We faced threat of extinction when we were in primeval forests because we were few. Now we face the prospect of extinction when in cities and countryside because we are too many.

In our context too many literally means too many; countless, innumerable.Travel on any intercity route, from any city to any other city, what you will witness to your horror is one unending snake-shaped slum along the highway wrapped in dust and dirt. The disaster waiting to happen is not natural but rather man made.

Bertolt Brecht, an inimitable poet and playwright, comments on human habit: “…Wind makes the clouds, that there may be rain on the plough land, that bread may come. Let us now make children out of our lusts, for the bread, that it may be devoured”. When it comes to the largest section of our population, the poor, things are slightly different; sense of insecurity more than lust - which has its presence no doubt - plays a major role in compelling them to make more children.

For a poor household more children mean more hands and more hands mean increased income. One mouth and two hands imply an assumption of a notion present at the back of their mind. Children go out and do chores in shops, workshops, homes as full-time or part-time menial workers. A poor child is paid poorly but family seems to be reconciled with it. Aggregate of earnings of all the children/members adds to the kitty and thus sustains the family. Bare minimum is taken as maximum under compulsion. The state falters and fails in providing what is the rock bed of its raison detre; equal economic opportunities, medical care, education and security which forces the weaker segments to fall back on their own resources; however meagre they may be. Such people are little more than figures and numbers for the state which never likes to encumbered by their weight despite their immense economic contribution in production and services sectors.

Another factor that is responsible for large families among the poor and middle classes is misconceived religious notion that children are God’s gift and their coming to the world is preordained. What is conveniently forgotten is the other important religious injunction that parents have the responsibility for the upbringing of their children which means they have to provided what the raising them entails.

Our state is stuck with the similar kind of ideological stance exacerbating the situation on the national level. It’s cruelly indifferent to imperatives of population planning and control making the mess messier. The state being elitist in its nature - though the elite is morally and intellectually quite bankrupt - would not realise the gravity of the looming threat unless it feels its core interests are threatened by unmanageable overpopulation. At the moment in its smugness it treats the fraught situation as normal because the number however large apparently seems to pose no political threat. Additionally, the male dominated state, the custodian of patriarchal norms, is hardly pushed about the health of women who bear the brunt of frequent pregnancies and related health issues. They remain perennially under stress with no hope of a way out. A good woman for men is either a pregnant woman or one suckling her baby. That keeps the woman on track, goes the unsaid male logic.

Yet another factor that encourages exponential population growth is rooted in our primordial fears; an uncanny sense of insecurity. Its manifestation is highly visible in our countryside where a large family comprising male members is a source of strength which acts as a bulwark against threat from outside by feudalistic forces in the name of traditions. In an area where state has not been visibly present, the people feel compelled to fend for themselves with force rather than law. Also in the pre-modern agrarian economy more and more hands were needed for increased production. An economic need with the passage of times is transformed into a social and cultural need and thus becomes an element of psychic make-up of the community. Despite being jettisoned by concrete economic conditions it continues as a living legacy of a bygone era. Detached from its economic base, it enters the realm of superstructure and entrenches itself a value.

The result of our policy or lack of it, to be precise, is all too visible in all walks of life with its fraught economic, social and cultural ramifications. Look at the current landscape.

We don’t have enough food for the hungry mouths. It’s not that food isn’t there. It’s there but affordability is the issue as it is expensive. Vested interests make the buck. Subsequently we have under-fed, under-nourished, almost starved, work force. We don’t have enough hospitals to provide health care to ordinary mortals. Whatever is provided at the state-run hospitals is insufficient and substandard, to say the least. Majority cannot afford private medical facility as it’s beyond their reach. Result is that we have work force suffering from ill-health, physically and mentally. That’s perhaps why our work and products, tangible and intangible, reflect neither innovation nor creativity. That our markets are flooded with imported goods isn’t without reason. And education? One can’t make head or tail of it. Public education offered by the state-funded institutions, from top to bottom, has horribly deteriorated with the passage of time. It failed to keep up with the number. So huge is the number that a weepy middle class household can hire a couple of maids and a chauffeur.

Ideological dose injected into educational contents is anti-science and hostile to reason. Result is that we have illiterate and unthinking population that has vegetative existence in intellectual, academic and creative terms. What we export is labour, mostly unskilled and semi-skilled.

Paradoxically, the increased number of the poor run-down had further hardened the heart of the elite and made the state more indifferent. “But here many have been run down, and many pass by and do nothing. Is it because it’s so many who are suffering? Should one not help them all the more because they are many? One helps them less…The more there are suffering, then, the more natural their sufferings appear.

Who wants to prevent the fishes in the sea from getting wet”? But don’t forget we smugly sit in our fatalistic streak on a powder keg of unmanageable population. What we are waiting for? An explosion! Explosion will surely blast us in the near future! — soofi01@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2021

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