To wit, how India might deal with its population

The UN recently issued a report declaring that India will become the most populous nation in the world by 2023, overtaking China. An internet search yielded a number of articles published in various newspapers after this UN announcement discussing the topic of birth control in India and to what extent, if any, the government should intervene, as well as the perils of uncontrolled increase in population. I was not sure if I should be happy or alarmed by the news. It was clear to me that it is not just in India, population throughout the world has been increasing and at some point, natural resources necessary for sustaining life on this earth will start getting depleted. In fact, some experts predict that by 2040, there would be an onset of decline in our living conditions. Unfortunately, I am neither an economist nor a social/political analyst; I have no control over how population of different countries would evolve. I cannot predict when the earth would run out of resources to sustain mankind.

So, I decided to focus on the lighter side of this issue. When I was a teenager growing up in India, there were two indicators of government’s actions on family planning. First, there were posters all over the country showing a happy family consisting of a father, a mother and three little kids, with a slogan “Do ya Teen Bachche, Bas” (Two or three kids and that is it). The other was abundant availability of a prophylactic brand “Nirodh” at a next to nothing price. These prophylactics soon became balloon-like toys for little kids as they were probably cheaper than balloons. A disgruntled adult neighbour who had taken a shot at using one for its intended purpose complained that these were more appropriate for horses! Perhaps, the failure of Nirodh was due to a poor design based on incorrect assumptions.

I was discussing over-population in India with an American friend who had been to India more than forty years ago. He blamed it all on that family planning poster. He said the artist did not correctly portray the happiness of a small family. He thought that to an average man, it looked like a sad family and since the slogan was a little vague, most people may have interpreted it as “Do ya teen bachche, bas?”, with a question mark implicit at the end. In other words, it seemed to encourage having more children. In a similar discussion around that time during a social gathering among Indians, a physics professor nodded his head in frustration. “It is virtually impossible to enforce any birth control method if the general public does not want it,” he said. His brilliant recommendation was to mix birth control pills with drinking water without telling anyone.

Many years later, when I was working at the Japanese company Sony, Mr. Suehiro Nakamura, the head of Sony world-wide TV business cornered me at a business dinner. Mr. Nakamura was known to be a golf fanatic. During any of his visits to the Sony plant in California, he could certainly be found on golf course if he was not attending an official meeting. He jokingly accused me, “You Indians must love sex. Otherwise, how can your country have more than one billion people?” I responded, “Nakamura-san, please understand that our people are poor people. Sex is their only free source of entertainment. Of course, if they have money, they would rather play golf like you.” A Bengali friend in USA made the point that one solution to overpopulation problem is active promotion of homosexuality.

His point was that, although there are millions of gay people in India, they remain in the closet because of social taboos; they end up marrying and have children because of family pressure. By the same token of liberalism, India can promote benefits of abortion (which is already legal) and women’s right over their own bodies more vigorously. A correlation probably exists between the more computer-savvy segment of the population and availability of internet porn. There may even be a correlation between gain in our IT expertise and increase in population. It is well-known that warm and humid weather are conducive to increased desire for physical intimacy, as evidenced by population explosions in countries like India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and some African countries. I am surprised that the climate change activists have not already blamed over population on global warming.

While polygamy has been in vogue in India for centuries, especially among the Muslims, I have not heard of cases of polyandry (i.e., a woman marrying multiple husbands) since the ancient epic “Mahabharata” where Draupadi had five husbands. If we can make this practice socially acceptable, it would go a long way towards population control. God has made a woman’s body in such a way that, once she becomes pregnant with a baby, she cannot be made more pregnant with additional babies during her pregnancy. It is not such a far-fetched idea because some tribal people in India reportedly practice this and some countries in Africa (Gabon and South Africa) are considering it. On a more practical front, perhaps the government can impose some dramatic work schedule rules in order to reduce the opportunities for intimate encounters. For example, all men might be required to work only at night while the women would work (if they work) only during the day. What can we do with too many people? The answer is the same as what we do if we have too many of any other thing.

We sell it or export it. Manual labour is needed in agriculture, manufacturing and construction among other areas. If we do not need any more people in these areas, we can lend them to other nations. Such channels already exist but the government can make them official and even facilitate and sell their services. We should make the emigration process very simple and encourage going to countries where the Indian population is relatively low. These include most Latin American countries (including Mexico), Scandinavian countries and Africa. I am not too worried. First, I will most probably not live long enough to see this decline. Secondly, since Indians, being poor people, are more conditioned to deal with adversities, it may not be a bad situation if there are more Indians than any other nationality to face the end of the world. Finally, as Hindu holy men have been saying for centuries, this life is only an illusion, and we must not take it too seriously.

 

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