Assam's two-child policy is BJP targeting Muslims again in the state
While it will prevent Muslims from accessing government jobs, there's a proposal that Hindus from Bangladesh be given citizenship to boost Hindu population.
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Assam has drafted a policy according to which individuals with more than two children cannot have a job with the Assam government.
State minister of education, health and finance Himanta Biswa Sarma of the BJP-led government specifically mentioned that “when the policy comes into effect, those who are in government jobs and already have two children should not go for a third child. If an employee will have more than two children while on job, that particular employee will lose his or her job”.
Due to the recent rise in Muslim population in nine districts of Assam, the two-child policy will be implemented to prevent people from the community from accessing government jobs. While the Government of India is yet to launch a national policy for population control, some states have implemented restrictive measures to curb population growth.
States such as Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Bihar, Gujarat, and Uttarakhand have introduced a norm which restricts individuals with more than three children from contesting the local elections.
Drawing from the examples of the above mentioned states, Sarma further mentioned that in special cases, government employees with more than two children will have to take special permission from the government.
Apart from restricting government jobs, the policy will also prevent individuals with more than two children from contesting the Panchayat elections.
Targeting the Muslim population
The main aim of the policy is to introduce the population control Bill in the Assembly to make it a permanent Act. In addition to this policy, Sarma had proposed that the persecuted Bengali Hindus from Bangladesh should be given citizenship of India to strengthen the base of the Hindu population in Assam. In fact, the minister aims to introduce the population control policy in the curriculum of secondary level schools.
Focusing on the main reason behind the policy, it could be suggested that Sarma has introduced this norm to target the rights of the Muslim population. In particular, the proposal to grant citizenship to persecuted Hindu Bengalis also indicates that the main aim is to increase the total number of Hindus in Assam.
In fact, the norm of closing government-run madrasas on Friday was also terminated and the government has now ordered all madrasas to be open on Fridays and closed on Sundays. This norm was also passed targeting the Muslim population, because Fridays are considered to be the holy day of the week in Islam and Muslims offer congregational prayers on the day.
Similar to issues such as introduction of Sanskrit in schools and triple talaq, the government of Assam has been targeting the Muslim population ever since the victory of the BJP in the state in 2016. These policies also highlight that the BJP government, instead of focusing on development issues in Assam, is polarising the state on the basis of religion.
Additionally it is important to highlight that while the BJP government claims that Muslims have outnumbered Hindus, Census data (2011) shows otherwise:
As can be seen from the table on Census of India (2011), the percentage of Hindus is higher as compared to Muslims. Within Assam, around nine districts have indicated high growth rates among the Muslim population.
|District||Hindu population||Muslim population|
|Dhubri||3.88 lakh||15.5 lakh|
|Goalpara||3.48 lakh||5.8 lakh|
|Nagaon||12.2 lakh||15.6 lakh|
|Barpeta||4.92 lakh||11.98 lakh|
|Morigaon||4.51 lakh||5.03 lakh|
|Karimanj||5.3 lakh||6.9 lakh|
|Hailakhandi||2.5 lakh||3.97 lakh|
|Bongaigaon||3.59 lakh||3.71 lakh|
|Darang||3.27 lakh||5.97 lakh|
Due to the increase of Muslim population in these nine districts, the Assam government intends to implement the two-child policy.
Impact on states with two-child policy
Assam is not the first state in India to implement the two-child policy. In fact, it would be the ninth state to implement the policy, which restricts government employees. Other states such as Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Gujarat, and Uttarakhand bar local representatives from having a third child.
Studies have indicated that women opt for abortions or sterilisation to prevent pregnancies (Buch, 2005; Anukriti and Chakravarty, 2015). Studies also demonstrate that because of the two-child policy, men and women either have to give up their posts or abandon their children to be able to retain their posts (Rao, 2003; Buch, 2005; Anukriti and Chakravarty, 2015).
Drawing from a detailed investigation conducted by Nirmala Buch (2005) and media reports in this section, some of the major incidents of how the two-child policy has made an impact in the other states of India have been highlighted.
Madhya Pradesh: A woman sarpanch (village head) gave up her third child for adoption because having more than two children would disqualify from her the post.
Andhra Pradesh: A woman running for a local post in Andhra Pradesh became pregnant with a third child. She underwent abortion during her fifth month. However, she lost the elections as well.
Rajasthan: A woman as the sarpanch in a Rajasthan village abandoned her third child and the newborn died of rickets.
Gujarat: A taluka panchayat member was disqualified because he had become a father for the third time, even though his child died within five days of birth.
Odisha: A woman in the village-level panchayat gave up her post because the doctors told her she was pregnant with a son. However, post delivery, she discovered that the doctors had made an incorrect detection and she had given birth to a girl.
Major population concerns neglected
A closer analysis of the instances of other states indicates that due to the two-child policy, families have to undergo the trauma of abandonment, women have to undertake late pregnancies and disqualification from posts as well. In this backdrop it could be suggested that instead of serving any long-term goals, the two-child norm is creating more distress.
In the context of Assam, the state government should realise that instead of targeting the Muslim population, it should focus on other population indicators. Drawing from the National Family Health Survey (2015-16), the box below highlights the major areas of population concerns in Assam:
- Maternal mortality rate is 300 per cent and has surpassed the national average of 167 per cent.
- 46 per cent of girls and women between the age of 15 and 49 are anaemic.
- 9.5 per cent females undergo sterilisation as opposed to 0.1 males.
- 54 per cent is the infant mortality rate in Assam, as opposed to the national average of 40 per cent.
- Overall sex ratio in urban areas is 996 women per 1,000 men in Assam, but for children born in the last five years, it is 794.
An analysis of the two-child policy demonstrates that with the implementation of the policy, there will be an increase in abortions, abandonment and sex selective abortions. Instead of targeting the Muslim population, the state should focus on the other indicators where Assam is performing poorly.
For instance, the government should introduce measures to improve infant and maternal mortality rates. While it is true that the growing population of India is one of the major concerns of the country, nonetheless restricting only village-level elected officials is not the solution. It is important for the central government to systematically analyse the reasons for population growth and announce schemes accordingly.