with large Muslim populations, with the exception of western Africa (see footnote 2).

                  Table 1 India: Trends in total fertility rate by religion, 1992-2005
Religious group
Total fertility rate (Number of children per woman)
NFHS-1 (1992-93)
NFHS-3 (2005-06)
% change
Source: National Family Health Survey 1 and 3

Is India going Muslim? Projections for future population growth in India show that by the end of the 21st century India’s total population will stabilize in which the Muslim population would be less than 20% of total, as noted by the  Sachar Committee[3]. Thus the propaganda that the unchecked growth in the Muslim population will result in their overtaking the Hindu population is totally false. I projected the Muslim and Hindu population for the next five decades  based on their actual growth rates during 1971-2001 and came to the same conclusion, as shown in Table 2.  Further, if the rates of decline of fertility we saw from 1992 to 2005 continued for another 13 years then in 2018 the total fertility rate of Muslims and the Hindus would be about the same. As the Muslim population is much younger it would continue to grow more rapidly than the non-Muslim for some time, but eventually the growth rate of both populations would be the same and the Muslim portion of the India’s population would tend to stabilize.
                  Table 2 India:  Trends in population by major religions, 2011-61
Per cent of total population

All religions
Source: *Estimated figures are based on actual trends observed during 1971-2001.

Of course, we do not know that the rapidly declining fertility of Muslim women will continue. It would not be surprising if Muslim fertility stabilized at a higher level than non-Muslim fertility in India. As a result, Muslims may maintain a population growth rate somewhat higher than other groups and their percentage of India’s population might slowly grow. It is because the use of modern methods of contraceptive is very low among Muslims as compared to others.  Religious differences in the use of modern contraception, based on the latest NFHS-3 (2005-06) data, clearly indicate the prevalence rate of modern contraception is the highest among Jains (69%) and lowest among Muslims (36%). Around 50% of Hindus are protected by any modern method like sterilization, pill, IUD and Condom (Table 3, column 2), which are available  in the official program.  The prevalence of sterilization does not differ much among most religious groups, except for the fact that it is very low among Muslims (column 3).  The proportion of women and men who have been sterilized is twice as high for Hindus as for Muslims.

Table 3 India: Current use of contraception and unmet need for contraception by religion, 2005-06
Religious  group
% of couples (15-49 yrs) protected by  any modern method
% of couples (15-49 yrs) protected by sterilization
% of couples (15-49 yrs) having unmet need for any modern method
Source: National Family Health Survey-3 (2005-06), OOPS, Mumbai, 2007.

Unmet need for family planning[4] is an important indicator of assessing the potential demand for family planning services. In spite of poverty and illiteracy, the prevailing unmet need for modern  family planning services is surprising, especially among Muslims.  Table 3 (column 4) indicates that among the religious groups, unmet need is highest among Muslims, who are least likely to have their total demand satisfied in the present situation.

Now question arises as how to forge ahead? The socioeconomic development played a key role in North Africa and Central Asia including Turkey, where fertility started declining even without a very aggressive family planning program.  On the other hand, in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, followed by Bangladesh and then Iran, it was family planning programs that affected fertility (see footnote 2). It appears that the Sachar Committee (see footnote 3) did not give importance to this model in its recommendations to improve the conditions of Muslims in India. 
In Bangladesh total fertility rate has gone down to less than 2.5 children (Table 4). In Pakistan, it is four. Pakistan is behind mainly because the contraceptive use rate among eligible couples is around half as it is in Bangladesh, even though living conditions are better in Pakistan - there's a higher level of literacy in Pakistan, women get married later, which result in lower fertility rate or high use of contraceptives - it has not happened mainly because family planning programs have not been effectively implemented.

                  Table 4 Selected countries: Total fertility rate, 2010
Average number of children per woman  (TFR) 2010
Saudi Arabia
Source: 2010 Population Reference Bureau, Washington DC

Well, the only major religion left out of the demographic transition in India is Islam. And this group could be helped by providing family planning services looking to the needs of clients as happened in Bangladesh. The second issue - that is very important - is that the Indian family planning program has predominately promoted female sterilization. Many Muslim scholars believe that the permanent method of contraception is not permitted in Islam. So India has to diversify its approach to include other modern methods of contraception including injectables with quality in its program.

The next blog discusses the importance of injectable contraceptives in the Indian family planning program.

[1] For details, see: “A note on the growing demographic imbalances in the Indian subcontinent” by Dr. M.D. Srinivas, Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai, 1999.

[2]Yet, it is simplistic to argue that there is a specifically Islamic pattern of fertility due solely to religious influence”, says Mehtab Karim, a senior research adviser and senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and World Affairs. For details, see: article by Eric Zuehlke, Editor at the Population Reference Bureau, Washington DC, 2011. Also see, the report, entitled: “The Future of the Global Muslim Population”, was part of a Pew Forum program analyzing religious change and its impact on societies around the world.

