Margaret Sanger, "Birth Control International Centres Tour in India 1935-1936," 29 Mar 1936.

Published Article. Source: The Senator, Mar. 29, 1936, pp. 4-7. , Margaret Sanger Microfilm S71:0829 .

Birth Control International Centres Tour in India 1935-1936

By Mrs. Margaret Sanger

March 29, 1936.

After ten weeks in India Ceylon, Burma and Malaya we are now speeding on our way to China.

In the short interval of leisure on this China-bound ship, I want to give the friends who have helped with the tour in India a brief account of the outstanding events of the ten crowded weeks Mrs. How-Martyn, Miss. Phillips, and I spent in India and my visit to Malaya and Burma.

There was little time to record for our friends at home our impressions as we traveled through India. There was so much to do. We wanted to devote every hour to the tasks most vital to the birth control movement.

Every where there was an eagerness to hear about birth control. All the dubious and dismal prognostications as to religious objections of Hindus and Mohammedans have proven false in my experience. As in other countries the opposition came from the Roman Catholics and in India this weak opposition was expressed by foreign born priests and a few Eurasians.

The masses in India as in other countries desire means to limit the size of the family. The problem there as elsewhere is how to supply the demand and to direct the practical application of birth control into the classes where it is most urgently needed.

I entirely agree with Sir Jonn Megaw’s recent suggestion that a plan is wanted for India and that “contrary to the usual belief, educated Indians were willing and even eager to consider any means of dealing with the evil of over-population; the chief prejudice was encountered among Europeans who wrongly imagined that Indians were antagonistic to any suggestions to reform their ancient customs.”


The Indian Census report of 1931 showed an increase of 34 million people in 10 years. Colonel Russell, the Commissioner for Public Health in India, states in his last report for the year 1933 that since 1931 there has been an increase of nearly 20 millions and that the total population of India is not less than 370 million people.

\“There seems little doubt” he says, “that by 1941 when the next census is taken, the population of India will considerably exceed 400 millions and later adds that the problem of numbers in India “a question of which will shortly force itself upon the attention of every man and woman in this country, it is to be hoped that it will receive adequate notice before disaster befalls.”

\“Each year in India 1 and 3/4 million babies die below one year of age and half the children born are dead before 5 years of age. The high maternal death rate costs the lives of 2,000,000 girls and women every year.

These facts are in no way minimized by the increasing efforts in the form of infant welfare work which scarcely touch the fringe of the problem. Indeed by saving infant lives the problems of older children are greatly increased especially where there is already insufficient food and where the earning power of the parents is inadequate to provide for those already born and desperately struggling for existence. Such societies and organizations, eager to save infants from early death, must prepare themselves to carry those infants through the ages of childhood and possibly on to the age where they can be self supporting. Birth control instruction to these mothers would be a godsend. Its application to this class of defendants would establish in the country a basis for sound social and humanitarian works, producing good results almost immediately. Without birth control instruction these well meaning but, planless efforts become not only dysgenic but chaotic. This class of defendants is likely to become financially insupportable and unmanageable unless the intention is to steer a straight course for a Communistic society.

While it is difficult, even impossible, at this stage of the tour to gauge accurately the results of the work, I can say from the letters, interviews, questions and favourable publicity as well as from the large number of invitations to speak, that Indian public opinion is favorable to the acceptance of the idea of contraception and eager and anxious to learn of reliable methods. Future action will depend upon medical and official direction and the availability of supplies.

Much work is necessary, especially in the towns and villages, and should go hand in hand with maternal and infant welfare activities.

To give a diary summary of the tour would be too lengthy. Some idea of the work accomplished can be gained from the following bare facts:

Miss Phillips and I traveled over 10,000 miles, including 21 nights spent on spacious but jumpy railway trains. Three weeks out of the 10 weks were spent in actual travel on trains. I visited 18 cities and towns and addressed 64 meetings. Besides these formal meetings I had conferences with scores of government and city officials, mayors, governors, magistrates -- scientists, health directors, heads of hospitals and other public and private institutions, and with dozens of men and women who are leaders of public opinion in India, including Jaharwalal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Mrs. Sarojini Naidu, the Maharaja and Maharani of Baroda, the Dewan of Mysore and the Maharani of Travancore. Miss Phillips and I were state guests in four cities.

