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The Muse

May 11, 2006

Population Issues and India

When I was in school at Delhi, I remember reading in Civics or Geography about India's challenges for the millennium. It was drilled into my head, and probably yours too, that one of the most important issues facing us was our population. I don't know about you, but the perception I got was as if the poor Indian's were uninformed, uneducated folk who used no contraception, hence procreated like rabbits to result in such a huge unplanned population explosion. What a shame! We all had to spread "awareness" and control our growth rate else we were surely headed for doom. All I heard was that China had put forth its "one-child" plan, and we needed to do something similar, albeit less drastic. The fact that India would overtake China's population was often a sense of great mirth among my friends and myself. No foresight, no analysis, no discussion - population growth was bad. End of issue.

Well, its been 10 years since I finished schooling, and the world order is undergoing a paradigm shift. What is China trying to do today? Increase its population. What is the number one problem faced by Japan? Lack of people. What is happening in much of Europe? Lack of people. People are being asked to procreate. Immigration reforms are the top priority. What did Vladimir Putin announce in his State of the Union Address? That the demographic shift of Russia would be their number one problem, and that mothers would get $110 for their second child. And what is India saying? That even though China is way ahead in terms of its growth, foreign investment and infrastructure growth, India will overtake China purely because of its one crucial advantage - its population.

That's right, India's strength is its population. Our middle class alone is more than the population of the entire United States. Organizations that were thinking of India in terms of cost benefits are now drooling about India as a pure market. Take the example of the telecom industry. India's rate of mobile subscribers grew by 47% in 2005, we have somewhere around 75 million mobile subscribers and this is expected to increase to 280 million in 2010. That means around a quarter of India will be linked through mobile phones. More importantly, 3/4 of India will still remain untapped. Can you imagine the opportunities for telecommunication companies?

Further, the demographic shift is such that India is set to have the most number of young people as compared to any other country in the world for the near future. This directly translates into India having a more eligible workforce [although whether they will be qualified is another issue altogether]. Simultaneously, population is decreasing in China, and in most of the developed countries. The UN estimates that the population of the developed countries will decrease by 10 million by 2050. So much so, that China will have the exact opposite problem - dealing with the world's oldest population.

Now, its obvious that sheer numbers are not enough. We need to improve the quality of life for the 800 million poor, not just focus on the gains of the 350 million middle class. Around 25% of our population is estimated to be mired in really really bad living conditions. There is another issue of religion that we need to address too. India has the highest number of Muslims after Indonesia. While that is something to be proud of, the fact that 40% of those Muslims are in poverty as compared to the 22% Hindus is definitely not something to brag about. Numbers cannot lie, so obviously there are some issues that we need to address here. As the country grows, one sign that we are in the right track is when the middle class keeps swelling.

It has been forecast that China will overtake the US economy somewhere around 2035, with India taking over China around 2050. So while China faces issues due to ageing, India faces issues relating to the quality of our workforce. Just because we have a million college graduates does not mean that they will all be productive. But the good news is that increasing quality is an achievable, although an admittedly difficult, task. I'm sure everyone realizes that its better to have a workforce and try to fix it, rather than not having one at all. The efforts need to stem from the education system, it needs to start from our schools and colleges, where students are taught to think critically and logically...can you imagine being taught that India's population needs to be reduced if we ever need to become developed or something silly like that....oh wait....

Update: 05/13

Not really related to the context of this post, but I came across another video from BharatBala that depicts how India is overcoming the rest of the world (remember the Vande Mataram video with Rehman?). Does the video depict the true India? Probably not. Does it make you feel kinda happy? Hell yeah!.

I am India on Google Video.


  • This issue has been in my mind for ages and ages....It is a viscious but it has to be stopped and it is not impossible even if it difficult. The sleepy Government has to do something about it...On a day to day example a person with merge salary gets their daughter married at a very young age and fascinating more is that she would deliver kids one after the other. The population rise is amongst the section of people who cant afford education or even basic amneties. So where do we get quality from...The middle class has cut its population substantially...Not everyone gets married at 18 and has 3-4 kinds by 25. the middle class is taking it slow but if the lower income group does not play the same game we will be in a fix.