[3] In March 2005, the Government of India appointed a high level committee to prepare a report on the social, economic and educational status of Indian Muslims. The 7-member committee, headed by Justice Rajinder Sachar (retired) submitted its report to the Prime Minister in November 2006. The Sachar Committee’s report is an extremely valuable document on the social, economic and educational status of Indian Muslims.

[4] The standard definition of unmet need depends upon the apparent inconsistency between a woman’s contraceptive behavior and her stated reproductive preferences. The concept of unmet need was highlighted first time in India in a study conducted by the author in Rajasthan in 1988 on behalf of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. Based on the field data, the study revealed that there was sizable number of eligible couples that were not using contraceptive methods but did not want another child.  For details, see Devendra Kothari, Family Planning Programme in Rajasthan: Beyond the Existing Approach, Indian Institute of Health Management Research, Jaipur, 1989.

Monday, 19 September 2011

China and India: How they are managing population issue? (Part II)

Devendra Kothari

Prof. Population Programme Management

While delivering the lecture on “Approach to 12th Five Year Plan” at the HCM Rajasthan Institute of Public Administration, Jaipur, India on April 12, 2011[1], the Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia said the Indian economic growth has been impressive in the past two decades but lacked "inclusiveness". He pointed out that “the percentage of people below the poverty line has gone down, but the common man's access to basic services such as water, health and education has not improved satisfactorily”. He highlighted that "deprivation" was much greater than the economic growth rate. And this is also supported by the Human Development Index, commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) since 1990. It indicates enlarging people’s choices. The most critical of these wide- ranging choices are to live a long and healthy life, to be educated and to have access to resources needed for a decent standard of living.  The 2010 HRD Report indicates that gap between India and China has increased significantly   as compared to the situation in 1990. India ranked 121 among 169 countries as compared to China, which ranked at 89 in 2010.

The main reason behind this, as per Dr. Ahluwalia, that “we have inclusive politics, now we need inclusive economics”. No doubt, the Indian economic growth has been impressive since nineties however, lacks inclusiveness and this is mainly due to galloping population growth (see Table 1, Blog dated August 29, 2011). It appears that the successive governments and various political parties at the national level have not shown the will to resolve the population issue since the emergency (1975 – 1977). This Blog argues that India’s massive population base, a threat to sustainable development, demands immediate attention.

When India became independent in 1947, population growth was seen as a major impediment to the country's socio-economic development and population 'control' was seen as integral to the sustainable development process. In 1952, a sub-committee appointed by the Planning Commission asked the government to provide sterilization facilities and contraceptive advice through existing health services to limit family size. The National Health Policy of 1983 emphasized the need for "securing the small family norm through voluntary efforts and moving towards the goal of population stabilization" by achieving replacement level fertility of 2.1 children per woman by 2000. The National Population Policy 2000 proposed a long-term and holistic view of development, population growth and environmental protection. Its stated goal is to achieve replacement level fertility by 2010 to achieve stable population by the year 2045. Following the announcement of a National Population Policy, a number of states have formulated their own policies. In 2005, Government of India launched the National Rural Health Mission (2005-12) to achieve the replacement level fertility by 2012. But it is unlikely to be achieved. As the total fertility rate in India remains at the high number of 2.8 children per woman so it is highly unlikely that the goal of replacement level fertility will be achieved by even 2020. Thus, India’s population will continue to grow at a rapid rate. The U.S. Census Bureau does predict a near-replacement total fertility rate of 2.2 to be achieved in India in the year 2050.

In spite if all these policy statements,  India’s population has grown from 361 million in 1951 to 1210 million in 2011 in last sixty years and is growing by around 16 to 17 million every year. We have to agree that efforts made over the years for improving quality of life have been partially neutralized by the rapid growth of the population. It is well recognized that population stabilization measures and economic growth initiatives, when effectively synchronized, synergistically maximize the socioeconomic well-being of the people.

Now question arises as how to forge ahead? While making a public presentation at the International Development Research Centre[2], Canada on March 18, 2009, Dr. Isher Judge Ahluwalia, one of India’s known economists, stated that the “distinguishing feature of India’s growth story is that India has followed a gradualist path. We do not believe in a big bang”. But I do believe that the time has come to think in terms of “a big bang” at least in certain areas like reducing population growth in a broader context of reproductive rights. Otherwise our policy makers will be forced to take some drastic measures like one child family norm in near future. Most of the Members of Parliament (Loksabha)  during the debate on ‘population stabilization in India’ on August 4, 2010  argued  that  “the recent increase in the population of India and the pressure exercised in the limited resources of the country have brought to the forefront the urgency of the problem of family planning and population control”[3]. One of the young Members of the ruling party Mr. Deepender Hooda (ROHTAK, Haryana) voiced that: “The demographic dividend that we talk about, I think we are inching closer to demographic disaster”. In short, Ms. Paramjit Kaur Gulshan (Faridkot, Punjab) expressed the views of many members of Parliament when she said “it is high time that we awake from our deep slumber and take the bull of population-explosion by the horns. Only then can we stabilize our population. The future generations will never forgive us if we fail to rise to the occasion”.

