Indian Birth Control, Neo-Malthiusianism and Eugenics

The Margaret Sanger Papers
Last updated
Feb. 10, 2011, 10:57 a.m. (view history)

[30] Middle class male activists combined the two streams of neo-Malthusianism and eugenic thought and used them to "provide urgency to the cause of birth control."  Activists moved freely between the different movements. India's class and caste composition made the differential population something that eugenicists were interested in. [31]G. Alhuwalia wrote an essay in 1923 ("Indian Population Problem") that "the primary cause for India's poverty was 'thoughtless, irresponsible, and extensive breeding, particularly among the poor and middle classes.' The root cause for people's deprivation is population growth, made that much worse in his opinion. because of the eugenic composition of this population; he lamented that 'racial defects and poisons are multiplying from day to day. The physique of the people was surely deteriorating. The tall, stout and strong is being fast replaced by persons lean, lanky, and bony.'" The pace  of the change meant that they needed to address it at once, by spreading knowledge of sex hygiene, eugenics, and birth control.  He was an alarmist who saw India as "a vast garden literally choked with weeds, fine roses being few and far between." 

[31] Pillay organized a Wives Clinic that offered advice on BC, VD, sterility, sex problems, marriage problems, heredity and eugenics. He thought that BC would prevent prostitution and promiscuity, reduce housing crush, overpopulation, destitution, and the need for charity. His Sholapur Eugenics Society pushed neo-Malthusian theory and birth control, unlike its London counterpart. In his "Eugenical Birth Control for India" published in BCR 1931, he disdained traditional charity, saying that the efforts of welfare workers "to keep alive all who were born were helping the unfit to survive." [quote from author, not Pillay]; he thought that they were not practicing philanthropy smart--they were preserving people who would leave behind "'tainted'" descendants. He wanted to prevent the unfit from having more children and encourage the fit to have more "'fit' and useful citizens."[32] He defined the unfit in  both physical and moral terms , ranking the foolish with the insane. Felt that a large number of unfit among the population did not fit with the idea of a nationalist movement--they were not the kind of citizens they could built a free and independent India on, so their fertility became a national issue.

[32] Most of the arguments for BC were not made for indivdual's reasons, not for equal access to knowledge, or economic opportunities. Phadke, though he stressed a more environmental approach, thought that Indians needed  to improve, to become physically stronger, so that they could participate in its uplift. In a combination of eugenic and Malthusian ideas, he wanted to use birth control to improve Indian physiques. Women's job was to conceive and raise healthy sons for the nation. "the mother is the root source of the strength or weakness of the race."  Unlike other eugenicists, in 1927, Phadke argued that India's population problems were so significant that he thought that both the fit and unfit ought to [33] limit their families, because any increase in the population would be damaging to the country. Phadke argued that eugenics was indigenous to India, not a Western import, and used figures from Indian history to trace its progress. It was important for men like Phadke, involved in Gandhi's movement to boycott foreign ideas and goods.

[33] Ahluwalia says that in the 1920-30's overpopulation became "a culturally constructed problem that led to an increasing concern with managing reproduction; reproduction was now understood to have important consequences for the well-being of the country. Conjugal sexuality was no longer regarded as merely belonging to the 'private sphere'; instead it was viewed as directly impacting the public life and prosperity of the nation."

[34] Using Debendra Nath Ghose, she demonstrates how the middle class eugenicists bought into the traditional Malthusian position on charity, blaming the poor for their state, and asserting that the middle class or society had the right to interverne in the lives of the poor because of it. Ghose supported forced family limitation and forced work for "hopeless destitutes" which would then be turned into productive members of society. "The middle-class birth control advocates exhibited an apathy toward the plight of subaltern groups and sought mainly to safeguard the values and interests of their own class.