Should we stop reproducing?

Gadfly

Rahul Jayaram believes the apocalypse cometh any time now...

In his I-Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the second BJP politician to speak of late on a topic most Indian leaders avoid: overpopulation. In a tweet some time ago, Begusarai MP Giriraj Singh brought up the same point, and some 40 years ago, it was Sanjay Gandhi, who in an act of genuine evil, did what he did. Unfortunately, our only ways of associating with the population issue is through gentlemen of this calibre and their ideological polarities.

Few in authority will say it, but India’s -- and our favourite neighbour Pakistan’s -- greatest social problem is our population. We have millions who are still poor. Children who still die of starvation. Women who give up their wombs to avoid menstruation so that they can keep their measly jobs, and epidemic deaths that blow us away. The recent child deaths in Bihar underscored only one thing: the relentless wretchedness and the monstrosity of life in India. There is no value to life here. India, Indians and the people of the wider subcontinent, may have the individual right to reproduce. But given their poverty and human development indices, should they have the privilege to reproduce anymore? Is procreation morally justifiable? The question applies to all classes, castes, religions and communities.

There is a segment in society that will tell you that our population problem is only a matter of ‘fixing’ the governance systems and delivery mechanisms. Well, if it was so easy, then why has the ‘system’ not been fixed for 70 years? How come the ‘system’ seems to work in India’s power centres and fails elsewhere? ‘Just fix the system’ is smugness ad nauseam. Many who mouth it know they are speaking nonsense. They say it out of their helplessness and hypocrisy, knowing their country has failed in establishing the nationwide basics of human dignity. They don’t want to accept their country’s failure and the normalisation of poverty-related wretchedness. 

The child deaths in Bihar are emblematic of the lives of India’s, and the subcontinent’s, poor since Independence. They belonged to Below Poverty Line families: a special type of hell. The larger question is, knowing life is tough, why do the poor reproduce? (It’s a question that applies to the middle-class as well. Why do middle-class people bring children into such social inequality?) Is it fair to children?  

In highly unequal societies, the poor continue to breed so much because that is a rare claim to power. In nation-states that have failed, organised religions succeed. They are the only genuine service providers for the poor. And nearly all of them urge the indigent of their flock to multiply. They chastise abortion or population moderation philosophies.

India’s population is already 1.3 billion. We are told it is India’s strength. It is perhaps the ultimate chicanery, for it’s a signal of monumental collective insanity. Humans of the Indian subcontinent belong to and have been born into a failed society, a failed polity, a failed nation-state, a failed civilisation, where one of the few avenues where individuals may exercise their individuality by is by stimulating their gametes and hormones to produce progeny. Those who have nothing, are nothing, have been made to become nothing, have nothing but their reproductive organs to assert their power and acquire some semblance of identity. Those who have nothing, like the poor, have nothing but their numbers.

It’s often crossed my mind, how such a malnourished, underfed, starving subcontinent reproduces so much? Where do poor South Asians find the stamina to sustain cycles of exponential reproduction? Perhaps, sex and reproduction have nothing to do with calories intake. It defies logic.

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