    The government makes a lot of money, loads it it through so many ways.Is it channelising it towards people who have to be forced that help and towards serious public schools? How come Kerala has 100% literacy..I know my servant used to go to school and I used to even sit with her and in summer vacations help her with her studies, ofcourse she was older to me but I knew how to read and write English. Does that happen in a serious manner in every place...And how many people stop after 10th. So so many. Even in Kerala almost all these people drop out after 10th grade and a few go for some odd course.

    You have a brilliant post. we ought to cater towards everyone being able to contribute to a strong economy and we dont want many people to be below the poverty line. We have to aim for it as many people have already laid the foundations to a great India.

    By Blogger SCRIBBLEZ TO WAKEUP, at 7:25 AM  

  • Hey thats an awesome post. We need to convert out threats into opportunities rather than crib abt them. There is so much to the +ve side of it. Our resources r just plenty & they need to be tapped in the right way to make the most of things.

    Also in my opinion what we (indians) need to concentrate on the most is the need for cleanliness. It does get a bit difficult due to the high population but it can be made better with each individual making a conscious effort for the same.

    Well written post.

    By Blogger Has to be me, at 8:44 AM  

  • Hi Scribblez - I can see how passionate your are about this. Very valid point, simple solutions do exist, but its the implementation that is so complex. A policy initiated at the highest level will take years to trickle down and have an impact. It would be heartening to see the government take some steps to address the inequality of population distribution.

    Hey hastobeme, that's a perfectly logical way to operate. Convert your threats to opportunities. A slightly different perspective on the population issue yields entirely different results. Our disparity, our seeming chaos, our variety of religions, we need to strategize and make them work for us, before they start working against us.

    Interesting thought on cleanliness...I can see how that is something that everyone can contribute to at the very basic level indeed.

    By Blogger Ram, at 11:10 PM  

  • Hell Yeah!hee hee
    Geography and Civics totally sucked!I remember many a times drooling all over those text books.Doesn't paint a pretty picture but if you ask me anything from those lessons,I still blink the way I used to in school.
    The person who taught us about population explosion and how to curb it,was always pregnant...every single semester!
    And she always taught about population explosion.i used to directly stare at her tummy wondering how many were in there at the time rather than concentrate on wat point she was discussing then.
    Funnily,so many years later...I am her next door neighbour!!!

    By Blogger Maya Cassis, at 4:43 PM  

  • Ram:

    The video was awesome! Haven't read your entire post yet...Will get to read it soon. But jus wanted to comment on the video for now. Thanks for linking it on ur blog.

    By Blogger Sattvic, at 7:24 PM  

  • Oh Maya, that was hilarious. See, even then it was pretty obvious you were into your profession. I'm sure everytime you bump into her now, you have wicked thoughts...

    Thanks Sattvic. No problemo...you're welcomeo.


    By Blogger Ram, at 10:19 PM  

  • Ram, you have put across something after greatly analyzing the same, and it shows in your words. You are so right that we need to make use of the population and make advantage of it, rather than it becoming a burden, and that is again rightly achieved through basic education of the masses.

    While governments have come and gone, there has never been any rapid strides to increase the percentage of literacy except in small states like Arunachal Pradesh, and Kerala. Another important thing, is whether the country has the resources to satisfy this staggering growth in population. Proper conservation of the natural resources, like water, agricultural land etc. is equally important.

    Everyone cannot afford to be rich, but with the importance, india has been given on the global front, it is essential that we atleast are able to provide the basic amenities for all people. Also rehabilitation of the destitute, would go a long way in improving india`s image as well as eradicating social evils like begging. Proper funding for such NGO`s will sure go a long way.

    Very impressive post, Ram! I am all willing to take up the cudgels along with you, in your war against this crisis.


