A baby girl named Astha, meaning faith in Hindi, is officially the one
billionth citizen of the nation of India. A celebration marked the 11 May 2000 occasion fanfare and concern over the nation's rapid population growth.
Astha's birth places India in an exclusive club with China as the only
nations with populations exceeding 1 billion.
The government of India staged the 1 billionth baby milestone as part of
a public campaign pressing Indians to have smaller families and
control the country's population growth.
With an estimated 42,000 births per day in India, it was
impossible to know exactly where the billionth baby would be born.
So the Indian government picked May 11 as the date -- calling it "a moment
of celebration, a moment to ponder." Health Ministry officials,
with the concurrence of the U.N. Population Fund, decreed that a
baby girl born this morning in the 1,500-bed Safdarjang Hospital
would symbolically mark the milestone. Twenty-four babies were born
in Safdarjang between midnight and noon.
The choice of a baby girl reflects another part of the
government's attempts to change Indians' family attitudes:
promoting fair treatment for infant girls to overcome traditional
biases in favor of boys. As of the last national census in 1991, there were 927 women for every 1,000 men in India.
The billionth birth was hardly cause for celebration. Since its
independence from Britain in 1948, India has tried to curb its
exploding population with little success. When it became a nation,
India had 300 million people.
The government minister, Mahajan, stated "We welcome Astha, but we should also be thinking whether she would get an opportunity for education and health like millions of other children. Will we
be able to get her the resources and the opportunities necessary
for her future? This is what we have to think about."
Efforts to encourage family planning among the poor suffered a
setback in the 1970s when the government sponsored a mass
sterilization campaign, in which poor people were paid to
undergo vasectomies and tubectomies. The emphasis has changed in the last decade toward educating women, raising their status and providing better health care.
Beginning on the morning of Asha's birth, a recording by the state-owned telephone company told anyone who picked up the phone to dial in New Delhi, "Our population has now reached 1 billion. Let's have small
families for a stronger India." Projections say that if India does not curtail population growth it will surpass China as the world's most populous nation in 50 years with 1.5 billion people.