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Margaret Sanger, "Birth Control in India," 26 Nov 1935.

Source: " Birth Control Part of Civilization, The Times of India, Nov. 27, 1935, p. 12."

Sanger spoke to the Society for the Study and Promotion of Family Hygiene at the Sir Cowasji Jehangir Hall in Bombay on Nov. 26, 1936. This summary was published as "Birth Control Part of Civilization," Times of India, Nov. 27, 1936; for rough hand written notes, see Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collection S71:760.

Birth Control Part of Civilization


A large audience, in which women were well represented, heard Mrs. Margaret Sanger, the American birth control expert, at the Sir Cowasji Jehangir Hall, Bombay, on Tuesday night. She explained convincingly the need for the propagation of knowledge of birth control in India. The meeting was organised by the Society for the Study and Promotion of Family Hygiene, and was presided over by Lt.-Col. S.S. Sokhey in the unavoidable absence of the Mayor. Those present included Sir A.M.K. Dehlavi, President of the Bombay Legislative Council; Sir Chunilal and Lady Mehta, Sir Nusserwanji Choksey, Lt.-Col. Jelal Shah, Mrs. Edith How-Martyn, Mrs. Kania, Mr. And Mrs. I.N. Mehta, Mrs. F.S. Talyarkhan, Mrs. Judah, Mr. K.C. Sen, Dr. Jivraj Mehta, Dr. Mrs. Malini Sukhtankar and Rao Bahadur S.K. Bole. Mrs. Sanger said that the hour for birth control had struck not only in the west but throughout the entire world. It was the most revolutionary idea of the twentieth century, and it had become a part of their civilisation. It was impossible to ignore it. Since the beginning of human society there had always existed some method to control population. Nature’s way of keeping down population lay in famines, floods, pestilences and other calamities, but the methods adopted now were quite different. There were two ways of controlling population: to increase the death rate and lower the birth rate, or to emigrate. Thanks to the national policies followed by the countries of the world, emigration had become an impossibility, except to the underpopulated regions of South America. The only alternative therefore was to increase the death-rate and decrease the birth-rate.

Nature’s Process Hindered

There were, however, factors operation in the world which hindered nature’s way of controlling population. The growth of humanitarianism, with its organised charities, philanthropic institutions and movements was interfering with Nature’s process of elimination of the undesirable and unfit types of people, who were being maintained at the expense of society. The existence of such a class of people was a danger to civilisation, as they were using up the energy and resources of the world, without in any way adding to them.

She said the two greatest problems of present day civilisation were pressure of population upon its means of subsistence, and the reconciliation of humanitarian ideals with projects to improve the race.

Mrs. Sanger declared that each child, before it was born, had a right to be assured of a decent standard of existence. It was the duty of parents to ascertain whether they could give a fair condition of existence to the child. Even nations subjected the entry of other peoples into the territories to severe tests.

Handicaps to Knowledge

The lecturer then contrasted large and small families, and observed that much of the misery noticed in large family groups could be avoided if people had a proper knowledge of the means of controlling a family’s numbers. The greatest handicaps in the way of carrying knowledge to the people were their prejudice, ignorance and financial inability to acquire such knowledge.

The lecturer said a period of two to four years should be allowed between each childbirth. No man or woman should undertake the duty of parenthood before they had passed the period of adolescence. No more children should be brought into the world than parents were economically able to take care of. There must be a period of adjustment after marriage during which the man might know the woman as a woman and not as a child-bearing machine.

Discussing modern methods of birth control, Mrs. Sanger said the first, which had the approval of all religions, was continence or celibacy. That, however, was possible only to a few and could not be forced on others. The second method was sterilisation of the unfit. A third method was the chemical process. That had to be employed according to the special needs of individuals.

Mrs. Sanger advocated the opening of clinics where men and women could get proper knowledge and materials for birth control. She urged the women of India to take a special interest in that respect.

New Race Evolving

She concluded. “We believe there is evolving in this world, through experiment, a new race. We believe that birth control and eugenic ideas are the corner-stones of this new structure.”

Sir Nusserwanji Choksey, proposing a vote of thanks to the speaker, asserted that birth control was a matter of vital importance to India.

Dr. A. S. Erulkar, while thanking Mrs. Sanger, said that he did not agree with her that continence was a method of birth control. As a doctor it was his view that continence in a normal person was not only impossible but positively undesirable.

Dr. Miss Jerbanoo E. Mistri seconding the vote of thanks, stated that medical women in Bombay thought that self-control was the best and most reliable means of birth control, but that being an ideal artificial birth control was a case of “needs must.” They did not approve it, however, to the extent of enabling married people to shirk the responsibilities of marriage. She declared that advice on birth control should be given by only qualified doctors and to married women only and that, too, on medical grounds.

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