    By Blogger Srijith Unni, at 12:45 AM  

  • Awesome post Ram! Very informative. I would like to share my humble opinion here. In the previous years, when they said that we need to work on our population and in controlling it, I think, that was jus an acute solution to that issue. As we have progressed through the years, we have to divert our attention in improving the quality of the population and increasing their productivity. I view it in the following sense: If someone is hurt, the first step is to tie a bandage from some household cloth. That's the acute treatment. But, that's not the end of the problem. Sure, later, we need to go to the physician and get some chronic treatment for complete remedy. So, right now, we need to work on improving the productivity and the quality of our population. Great post!

    True, we seem to have the largest youngest workforce and we are working on the quality. Learning from China, we should also be well prepared to face the issue that we will be having in about 50 to 60 years. It is not too long that the youngest workforce will turn into the largest aging population - jus like the baby boomers in the US. I hope the government recognizes this and has a foresight and takes necessary steps to handle this issue.

    Your posts are so informative and actually, when I run out of time to read newpapers, I read your blogs to keep me updated of the current issues to a certain extent :)

    Of course, I really wish that the video is true. It makes me so happy to see such a developed India!

    By Blogger Sattvic, at 2:25 PM  

  • very informative and nicely written post. And the video is smashing.

    By Blogger Alexis Leon, at 9:25 PM  

  • Hi Srijith - thank you! You know, when an opportunity arises for us to be involved, we need to be prepared to take advantage of it. That's where all this analysis, these opinions and all these thoughts will come in. Till then, its upto us to maintain a logical dialogue. And these opportunities will not arise in the form of cliched political parties or something dramatic like that. It will be in smallere, everyday happenings that we will be able to contribute and initiate changes.

    Hey natureluvaah [trying to sound like thos hip-hop dudes]...thank you. You're absolutely right. We are trying to fix the consequences, but not the causes of problems. And we need to learn from issues faced by China, by Japan, by Russia and it would be stupid if we undergo the same problems that these countries did.

    Your compliments would make me blush, if I could. Thanks a lot, me just musing.

    Hi Alex, thanks.

    And guys, I agree the video is awesome. But I have no idea what all that wheel and dharma business was. But it looked pretty cool [is that what it was supposed to do?] :)


    By Blogger Ram, at 9:53 PM  

  • Ram,
    Nice one! 22% of Hindus far out number 40% of Muslims. Poverty is there in all religions and caste in India in equal numbers. If India has to become a great power by 2050, atleast 80% of her population should come out of poverty.

    By Blogger Brijesh, at 8:30 PM  

  • Thanks Brijesh.

    BTW my intention was not to discriminate against the number of poor people among Hindus and Muslims. What I intended to convey was that there are some issues with the policies in place that make them far more unsuccessful for Muslims than they do for Hindus. Why is this so?

    Poverty does not know any religion. You are equally poor and deserve help if you are a Hindu or a Muslim or Christian. But each religion brings with it certain cultural and societal factors that we need to consider while trying to eradicate poverty. Some policies that give very positive results for Hindus will not work for Mulsims and vice-versa. That's what the numbers reflect.

    By Blogger Ram, at 10:14 PM  

  • Excellent post Ram. With your post and others' comments there isn't much to write about :-).

    But, the only drawback I see with a huge population is implementation of policies and the drawback is actually not population but the "system of implemntation".

    Another thing is about how our population actually exploded. The have-nots have breeded not because they were jobless but it was more for security reasons. Each and every child they have is a resource for them (financially). Child labor used to give them money. And also, sometimes the infant mortality rate was an issue so they would have more children so that atleast some survive.

    Once again, very good post Ram. Me got here a bit late :-)

    By Blogger NaiKutti, at 10:57 PM  

  • Thanks Karthik. You points are very important. I've also heard of the two-child theory, and I think the smae logic is pretty much prevalent among the middle class too.

    Your point about size is well taken. It takes longer for policies to be implemented, and there are complexities with the size. But at the same time real success is achieved only when quantity and quality both go up. Its not worthwhile to have a relatively small population, even if they are highly qualified or rich [like Norway maybe?].

    By Blogger Ram, at 7:52 AM  

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