Aftermath of Sanger’s trip to India

The Margaret Sanger Papers
Last updated
March 25, 2011, 12:56 p.m. (view history)

What changed as a result? Lot of the books written later seem to describe the same situation as before Sanger went there. Others say that she was influential.

"Mrs. Dick is quite right about the very slow progress B. C. is making in Indian and there are many reasons for this.

  1. The political struggle is absorbing the energies of many who wd. otherwise help.
  2. There are not whole time paid workers & no whole time voluntary workers & no money as in Am. and Eng.
  3. Indian women will not go to men doctors & the scarcity of women doctors makes medical progress very slow--in addition women doctors seem always to live on sufferance and few have independent, courageous outlook necessary for this propaganda.
  4. Every Foam-powder sponge methods calls for more money, care & cleanliness tat the masses of Indians can practice.

So unless something very unforeseen happens progress will be slow but yet  there is progress. My own conviction is an annual tour by some good speaker from England or America is the best service we can render to the work here at present. A woman doctor cd. do wonders but who can spare the time to come? Dr. Pillay did not receive enough support to enable him to go on so he must attend to his own clinic & earn his living and give what voluntary help he can."

Cousins thanks Sanger for the reports that she has sent on her impressions of India.

"It grieved me to hear that the Calcutta Conference gave you and Birth Control no chance at a hearing. The European women especially some of that bunch are just early Victorians in their prudery. But that was a nasty impression for you to have as a finale of India."

"You thoroughly roused Gandhiji. His ultra-aestheticism will not weigh against common-sense and health need of the general mass of the public to whom your Cause makes such immediate appeal. We women have had to oppose him on several occasions when he wants to make out-of-date distinctions between men and women, and when we proved that he did not know or understand the modern Indian woman. It will be the same in this case. You will find Krishnamurti more truly in Tune with Lfe than either Gandhi or Maharishi. When we [say] things the Indians don't like, they blame our foreigness! Poor Kamaldevi Chattopadhyaya is paying for her championship of Birth Control and other Social Reforms by being denied inclusion in the Working Committee of the Congress. I am not surprised at the Old Guard but I am deeply disappointed [at] Jawaharlal and other young Socialists."

"I consider that your tour in India was a great success. Intelligence awakened women liked you very much and were strengthened in their in their faith in the movement. The home women to whom you gave demonstrations will be the chief practical propagandists and will worship you. Your success and also Mrs. H.M.'s with the medical profession will have the most far-reaching and valuable results. I agree with your that the practical crux will be the provision at cheap rates and of Indian manufacture of equipment. I do not feel the lack of privacy will be detrimental. The same privacy s needed for conjugation will be available for contraceptive safeguards. Where there's a will there's a way for women.

"Ever since you left India it has been my desire to write and tell you something of what your visit meant to a good many of us and what work we have subsequently been doing in various fields in connection with women" ,,,

"Since you were here India has moved rapidly along the road of progress." Says that the Congress parties returned a large majority in the last election, she was made a member of the Cabinet of the United Provinces, showing that some effort is being made to give women equality with men."It is a new innovation and there was, in the beginning , some little doub5t as to the wisdom of giving women responsibility of this type. But the majority of the people in this country welcomed me as a Minister, and I have received help and co-operation from every quarter. I am in charge of the portfolios of Local Self Government and Health."...

"I am afraid the Birth Control movement is not progressing, and one would wish. Tradition and superstition are hard to kill, and in spite of repeated endeavours on my part as a member of the Municipal Board (Corporation) Allahabad, I have been faced with hostility every time I tried to approach the subject.There is, however, one hopeful sign, and that is, that the women themselves are clamouring for scientific information and help about birth control, and I feel that if they raise the voice loud enough, the help will come to them in spite of any opposition from the old-fashioned of both sexes. It gave me great pleasure to visit the Birth Control Clinics in Bombay quite recently, and it was interesting top see what a keep appreciation the working-woman is showing of the help given her by the Clinic. Many of our Women's Clubs are endeavouring to educate public opinion on this subject, and the All India Women's Conference has also taken the question up. So perhaps we may move ahead at last."

"As you are aware, India has so many problems, each of them complicated  and difficult to handle. Added to these, there is the disability of foreign domination. So progress is necessarily retarded."

How-Martyn quotes a letter Sanger sent saying that there was too much grabbing and snatching at laurels. "Very true. Every time I see the B.C. Review I think how mean, silly, and shortsighted they are not to put 'Founded by Margaret Sanger' to both Review & League. Same thing here [in India-CH] There wd. be no Conference now in Bombay but for our B.C. tours preparing the ground--but no one notices that. There would be no free clinics possible  without the Foam powder which fact I always rub in by saying 'Mrs. Sanger introduced, etc. etc.--' Sometimes too I wonder if Pillay thinks he had the films made!! again as you say 'we are only too  happy to see the results regardless of who claims the victory' but  lets get busy on the 'shaking up' & may I be in on it"

"Have you by any chance got a list of the 50 Birth Control centres left behind in India? I have just gone carefully thru all Indian files, past correspondence, etc. but do not find any such list. Previously I had had a vague impression that M.S. might have turned it over to another staff worker here in charge of our clinic, but apparently this was not the case."

