Prachi Dubey

5th year Law student at Amity Law School, Delhi, Guru Gobind Singh, Indraprastha University.

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Dissecting India's Population Control Policy In The 1960s

The leaders are mindful of the pressing need for implementing population control policies that are to be put in place to better the populace rather than politicizing such issues, which will be harmful to them, India's citizens, and future generations writes Prachi Dubey, a 5th year Law student at Amity Law School, Delhi, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University.

Have you ever noticed how in India, the term "family planning" has come to mean "population control," whereas, in the United States, it has a pejorative perception? Whether you call it family planning or population management, the Indian programme in the 1950s and 1960s was quite precise. The emergency era is recognized as a one-off occurrence, part of a country's domestic political problem driven by a few individuals, most notably Mrs. Indira Gandhi and Mr. Sanjay Gandhi. The authorities' access to such a wealth of documents prevents a conclusive assessment, especially when they indicate the necessity for both a wide-angle lens and a lengthy historical perspective. They illustrate how, in the 1950s and 1960s, more aggressive policies with grave health implications were implemented in India with the full knowledge and frequently outright suggestion of Western experts. It resulted in a catastrophic attempt to persuade 29 million women to use intrauterine contraceptive devices in 1965-67. Such a practice forced the world to notice, reflect on its policies, and set a global population emergency in motion that necessitated drastic actions. Because the participants of the decision-making process felt that lowering our population growth would reduce poverty, most were willing to accept such crude measures that were vulnerable to misuse. 

Mr. Nehru, the first Prime Minister of Independent India, called for a Planning Committee to be formed after the 1951 census, which revealed continuous population increase despite a decade of war, famine, and sectarian warfare. The request for free sterilisation and contraception was medically indicated, and it was urged that these procedures be used for social and economic reasons whenever possible. 

According to Population Control history, an American philanthropist Rockefeller's motivation for caring about the population was to "improve the quality of people's lives, to help make it possible for individuals everywhere to develop to their full potential." The government formed a Central Family Planning Board in the second five-year plan, chaired by the Minister of Health and occasionally by Nehru. While population control was still a small component of the planned budget, a $10,000,000 yearly commitment marked a nearly fivefold increase. India's new strategy called for 2,500 clinics around the country to offer low-income women free contraception. All of this looked good on paper, but the reality was quite different. 

In rural areas, where 82% of the Indian population resides, opening a clinic usually meant that just one additional worker was hired at an already overburdened Primary Health Centre. Each centre was responsible for serving a population averaging 66,000 people. Sanjay Gandhi gave the idea of such a planning scheme for the betterment of the Indian population under the governance of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by introducing specific schemes. They were the production of Maruti Suzuki cars, five seaters and its slogan read as, "Hum do, Humare do", planting trees for future generations and educating women. Still, due to the lack of infrastructure, health workers, and certain religions that encouraged procreation by calling it God's will, officials began to lose patience. Some concluded that sterilisation provided the only long term solution.  

To undergo sterilisation, the middlemen were paid 15 rupees for each person that they delivered to the clinic door. These were not trivial sums, considering that per capita gross national product was less than $70 a year. In 1959 R. Gopalawami, the Air Commodore declared that only sterilisation would work for the large mass of the people who will not space their pregnancies or limit their number except for governmental action. During the tenure of Mrs. Gandhi, most people were less concerned about family planning programs than an impending food crisis. They got worried that many human beings would still starve in the critical months before the next harvest of January 1966.  

American President Johnson was happy to learn that Mrs. Gandhi had a longstanding interest in family planning since she had backed the cause and he favoured and propagated for the same. Gandhi gave her ancestral house in Allahabad to be used as a family planning centre. While Mrs. Gandhi's proposal to distribute hundreds of thousands of radios across rural India to convey family planning information was pushed by her as former information minister, Johnson would not back down unless Mrs. Gandhi visited Washington and made a personal commitment to a more robust population control policy.  

Soon after, Johnson wrote a telegram to Congress urging that it had authorised food aid for India, stating that the food crisis in India could not be solved until population control was implemented. The decision was now between a thorough and compassionate effort to limit births or the harsh famine-induced restriction. India was set to face famine as well as a strenuous population-control programme shortly. 

Mrs. Gandhi implemented family planning in India shortly after. When it became clear that the Indian people would not follow the plan, officials under Mr. Sanjay Gandhi took it upon themselves to forcefully sterilise the Indian population so that the country's resources and standard of living would not diminish and fall. India's economy and food supplies were perceived to be deteriorating, with its population dying of hunger and starvation. The necessity of such planning was deemed to be of utmost importance during the second wave of COVID-19. There has been a longstanding discussion in India regarding population control and the intelligible use of resources to save them for future generations, also known as sustainable development.  

During the second wave of COVID-19, there appeared to be no end to rising cases where individuals struggled to keep their lives together owing to a lack of such resources. We all observed a shortage of oxygen cylinders, beds, medications, and healthcare personnel for people who required them at such a critical moment. Population growth impacted natural resources. 

Due to India's large population, the supply and demand for such resources were highly unbalanced, resulting in increase in crime and corruption. As severe as Mrs. Indira Gandhi and Mr. Sanjay Gandhi's family planning policy seemed it was nevertheless the need of the hour and the need of future generations. Although implementing such a plan was in a kind of egregious misbehaviour, and coercive planning should not have occurred, their vision was also one for the next half-century. We can only hope that everyone is secure and sound within their houses, that everyone's needs are satisfied, that everyone is healthy, and that the second wave of Covid 19-like situations never arise. I, for one, feel that there should be a rule regulating the number of children a couple can have, contrary to what some religions and their personal laws may propagate, to ensure that their basic requirements are satisfied without causing hardship to the marriage, to the children or the government. We can only hope that our current administration and future governments see the necessity for such a plan and the Population Control Bill, as well as the aims it strives to achieve without harming its inhabitants. 

The leaders are mindful of the pressing need for implementing population control policies that are to be put in place to better the populace rather than politicising such issues, which will be harmful to them, India's citizens, and future generations.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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