Mrs. How-Martyn travelled about 6,500 miles, speant 12 nights on railroad trains and occupied 12 days out of her time in India travelling. She visited 16 cities, towns and villages and addressed 41 meetings. The total number of our meetings was 105 and included 32 with medical organizations. At each of the medical meetings addressed I showed the biological films prepared in New York. They aroused much interest among the doctors and raised the subject from the field of propaganda into the realm of science.

While Mrs. How-Martyn and I met in Bombay and again in Madras and Rangoon, we did not travel a single mile together in India so that the total mileage covered was 16,500 miles. There was no overlapping of duplication of efforts. While Mrs. How-Martyn and Mrs. Palmer went to various cities together, Miss Phillips and I went elsewhere.

While there were many more requests for us to address medical and social groups in various places we feel that we have covered the most important and influential parts of India by our work.

Village work must be taken up by those who can speak the vernacular. Our meetings necessarily had to be directed to an English speaking public.


While there is yet no national organization working solely for birth control some provincial and local groups are building up the nucleus for a national movement.

First and foremost is the work done by Dr. A.P. Pillay in Bombay in starting his Eugenic Clinic, in founding the Journal of Marriage Hygiene and following that up by organising the new Society for the Study and Promotion of Family Hygiene which came into being on December, 1, 1935. This centre in Bonbay is the outstanding place where information on birth control can be obtained in India. The magazine, although prohibited from entering the United States, is considered the finest on the subject at present in circulation in the world. It goes to all other countries and is building up a fine circulation wherever it is known. Financial assistance is urgently needed and unless it comes soon it will be difficult for Dr. Pillay to keep afloat on his own resources which he has generously used to launch his magazine.

The Madras Neo-Malthusian League, founded by Sir Vepa Ramesam in 1928, carries on educational birth control work in Madras where there is bitter Roman Catholic opposition. This League has on its board many distinguished personalities including two Maharajas a high court judge, an editor the principal of the National Academy in Triplicane, and several prominent attorneys.

A 16 page magazine is issued and it is possible that this League will form the nucleus of a large network of centres covering the South of India. Already contacts have been made through interest our meetings have aroused and Sir Vepa, a retired Judge of no small vision, has immediately availed himself of every opportunity to tie up this new interest with the organized group for future activity.

At Calicut, on the southwest coast, the local organization is known as the Birth Control Information Centre, with Dr. Manjeri Sundaram as its medical director. This centre has fine future possibilities. It has real interest and enthusiasm behind it. It serves not only as an educational centre for the general public but with the establishment of a clinic will become a valuable asset to the Indian movement.

Besides these major centres, Calcutta, Poona, Mysore City and Bangalore have clinics which are working along, perhaps with not the same rapididty, but with great promise of future development.

During my tour I left fifty gynaeplaques, along with supplies, in places where information will be given out. Each of these centres, I am promised will form a centre for the dissemination of birth control information.


Since many national conferences are held about the time of Christmas and New Year, we could attend only the most important. Naturally the most important was the All India Women’s Conference at Trivandrun, Travancore, to which I had been invited as a speaker. Following my address and a general discussion of the subject, the conference passed a resolution in favor of establishing birth control clinics by a vote of 24 to 85 over bitter Roman Catholic opposition. All but one of the women who opposed the resolution were unmarried and the majority were western-born.

We were both invited to attend the first All India Obstetric and Gynacological Congress, opened in Madras by His Excellency Lord Erskine and presided over by Dr. Ida Scudder. I gave an address and showed the biological film at an open session of the Congress.

At the All India Medical Conference, where Mrs. How-Martyn spoke, the following resolution was passed with no dissentions. “This Conference recommends that instruction in Conception Control Methods should form part of the curriculum in Medical Colleges and Schools.” Mrs. How-Martyn also spoke at the annual meeting of the Tinnevelly Medical Association where there was general agreement that contraception technique should be included in the medical curriculum.

