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A Complex Concern

Rajarshi Dasgupta

By Mohan Rao
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 288, Rs. 380.00


At this juncture in history, when pointing at scapegoats has become even more shrill and oppressive, when the rise in population— and its corollary, rise in poverty—is blamed for all the social and economic ills in the country, Mohan Rao’s deep understanding of the complex issues gives us hope. If the reader assumes from the title that From Population Control to Reproductive Rights:  Malthusian Arithmetic is another yawn-inducing tome of dry data and incomprehensible graphs in the current mushrooming of publications on population as the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) marks its tenth anniversary—think again.   It is a powerful history and critique of our times, especially the family planning programme (FPP) that was meant to rein in the population ‘explosion’, considered the biggest social problem in the country, that for decades has obsessed policy makers and every one who matters. Mohan Rao traces the FPP since its inception in 1952 as the first of its kind in the world, analyses systematically the concepts that form the basis of the programme, engages with the various debates bringing the reader up-to-date with how the current buzz-word, ‘reproductive health’ followed the “paradigm shift” in the population control programme. The explanation attains even more clarity and significance as the contentious issue of population is placed in the broader social-economic and political framework.   The biggest support to the FPP was from the ubiquitous international advisors and donor agencies described as the “elbows of the Indian administrators”. Since the 1950s, when Ford Foundation held that “India’s rapid population growth was a major problem” and was “willing to consider appropriate aid in this field”, agencies like USAID have taken over to drive home the single agenda of meeting targets with incentives and flooding the programme with intra-uterine devices, injectibles and implants for women that were already rejected in the USA.  Significantly, though the proportion of aid never exceeded a tenth of the total budget, donor agencies continued to exert a disproportionate share of influence—especially in times of crisis like droughts and economic crisis.  In the 1990s, with countries like India struggling with the Structural Adjustment Programme to counter the economic crisis, the population lobby led by World Bank and Population Council added another feather to their cap as it steered a ‘consensus’ in Cairo to launch the reproductive right programme.   The FPP, the largest public health initiative in the world, is ...

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