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.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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