India’s Family Plan

Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi was the third Prime Minister of the Republic of India for three consecutive terms from 1966 to 1977 and for a fourth term from 1980 until her assassination in 1984, for a total of fifteen years.

Gandhi used her dictatorship to effect a rapid ‘modernization’ of a country she considered dangerously ‘backward’. Her modernization program had progressive goals – universal literacy, the elimination of slums in the big cities, a more equal distribution of land in the countryside – but it was pursued in brutal and quixotic ways. Slums were eliminated not by the provision of new and better housing, but with bulldozers. Production was raised by banning strikes.

The most notorious part of the Gandhi regime’s ‘modernization’ program was the ‘family planning’ campaign.

Advances in health care and the end of the mass famines that had marked British rule meant that India’s population had increased markedly since independence in 1947.

 This “population bomb”, as it has been describe, has a devastating impact on limited resources, political management, and planned development. The control of disease in the past 80 years has brought a rapid decline in the death rate. From 251 million in 1921, India’s population more than doubled by 1971, reaching 548 million.
The population in 2006 was estimated to be about 1.1 billion and is expected to reach 1.6 billion by 2051. the annual rate of population growth increased from 1.1 % between 1921 and 1931 to 2.2 % between 1961 and 1981.

At the present growth rate, india’s population will surpass China’s by the middle of the century.

Indira Gandhi decided that population growth must be slowed to cut down demand for domestic food production, and to allow more exports of rice and other crops. She ignored the fact that, in the absence of any real social security system, many Indian parents saw large families as an essential source of labour and as a promise of support in old age.

To reduce birth rates the Government of India has undertaken one of the most extensive family-planning programs in the world. Media had a huge part in the propaganda; posters, radio and films proclaimed that “a small family is a happy family”.

Greg Bathon an American executive working in the Indian marketplace explains:

There were then, out of a population of some 600 million, more pregnant women in India than the entire population of Australia. So we were asked to work on the development of a national birth control program. We came up with a slogan, do ya tin bhaccha bas-in Hindi, “two or three children are enough,” and we superimposed that on a big triangle-shaped logo that ran on posters all over the country. Soon people got so used to seeing the triangle that even without words it would whisper ‘do ya tin bhaccha bas’


 We weren’t through yet! The little Philips transistor radios were very popular: You’d see men all over walking along the streets holding them up to their ears. In two short weeks we sent sales of Philips transistor radios into a death spiral with a campaign promising a free transistor radio to every man who signed up for a vasectomy.


From 1952 until mid 1976, more than 19million men had undergone voluntary sterilization in 1976

Transistor radios were distributed for free, blatantly used to promote the government’s family plan, to men who volunteered for a vasectomy.

 A man who lived through that period explains

People underwent the vasectomy just to get the free radio because on the black market this would have sold for 2-3 weeks wages.
Also many of the poorly educated country people and the beggars were so ill-informed of what they were losing in order to get the radio, that they didn’t see why they shouldn’t line up again to get a second one.


Posted by Helena Salvo

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