Dr Ilias Ali, who was honoured with the Padma Shri in 2019 for his enormous contribution in population control for more than a decade, said that the state government has to focus on an all-round development, including women’s education, as top priority for the people in the char areas to curb what the chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma called a ‘population explosion’, a statement which has stoked a controversy.
Ali said the char areas, mostly dominated by Muslims, lack in development in comparison to other parts of the state. “Educate the girls, curb child marriage and empower the people with economic opportunity as top priority. Once it is done, the increase in population will be automatically controlled,” he said.
He said that the people in such areas, which lack development probably due to the government’s negligence for years, do not have access to proper and true information about anything. “Until and unless information reaches these people, it would be difficult to control the population,” he said.
“Perhaps, we have failed to take available medical facilities to these areas and create awareness about family planning. Are there sufficient health workers to make those people aware of family planning? I feel the government needs to focus on these things,” he added.
Ali waged a war against population explosion alone in 2008. Traversing miles across Assam, especially to the char and tea garden areas by bus, boat, bullock cart or on foot, he has been promoting the message ‘India can win the battle of grave socio-economic and environmental problems only by population control’. And the only solution to this is family planning and male sterilization, especially among Muslims, he has maintained. With untiring and relentless efforts, Ali has successfully broken the long-standing taboo of vasectomy (male sterilization).
He is of the view that temporary methods like the use of contraceptive pills and condoms are more effective than permanent ones like male and female sterilization. “For sterilization, you need an expert doctor. Creating awareness among the people is effective. I have seen this in Dhubri in western Assam,” he added.
Meanwhile, Sunita Changkakoti, chairperson of Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (ASCPCR), said the prevention of child marriage and emphasise on women’s education particularly in char areas (riverine areas) are the keys to check the population explosion in the state.
Addressing a webinar on “Role of Women in the Society to Control Population Explosion in Assam” on the World Population Day organized by Janasankhya Samadhan Foundation, Changkakoti said, “Child marriage is found in almost all the communities. Though child marriage has gone down to a remarkable level, still it is prevalent in the state. This needs to be stopped to control the population explosion.”