Margaret Sanger, "My Experiences in India," 24 Nov 1936.
Source: " Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of Congress Library of Congress Microfilm 130:183."
Handwritten notes and insertions by Margaret Sanger.Sanger was introduced by Mrs. Taylor of the Birth Control League of Alleghany County, who read: "Margaret Sanger is the President of the National Committee on Federal Legislation for Birth Control, and Director of the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau, America’s oldest and largest birth control clinic. She went to India as representative of the Birth Control International Information Centre, London, of which she is also the President.
In India, where I spent a good part of the past year, there is a proverb: "“Wisdom is knowing what to do, skill is knowing how to do it but virtue is in the doing it." As I go from country to country, from city to city, through the world, I am convinced that in America today we have the wisdom, the knowledge and the skill, in knowing what to do and how to solve our problems, but we do not have the virtue ↑that thing call it virtue, courage or [initiative?] ↓ to do it.
I was invited to come to India by the All India Woman’s Conference, representing between eleven and twelve millions of the most intelligent women of the Orient. I was greatly surprised that so many women in India spoke English and were well informed about problems which we in the West are so futilely trying to solve. I was also surprised to find that not only educated Indians, particularly doctors and social workers, were willing and eager to find some way of dealing with overpopulation, but that men and women of all classes were pathetically anxious to learn about birth control. Women begged and pleaded for information about how to limit their families and space their children.
This was not at all what I had been led to expect in India. People who claimed to be familiar with conditions, with whom I had talked before I landed in Bombay, were pessimistic.
“Their religion makes it an Indian woman’s highest duty to have children,” I was told. “The more she has the better she likes it.”
One highly educated Indian man said to me: “Why, Mrs. Sanger, you can do nothing. We all admit that birth control is the only answer to India’s population problem, but the women themselves don’t want it.”
I was sure they were wrong. I have always been sure that women in all lands and all ages have instinctively desired family spacing. I was sure that in a land like India, where you find women seeking a new freedom, economic and social, there would be thousands of minds reaching out to find knowledge which would mean freedom.
So I said nothing, ↑but waited.↓ I wanted to learn for myself whether the women of India were so different from the women of any other country in the world, that they wanted and would cling to endless childbearing if the way to voluntary motherhood were opened to them.
Just two days after I arrived in Bombay I went to the “chawls,” the long rows of tenement houses where the city’s mill workers are crowded together in small dark rooms. Children, their naked little bodies bone-thin, played in the streets, or sat listlessly in the shadow of the buildings. Mothers stared with inert eyes. Almost every one had a baby or small child on her hip.
I knew that of every 1000 children born in Bombay, 298 die. I know that it has been estimated that 100 of every 1000 mothers in India die in childbirth. I looked at these poor, worn out women, at their undernourished, undersized children.
“Ask this mother how many children she has,” I said to the social worker who accompanied me, ↑and↓ pointed to a woman in a ragged sari, squatting on the street, holding a baby in her arms.
“Six,” was the answer.
“And how many dead?”,I asked.
“Five”, she answered.
“ And how many more do you want,” I pursued.
She threw out her hands in a pathetic gesture. A look of fear came into her tired, lined face.
“Please God, no more!”
We talked to scores of mothers, some old, some young, and they all echoed the words, “Please God, no more.”
No Bombay man can again tell me that women of this city, or any city in India do not want information which will free them of the dread of bringing children into the world to rob those they already have of food and clothing and care, of the very breath of life.
Every moment from my arrival ↑of my stay↓ in India was crowded with meetings and conferences, with interviews and lectures. The problem was not how to meet opposition, for there are no legal restrictions, such as we have in America, and practically no religious opposition. The task was how to train doctors, midwives and nurses, to organize clinics, and put the movement on a firm, scientific foundation as a public health measure.
Birth control is a burning question in India, and those best qualified to understand India’s problems are aware of this. According to Major General Megaw, medical adviser to the Secretary of State for India, the population is rapidly outstripping industrial production and the situation can best be summed up in words “They do not get enough to eat.” Experts agree that by 1941, when the next census is taken, India’s population may well number four hundred millions.
Infant and maternal mortality are tragically high, but infant welfare work without birth control is making matters worse, for it saves the infants, only to let them starve later on. As in other countries, welfare work without birth control is dysgenic and chaotic, cruel as well as planless.
I have attended many meetings of women in my lifetime, but the All India Woman’s Conference will remain one of the outstanding inspirations of my life. I found among these women an outspoken directness of opinion, a fearlessness in facing issues as they are, that we in America would do well to follow. The Conference passed a resolution in favor of establishing birth control clinics.
The All India Medical Conference took definite action in placing the subject of birth control where it belongs, as part of the physicians program for preserving the health of his nation. It passed a resolution recommending that instruction in conception control methods should form part of the curriculum in medical colleges and schools and in the training of health visitors, nurses and midwives.
I also lectured and showed scientific films which I had with me on the Biology of Conception, at the All Indian Obstetric and Gynecological Congress, the first of its kind in India. Indeed the movement got off to a good start in India, having the support of organized medicine, and of individual doctors everywhere.
One of the highlights of my stay in India was my visit to Mahatma Gandhi, and two memorable conversations I had with him. Gandhi has aroused the men and women of India as no one else has done, and the women of India wanted me to see him. He turned out to be even a better feminist than I am. For I believe that parenthood and marriage should be put on a fifty-fifty basis, that the man as well as the woman should have something to say about how many children should be brought into the world. But Gandhi would leave all this to the women.
Mr. Gandhi and I disagreed with mutual tolerance, and I am glad to say, respect. “I think highly of your purpose,”he said to me in parting. “May God guide you right.”
By the time I left India, fifty teaching centers had been established, and supplies had been distributed to public health officials and hospitals. My plan on leaving India in the same as I make here in America: Those in authority, those in charge of public health, those advocating the cause of social and mental health should take a firm stand and include birth control knowledge and its practice where it is desired and needed. This is a responsibility that can no longer be evaded or shirked, and one which the masses have a right to expect.
↑It is gratifying to come to Wabash Bldg Pittsburgh to find there is also a center here where mothers can go & receive from Doctors advice to space birth & control size of family.↓
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