Sunday, 3 July 2011

What would you do to get a free car?

Given that one sixth of the human race, in all its magnificence and depravity, reside in India, it's not surprising that the country has its fair share of disturbing news reports. This one, however, caught even my jaded attention:

So basically the official health service in Rajasthan is giving people gifts in return for them volunteering for sterilisation. Give up your chance to have kids, and get a Tata Nano. You know, the world's cheapest car that, award-winning though it is, is barely bigger than a go-kart.

Quite aside from what it says about the development of materialism in India (which, despite the "spiritual haven" tag pinned on it by Western hippies, I don't believe has ever been that shy of making a buck - and I don't think this is a bad thing), this just seemed to me to be population control of the worst kind. I mean, who's going to undergo sterilisation in order to get a car that sells at about 1,500 quid brand new?

Oh that's right - poor people.

For poor people in India, the value of the car represents several years' worth of earnings. If you're living on a couple of quid a day, for which you have to work bloody hard, already have a brood of brats and someone says "hey! not only will you not have to take care of more kids, but you can have this car, sell it and get two years' salary straight off!", it might not sound like such a bad deal.

Of course, the people on this kind of income in India are the low-caste and "scheduled tribes" who continue to face discrimination and disadvantage despite years of official efforts to overcome it, and who are still considered undesirable - not to say "untouchable" - by those born more luckily. Not, I'm sure, that this was a major consideration behind the development of the policy.

It makes me think of the contrast that is often drawn between India and China, and the advantage that India is often said to hold due to its democratic nature. On the whole I think the point is correct, and as The Economist recently pointed out, China faces some potentially difficult times as the growth of the welfare state - and the need for the middle classes to fund it - leads to demand for a political voice in return. India should avoid this, at least.

But this story shows that India is not above using blunt tools to deny people what should be a pretty fundamental right - the right to reproduce. For these particular Indian policy makers, it seems the technique is to bribe people into giving it up voluntarily, as opposed to China, which - unencumbered by democracy - just made it illegal to have more than one child. I realise population growth must be checked. But this is not the way to do it.

I know this is just one case in one state in this vast country - though apparently not without precedent - but I was shocked that it's been allowed to happen at all. It's probably naive of me to think it, but shouldn't a country that has made such huge successes - not least in education - be trying to educate its people about the benefits of fewer children, and to pay attention to the reasons why people may choose to have them, rather than trying to fob them off with trinkets?

1 comment:

Chris said...

OK, I just re-read this post, and tell me honestly: does it come off as an arrogant Westerner casting judgement? I don't want to be that guy, but at the same time I want to paint a truthful picture of India as I see it, warts and all. And I just think this is really bad policy.

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