Sterilisation in India

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Recently the UK newspaper, the Independent, has published an article about the Jhunjhunu district of Rajasthan in India, where there is a statewide target to sterilise 1% of the population.  

Of course the state officials cannot do so through coercion - that would be too much like eugenics! And last time that India tried forced sterilisation it proved to be “deeply controversial”:

“…the country's efforts at confronting the issue have had mixed and often deeply controversial results. In the 1970s, Sanjay Gandhi, son of the then prime minister Indira Gandhi, oversaw a programme enacted during the State of Emergency in which unknown numbers of women were forced to be sterilised and men made to have vasectomies.”

Instead of forcing people to have sterilisation operations, officials at the national and the state level have turned to incentives:

“Technically, paying people to undergo the operations is illegal. But the Ministry of Health has established a scheme that pays those who have the procedure for "loss of earnings". A man receives 1,100 rupees (£15) while a woman pockets 600. Anyone who brings willing patients to the clinic – a so-called "motivator" – pockets 200 rupees.”

While this could perhaps be defended as removing a financial barrier for those who would wish to have the operation but cannot afford the time off work, it seems that at least some are having the operation in order to receive the money:

“Asked why his wife had the operation rather than him, he replied that he intended to return and have it done as well. When officials explained with a laugh why it was not necessary, he insisted: "I have the right to have it done and to collect the money."”

Rajasthan has also hit upon a new way to get around the problem that the number of people having sterilisation drop off during the monsoon months of July, August and September as many are too busy working in the fields and are concerned about “a perceived risk of infection during the damp, humid weather”.  This year, officials have decided to give all those who undergo the operation during the monsoon months a ticket for an upcoming raffle – prizes have been donated by a local university and include a Tata Nano car, motorbikes and electric food blenders.  Despite these prizes, the chief medical officer of the district, Sitaram Sharma is not sanguine about the 1% target being reached anytime soon:

"Last year around 10,000 people had the operation [in Juhnjhunnu district], but the target was 16,000. This year the target is 21,000 but I don't think we will reach it," he said.

Perhaps the only way to get there will be to re-introduce compulsory sterilisation...But who then would choose the 1%?

Before we get too high and mighty and start tut-tutting this terrible, gimmicky practice, over at Spiked, Patrick Hayes has written an interesting article drawing comparisons between the material incentives offered in Rajasthan and the moral pressure heaped upon us in the West. 

According to Hayes:

“…while the Indian government is effectively blackmailing people into sterilisation through cash payments and a chance to win a car, here in the West moral pressure is used to encourage us to stop having more kids. So if it’s not Population Matters’ ‘Stop at Two pledge’, urging us to take a ‘green step towards environmental survival for us all’ – and vocally condemning those such as the Beckhams who choose to have more than two kids – then it’s others warning of the way in which increased population growth will lead to lower living standards and ever scarcer energy and food.”

Hayes is firmly of the view that the scaremongering about population growth today is unfounded:

“Whether it is the Reverend Thomas Malthus’ predictions in the eighteenth century about impending famines, or Paul Ehrlich’s prophesises about hundreds of millions dying as a result of lack of resources in the 1970s, such miserable prognoses of population crises have never failed to be wrong. And for a good reason: they turn all socio-economic problems into demographic ones and neglect the socio-economic solutions, such as improved production techniques.”

He also makes the point about those arguing for population reduction – just what is the “optimum” level of human population? How do we reach that optimum level and why is it that number and not a few million more or less?  Or a few thousand more or less? Or even one human being more or less?  I will leave the last words to Hayes:

“Sad as it is to see healthy young women in India encouraged to sacrifice their fecundity to satisfy misplaced and arbitrary government targets, it isn’t so different to the moral pressure being heaped upon us Westerners to have smaller families. Instead of simply criticising the gimmicky nature of the Indian government’s scheme, we need instead to tackle the heart of the problem: the false, widespread belief that more people equals more problems, rather than more problem-solvers.”

MORE ON THESE TOPICS | India, Sterilisation

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Welcome to Demography Is Destiny. We launched this to counter two media memes: that humans are a cancer which is destroying our planet and that world population is spiralling to unsustainable levels. The real story is that intelligent and inventive humans will rise to the challenge of climate change and that our real problem is the coming demographic winter. The editors of Demography is Destiny are Marcus and Shannon Roberts, who live in Auckland, New Zealand. Send them your comments and suggestions. 

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