School students participate in an awareness rally on World Population Day in the southern Indian city of Chennai on July 11, 2017. (Photo by IANS)
A Baptist church in India’s northeastern Mizoram state has announced incentives to encourage couples to have more babies in an effort to check their dwindling numbers, disregarding a national policy to control the population.
The church in remote Lunglei town said it will pay families a one-time cash assistance of 4,000 rupees (US$63) for a fourth child and an additional 1,000 rupees for each new child.
Influential youth organization Young Mizo Association endorsed the move.
“What the church has done is worth emulating. We Mizos are facing a serious challenge of dwindling numbers. We need to arrest the trend and if possible to reverse it,” president Vanlalruata (only one name) told ucanews.com.
The Christian-majority Mizoram has about 1.1 million people, 88 percent of them Christians. Mizoram is among the least populous states in the country of 1.3 billion people.
India, currently the world’s second most populous nation after China, implements a national policy to check population growth. The World Population Prospects released by the United Nations in 2105 estimated that by 2020 India will overtake China and have 1.419 billion people, while China will have only 1.409 billion.Although it is not illegal to have more babies in India, the government maintains the National Population Policy 2000 is uniformly applicable to the whole country, where it is promoting measures for family planning and urging couples not to have more than tw0 babies.
Vanlalruata said they are not bothered “if the government or anyone else would see” them as working against a state policy.
“As an organization and as Mizo people, we are concerned that we are a low-population group. The need of the hour is to have more children so that our tribe do not get lost or fade out,” he said.
The state in 2011 recorded a decadal growth rate of 22.8 percent, which was higher than the national average of 18 percent. But Mizo people say their numbers are actually decreasing and the increase reflects the arrival of outsiders.
Fear of being minority
Most Christians are Presbyterians but they and other Christian bodies in the state have not openly criticized the move.Lalramleina Pachuau, senior executive of the Mizoram Synod of the Presbyterian Church, said his organization was not in favor of announcing any cash incentives. “But it is a fact that Mizos have the problem of a dwindling population.”
Locals in Lunglei town say the issue is more of a challenge for Baptist Mizos. “We Baptists are just 200,000 only,” said a local Baptist man who asked not to be named.The population issue remains a vexed problem in the region, which has more than 200 linguistic and ethnic groups across the seven states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Manipur, Assam, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh.
Mizoram, Nagaland and Meghalaya are India’s only Christian-majority states.
India’s population policy has “failed in the northeast, especially among Naga and Mizo ethnic minority people, because they firmly believe that a mother’s womb should not become a grave yard,” said Ratan Gupta, a social worker based in Guwahati, capital of Assam state.
People like Gupta say the concern about dwindling numbers in the region should be understood in a sociopolitical context rather than a religious one. Ethnic minority groups constantly fear being swamped by outsiders from mainland India, he said.
Mizo youth leader Vanlalruata confirmed this fear but said they “are not against professionals coming and working in our state. The fear is of a regular influx.”