Sunday, March 1, 2009

Major communities in Mumbai log lower birth-death ratio

MUMBAI: An analysis of the number of births and deaths registered among different religious denominations in the city shows that the birth-death ratio is on the decline for all major communities, indicating perhaps greater awareness of family planning

Public health department records of the number of births and deaths in Mumbai reveal that for every 100 Muslims who died in 2008, around 290 were born. For every 100 Hindus who died in the same period, around 180 were born. While 1.28 lakh infants were born into Hindu families in 2008, 70,558 Hindus died in the same period, a Right To Information (RTI) query filed by activist Chetan Kothari revealed. In the same year, Muslims registered 45,654 births and 15,936 deaths.

A similar query by Kothari last year had revealed that among Hindus, the birth to death ratio for 2005-07 was over two, and among Muslims over three. Both ratios have thus dipped. Sociologists attribute the higher ratio of births to deaths among Muslims to socio-economic factors like poverty, illiteracy and lack of adequate family planning.

The infant mortality rate amongst the poorer sections of society has generally been on the higher side. So they tend to have more infants. But the overall mortality rate will be lower as compared to other sections of society, as they tend to have a larger family,’’ S Parasuraman, director of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, told TOI. He said poverty was a major factor and studies have already shown the strong link between poverty, illiteracy and population growth.

Reformist community leaders like Asghar Ali Engineer agree. “Many lower middle class families who live in slums are not exposed to the concept of family planning. They have more than two or three children in every household. They believe that even though there is one more mouth to be fed in the family, the two hands will earn for the entire household,’’ Engineer said.

He said studies show that 65% of literate Muslims in Kerala have done effective family planning compared to 38% poor Hindus in Uttar Pradesh. “This shows literacy and poverty are linked to population control,’’ he said. The city’s Christians are a case in point. For every 100 Christians who died, only about 100 were born last year. This shows the community has not been increasing as compared to others.

Christian community leaders put this down to effective pre-nuptial counselling and natural birth control methods.

Anthony Charanghat, spokesperson for the Catholic archdiocese of Bombay, said the Catholic church does not encourage artificial methods of birth control and volunteers conduct camps to educate young people about the rhythm method, which relies on awareness of a woman’s ovulation cycle. “These are aspects many youngsters are still not aware of, and we tell them to be extra careful for at least seven days in a month,’’ he said.

Charanghat said factors like migration also contribute to the dwindling birth figures. “Youngsters migrate to other countries after they have finished their studies, which results in the dwindling number of infant births.’’ He added that the statistics also reflected the fact that people were marrying at a later age.

It would be risky, however, to read too much into these figures. Here’s why: The all-India birth rate is about three-and-a-half times the death rate. The ratio in Mumbai’s case is less than two according to the data Kothari got in response to his query. Migration has a large part to play in explaining this. People born elsewhere who move to the metropolis and settle down and die here skew the ratio significantly. It’s also possible that a section of migrants moves back to ancestral villages in the last years of their life. This section could be bigger or smaller in different communities, thus making a difference to the death rates.

The figures are even more alarming for Parsis. For every 100 Parsis who died, only around 14 were born in 2008. Here, too, delayed marriages and the ensuing fertility problems are held responsible. “Many couples marry in their mid-thirties, and some never get married,’’ said Berjis Desai, social activist and columnist on Parsi affairs.

For every Jain who died, about 15 were born last year. Community leaders like Dipchand Gardi say Jains live long because of their way of life. A vegetarian lifestyle and fasting combine to remove toxins from the body, Gardi said.

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