Status of birth control in India, 1910s-1920s

The Margaret Sanger Papers
Last updated
March 28, 2011, 12:32 p.m. (view history)

We need to come up with a sense of where the birth control movement was in India in 1925.

He has been working for BC for about 5 years, but doesn't know anyone else who is really doing any work, "besides occasional expressions of opinion." Mentions he knows Phadke slightly, but "he does not seem to be quite straight as he insisted on publishing in Marathi a book with the same title as mine in spite of my protests."  Basically accuses Phadke of rushing out a crappy copy of his book to make money. Is willing to cooperate with him if approached but it doesn't sound as if Karve will make the first move. Says that he was at the first meeting of the Bombay Birth Control League that Phadke started, but his "rather strange ideas about the whole thing (he thought for instance that members should bind themselves to use contraceptive), it kept me away from the institution which has done absolutely nothing during the last two years.  WHen Phadke moved to Nagpur and left Bombay, Karve tried to take on the group, but the man financing it rebuffed him.

Karve says that his work has been more than writing and speaking, he is also "stocking and selling the articles recommended by the best authorities, and giving instruction in their use. I know there are several people who strongly object to laymen doing this, but when doctors refuse to have anything to do--with the movement, laymen have to do what they can. It is extremely difficult to get respectable journals to accept advertisement of such goods, though some have begun to accept them now, and the demand being extremely small, it is impossible to do it on a business basis at all for the present. " He loses about $100 a year on this, doesn't sell the articles at cost, but for a "moderate profit." He is thinking of buying a printing press to start his own journal. He was just told by Wilson College that he has to give up BC or his job, so he is looking for a job.  Says if he could get $75 a month (hint, hint!) he could continue his BC work, but if not he might have to leave Bombay or even India to find work.

"Here in India it is impossible to raise any funds for this cause. Those who wish for the spread of the movement are poor & the rich are not cultured enough to understand the value of the new work." He asks her to fund his travel to the Geneva Conference (ca. $200) because he has lost his job and has to feed his family on literary income. Says that he and Karve are "thinking of starting & coordinating various Indian centres for Birth Control activity. I hope we will do it before the time of the conference."

[87] The earliest birth control activists in India came from the Malthusian angle of the issue; concerned about the rapidly growing population and poverty. Pyare Kishan Wattal 's 1916 The Population Problem in India called attention to the problem in India, called for the creation of a population society to study population questions, improve vital statistics.  Noted that the death rate and infant and maternal mortality rates were all very high and the average life expectation was low, health in general is low, nutrition wanting, and most are not vital. He proposed a committee of Indian and British "with special knowledge of medical relief, public health, education, economics, industry, agriculture and sociology."

[88] Colonial government officials drew attention to the problem, including A. J. H. Russel, Sir John Megaw, and J. H. Hutton who held that India was overpopulated with a 1921 population of 319 million. They did not feel that India could keep up food production to keep pace with population growth, and that conditions would get worse. By 1931, they believed that the increasing population was "cause for alarm," yet this "did not move the Government of India at that time to take any effective measures." But it did become an issue of public concern and debate.

R.D. Karve [89] opened a birth control clinic in 1921, which forced him out of his job as a math professor. He wrote two pamphlets in English but could not get them advertised in the press; once he write in Marathi (a dialect spoken in western and central  India) he was able to put one ad in a paper. By 1926 he was still unable to get his articles published so he started his own journal  in 1927.  Despite his personal efforts, he did not start any organizations, "had 'no organising capacity' and he considered committees 'were often obstructive.'" Karve inspired the formation of the the Phadke's Bombay Birth Control League and ZG. D. Kulkarni's Poona Birth Control League in 1923.

Professpr Gopalji Ahluwalia, prof. of biology at Ramjas College in Delhi started the Indian Birth Control Society in 1922, though it does not seem to have been all that active an organization. Ahluwalia and P.D. Shastri contributed papers to the 1922 5INMBC conference in London and the 6INMBC in New York in 1925.

[90] Indian were in communication with the British Malthusian League in the 1880s-1890s. In 1929 social workers started the Madras Neo-Malthusian League, notably Sir Vepa Ramesam and Sir Shivswamy Iyer.