population explosion

India is set to become the world’s most populous country by 2024. But is it ready?

India needs to fill the gaps in public healthcare, improve its sex ratio and infant mortality rates and address family planning concerns to sustain its growth.

By 2024, India will slip past China to become the most populous country and must rapidly prepare for a fast-changing economy.

India will likely hold that rank throughout the 21st century. Its population is 1.34 billion, nearly a fourfold increase since independence 70 years ago. China’s population, at 1.41 billion, roughly doubled over the same period. The pace of India’s population growth, now at 15 million per year, is the world’s largest. The two nations alone have more than a billion people and their population gap is projected to widen to 500 million by 2100. By comparison, the third and fourth most populous countries in 2100, Nigeria and the United States, are projected to have populations of nearly 800 million and 450 million, respectively.

Global growth: India is on track to be the world’s most populous nation (Source: UN Population Division medium variant projections)
Global growth: India is on track to be the world’s most populous nation (Source: UN Population Division medium variant projections)

Fertility factor

The long-term growth of India’s population, largely a function of fertility rates, is less certain. UN population projections indicate a range of possible scenarios. For example, if India’s current fertility of 2.3 births per woman remains constant, its population would grow to 1.8 billion by 2050 and 2.5 billion by 2100. Even under the instant-replacement fertility variant, with the country’s fertility assumed to fall immediately to 2.1 births per woman, India’s population would reach 1.9 billion by the century’s close.

The frequently cited UN medium projection assumes Indian fertility will decline to below replacement by 2035 and remain at 1.8 births per woman in subsequent decades. As a result, India’s population is projected to peak at 1.7 billion in 2060 before declining to 1.5 billion by 2100. The low projection assumes more rapid fertility decline to well below replacement level – about 1.3 births per woman – resulting in India’s population peaking at 1.5 billion around 2040 and falling to 900 million by 2100.

While India’s fertility has declined to about half the level of the late 1980s, that trajectory may not continue. In the past eight years, contraceptive use fell by almost 35%, as abortions and use of emergency pills doubled. More specifically, reliance on oral birth control pills fell 30%, reliance on condoms declined by 52% and vasectomies by 73%. This year, the Health Ministry launched a campaign to expand use of modern contraception with a focus on population stabilisation in 146 high-fertility districts across seven states. With India’s contraceptive prevalence rate at 52%, abortion has become a “proxy contraceptive” for many women, especially those from poorer households.

For decades, India relied on female sterilisation as the primary contraceptive method, funding about four million tubal ligations annually, more than any other country. In 2016, the government took major steps towards modernising that system, introducing injectable contraceptives free of charge in government facilities.

A relatively young age structure also contributes to India’s population growth. The median age in India is 27 years, compared to 38 years for China. Children under age 18 account for one-third of India’s population as compared with one-fifth of China’s.

However, due to fertility declines to near replacement levels, India’s population is also aging. The proportion of elderly aged 65 years and older is expected to double to 13% by 2050, and the number of working-age adults per elderly person is projected to fall from 11 to five.

India has achieved notable progress in reducing mortality rates. Life expectancy at birth increased from 44 years in the mid-1960s to 68 years today. India’s child mortality rate at 38 per 1,000 births still lags behind China’s rate of 11. Early marriage and pregnancy still contribute to excessive maternal deaths, and life expectancy of Indian women is eight years less than their counterparts in China.

Taking turns: Individual choices and government policies influence population growth (UN Population Division)
Taking turns: Individual choices and government policies influence population growth (UN Population Division)

Skewed sex ratio

India and China, unlike most other nations, have significantly more males than females. In both countries, infant mortality was higher for females than males in the 2000s. Skewed sex ratios are due in part to use of prenatal ultrasound scanning to abort female fetuses. The practice of sex-selective abortion, while prohibited, is difficult to eliminate. In coming decades, number of “surplus males” who can’t find brides in India could reach 40 million by some estimates. Contributing to son preference: expected care for elderly, traditional departure of daughters to husbands’ households after marriage and expectations for a bride’s parents to pay a dowry to prospective in-laws.

Such traditions linger in India, where the population is predominately rural in contrast to China’s urban population of 57%. Urban populations generally transition more rapidly to lower fertility rates.

India’s rate of urban population growth is expected to climb, partly due to migratory flows, especially youths seeking jobs. By mid-century, half of India’s population, about 830 million people, is expected to be urban dwellers, which will challenge government capacities to provide basic services and infrastructure. About one-fifth of the population lives without electricity.

Big if: India’s population may vary by as much as 1.5 billion by the end of the century, depending on whether the fertility rate falls to 1.3 children per woman or remains at the current 2.3 children (Source: UN Population Division, 2017)
Big if: India’s population may vary by as much as 1.5 billion by the end of the century, depending on whether the fertility rate falls to 1.3 children per woman or remains at the current 2.3 children (Source: UN Population Division, 2017)

Healthcare challenges

Healthcare also lags, with about half of Indian children reported to be undernourished. About two-thirds of them are immunised for diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus, compared to nearly all in China. Tuberculosis in India accounts for over a quarter of reported new cases worldwide, the highest of any country. Another public health challenge: the lack of sanitation facilities for more than half of India’s rural population

More than half of India’s population lives in areas vulnerable to calamities such as earthquakes, floods, cyclones, droughts and tsunamis, and the government continues to develop early-warning systems and promote community preparedness.

International migration plays a negligible role in India’s population growth. Nevertheless, India has the largest emigrant population, with approximately 16 million Indians living abroad and millions more planning to emigrate. India is the world’s largest remittance recipient, receiving on average close to $70 billion annually in recent years. The country implements strong enforcement measures to prevent illegal entry of immigrants, especially from Bangladesh.

Despite high rates of economic growth, forecast to exceed 7% for 2017, the benefits do not trickle down to most Indians. Despite India’s relatively large middle class, many struggle to secure basic daily needs. About 25% of Indians live on less than $2 a day and the country accounts for one in three of the global population living in poverty.

India struggles to create enough jobs for its growing working-age population. Over the coming two decades, the working-age population is projected to increase by more than 200 million. Over 30% of Indians aged 15 to 30 years are neither in employment nor in education and training, more than double the OECD average and nearly three times that of China. At the same time, Indian businesses report shortages of qualified skilled workers. In addition to its efforts to making labour regulations friendlier for job creation, the government must invest in education and vocational training.

Wary about automation and new technologies transforming workplace productivity and redefining the role of workers, education and business leaders recommend a major rethink of curricula and university training programs. India ranks sixth in publications on AI research, between 2011 and 2015, but lacks strategic policies.

India accounts for more than one-sixth of humanity. If the nation’s fertility rates remain unchanged, the population may double to 2.5 billion by 2100. Even if replacement-level fertility were achieved today, the population would still reach nearly 2 billion by 2100. The government must emphasise family planning while improving public health and the status of girls and women – or be hard-pressed to sustain high rates of economic growth and meet mounting aspirations of its billion-plus inhabitants.

This article first appeared on Yale Global Online.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.