Sterilise yourself and win a car!

The bribing of Indians to stop having babies is not that different to the moral blackmail used by Western Malthusians.

Patrick Hayes

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A gimmicky government initiative to incentivise sterilisation in India has been announced, giving poverty-stricken adults the chance to make some quick cash and win a car. All they have to do to be eligible is to get themselves sterilised.

There is no doubt that bribing the impoverished into sterility is a disturbing idea. But before some Westerners get carried away with condemnation, here’s something to consider: are material incentives to prevent people sprogging up in India much worse than the moral pressure heaped upon us to procreate less in the West?

The sterilisation-for-money scheme certainly does not make for uplifting reading. A recent edition of the Independent featured a photo of a row of young-looking Indian women, dressed in colourful saris, lying sprawled on a veranda floor. One woman in the foreground has a large bandage on her stomach. These women had recently been sterilised in a clinic in the Rajasthan town of Jhunjhunu, as part of the regional government initiative to reach its sterilisation targets.

This year Rajasthan is aiming to sterilise 21,000 people as part of a bid to deprive one per cent of the state’s population of their fertility. Although paying people to be sterilised is technically illegal, the Indian Ministry of Health does incentivise the operation by offering substantial (in local terms) amounts of money to compensate for loss of earnings. Furthermore, those currently volunteering to be sterilised are entered into a draw to win a range of prizes, including a much sought after Tata Nano car, motorcycles, televisions and food blenders – all donated by a local university. The prizes have been introduced this year in order to offset a decline in people offering themselves to be sterilised during the monsoon period, as people were both ‘too busy in the fields’ and ‘concerned about a perceived risk of infection during the damp, humid weather’.

The tragedy is that this approach, designed to keep rising population levels down to a ‘manageable’ level, is all so unnecessary. Men and women are permanently depriving themselves of the possibility of having any more children due to unfounded anxieties about population growth. Rather than seeing an increased population as a social challenge that could be met through increased development – helped, not hindered, by having more minds available to be put to the challenge – population growth is instead seen to be a problem in itself due to a natural scarcity of ‘resources and opportunities’ that abound in crowded cities. This anxiety is felt acutely in India, which is predicted to have a larger population than China by 2050.

Scaremongering about population growth and the finite nature of natural resources always turns out to be unfounded. Whether it is the Reverend Thomas Malthus’ predictions in the eighteenth century about impending famines, or Paul Ehrlich’s prophesises about hundreds of millions dying as a result of lack of resources in the 1970s, such miserable prognoses of population crises have never failed to be wrong. And for a good reason: they turn all socio-economic problems into demographic ones and neglect the socio-economic solutions, such as improved production techniques. Instead, as Frank Furedi has argued previously on spiked, the shifting overpopulation arguments all have one thing in common: population increases are necessarily seen to be a Bad Thing. Therefore, clinical attempts to reduce population, such as sterilising one per cent of the population, start to be welcomed. They are, after all, a sacrifice in the name of the greater good of humanity, whose numbers need to remain at a fictitious ‘optimum’ level.

While the initiative in India raises the spectre of the deeply unpopular policies of the Indira Gandhi government in the 1970s, which began to implement compulsory sterilisations – an idea that still lingers on the lips of some Indian politicians – it would be a bit rich for Westerners to start condemning such initiatives.

After all, while the Indian government is effectively blackmailing people into sterilisation through cash payments and a chance to win a car, here in the West moral pressure is used to encourage us to stop having more kids. So if it’s not Population Matters’ ‘Stop at Two pledge’, urging us to take a ‘green step towards environmental survival for us all’ – and

Patrick Hayes is a reporter for spiked.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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