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Margaret Sanger, "Mahatma Gandhi and Birth Control," 1935.

Source: "Records of the IPPF, Office of the President Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Collected Documents Series C16:401."

This article may have been written before MS's Dec. 1935 meeting with Gandhi. No published version was found.

Mahatma Gandhi and Birth Control

The compelling personality of Mr. Gandhi attracts many of the visitors to India to seek him out. He seems to hold the key to so many of the problems of India. The opinions of a man who almost single handed has challenged the imperial power of Britain as it holds power in India are considered well worth having.

But politics apart Mr. Gandhi’s opinion is sought on all kinds of moral and social problems and to all of them he brings a point of view that is penetrating and very human. Mr. Gandhi does not lump people together, to him an individual is something unique and he has the charming gift of making you feel that his conversation with you is full of interest to him and it is just impossible for the moment to remember that the man you are talking to has taken upon himself the task of guiding the political destinies of 350 million people.

A prominent Hindu lady said to me a few years ago, “If Mr. Gandhi would stand for Birth Control it would sweep India from end to end.” But alas! for suffering women Mr. Gandhi will have nothing to do with birth control, he regards it as sin, as a temptation to mankind to pander to his lower nature, as an invention of the devil to lure men and women from the path sacrifices, the cost in human life fell equally on men as on women but the price paid by women and their babies is so utterly disproportionate to that paid by men that one would have thought Mr. Gandhi’s human sympathies would have made him see that in this matter there is a fundamental difference between the needs of men and women. Simple humanity and justice demand that the women shall be given the knowledge to control her motherhood and thus equipped she can listen to Mr. Gandhi’s teaching as an equal. If of her own free choice she renounces sexual intercourse except when she desires to become a mother, that is a matter for her own conscience. If her husband forces intercourse upon her or takes advantage of her youth and ignorance as happens in millions of cases today in India and other countries it is cruel and heartless to blame the woman or to say as Mr. Gandhi says “If people will breed like rabbits then they must die like rabbits.” They are dying today but women more than men due largely to premature and unceasing pregnancies to such an extent that though in most countries there is an excess of women, there are 10 million more men than women in India according to the 1931 census.

Eleanor Rathbone, M.P. has rightly termed this sacrifice of young women and girls the Indian minotaur and I do not yet despair that Mr. Gandhi will find some more practicable remedy to save a large number of the 200,000 Indian women who die in childbirth every year other than preaching abstinence from sexual intercourse.

Mr. Gandhi is opposed to war and violence but it is not suffieciently appreciated that in the world every year a million women in the prime of life die in childbirth and millions more are damaged for life. These are the casualties in the ceaseless warfare to maintain the human race on the earth.

Dr. Pusey, a former President of the American Medical Association says:--“It is women who bear the penalties of too frequent childbearing--penalties of injury, disease, death and mental torture. They have a right to know how they can intelligently, not crudely and dangerously, control their sexual lives. And they are justified by the highest considerations in fighting vigorously and persistently until they have this right granted to them.”

The subjection of women in sexual as in other ways may have had a survival value for the human race. But with increasing knowledge, intelligence and inventions masses of human beings are dominated by small groups who though fewer in number are vastly superior in education, in discipline and in training and therefore in standards of living. Fewer but fitter children is the best survival policy for today.

In India this is exemplified in a thousand ways and it is a tragedy that Mahatma Gandhi should not see it. In one direction there is hope, in reply to questions from Mrs. Kutten Nair on the morality of bringing defective children into the world the Mahatma said, “As regards sterilisation I consider it inhuman to impose it as a law on the people. But in the case of individuals with chronic diseases, it is desirable to have them sterilized if they are for it. Sterilization is a sort of contraceptive and though I am against the use of contraceptives in the case of women, I do not mind voluntary sterilisation in the case of man, since he is the aggressor.”

I conclude this brief glimpse of my impressions of the world figure Mahatma Gandhi with a self-revealing quotation from himself taken from Young India for October 1921,

“We must not surrender our reason into anybody’s keeping. Blind surrender to love is often more mischievous than forced surrender to the lash of the tyrant. There is hope for the slave of the brute, non for that of love.”

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Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project