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1.Numbers tell the story: Assam CM should look at state’s fertility data
Assam’s chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma counselled the state’s “immigrant Muslim” population to adopt “decent family planning practices”. This suggests the CM believes high fertility rates are an issue in at least some pockets of the state. We suggest a look at the data, put out by GoI’s health ministry. Fertility rates are estimated through periodic National Family Health Surveys (NFHS). Preliminary results of the fifth round NFHS were released in December.
Assam’s total fertility rate is 1.9 according to NFHS-5. That means the rate is below the replacement rate of 2.1. While past momentum will lead to an increase in the absolute level of population for a while, Assam has already turned the corner. Instructively, the drop in fertility has taken place across religious groups. If anything, the relative drop in fertility levels among Muslims is greater than that of Hindus. In NFHS-3, which was conducted in 2005-06, Hindus and Muslims in Assam had fertility rates of 1.95 and 3.64 respectively. By 2019-20, NFHS-5 showed Hindu fertility rate fell to 1.6 while that of Muslims had come down to 2.4.
The drop in India’s fertility rate to almost replacement level of 2.2 by 2015-16 from 3.4 in 1992-93 is a far-reaching development. Most states in India have, like Assam, recorded a drop in fertility rate below replacement level, without China-like government coercion. Within this larger trend, another important data point is that the differential between fertility rates of Hindus and Muslims is narrowing, since the magnitude of the fall in the latter’s fertility rate has been higher. This trend has been hugely influenced by the spread of education. Just 10 years of schooling correlates to a large drop in fertility. Numbers speak for themselves. Politicians may want to look at some numbers before speaking.
2.Mixed purse: Why women advance in higher ed, retreat in jobs
Girls have regularly outshone boys in board exams. And a tectonic shift may be underway in India’s higher education as well – women’s gross enrolment ratio is now higher than men’s. This is across BA, BSc, MPhil and MBBS programmes. Two factors may be at work here. Average incomes have risen, even though the rate of increase has probably slowed recently. And the transformative effect education can have on young women’s lives has become more and more apparent. The 2017-18 Economic Survey had highlighted that several gender indicators are much more responsive to wealth in India, as compared to other countries. But, and here’s the bad news, there are also stubborn outliers – women’s employment is a notable one.
Indian women’s labour force participation rate is lower than Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s, according to a 2020 World Bank report. The Survey had noted that the trend started last decade: 36% of women were employed in 2005-06, 24% in 2015-16. The income effect – higher average family incomes leading to withdrawal of women from labour force – is a reason. Demonetisation and the pandemic have taken added tolls. The first Covid wave hit women’s jobs disproportionately. The lockdown experience of working urban women was made more painful by persisting gender segregation of household work. The second wave seems to have hit rural women’s employment.
Social norms that dictate women must do most of the unpaid housework need to be challenged. If women get educated but still have to play family roles scripted a millennia ago, the glass of India’s progress will always be half empty.
For the BJP, the post-poll challenge
By HT Editorial
UPDATED ON JUN 10, 2021 07:26 PM IST
But while post-electoral disequilibrium is often understandable in a party, the way out is to go back to the roots, review the reasons for defeat, let an elected government function while remaining a vigilant opposition, and get its house in order. That may be a lesson for the BJP in the south and the east.
Electoral defeats are hard. During a campaign, a party invests all its energy, resources, networks and organisational might in securing victory, vote by vote, polling booth by polling booth, constituency by constituency. To keep up the morale of workers and to sustain a degree of motivation, a party also convinces itself that it is on the verge of victory. And that is why when the results are adverse, and a party confronts a loss or less-than-optimal performance, all equations get unsettled. There is a familiar blame-game between units of the party. Top leaders are questioned on strategy and tactics. Others begin weighing their future prospects and shift allegiances. Workers worry about protection in politically competitive, even violent, settings. And the party in power, emboldened by victory, deploys all means to crush a party that is already bruised to be able to weaken a competitor when the time is ripe.
This is a familiar story in Indian politics. And the prime example, nationally, is the Congress after its 2014 and 2019 losses. But since its defeat in West Bengal and rout in Kerala, the BJP appears to be going through a similar pattern. In Kerala, the party faces questions about its sources and modalities of funding and charges of bribing of candidates, with the police officially pursuing investigations against the party’s state unit chief. In West Bengal, the BJP first bore the brunt of post-electoral violence by Trinamool Congress cadres, witnessed internal fractures among state leaders, and went on a collision course against the newly elected state government.