India's population set to overtake China

Posted: 15 July 2004

New data indicates that India's population will overtake that of China as the world's largest, within 30 years.

The final tally from a March 2001 census established a head count of 1,029 billion people. In the decade to 2001, the population increased by more than 180 million people - more than the population of the world's fifth largest country, Brazil, the census office said. The registrar-general, JK Banthia, said that by 2035 India's population would have soared to 1.46 billion, taking it ahead of China.

However, the sex ratio for children up to six years has slipped from 945 females per 1 000 males in 1991 to just 927 females 10 years later, indicating that despite government measures, such as a ban on sex determination tests, female foeticide is still widely prevalent. Many girls are also killed in infancy.

According to recent research, 90 per cent of the estimated 3.5 million abortions in India each year are to eliminate girls.

Herbal poisons

A population activist, Prabeen Singh told The Guardian that since the ban on gender selective abortions "Families are now also resorting to traditional methods to get rid of girl children, such as herbal poisons."

Until now, it was believed that the bias against girls was especially acute in the countryside, where the high child mortality rate, combined with the prestige gained from having a male child, the need for wage earners and the prohibitive cost of marrying a daughter heavily tilted the scales in favour of sons. However, the census indicated that the sex ratio in the national capital region of Delhi has plummeted to just 865 girls to 1 000 boys, well below the national average.

A population activist told the newspaper: "The government wants to replicate the success in southern states such as Kerala and launch sharply targeted population control programmes in Delhi and other northern states. But this can be dangerous. When there is already such a strong male preference, tighter control would mean more and more girl-children would be eliminated even before they are born."

The census shows that 35 per cent of Indians still cannot read or write, and more than half the country's women remain illiterate. The census also revealed that the number of India's lower caste Hindus, known as Dalits, has touched 166 million, more than 16 per cent of the population. Tribal peoples account for another 84 million.

The new data will be used to redraw parliamentary and state assembly constituencies reserved for Dalits and tribal peoples.

Source: The Guardian quoted in Push Journal, 13 July 2004