Status of birth control in India, 1940s

The Margaret Sanger Papers
Last updated
July 21, 2011, 11:56 a.m. (view history)

What happened during and after WW2, and with independence?

This is a transcribed excerpt of a piece of a "planned national economy for the nationalist government to pursue when it comes to be formed":

"In the interest of national economy, family happiness, and national planning, family planning and a limitation of children are essential and the state should adopt a policy to encourage these. It is desireable to lay stress on self control as well as to spread the knowledge of cheap and safe methods of birth control. Birth control clinics should be established and other necessary measures taken in this belief and to prevent the use or advertisement of harmful methods."

Says that the National Planning Commission has also accepted the "principle of equal pay for equal work."

Date is not known, "apparently sometime during the spring of 1940."

Announces the formation of the Family Planning Association of India and its efforts to spread family planning in the country.

Bombay is taking leadership; its Municipality was the first to take action on the issue, and has been supportive, but "the movement was intensified in 1942, when several local women's organizations joined the pioneers of birth-control and besieged the councillors of the Municipal Corporation until in 1945 they accepted the principle of family-planning for India's most congested city."

"Since 1947, when the first two Municipal Free Family Planning Clinics were opened, the interest for this way of helping hard-pressed middle-classes and the working class to space and limit their famiiies, has steadily gained." Says there are 4 centres in Bombay and new ones are springing up in Madras, Hyderabad and the suburbs.  The All-India Woman's Conference and other women's groups run them.

The FPA of India give lectures, show films to all audiences. "Much has still to be done by way of removing prejudice, superstition and shyness, but a little has been achieved already. About 3,000 couples have so far taken advantage of these facilities in Bombay. Most of them were given advice and contraceptives free of cost." Says that due to the increased educational campaign, the enrollment at the clinics has increased, and "within a few years the bigger cities of India will have caught up with the West. Of course, there are still the villages of this vast country, where birth-control can spread only wen the appalling ignorance is removed through general education." They hope that the Government will do something to make more rapid changes "in order to stem the tide of a very threatening over-population."

"All in all we are hopeful. We have enlightened public opinion on our side and the opposition to this important social reform is not more as fierce today as it was twenty years ago."

[93] The AIWC's support for BC broadened year by year. First it appealed to municipalities and local bodies to establish birth control services, then to its own branches. In 1940 (Allahabad meeting) they called family planning "of the first importance to India's health and asks that medical officers connected with all municipal and Government Women's hospitals, dispensaries and health centers should be authorised to give advice to married women desiring this assistance in spacing their families." If there was official government opposition to the idea, AIWC branches were to open birth control clinics, [94] especially in "mill areas and poor localities under adequate medical supervision." Branches should also undertake spreading propaganda.  This resolution emphasize "spacing of births," while by 1941 they were accepting more broad rationales.

[97] National Government did not weigh in much, but in 1941 P.N. Sapru introduced a motion to the Council of States in New Dehli that the Council recommended that "in view of the alarming growth in population in India, steps be taken to popularise methods of birth control and establish birth control clinics in centrally administered areas. Resolution passed 9-8. Five years earlier they had voted down a similar measure.

This resolution does not appear to have made any direct impact on Provincial Governments, except that of the Punjab.  There, Col. PC Bharucha, Inspector General of Civil Hospitals initiated family planing activities in the Province in 1941. Rena Dutta contacted a number of people in the Punjab, and while they agreed with the need for more birth control and services in hospitals, and other health centres, "there was opposition to form a family planning society."They also called for more education, raising the age of consent, and giving advice to more mothers and fathers. In 1942 they passed  the laws and trained women doctors, making it the first in British India to teach a programme in health prospects. 

World War II [101] "Family planning activities both in India and abroad came to a almost stand still" during WW2. Even the League of Nations' "feeble attempt in the population field" to study demography and its relation to economic, financial and social situation was not completed. [102] The British FPA picked up a few Indians as Vice-Presidents, Lady Cowesji Jehangir and Rani Laxmibai Rajwade. Only after the war did the movement start to revive. Organizations in India had lost their vigor. [103] Main source of information after the war was the ICPP