Population trends

Indian population is growing much faster in the north – and the south is paying the price

The disparity in the rate of population growth could reshape the country politically, economically and culturally.

That India has a population problem is a truism every schoolchild learns. It was the first country in the world to adopt family planning, back in 1952. Yet, the problem persists: India is expected to surpass China as the most populous country on the planet by 2024, an incredible overtake given that in 1950, China’s population was one and a half times more than India’s.

This overarching narrative of India’s population explosion, however, becomes complicated as one zooms in. West Bengal’s fertility rate – the average number of children a woman would have in a given population – is lower than that of Norway, a nation worried about its social welfare system being stretched by an ageing population. Japan’s fertility rate of 1.5 is so low that the country is facing a socio-economic crisis. Yet, according to data released by the Union government last week, Kerala’s fertility rate is nearly the same – 1.56.

Clearly, then, it makes little sense to talk of India’s population problem without discussing the vast disparities that characterise how the population is growing across states. Have a look at this map:

Most news about fertility rates tends to separate the data by religion. But given that states and not religious communities make up India’s constituent units, significant differences in population growth rates among states will affect Indian politics far more explicitly. As the map shows, there is a clear cleavage between South India and North India. The south is blue, with fertility rates lower than the replacement rate, meaning that fewer babies are being born than people are dying – a trend that would eventually result in a declining population. The north is mostly orange or red with Uttar Pradesh and Bihar – two states that together make up a quarter of India’s population – recording very high fertility rates of 2.74 and 3.41, respectively. The result: in 1951, Tamil Nadu’s population was slightly higher than Bihar’s. Six decades later, Bihar’s population is nearly 1.5 times Tamil Nadu’s. Madhya Pradesh in 1951 had 37% more people than Kerala; in 2011, it had 217% as many.

Question of representation

The direct effect of such significant changes in population will be on the representation of states in Parliament. In other federal polities such as the United States, methods to decide seats in the federal legislature have often been torturous. In 1787, for example, the US went so far as to institute the odious practice of counting each African-American slave as three-fifths of a White person – known to history as the “Three-Fifths Compromise” – to get states with competing interests to agree to a formula for deciding the number of seats in one house of the federal legislature. In the other house, each state, no matter its size or population, is represented by two members. The US has thus ignored the principle of one-man-one-vote in order to get its union working.

India has had to make its own adjustments in order to keep big and small states in the same boat. In 1976, Parliament – then under the Emergency – passed a constitutional amendment that froze the number of seats each state had in Parliament as per the 1971 Census. The freeze was to end in 2000. But because it was so expedient, Parliament, in 2001, extended it till 2026. Thus, until 2026, Parliament’s seat composition will essentially represent a population snapshot taken more than 50 years ago.

The freeze has meant that the Hindi-speaking states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which have outstripped many other sates in population growth since the freeze, have not seen their seats in Parliament increase as they should have. Like the compromises to constitute the US Congress, this has weakened the principle of one-man-one-vote in India’s Parliament. In Uttar Pradesh, for example, one Lok Sabha MP now represents 25 lakh people. In Bihar, 26 lakh. In West Bengal, however, the number drops to 22 lakh. In Tamil Nadu, it is 18 lakh and in Kerala only 17 lakh. In effect, a Malayali has more than 1.5 times the representation of a Bihari in the Lok Sabha.

India has tolerated this attenuation of the one-man-one-vote principle given the instability redistributing seats among states might cause. But considering the significant changes in population, the seats have to be redistributed. When that happens, the share of parliamentary seats of low fertility southern states will fall sharply.

The consequences for Indian politics could be significant: the country is already politically dominated by the more populous Hindi states and any change in the current distribution of seats in their favour will seal this domination. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, for example, the Bharatiya Janata Party won 51% of its seats from just four states – Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. If the seats were allotted proportionate to population, this ratio would likely have been much higher.

A central government that does not reflect enough states from all corners of the Union might breed disaffection. This is especially true for southern states, which already feel neglected. They contribute much more to the Indian Union’s finances per capita than, say, Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, but get much less funding from the Centre. Nor does their financial muscle translate to political heft. For example, former Tami Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa opposed the Goods and Services Tax on the ground that it would hurt the state but was powerless to stop it given how few members of Parliament the state had.

Changing migration patterns

The vastly differing rates of fertility – paired with differences in economic growth – will also affect inter-state migration.

India has actually seen little migration across states so far, mainly because of vast cultural differences between states. For example, between 1991 and 2001, intra-state migrants were nearly five times the number of inter-state migrants.

Inter-state movement is still fairly modest considering the overall population, but it is growing fast. Compared to the 1991-2001 period, the following decade saw inter-state migration nearly double. Moreover, the influx of migrants is acutely concentrated in the southern states. From 2001 to 2011, migration into Tamil Nadu went up by 39 times. The outflux of migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in the same period went up by 2.3 times and two times, respectively

Politics in the southern states has responded to this sharp uptake in migration from the north. In 2015, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu called for Telugus to have more children, comparing Andhra Pradesh with Japan. Bengaluru has seen a vigorous agitation against Hindi signage, driven by the fact that Hindi is the lingua franca of migrants to the city while older residents speak mostly Kannada, Tamil, Telugu and (Dakni) Urdu.

There are few parallels to India given that it is a multi-ethnic, uber-polyglot country of 1.3 billion people. China is the closest and migration in the Communist state is closely controlled by the state. Moreover, even in China, inter-provincial (and hence inter-ethnic) migration has led to significant tensions.

The European Union is much smaller than India but migration across the region caused tensions sharp enough to break the confederation. One of the key justifications for Brexit that was articulated by right-wing parties was migration from mainland Europe into the United Kingdom. In France, the far right captured a large share of vote in last year’s parliamentary election by opposing migration and promising to leave the European Union.

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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.