End of the one-child policy

In late 1970s, China embarked on the one-child policy - forcibly limiting couples to one child - in a desperate effort to curb population growth. China's booming population was a runaway train and the government could foresee the upcoming misery and chaos if something wasn't done.  That something was the new policy.  Of course, there were exceptions to the rule - for rural farmers, ethnic minorities, parents of disabled children and, in some cases, where the first child was a girl (after all, it is the sons that carry on the family name everywhere). 

This year marks the 30th anniversary of that policy. Those original singular children have been having their own children for a while. China is no longer the poverty-stricken country of the 70s. It has, through rapid industrialization and transformation into a manufacturing juggernaut, managed to improve its lot tremendously.  Prosperity, at least the financial kind, is everywhere. Yet the policy endures.

But today, there are strains on the horizon. The demand for sons has not dropped as the government had hoped and so there is an acute shortage of young women for the men to marry. Also, long term macro-economic forces are at work. As the population shrinks, the Chinese economic clout may get blunted. But there is a bigger worry - especially for the communist party that continues to have a monopoly on the political life in China.

Recently, there have been two tragedies that have shaken the Chinese population. The first was an earthquake in Sichuan which destroyed a lot of buildings and other infrastructure but it had a special affinity for shoddily built schools. Tens of thousands of school-going children died. The second was man made - mixing melamine with milk powder which has led to tens of thousands of children to hospitals and a handful of deaths. Both of these tragedies have disproportionately struck children and often the parents are old enough that having another child is difficult.

This has led to widespread anger amongst the parents. In Sichuan, parents refused to back down from demands that the people involved in the shoddy construction of schools be brought to justice. The government acted more swiftly regarding the melamine scandal and many involved are behind bars. But this has exposed a weakness in the communist party's grip. When an only child is harmed due to negligence of the government, the parents can no longer be restrained by the fear of what may happen to them.

Thus I believe that the Chinese government would end the one-child policy to defuse a potentially difficult situation down the road when another tragedy exposes the limits of the government's powers.  The question now is - are the Chinese, burnt by the global turmoil, willing to risk having another child?


1984 - A bad memory

I saw a movie last night - Amu.  The movie starts off light-heartedly before delving into the social unrest and murder (some would say massacre) that took place in wake of Indira Gandhi's assasination.  Now, most movies on social unrest, while interesting and impactful and engaging, do not suck me in as much as this movie because the events happened a long time back.

But this happened in front of my own eyes!  I was in high school and living in New Delhi and...  Well, the torrent of memories flash before my eyes...

I remember 31 Oct 1984 as if it happened yesterday.  Like any ordinary day, I went to school and came back home about 3pm by public bus.  BBC had already announced that Indira Gandhi was dead though the Indian media was deferring to the government which simply said that doctors were working on her.  I remember having my late lunch when my dad came home unexpectedly and he was so worked up!  He dragged me and my mom to the roof and we could see smoke billowing on the horizon from many fires in every direction.  We lived in Defence Colony (a residential area originally intended for retired military personnel) at the time and during the next 15 days it felt that we were on a military base.  There were uniformed and armed soldiers on every corner!

We were lucky.  There were no riots or mayhem in our little bubble.  But just 100 feet outside of Defence Colony, shops were burned and people murdered - all because they happened to be Sikh, the same religion as the murderers of Indira Gandhi.

Life came back to normal pretty soon.  Schools reopened and the debris from the riots swept away and the buses worked again.  But the people who incited the riots, those who wore the police uniforms and did not lift a finger to protect the people from the mobs and the political leaders who were complicit have basically escaped.  One of the accused, Kamal Nath, even serves in the cabinet of the first Sikh prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh!

On the surface things look good but I wonder what is festering beneath the placid surface of the Indian society.  Is this normalcy or simply a prelude to a bigger disaster which would unfold at the next opportunity?