20th September 2019
EXTRACT FROM ROBERT ZUBRIN’S MERCHANTS OF DESPAIR
Since the time of Malthus, India has always been a prime target in the eyes of would-be population controllers. Both the British colonial administrators and the high-caste Brahmins who succeeded them in power following independence in 1947 looked upon the “teeming masses” of that nation’s lower classes with fear and disdain. Jawaharlal Nehru’s Congress Party (which controlled India’s national government for its first three decades without interruption) had been significantly influenced by pre-independence contacts with the pro-Malthusian British Fabian Society. Notable members of the native elite, such as the influential and formidable Lady Rama Rau, had found Margaret Sanger and her ideas quite appealing.11 Thus during the 1950s and early 1960s, the Indian government allowed organizations like the Population Council, the Ford Foundation, and the IPPF to set up shop within the country’s borders, where they could set about curbing the reproduction of the nation’s Dalits, or “untouchables.” The government did not, however, allocate public funds to these organizations, so their programs remained relatively small.
Things changed radically in 1965, when war with Pakistan threw the country’s economy into disarray, causing harvest failure and loss of revenue. When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi—Nehru’s daughter —assumed office in January 1966, India was short twenty million tons of grain and lacked money to buy replacement stock on the world market. She was left with no choice but to go to the United States, hat in hand, to beg for food aid.
There was a lot that the United States could have asked for in return from India, such as support for the Western side in the Cold War (India was non-aligned), and particularly for the war effort in nearby Vietnam, which was heating up rapidly. One of President Lyndon Johnson’s aides, Joseph Califano, suggested in a memo to the president that the United States move rapidly to commit food aid in order to secure such a pro-American tilt. In reply he got a call from Johnson that very afternoon. “Are you out of your fucking mind?” the president exploded. He declared in no uncertain terms that he was not going to “piss away foreign aid in nations where they refuse to deal with their own population problems.” Population control initiative architect Bob Komer, who had recently been promoted to the post of National Security Advisor, was delighted. “We finally have the Indians where you’ve wanted them ever since last April,” he wrote to President Johnson. “From now on we hinge aid to performance.” 12
Indira Gandhi arrived in Washington in late March and met first with Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who handed her a memo requiring “a massive effort to control population growth” as a condition for food aid. Then on March 28, 1966, she met privately with the president. There is no record of their conversation, but it is evident that she capitulated completely. Two days later, President Johnson sent a message to Congress requesting food aid for India, noting with approval: “The Indian government believes that there can be no effective solution of the Indian food problem that does not include population control.”13
[Sanjeev: This probably explains the mass mania in Indira Gandhi’s time against population]
In accordance with the agreement, sterilization and IUD-insertion quotas were set for each Indian state, and then within each state for each local administrative district. Every hospital in the country had a large portion of its facilities commandeered for sterilization and IUD-INSERTION activities. (The IUDs, which were provided to the Indian government by the Population Council, were non-sterile.14 In Maharashtra province, 58 percent of women surveyed who received them experienced pain, 24 percent severe pain, and 43 percent severe and excessive bleeding.15) But hospitals alone did not have the capacity to meet the quotas, so hundreds of sterilization camps were set up in rural areas, manned and operated by paramedical personnel who had as little as two days of training. Minimum quotas were set for the state-salaried camp medics—they had to perform 150 vasectomies or 300 IUD insertions per month each, or their pay would be docked. Private practitioners were also recruited to assist, with pay via piecework: 10 rupees per vasectomy and 5 rupees per IUD insertion.16
To acquire subjects for these ministrations, the Indian government provided each province with 11 rupees for every IUD insertion, 30 per vasectomy, and 40 per tubectomy. These funds could be divided according to the particular population control plan of each provincial government, with some going to program personnel, some spent as commission money to freelance “motivators,” some paid as incentives to the “acceptors,” and some grafted for other governmental or private use by the administrators. Typical incentives for subjects ranged from 3 to 7 rupees for an IUD insertion and 12 to 25 rupees for a sterilization. These sums may seem trivial—a 1966 rupee is equivalent to 65 cents today—but at that time, 2 to 3 rupees was a day’s pay for an Indian laborer. When these pittances did not induce enough subjects to meet the quotas, some states adopted additional “incentives”: Madhya Pradesh, for example, denied irrigation water to villages that failed to meet their quotas.17 Faced with starvation, millions of impoverished people had no alternative but to submit to sterilization. As the forms of coercion employed worked most effectively on the poorest, the system also provided the eugenic bonus of doing away preferentially with untouchables.18
The results were impressive. In 1961, the total number of sterilizations (vasectomies and tubectomies combined) performed in India was 105,000. In 1966–67, the yearly total shot up to 887,000, growing further to more than 1 .8 million in 1967–68.19 No doubt, LBJ was proud.
