Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
By D. Napal
The rejected applications for admissions in our government and aided colleges, the thousands of school-age children unable to find space in our primary schools, the crowds queuing up at the gates of our hospitals – struggling between life and death for lack of proper medical aid, the paupers invading the Public Assistance Department for some morsel to keep body and soul together, all these point but in one direction: overpopulation in Mauritius has become a serious problem.
This problem is not confined to our island. It affects different parts of the world. Finding means to increase productivity and recourse to emigration have been envisaged in different countries. But at best these can serve only as palliatives. They only postpone the issue. There is only one way out. It is family planning.
Is planned family life immoral? Is it unnatural? Is it irreligious? These are the questions around which controversy has raged for more than a quarter of a century.
It can be contended that it is unnatural, but then every amenity of civilized life from our morning shave to the airship which we so often use to conquer the blind forces of nature is unnatural. In so far as religion is concerned, the protestant churches not only do not oppose it but recommend and even encourage contraception to promote individual health and international peace. Prof Radhakrishnan in his ‘Religion and Society’ puts forth the Hindu point of view and suggests that family planning can be resorted to if it is in the interests of society — “The Hindu dharma gives us a programme of rules and regulations which permit their constant change. The rules of dharma are the mortal flesh of immortal ideas and so are mutable.”
The Islam faith, on its part, has in recent years given a clear ruling in favour of contraceptives. The Grand Mufti of the Egyptian Realm issued on the 25th January 1937, the injunction that it is permissible for either husband or wife by mutual consent to take any measure, either natural or artificial, in order to prevent conception.
In almost all civilized countries the question no longer arises whether planned family life is good or bad. The battles around this question have long been fought and won. However, of all these countries, India’s problems in this respect should be of more interest to us as the majority of the Mauritian population comprise of people of Indian descent. The problem of Indians on the subcontinent in this connection are to a great extent those of Indo-Mauritians as well.
An exhaustive analysis of the problem of birth control in India has been made by Dr S. Chandrasekhar, in his recent book ‘Population and Planned Parenthood in India’. Chandrasekhar points out that annually 200,000 mothers die from causes connected with child birth, that a hundred out of every thousand women are doomed to die during childbirth and that 150 out of every 1000 live-births die before they reach their birthday. He then makes a case for birth control in India with remarkable eloquence.
“The premature deaths of thousands of these mothers and children represent not only a social and economic problem of fundamental national importance but, on humanitarian grounds alone, a problem that cries for solution because they need not have died when they did. Their tiny ‘graves’ seem to echo the wish of Euripides: “Not to be born is the best and to die as soon as possible is the next best.”
Fortunately, those who run the government in India have not ignored the question of birth control. The Indian National Congress as far back as in 1935 set up a National Planning Committee under the chairmanship of Jawaharlal Nehru. One of the resolutions of that Committee runs thus:
“In the interests of social economy, family happiness and national planning, family planning and a limitation of children are essential and the State should adopt a policy to encourage these.”
The first Five Year Plan brought out in 1951 by the Planning Commission under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru took a bold stand with regard to the needs of family planning in India. It made provisions “in government hospitals and health centres of advice on methods of family planning for married persons, field experiments on different methods of family planning for the purposes of determining their suitability, acceptability and effectiveness in different sections of the population, development of suitable procedures to educate the people on family planning methods.”
Moreover, in the same year, the Indian government requested the World Health Organization to provide the services of a planned parenthood expert. Since that time, birth control clinics were opened in different places in India, sponsored by government, municipal and local authorities as well as by individual or private bodies. It is hoped that here is a happy solution to the problems of poverty, disease and premature deaths.
May we Mauritians cease to view with callous complacency the grim pictures of pain, poverty and disease around us! Unfortunately, government which took up the question in 1953 has since gone to sleep upon this important matter. We shall, in another article deal with the attitude of government towards this vital problem in our colony.
* Published in print edition on 23 March 2021
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