Sterilisation in India


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

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

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

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.”


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