The proposed birth control law in Kerala has chosen to punish parents instead of targeting bigots who are goading them
By Paul Zacharia
THE ESSENTIAL problem with Justice VR Krishna Iyer’s suggestions for enacting a birth-control law in Kerala is that it does not understand that love-making cannot be replaced by law-making. Anyone with a modicum of common sense knows that family planning is an intelligent thing to do in the times we live in, for umpteen well-known reasons. But no one with a modicum of common sense would say that penal action is the best way to get people to make fewer babies.
Iyer has been too long a retired judge sitting on an elevated pedestal, out of touch with reality and, worse, dependent on peculiar coteries for information. At 96, he has been given to passing on quixotic, blind and dictatorial views. Also, as an early 20th century communist with a Stalinist veneer, he tends to believe that the State is entitled to exert muscle power upon the citizens and ride roughshod over their lives. The weakest thing about his recommendations is that he made them for the only state in India where population growth is approaching a standstill.
Dr Irudaya Rajan, eminent population studies expert with the Centre for Development Studies, Thriruvananthapuram, says that the two-child norm proposed by Iyer is irrelevant in Kerala. He says that four out of five families in Kerala had two or less children and the average child-bearing rate was less than two for at least the past 15 years. “What’s more, the population growth has been decreasing over the years and the state will experience negative growth in 10 years’ time.” He argues that Iyer should have instead come up with a procreation policy. “Rather than penalise families, the state should encourage them to have at least two children.” More than one-third of families in Kerala have only one kid, he says.
Given the awesome degree of anti-Muslim sentiment that the media has whipped up in Kerala where the cardinal virtue used to be a sustained habit of religious tolerance, I wouldn’t even be surprised if Iyer, who is a communist Hindu conservative, had an eye on the Muslim population figures while drawing up his recommendations. The Muslims have registered a higher growth rate than the Hindus and Christians, both of whose populations show a dip.
Iyer doesn’t want to ruffle the feathers of the religious and caste hierarchy who are the real culprits
The Christian growth figures have been dipping drastically despite the papal taboos against contraception, abortion and birth control. Sensing danger, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Kerala even issued a pastoral letter exhorting Catholics to come up with more babies. The case of the Hindu population is nearly the same, but except for RSS pracharaks shedding tears once in a while, there is lethargy all-around. So who is Iyer targeting? It is a conundrum.
The basic problem is that Iyer has chosen to punish the victim — the citizen whom his religious overlords and caste masters are forcing to produce more babies — instead of addressing these bigots who are goading him under threat of various damnations of this and other worlds. If some Muslims are having extra babies, it is not their voluntary decision but somebody is pushing them.
Iyer should have made a law to arrest the baby-mongers, not the baby-makers, whichever the religion or caste. This is where Iyer’s arid legalism and authoritarianism land him. And he is no humanist who can appreciate that procreation is a human condition which, civilisationally, should be left un-regimented. Nor does he want to ruffle the feathers of the religious and caste hierarchy who are the real culprits.
Instead of proposing to put handcuffs on parents, Iyer should have come up with a draconian legislation to insist that the educational system must deliver to the children, from an early age as in the West, a sensible orientation to the body, to sex, babies and to problems of overpopulation so that they grow up as balanced individuals who cannot be hoodwinked. There is no better contraception than ingrained awareness.
Paul Zacharia is fiction writer and essayist.