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As Independence Day approaches, let's remember Dhanvanthi Rama Rau, Padma Bhushan winner and founder of India's family planning program. A feminist & visionary, she encouraged women's reproductive rights and was responsible for half a million men getting voluntary vasectomies.
As Independence Day approaches, let’s remember Dhanvanthi Rama Rau, Padma Bhushan winner and founder of India’s family planning program. A feminist & visionary, she encouraged women’s reproductive rights and was responsible for half a million men getting voluntary vasectomies.
Dhanvanthi Rama Rau, the architect of Family Planning in India, realized that most of the nation’s problems stemmed from lack of family planning. Due to her efforts India became the first country in the developing world to launch a nationwide family planning program in 1952.
She strived to change the thinking of people who were against family planning, empowered women and involved men in birth control awareness programmes. This great achiever and pioneer of Indian family welfare schemes has sadly been forgotten from the pages of nation-building.
Dhanvanthi Rama Rau was the brain behind the family planning programs in independent India. She was born in 1893 to a Kashmiri Brahmin family in Hubballi. .
Dhanvanthi Rama Rau’s joined Queen Mary’s College and became one of the first Indian women to teach in a higher education platform. After marriage, she travelled to England with husband Benegal Rama Rau, who served as a member of the visiting Simon Commission.
In England, she worked with several organizations, campaigning for India’s freedom, on the instructions of Sarojini Naidu. She also fought for women’s voting rights and equal citizenship as a member of the Indian delegation to the International Women’s forum.
Later, she founded an association intending to connect women of both India and Britain on women empowerment issues. As India inched towards independence Dhanvanthi moved back to India as she wanted to contribute to the making of a free nation-state.
Dhanvanthi swiftly identified her space for nation-building. The great Bengal famine made her confront the growing economic inequality, extreme poverty, and excessive reproduction rate among the poor.
She soon realized that birth control was the only answer to most of the nation’s problems. So, the first challenge for Dhanvanthi was to educate the ignorant and illiterate masses in a traditional society. Most people at that time firmly believed that children are born out of god’s grace, and birth control was against god’s wishes!
She was a staunch campaigner of women’s empowerment and believed that the choice of the number or the time to have children should remain with women.
She understood that if the right to reproduction lies with women, the task of birth control would be easier. Hence, Dhanvanthi came up with her module for the birth control program, which she felt was a significant step towards nation-building.
In 1949, she founded the Family Planning Association of India. It was the largest non-governmental organization working in the field of population control in India then. With her strenuous awareness efforts, India’s family planning programs received global recognition, and many countries adopted it as a part of their national agenda.
Interestingly, she targeted men for her family planning awareness programs as the treatments are easier for men than women. Moreover, if men realize the value of a small family, either they would get the treatment done or encourage their wives to go for it. Thus, the credit for the half a million Indian men getting voluntary vasectomies goes go to Dhanvanthi.
Fascinatingly, Mahatma Gandhi and Dhanvanthi Rama Rau had their differences of opinion on birth control. Though Mahatma Gandhi was very much aware of the need for population control, he was against the use of artificial contraceptives. Instead, he advocated self-control on sexual indulgence.
However, his call for celibacy did not yield any positive changes, and there was a dire need to create awareness to use artificial methods for birth control. Dhanvanthi’s efforts in this direction that involved going against tradition, religion, and also the father of the nation are truly remarkable.
She was aware of the connection between birth control and women’s empowerment. She understood that population growth leads to a lack of resources, which harms women’s overall development.
Due to her exceptional efforts, India became the first country in the developing world to launch a nationwide family planning program in 1952. The program aimed to include birth control, safe motherhood and child-rearing, nutrition and family welfare, and the abolition of child marriage.
Generally, the world recognizes Margaret Sanger as a global pioneer of birth control awareness programs. However, Dhanvanthi’s dedication in setting up the International Planned Parenthood Federation, of which she was the founding member and also the president is almost erased from public memory.
Dhanvanthi published her autobiography ‘An Inheritance: The Memoirs of Dhanvanthi Rama Rau’ in 1977, which takes its readers through the unique milestones of her memorable life journey. She was awarded the Padma Bhushan for her singular contributions to society. She died in Mumbai in 1987, at the age of 94 due to kidney failure.
Thus, a highly creditable woman achiever, a pioneer of Indian family welfare schemes has been forgotten from the pages of nation-building, by the Indians in general and the people of Karnataka, her birthplace, in particular.
Image source: sexandstats.com (elise-ottesen-jensen-margaret-sanger-and-dhanvanthi-rama-rau.png) and Wikipedia
Dr. Jyothi, Assistant Professor of English, Tumkur University. Has been a teacher of English and also soft skills trainer, with special interest in writing poems, articles, short stories and translation both in Kannada and English. read more...
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