Says that the English also want it.

"In reply to your query whether we can say 50 centres for B.C. have been established in India, depends on the definition of  a centre. Before we went there --one clinic only was established on modern lines Pillay's Eugenic Clinic in Bombay and there was some sort of a centre in Mysore, Madras a possibly 6 places in all."

"Now there are 20 clinics --that is, every patient advised by a doctor, fitted and sold or given supplies, records kept, regular sessions held, and counting individual doctors often trained by Pillay, Hospitals who can give it when asked but have no definite times and maternity centres who may give it then all told with the real clinics there are 50 or 60 places where advice can be had. But the Lahore Clinic has 3 patients a month! Not enough educational work is being done. My own opinion is that Bombay is the only place which can in any way compare with English or American towns."

How-Martyn also traced the gynaplaques given out. "Sir Mangaldeas Mehta to who you gave 3 or 4 has since ratted so I suppose those are lying unused somewhere." The Minister of Health of Benaries "put his in a cupboard." Found that in Calcutta, Nagpur, it was being used. "I think if 30 are begin regularly used it would be a good result. Next time perhaps you will be able to bring a gift of pelviforms. In some ways they are more useful."

Response to his letter above, "As understanding of the movement spreads you will find yourself regarded as an honoured pioneer of birth control in India. Suggests that he affiliate his clinic with Sanger's BCCRB, which will entitle him to some free supplies. Says that if the municipality will give him a room and Sanger can help with supplies, he can make a good start.

"I hope Mrs. Kamaladev Chattopadhyaya will remember her promise to help. How much forbearance and patience we have tpo have in this movement!"

"Personally I am very glad you are advising middle class women, as I believe it has a good effect in encouraging the poorer people to do something something to help themselves. We also find that some of the better off women who have benefitted by birth control will pay for women they know personally to have advice."

Suggests keeping Sanger in the loop, reporting patient numbers at his clinic and whether Foam Powder is useful.

Commiserates about Sanger's breakdown in Hong Kong, glad that How-Martyn was able to finish the trip.

"The municipality at Calicut as usual has shelved the matter to a committee for discussion & final discussion. I am doing my daily pilgrimage to the house of the members of the Committee requesting them to give their vote in my favor & help me in my work. The opposition is so great and they have plenty of money, that I cannot as yet prophecy the final fate but I am anyway hoping for the best."

"Mrs Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya is all immersed in her political activities that she has very little time for our work, & has not so far helped me in any way. She is it looks as if frightened of losing her popularity with the masses that she has not even consented to arrange a meeting for me at her place which is unfortunately the centre of the most powerful R. Catholic influence in South India. "The Town of Mangalore." I wrote to her that it would not cost her anything but I have not received any reply as yet."

Talks about his work in Calicut, he is hampered by lack of a woman doctor because "Indian women are shy in consulting men doctors tho they are the once that feel the necessity most and are really anxious to get the correct information on the subject. The husbands are callous about their sufferings & sometimes just call at my place out of curiosity & ask me for the best methods. I advocate and that is about the end of it."

Reports that he has helped about "50 (fifty) women of the middle class who can afford to purchase the necessary articles bu the real problem of the poorer classes still remains untouched unless there is a windfall or a legacy or I win a huge amount in a crossword competition. ...The desire & the need for the poorer classes is there & the only obstacle is money. The Govt ought to really do something but they don't seem in a mood to do anything."

He remarks that his medical practice has suffered because of all the time he devotes to birth control work, but that if he started charging for the birth control work, "the work would terribly suffer & the opposition would charge me with being a money grubber. As it is all sorts of rumors are set up against my personal self. The R.C's have damned me to eternal perdition & hell & the fiat has gone forth from the priests that Roman Catholics are not to get my medical services any more. I am dubbed an immoral man& such sort of propaganda is being carried out openly against me. It has begun to seriously affect my pockets. Please don't think I am crying about it, I am just stating facts." He says he is committed, because BC is the only way to help India.

Says that it is an uphill climb until they can get people to experience the work. He estimates that it would cost 1,000 rupees a year to run a successful clinic and propaganda movement.  "That sum has to be found somehow. If only the municipality would help me with a little grant it would save me a lot of worry. ....I don't want the work to suffer at this juncture. It is just gaining ground and the people have started thinking about it. If in your tours you come across any philanthropic gentleman or woman who has a little extra money to be spend on India it would be very welcome here tho' I believe that being India's work Indians alone much keep it going."