Are Indians against small family norm? While India’s population continues to grow by 16-17 million people annually, 25 million women, mostly belonging to the “bottom of pyramid” especially in Four Large North India (FLNI) States of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh seek to postpone childbearing, space births, or stop having children, but are not using a modern method of contraception. Often, these women travel far from their communities to reach a health facility, only to return home “empty handed” due to shortages, stock outs, and/or non availability of doctors and paramedical staff. When women are thus turned away, they are unable to protect themselves from unwanted/unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. And this type of incomplete control over the reproductive process leads to relatively high levels of unwanted childbearing. Around 26 million children are born in India every year and out of this about 5.5 million births have been classified as unplanned. Further, as per the latest National Family Health Survey (2005-06) about 30% (around 240 million) of the total population in the young age group 0-35 years in India was the product of unwanted childbearing.

Based on the data obtained from the National Family Health Surveys, I came to the conclusion that out of 1210 million people in 2011, there are around 370 million people who are the product of unwanted fertility.  As a result, India currently stands at a very disadvantageous position. India is now forecast to surpass china in total population in the next nine and ten years and definitely before 2020 unless we focus on this issue during the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17). India’s population is stated to rise by almost 300 million over the next twenty years (2010-2030). While China is currently (2010) larger than India’s by over 120 million, by 2030 India’s population is expected to exceed China’s by 130 million. It is important, therefore, to design a suitable strategy to reduce unwanted pregnancies.

Two general options are available to the policy makers who are interested in achieving a breakthrough on the population front or where population growth has stalled at an undesirable high level: strengthen the management of family planning program and encourage socio-economic development with special reference to female education. The former is aimed primarily at reducing unwanted fertility, while the latter is aimed at reducing the demand for children. There is no need to implement coercive measures like China or to provide incentives and disincentives. The real need is to provide family planning servicers services in un-served and underserved areas.

Unfortunately, so far, most sections of India’s elite and policy makers have done little to push for a serious population policy. In large part this has been because they have been benefitted  from this unending supply of ‘cheap’ vote or labor. But this unending supply of cheap and largely unskilled labor also has serious unrecorded economic and political consequences. For example, in the global market, this put Indian industry at a competitive disadvantage rather than advantage.  In 2010, China stood at 17th in a global league of “national competitiveness” and it has risen from 73rd place in 1990 and had left India, which was ranked at 42nd[4].

India is   at the critical juncture because problems India has for long set aside have come to the fore and galloping and uneven population growth makes them pressing. Addressing this issue of population is the antidote to the various concerns plaguing the nation (like corruption, poor governance, poverty, women empowerment, etc.).  As such, the population issue should not be allowed to become a “stumbling block” to socio-economic progress as well as the unity of the country.  It is argued that towards faster and more “inclusive growth”, the Indian economic road map especially during the 12th Five Year Plan must give due importance to the issue of population stabilization and education.

The writing is on wall. The question is not whether we act or not, but whether we act now or later and deal with much more dire and expensive consequences. What India does in the next few years especially during the period of Twelve Five Year Plan (2012-17) will determine its future. 

We have to understand that China’s one child family policy, which was first announced in 1979, has remained in place despite the extraordinary economic  and social changes that have occurred over the past three  decades. And it emerged from the belief that development would be compromised by rapid population growth. And at least we can learn it from the Chinese experience to give top most priority to reduce unwanted fertility in order to have a reasonable population growth at the level consistent with the requirements of sustainable economic growth, social development and environmental protection.

About 30 years ago, China was behind India in economic prosperity. Today, it is ahead. China is what India’s future could look like once we get our act right. But if we insist on saying that ‘we are like that only’, then we will remain like this only. To remain eternally fatalist would be fatal. We simply have to change to be able to compete effectively in the world, as argued by Vikram Sood[5]. We have to remember that all talk of harmonious development does not make any sense. Nobody will give us space voluntarily. We have to make that space ourselves by taking vital policy decisions to reduce population growth.

The next issue discusses population and Islam.

[1] Times of India, dated April 13, 2011
[2] IRDC is a  public corporation created by the Canadian government to help communities in the developing world find solutions to social, economic, and environmental issues..
[3] For details see: Proceedings of LOK SABHA debate on: Consideration of issues of population stabilization in the country, August 04, 2010. 
[4] The Economist, dated June 25,  2011
[5] Vikram Sood, “Perspectives: Today’s China is what India’s future could look like”, Hindustan Times, August 1, 2008. Mr. Sood  is  currently Vice President, Centre for International Relations, Observer Research Foundation, an independent public policy think tank