The Washington Times - August 5, 2008, 02:04PM

I am finally back from 17 days of vacation and am plowing through the large stack of newspapers on my desk. One item that caught my eye was a National Catholic Register piece on how the Catholic bishops of Kerala, India’s southernmost state, are exhorting their flock to have more, not fewer, children.

This is during an era when India’s government is going the route of China in levying punishments on people who are having more than the allowable number of kids. India is pushing a two-child norm and has informed government employees that their maternity benefits extend only to the first two children. In some places, people with more than two offspring cannot run for local political offices, and some states are making large families ineligible for welfare benefits.

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The Kerala bishops, in effect, are telling the government to go jump in the lake. They see the Christian population of Kerala declining from 24 percent 50 years ago to 19 percent in 2001. Looking at Europe, where declining populations of natives are being offset by booming Muslim populations, they understand that biology is destiny. Whoever has the most kids will control society in the coming century. 

I have some strong sentiments about this because of a trip that a photographer and I took to India for three weeks in the fall of 2006 to document India’s “female feticide” crisis, whereby people are massively aborting baby girls because of the huge bias toward males around the country. Kerala, which has the country’s largest concentrations of Christians, was one of the few parts of the country not showing gender imbalances. It was one of the more depressing business trips I have gone on. Officially, India does not allow women to use sonograms to determine the sex of their unborn children. Unofficially, clinics that allow the practice operate with impunity nationwide.  

So, I wonder, why is India pushing this two-child policy when they know this will result in more girls being aborted? What are they thinking of? Anyway, the Keralans are fighting back. Part of their campaign is toward their own people. A spokesman for the Kerala Bishops Council has said the numbers of Christian students in state schools dropped by 200,000 in 2007, meaning many Catholics have already begun to limit family size. 

When I was in India, one of my best interviews was with Dr. Puneet Bedi, a Sikh obstetrician in south Delhi who believes the idea of population limits is one pushed on India by the West.

“After World War II, the world had this concept of hyperbreeding in India,” he said, “because everyone was saying there were too many people in Asia. Actually, the highest fertility in the world is in the Arab countries, but if you saw the Malthusian projections from the 1950s, everyone was saying India and China will take over the world. So it was birth control at any cost in India and China.”

American foundations such as Ford, McArthur and Packard poured money into family-planning programs, but Indian families insisted on conceiving children until they reached their goal of two sons, he added. Starting in the 1970s, amniocentesis was used to determine the sex of the child, who would be aborted if she were a girl. The technique has now migrated to sonograms and ultrasounds. Today, one in six girls are killed before birth.

Kerala’s Catholic bishops have noted that the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical against artificial birth control, was July 28. They apparently realize that if they do not speak out now, India’s Catholic population will slowly disappear.

— Julia Duin, assistant national editor/religion, The Washington Times