Planning the Family, Planning the Nation -Aprajita Sarcar

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published Published on May 7, 2021   modified Modified on Apr 11, 2021

Aprajita Sarcar is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre de Sciences Humaines, New Delhi. She works on histories of reproductive technology, population control and their links to urbanisation in India.

India’s family planning programme advertised the small middle-class family as a means to develop the nation. But its top-down approach meant that sterilisations became the default contraceptive option for poor and working class women. This legacy persists.

In a letter to the editor of the Times of India in 1951, an irate citizen from the south Indian town of Belgaum wrote about the national concerns around fertility control. According to F. Correia-Afonso, the act of planning for a family was attached to the economic well-being of the nation. In that context, he doubted whether the Family Planning Association of India (FPA), founded in 1949 to advocate birth control, could undertake such an exercise. Correia-Afonso argued that the sole purpose of the FPA was to offer contraceptives and to expect anything more would be foolish.

In 1951, four years after Independence, India was just about starting on a long road to population control and family planning. Letters like Correia-Afonso’s showed how the concept of family planning was yet to appear ‘natural’ to its intended audience. India’s educated classes were still trying to understand the process and its end goal. The link between family planning and economic planning was yet to become explicit.

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