Both of us were invited to address the Bombay Corporation on “What Municipalities in the West have been doing to promote Birth Control.” The Mayor, Mr. K. F. Nariman, was in the chair. About three weeks later the Corporation, after a heated debate, on the motion of Mr. M. R. Masani, carried by a majority of one vote a resolution to refer to a committee the question of given instruction in methods of birth control in municipal hospitals.

I was invited and accepted the invitation to preside over the first All India Population Conference, held at Lucknow. However, when the date of the conference was changed owing to the King’s death, it was impossible for me to go. In my message to the conference I urged that its members apply modern methods of science to the greatest problem facing India -- population, its growth, quality and distribution.

What may almost be termed nation-wide meetings were achieved when I broadcast from Bombay and Hyderabad Interest in the two lecture was shown by the many letters received which expressed appreciation of the broadcast.


Special mention should be made of the Press. Never at any time have I seen more space in newspapers and magazines devoted to a discussion of birth control than during the past two months in India. In interviews, reports of speeches and special articles the public has been given a clear idea of what birth control stands for and what birth control can do for India.

The Bombay Chronicle offered a prize for the best essay on birth control. The response was far beyond expectations and hundreds of essays poured in. The prize winning ones were published in full.

Grateful acknowledgments are made to those good friends who contributed toward the success of this tour. Special thanks are due to: Mr. Kaufman of Canada, whose generous donation toward the expenses made it possible for both Mrs. How-Martyn and Mrs. Palmer to go to India: to Mrs. Elmhirst; to Mrs. J. B. Rublee; to Mrs. Robert P. Bass whose contribution made possible the purchase of the medical films and of medical supplies; and also to an anonymous American contributor who supplied the 50 gynaeplaques for India and the same number for China. Without these films and supplies and necessary funds to pay the cost of customs duties, shipping, postal and other incidental charges we could never have accomplished as much work as we did in the limited time.

But I want to give a final message of thanks to the members of the All India Women’s Conference whose invitation to address them brought me to India where my vision has been given a new understanding of the problems confronting India and the Orient.

I have attended many meetings of women in my lifetime but I am sure that the conferences in Trivandrum will remain an outstanding inspiration in my life. I feel that this group of women has a great future before it in guiding the policy of a newly awakened nation and that its influence, direct and indirect, is greater than is generally realized. I found among these women an outspoken directness of opinion, a native fearlessness in facing issues as they are, and most important, the will and courage to face the consequences when principles are at stake.


The welcome to Malaya at Penang was a most enthusiastic one. We had no previous contacts on the island and few in all Malaya so that this was entirely new territory. Miss Phillips went on a few days before I did. Consequently I was immediately greeted by the director of Municipal Health Work who had arranged a meeting with the Penang branch of the British Medical Society. We had been warned that interest in meetings in Penang was slight so that I, as well as the health director, were surprised when every prominent physician on the island, Chinese as well as British, attended the meeting. The film was shown.

The chief medical officer of Penang then arranged another meeting for the following day with the nurses of the General Hospital and of the Maternity Hospital. Again I showed the film and gave a practical demonstration. The Lady Medical Officer of the Island then invited me to visit one of the largest Maternal Welfare Centres. there I gave a talk and demonstration which was interpreted into Chinese Malayan and Tamil. That night I gave a radio address and the following day spoke before the Penang Rotary Club at a luncheon meeting.

There were also many interviews with individual doctors and nurses, all of whom, although interested in the birth control movement, had never before had any contact with it. Press notices were also good, and columns, even after my departure, were devoted to a discussion of the subject.

In a hurried morning in Singapore I had two lectures one for the medical association, the other at the Young Women’s Christian Association. There were so many invitations to visit cities and towns in Malaya that I considered staying there for another week but a wire from Hong Kong told me that arrangements had been made for my reception there and I had to continue my journey according to schedule. What has been done in India is a drop in the bucket and any programme for the spread of international birth control should consider a five year plan of annual follow-up for India.

With sincere regard to all our friends and thanks for their helpfulness, encouragement and hospitality.

Most Cordially

(signed) Margaret Sangar.

By kind courtsey of

Mr. P. S. Sharma B.A.B.L. Advocate

Editor Birth Control Bulletin.

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Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project