10/13/2004, 00.00
INDIA
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Disqualified for violating two-child norm

by Nirmala Carvalho

Individual rights are at risk, Bishop Fernandez says. Women's groups say norm is discriminatory.

The Supreme Court of India upheld the decision to disqualify a member of a village council in the north-western Indian state of Haryana for violating the two-child norm, which sets a limit of two to the number of children a couple can have.

Although the norm is not legally binding, the Court still argued that it was "in the national interest to check population growth" and that included the use of "legislative disincentives". It therefore disqualified Zile Singh from sitting on the village council on the grounds that elected officials must comply with the two-child norm.

 "I am amazed and shocked to learn that our honourable Supreme Court holds that 'it is in the national interest to check the alarming growth of India's population through legislative disincentives'," Bishop Percival Fernandez said once he heard the news. Bishop Fernandez is the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.

"If this is true," he said, "then we have to redefine individual freedom and fundamental rights. Would it then be wrong to introduce legislation that children born to parents who already have two children have no right to live?  This, too, would be in line with the 'national interest to check population growth'."

What's more, "one wonders whether this judgement begins a process that will lead to denying all fundamental rights and individual freedom to the citizens of our beloved country!" the Bishop asked. "The population problem can be handled in many effective ways," he explained, "but certainly not through legislation that destroys the very fundamental rights and individual freedom of a country that won its freedom through the blood of martyrs!"

 "I hope that," he reiterated, "the Supreme Court spends more time in stopping corruption in our country and leave the population problems to the experts."

India's Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss stated this morning that imposing the two-child norm "constitutes a violation of fundamental rights". In his words, population control programmes can be pursued "on a voluntary basis" and their objectives can be reached "without any coercive measures".

Bishop Fernandez was grateful on hearing Minister Ramadoss's remarks. "Thank God we have people in our country who still honour our fundamental rights!" he said.

In recent weeks civil rights and women's rights groups have joined the opposition to the two-child norm, which other would like to see included in legislation and implemented, coercively if necessary.

"Before worrying too much about laws of this kind, politicians should worry about providing people with health care, food and education", said Brinda Karat, General secretary of the All-India Democratic Women's Association. "They should lower infant and maternal mortality and then they'll find out that there is not need to legislate population controls," the activist added.  

Such a norm is seen as discriminatory vis-à-vis the poor, dalit, tribal groups and minorities as well.

Some months ago, even Gurcharan Das, an editorial writer for the Times of India, criticised proposals that sought to turn a suggested two-child target into law. For him, "a coercive population control policy is morally wrong".

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