When I read Dan Brown’s Inferno this week, I didn’t expect it to be about what it turned out to be about. Should I tag a ‘Spoiler Alert’ here? Maybe I should. I’ll try a different tack- I don’t know much about global problems. So far, my interests have been limited to localized social problems- electricity shortage (Scroll down to find that article), crime (rape, domestic violence), climatic changes (the floods in Uttarakhand), etc- so I was somewhat dumbfounded when Dan Brown connected these problems to one single source : Overpopulation.
The theory propagated in this book, which I’ll try not to repeat verbatim, is that the accelerated growth rate of our population has exceeded our natural resource reserves and this will ultimately and inevitably lead to our annihilation and subsequent extinction. The thing is, without adequate resources, along with us breeding like rats, the population will slowly starve not just for food and water but for all other basic amenities. Simply put, there will be no more space on earth to accommodate our people and no more resources to fulfill their basic requirements. Physically, this would mean people will be forced to resort to violence and War in order to possess precious and scanty resources. Medically, it would mean that the average life-span would decrease, the mortality rate would increase and the general health standard of the majority would lower. (I’m saying ‘would’ but as you know, this is already happening in many parts of the world so I’m no longer referring to the future). Materially, it means unemployment, social and economic inequality and a wider gulf between the rich and the poor. Socially, it means the entire society would disintegrate when the spirit of humanity no longer exists and the source of all social values is exhausted. Morally it means utter debasement because when starvation, epidemics and poverty prevail- then the difference between right and wrong no longer holds sway.
To back these claims, I’d like to refer to a summary of the World Population Prospects report that was released in a recent press conference. The UN has stated, that the world population currently at 7.2 Billion could reach 8.1 Billion by 2025 and 9.6 Billion by 2050. (For the detailed report, visit http://www.un.org/News/briefings/docs/2013/130613_Population.doc.htm )
The report also details the key factors on which the population trend depends namely- fertility, mortality and migration. Out of these, I’ll pick the one that I possess some knowledge about which is fertility. The report held that many countries including India, China and Brazil were witnessing lower fertility rates but the most alarming account by far was the prediction that India is expected to become the world’s most populated country by the year 2028 (which for time-reference is only 14 years away people! I’ll be 34 by the way, frantically trying to discourage all my friends from procreating and browbeating them into adopting instead, you just wait and watch).
Since India is the eye of the storm I’ll talk about facts I’ve collected about family planning. The reason why people in India would be well-advised to practice family planning is because the desired ‘replacement rate’ hasn’t been achieved yet. The replacement rate is the ideal fertility rate at which every newborn girl will have only one daughter in her entire lifetime. Thankfully, India has seen a decline rate in fertility from 5.7 in 1966 to 2.3 in 2009; however, family planning and birth control are not practiced in the way that would ensure that the population growth is checked.
The following sociological factors have, according to me, posed the biggest challenge to raising awareness about population growth :
1. Low female literacy : In 2011 the literacy rate of men was 82% as compared to 65% in women. Obviously, it is the women who conceive, carry and give birth to the child. Hence, the social ramifications of having more than one child would better be explained to them. Due to the low literacy rate, the high dropping out rate and the sheer number of women who have never been to school, never passed out and never graduated makes it impossible to get this important message across to them : That the time has come not only to consider birth control and family planning but to obsessively practice it. I use the word ‘obsessively’ because the global weather when it comes to population has become inclement. Every woman needs to be made aware of the fact that, should she wish to have children, that wish itself and the number of children will impact not only her family and her society, but humanity itself. Women, when provided with education will realize the ramifications of procreating. More importantly, armed with the data and statistics that the UN report recently published, women will be able to assert their right to not have children.
2. Religious taboo : You might remember the tragic event in Ireland in 2012, when an Indian pregnant woman died of post-delivery complications because the doctors refused to grant her an abortion even though medically it was clear that having the child would prove fatal. The prevailing religious belief as well as the laws in Ireland do not condone abortion. In this case, when religious faith battled with scientific proof- religion won and an innocent woman lost her life. In India, both the concepts of abortion and contraception are not accepted by the orthodox community. Within this very country, infanticide and female foeticide are rampant and continue to be the single-most leading cause of the unnatural sex-ratio. When such heinous crimes are committed against the girl child, no religious view condemns that.
