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Reproductive Restraints

Reproductive Restraints: Birth Control in India, 1877-1947

Sanjam Ahluwalia
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Reproductive Restraints
    Book Description:

    Reproductive Restraints traces the history of contraception use and population management in colonial India, while illuminating its connection to contemporary debates in India and birth control movements in Great Britain and the United States. Sanjam Ahluwalia draws attention to the history of Indian birth control by including western activists such as Margaret Sanger and Marie Stopes alongside important Indian campaigners. In revealing the elitist politics of middle-class feminists, Indian nationalists, Western activists, colonial authorities, and the medical establishment, Ahluwalia finds that they all sought to rationalize procreation and regulate women while invoking competing notions of freedom, femininity, and family. _x000B__x000B_Ahluwalia's remarkable interviews with practicing midwives in rural northern India fills a gaping void in the documentary history of birth control and shows that the movement has had little appeal to nonelite groups in India. She argues that elitist birth control efforts failed to account for Indian women's values and needs and have worked to restrict reproductive rights rather than liberate subaltern Indian women since colonial times. _x000B__x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09038-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    When I first began to think of working on this project many (too many!) years ago as a graduate student at the University of Delhi, I wanted to write a history of the birth control movement in India. As a feminist and a historian,¹ and with my interest in feminist activism, I had hoped to write a narrative to document how women wrested control of their own bodies, sexuality, and fertility in a patriarchal world. Even then, though, I was a little troubled by the fact that all around me, birth control was rhetorically more a critique of less-privileged sections...

  5. 1 Demographic Rhetoric and Sexual Surveillance: Indian Middle-Class Advocates of Birth Control, 1877–1947
    (pp. 23-53)

    Narayan Sitaram Phadke, making a case for wider dissemination of contraceptive knowledge and usage in colonial India, conjured up a highly negative animalistic imagery of working-class subaltern procreative practices and of their domestic dwellings. From his elitist location, national goals of development, progress, and modernization were understood as being endangered on account of irresponsible sexual “breeding” among India’s poor and marginal social groups. Phadke’s words reveal blatant elitist condemnation of subaltern lifestyles and sexuality. However, as will become evident later in this chapter, his was not an isolated position among early middle-class and upper-caste Indian male advocates for birth control....

  6. 2 Global Agenda and Local Politics: Western Advocates and Discourse of Birth Control in Colonial India, 1920s–40s
    (pp. 54-84)

    The previous chapter demonstrated the history of the birth control movement in India as inextricably tied to the project of nationalism and nation building. This chapter demonstrates how this is a history that cannot be adequately grasped strictly within national boundaries or nationalist constructs. The chapter is also a critical appraisal of the involvement of Western birth control advocates such as Marie Stopes, Margaret Sanger, Edith How-Martyn, and Eileen Palmer in promoting contraceptive usage in colonial India during the early decades of the twentieth century. In 1921, Stopes, along with her husband Humphery Verdon Roe, opened the first English birth...

  7. 3 Polyvocality, Ambivalence, and Negotiations: Indian Middle-Class Feminism and Debates on Birth Control in Nationalist India, 1920s–40s
    (pp. 85-114)

    Elite nationalist concerns, particularly with limiting population, attenuated the agenda of India’s early male advocates of birth control. Race (as well as class) played a role in limiting the possibilities articulated by Western women advocates of birth control in colonial India. It is logical to expect that when Indian women themselves took up the issue, especially those we consider to be at the vanguard of the feminist movement in India, that birth control would come into its own as a feminist issue. This chapter examines the debates on birth control among Indian middle-class feminists from the 1920s to independence in...

  8. 4 A Fractured Discourse: Colonial Attitudes on Birth Control in the Twentieth Century
    (pp. 115-142)

    The two official statements above, nearly a decade apart, capture well the colonial disarticulations on the subject of birth control. In 1936, Viceroy Linlithgow expressed a keen desire to manage Indian fecundity to confront what he considered to be an “over-growth of population.” According to him, the increase in population led to stunted growth and progress in colonial India. He also believed that policing fertility in India would ensure eugenically “better babies.” Nearly a decade later, the Famine Commission Report in 1945 expressed colonial reluctance to regulate Indian sexual and reproductive practices out of a fear of public hostility. Together...

  9. 5 Untrained ″Professionals″: Medical Practitioners and the Politics of Birth Control in Colonial India, 1920–47
    (pp. 143-172)

    Contending traditions of biomedicine,AyurvedaandUnani, shaped the medical landscape in colonial India in the early twentieth century. These different medical traditions and practitioners jostled with each other to gain hegemonic control over the Indian body, for none of them enjoyed universal acceptance or unquestioned authority among Indians in the early twentieth century. When we examine the medical landscape through the birth control lens, it becomes evident that neither biomedical nor indigenous practitioners had come to a consensus among themselves on this subject. In terms of their knowledge, experience, or professional training, the different practitioners of medicine were far...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 173-186)

    The chapters in this book outline the dominant historical sentiments on birth control that various indigenous and Western elites in colonial India articulated during the early twentieth century. The voices of middle-class Indian male nationalists, Western enthusiasts, middle-class feminists—Indian and Western, members of the biomedical profession, and indigenous medical practitioners, along with colonial officials—British and native, were privileged in the public debates on birth control. To undercut an impression that elite articulations were internally coherent and homogenous, the preceding chapters highlight internal paradoxes that marked the debates on the subject among various proponents and opponents of contraceptive usage....

  11. Notes
    (pp. 187-218)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-240)
  13. Index
    (pp. 241-251)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 252-254)