Population of India to overtake China's within 30 yearsIndia's population will overtake China's as the world's largest in 30 years, according to data released yesterday, despite the continued assault on the female population in a society in which bearing male offspring is still paramount.
The final tally from a March 2001 census established a head count of 1.029 billion souls. 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 its northern neighbour, 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% of the estimated 3.5m abortions in India each year are to eliminate girls.
"It's like Prohibition - after the ban, the whole business of tests and abortions has gone underground," said a population activist, Prabeen Singh. "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.
But the census has come up with a startling statistic - the sex ratio in the national capital region of Delhi has plummetted to just 865 girls to 1,000 boys, well below the national average. In one district in Delhi, it has dropped below 800.
Social rights activists took over the capital's cricket Test grounds at Feroze Shah Kotla to organize a "Save the Girl Child and Female Foetus" rally demanding that the new Congress-led national government rethink the population control policy.
"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," said an activist.
"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," she added.
According to another activist, one in seven female foetuses is aborted in Delhi, and the problem extends across class barriers.
"Girls are seen as a nuisance even by the urban middle classes," said Prabeen Singh. "The family has to educate them, give a huge dowry when they get married. We need a social revolution to change people's attitudes."
"There must also be greater emphasis on primary health and education," she added.
The census shows that while 35% of Indians still cannot read or write, 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% of the population. Tribals account for another 84 million.
The new data will be used to redraw parliamentary and state assembly constituencies reserved for Dalits and tribals.
The northern state of Uttar Pradesh, despite its bifurcation a few years ago, remains India's largest province with a population of 166 million - larger than that of Pakistan.
China's own population growth has been curbed through its policy of one child per family, which the authorities estimate has resulted in 300 million fewer births over the past 10 years.
China also suffers from its own problems of infanticide and abortion, which are used to ensure male offspring. Nationwide there are just 870 girls per thousand boys and in some provinces the ratio is as low as 770.