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In India, Classism, Sexism And Force Help Governments ‘Plan’ Families

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Family Planning is not inherently bad, in the sense that it empowers people or a group of people to make conscientious decisions around the size of their families.

However, it is important to recognize that family planning was born out of eugenics and the Indian Government’s methods of family planning have always been a shade away from eugenics.

Eugenics, to be explained simply, is the idea that the human species can be improved by ensuring that people with “desirable” traits mate while others don’t. The aim is to breed out undesirable traits. Eugenics is an idea engulfed in racism, ableism, elitism, and sexism. It was one of the main ideological tools for nazis and fascists. Historically, family planning in the west in the early 20th century was born out of the study of eugenics.

Representational image.

The family planning programmes that the Indian government has pursued throughout its Independent history may not be classified as eugenics, but are clearly and blatantly anti-poor and hence, classist. The crux of India’s family planning has been focussed around sterilization, the brunt being faced by marginalized women in modern India.

During the Emergency, Sanjay Gandhi’s forced sterilizations targetted the poor, picking them up from public places and forcing them to get sterilized in the name of family planning. Government employees were instructed to fill sterilization targets (a practice that remains to this day), with people being picked up from trains, villages, and slums.

6.2 million men were sterilized in 1976 alone.

This played a major role in fostering mistrust among working-class men towards the procedure, along with myths and misinformation about the procedure’s effects on their “masculinity”. What this has led to is the brunt of sterilizations being forced on women.

Between 2017 and 2018, 93.1% of sterilization procedures were performed on women. While some may be voluntary, many in rural and poverty-stricken areas were motivated by incentives offered by the government for families to get sterilized, with husbands forcing their wives to get a hysterectomy instead of getting a vasectomy themselves.

An Amul Ad from the 70s in response to Sanjay Gandhi’s Sterilization programs. Credit: Harper Collins

With the government pushing sterilization on the poor, and women being forced to bear the brunt of these operations, many issues arise. The first being that a vasectomy for men is a 15-minute procedure which is relatively simple, while tubal litigation for women is much more dangerous, and requires a completely sterilized environment.

Poor and marginalized women are also often tricked by government officials to take this procedure who are looking to fulfil their quota of people incentivized to be sterilized.

In 2014, 11 women died and 62 more were hospitalized after being paid to be sterilized in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh. Women are often made to go through this procedure without understanding its consequences and the safety protocols in place.

When speaking about the Bilaspur Tragedy, Yogesh Jain, a hospital director speaking to the Pulitzer Center said that this was a tragedy waiting to happen and women were viewed as no more than a “uterus and a pair of hands”.

Before 2014, it was found out that the Chattisgarh government spent 20 times more on the incentive than the procedure itself.

While the ‘camp’ method of sterilization family planning was banned, incentivizing the poor to get sterilized in India is anti-poor and anti-women in the Indian context. Family planning should be about awareness instead of coercion, showing the working class the benefits of family planning instead of offering incentives that many need to get this procedure.

Indian family planning has always had an element of coercion in them, from Sanjay Gandhi to the modern-day.

3 in 8 Indian men believe sterilization is the woman’s responsibility. This is yet another example of patriarchy creeping into an already classist family planning program.

Placing contraception as the woman’s burden when it is much more dangerous for women than men, in terms of side-effects and complexities during the operation itself.

The proposed two-children draft population policy in Uttar Pradesh is yet another example where anti-poor and patriarchal ideas intermesh in India’s “family planning”.  The poor who need government resources and jobs will be deprived because of their family size, while not being made aware of family planning itself. Many have predicted that female foeticide rates would also increase throughout the state as many in Indian patriarchal society would prefer two male children over female children.

Family planning in India is still firmly attached to its eugenic history from the Colonizing West, attacking the poor and marginalized while the upper-class does not face or is even aware of these measures in their personal lives.

If family planning has to be successful, neither forced nor deceitful sterilizations will work as proved by Peru, nor will X-child policies forcing family planning, as in China.

Featured image credit: Harper Collins
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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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