Since gaining independence in 1947, India’s government has searched for strategies to keep its population small—India is the first country in the world to have a government family planning program. These population control efforts have been riddled with controversy, from forced male sterilization in the 1970s, to botched mass female sterilization procedures that killed 18 women in a single day in 2014. And while fertility rates in India have gone down, its population is still projected to be larger than China’s by 2024, which will make it the most populous country in the world.
Today, the Indian government’s official approach is to move away from contraceptive methods that are coercive and potentially dangerous and towards those that enhance reproductive health and empower women and families. But there is a long way to go before this way of thinking becomes a reality. Female sterilization is still the most popular method of contraception in India, even though the procedure is more invasive than other types of contraceptives, and even though it doesn’t allow women to space when they have children and give their bodies time to recover from childbirth. Scientists in India are working to change this— developing contraceptives for both women and men that could potentially be much less invasive to user’s bodies than those currently available. In this project, Hannah Harris Green explores the effects of coercive and negligent sterilization efforts on India’s population, as well as the hope for a more empowering future embodied in the new contraceptive technologies that are now in the pipeline.