But while ruining the lives of millions of people, the steep rise in sterilization figures had little impact on the overall trajectory of India’s population growth. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich wrote in The Population Bomb, “I have yet to meet anyone familiar with the situation who thinks India will be self sufficient in food by 1971, if ever,”20 thus justifying his explicitly antihuman call that we “must allow [India] to slip down the drain.”21 As in so many other things, Ehrlich was wrong; India did achieve self-sufficiency in food in 1971—not through population control, but through the improved agricultural techniques of the Green Revolution. It did not matter. The holders of the purse-strings at USAID demanded even higher quotas. They got them. By 1972–73, the number of sterilizations in India reached three million per year.22
Then, in the fall of 1973, OPEC launched its oil embargo, quintupling petroleum prices virtually overnight. For rich nations like the United States, the resulting financial blow was severe. For poor countries like India, it was devastating. In 1975, conditions in India became so bad that Prime Minister Gandhi declared a state of national emergency and assumed dictatorial power. Driven once again to desperation, she found herself at the mercy of the World Bank, led by arch-Malthusian Robert S. McNamara.
McNamara made it clear: if India wanted more loans, Gandhi needed to use her powers to deal more definitively with India’s supposed population problem. She agreed. Instead of incentives, force would now be used to obtain compliance. “Some personal rights have to be kept in abeyance,” she said, “for the human rights of the nation, the right to live, the right to progress.”23
Gandhi put her son Sanjay personally in charge of the new population offensive. He took to his job with gusto. Overt coercion became the rule: sterilization was a condition for land allotments, water, electricity, ration cards, medical care, pay raises, and rickshaw licenses. Policemen were given quotas to nab individuals for sterilization. Demolition squads were sent into slums to bulldoze houses—sometimes whole neighborhoods—so that armed police platoons could drag off their flushed-out occupants to forced-sterilization camps. In Delhi alone, 700,000 people were driven from their homes. Many of those who escaped the immediate roundup were denied new housing until they accepted sterilization.24
Mass sterilization camp in India.
These attacks provoked resistance, with thousands being killed in battles with the police, who used live ammunition to deal with protesters.25 When it became clear that Muslim villages were also being selectively targeted, the level of violence increased still further.26 The village of Pipli was only brought into submission when government officials threatened locals with aerial bombardment. As the director of family planning in Maharashtra explained, “You must consider it something like a war. . . . Whether you like it or not, there will be a few dead people.”27
The measures served their purpose. During 1976, eight million Indians were sterilized. Far from being dismayed by the massive violation of human rights committed by the campaign, its foreign sponsors expressed full support. Sweden increased its funding for Indian population control by $17 million. USAID population czar Reimert Ravenholt ordered 64 advanced laparoscope machines—altogether sufficient to sterilize 12,800 people per day—rushed to India to help the effort.28 World Bank president McNamara was absolutely delighted. In November 1976, he traveled to India to congratulate Indira Gandhi’s government for its excellent work. “At long last,” he said, “India is moving effectively to address its population problem.”29
Prime Minister Gandhi got her loans. She also got the boot in 1977, when in the largest democratic election in history, the people of India defied three decades of precedent and voted her Congress Party out of power in a landslide.30
Unfortunately, in most Third World countries, people lack such an option to protect themselves against population control. Equally unfortunately, despite the fall of the Gandhi government, the financial pressure on India from the World Bank and USAID to implement population control continued.31 By the early 1980s, four million sterilizations were being performed every year on India’s underclasses as part of a coercive two-child-per-family policy.32
Since in rural India sons are considered essential to continue the family line and provide support for parents in their old age, this limit caused many families to seek means of disposing of infant daughters, frequently through drowning, asphyxiation, abandonment in sewers or garbage dumps, or incineration on funeral pyres.33 More recently the primary means of eliminating the less-desirable sex has become sex-selective abortion, skewing the ratio of the sexes so that 112 boys are born for every hundred girls in India (far beyond the natural ratio of 103 to 106).34 A sense of the scale on which these murders were and are practiced, even just in the aspect of gendercide, can be gleaned from the fact that in India today there are 37 million more men than women.35