Is required in India population control

"The others are always superfluous"

The anthropologist Shalini Randeria on the aporias of population policy.

Ms. Randeria, what were the motives for the West until recently to try to curb human reproduction in Asia and Africa?

The West’s anti-natalist policy emerged during the Cold War. The United States feared it would lose access to the natural resources of the south and that the communists would gain influence in the former colonies. First, private US foundations jointly funded population control programs with post-colonial governments. They shared the view that the high fertility of the poor is the main cause of their poverty and should therefore be controlled in the national interest. However, the population policy interventions of the West have a colonial history.

Contraceptives in the 19th century?

On the contrary: the colonial powers then pursued a pro-natalist policy because the colonies were a source of cheap labor. They tried to increase the fertility of the population, for example by introducing new marriage rules in India. So if the West first classified the colonies as underpopulated, after their independence it regarded them as overpopulated. Overpopulation ideology has little to do with population numbers.

The world population has increased almost fivefold since 1850. Hasn't politics reacted to this development?

It depends on how and for what purpose you interpret numbers. The Netherlands, one of the most densely populated countries in the world, is not considered overpopulated, nor is Switzerland, which is dependent on food imports. In contrast, thinly populated African countries are seen as overpopulated, as is India, which can feed its own population. I often have the feeling that I live in a schizophrenic world: while the Indian state operates population control with free sterilizations, in Europe the health insurances finance artificial insemination, and many countries try to stimulate the indigenous population to give birth. And migration policy is becoming more and more restrictive.

What bothers you about the different politics of India and Europe?

I don't mind the difference, but the western double standards. If a woman from Cameroon gives birth to several children, she is said to contribute to global overpopulation, but if the Swiss person buys two cars, he stimulates economic growth. The question of supposed overpopulation cannot be separated from the consumption of resources. The residents of the city of New York use more energy in one day than the entire African continent. If environmental protection is really important to you, you have to reduce the consumption of resources in the industrialized countries instead of worrying about the size of the families of foreign women in distant countries.

Why is India pursuing an anti-natalist population policy?

Malthus' teachings spread throughout the British Empire, including India, as early as the 19th century. The axiom that food production cannot keep up with population growth has since been part of the common sense of the Indian middle class. In addition, there has been pressure from international organizations since the 1950s.

Which people are generally targeted by antinatalism?

The others are always superfluous: the poor, the foreigners, the members of other religious communities. The question of quantity is always linked to the question of quality. In Israel there are fears that the Palestinians are over-multiplying. A few years ago, “Children instead of Indians” was a CDU slogan, and in the United States it is the poor black women who are giving birth to too many children. It's never just about the numbers, but always about who is allowed to reproduce and who is not.

Are those affected resisting?

In India, the forced sterilizations carried out on millions of poor men in the 1970s sparked protests. In the south, the women's movements resisted the instrumentalization of women's bodies for state purposes. There is resistance to women being misused as test objects for new contraceptive technologies.

Being able to decide for yourself whether you want a child or not is a concern of the women's movement. Have some women benefited from the anti-natalist development policy?

The liberal Western concept of self-determination is difficult to realize under conditions of great poverty and patriarchal pressures. Often women are crushed between the conflicting expectations of the family and the state. It is to be welcomed when the state provides contraceptives free of charge and thus promotes the reproductive rights of women. How women and men make use of it, however, depends on their idea of ​​the ideal family size. Desires for children vary depending on the country and level of education. The state should improve health care so that people can realize their wishes.

Shalini Randeria is Professor of Anthropology and Development Sociology at the Institut des hautes études internationales et du développement in Geneva.