3. Social reluctance : The want for prodigy, the need to procreate and the ideal of a ‘complete family’ are such deeply-embedded social instincts that neither logic nor science can prevail on people’s unrealistic expectations. Birth control is not advocated by the government no matter which political agenda it is elected with- and the need for birth-control continues to be undermined by couples refusing to consider other options. Our social expectations of family life and children are so archaic in this day and age- that even the talk of modernization in this society would be hypocritical. The moment a couple is married, the family hounds them till they have provided an heir- a male heir is more preferable- but an heir nonetheless, as if we belong to the Royal Family or are descended from the legendary Rose line or Nobility itself- where the bloodlines must flourish or mankind will perish.
4. Eugenics : Speaking of nobility, for some reason people belonging to the richer, financially comfortable and well-bred class believe that children born in poverty are not children of this country and do not deserve equal opportunities. Eugenics are a matter of attitude towards humanity -it aims at replacing the degenerate population which lacks in intellect and physical skill with children that have descended from families which are ‘perfect’. It is a ridiculous extension of the Darwinian ‘Survival of the Fittest’ theory. Eugenic considerations are not a myth : When a husband and wife decide to have children, their pride lies in combining their ostensibly worthy genetic attributes and not in having a child itself. If the latter were true, more and more couples would be openly embracing adoption.
5. Unsafe sex : India might not be a victim of the teenage-pregnancy problem that Western nations face today but let’s be honest : if young people are sexually active then the risk of pregnancy will exist. Not enough social and welfare organizations are emphasizing on the need for safe sex. All we have are cheap ads with former porn stars publicizing the condom brand a lot more than the purpose it serves instead. The last memorable (and I’m being sarcastic here) and proactive step the government took to promote birth control was enforcing a barbaric sterilization program which was a monumental failure. From 1970 to 2009 the percentage of married woman using contraception has risen from 13% to 48%. However, given that India is a ticking population time-bomb, the choice to practice safe-sex has to become a personal habit and not a government policy.
Interestingly, nature has always been a step ahead of man. It might sound brutal but not being one to mince my words, I feel Nature has blessed people with infertility. (And yes, I stand by ‘blessed’) A number of complications have arisen in the DNA and physiological structure of people today that cause infertility or reduced fertility. Nature clearly doesn’t believe it is imperative that you procreate. Nature is neither advising nor emphasizing on the need to procreate. So the next time you go to a fertility clinic, stop and think : when there is an abundance of children in this world, why am I so determined to have my own? How is my need to have children greater than the need of a child to have a mother?
A predictable but ‘easier-said-than-done’ solution that you will deride me for suggesting : There are enough children in this country. They may not be your offspring- but they are children born here who are either orphaned or abandoned or dying of malnutrition or suffering from negligence. They need parents and they need family support. If you are a conscientious citizen and believe that you belong to an intelligent and rational species (these days it might not be that obvious) then consider what you want the future generations to bear witness to : Nuclear War, starvation or maybe a lethal plague? If you really want to uphold the lofty notion of a ‘perfect’ family, is it not less selfish to give that to a child who is alive right now (instead of the unborn one) who desperately needs that?. If you are rich and don’t want to raise children at all then sponsor the education and health of any child- a very viable alternative. My opinion might seem callous, misguided or naive to some but it comes from a good place : Fact. Enlighten yourself about the advantages of contraception and the ingenuity of adoption. Many of my female friends today are suffering from some arbitrary disorder or another that will presumably result in more sterility than fertility- again Nature’s infallible sense of justice. Girls today are suffering the consequences of actions taken decades ago. It is astounding how many of my generation are being told by doctors about such premature risks such as infertility because it is starting to become so common. None of these friends are campaigning to bear children anymore- they know that would be stupid, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have a family. My point you will realize, is adoption. Remember, the world today needs more parents than children.