Periyar, interviewed by Dr. Chandra Sekar, Union Minister of State for Child Welfare, Government of India and Demographic Intellectual on March 8th 1970 and broadcast in All India Radio
Dr. Chandrasekar: You have been serving as a pioneer in advocating family planning. If I remember right you have published a book on birth control as early as 1920. Would you please explain how the idea of writing such a book occurred to you at that time?
Periyar : Even as a young boy I had the opportunity for moving closely with grown-ups. On those occasions, I used to think boldly on what was right and what was wrong. I happened to notice the misery of people who had a large number of children.
The husband and the wife used to quarrel often. Such things made me wonder if children caused a lot of problems, in addition to what they already had in their life.
A couple who lived in a house facing ‘Kudi Arasu’ office had four children, the latest was a toddler. Once the husband got angry and started beating his wife. When I intervened the wife told me that it was usual in their life. She was so much agonized by his treatment that she had often thought of killing herself. But, she said, what about those children? She would have to kill them first, before killing herself. That was what made her continue with life bearing all his beatings.
When I asked her why she begot so many children, she replied in all innocence that they were all god given. I thought somewhat humorously that children interfered even with the suicide of worried mothers. I wrote this incident in English which was published in a British newspaper.
A few years, after I married Nagammai, a girl child was born to us but died just in five months. Then I told her we need not have any more children. If she wanted children, she could adopt some I said. I used to feel getting children was a nuisance. Somehow I got used to the idea.
Dr. Chandrasekar: There must have been a lot of opposition to your family planning propaganda?
Periyar : People said that I wanted no one to get children because I was childless. I used to make fun of all those who got children. The elders used to point at my supposed sterility as the reason for it.
Dr. Chandrasekar : The family planning programme of our government is the most massive in the world. Among 130 countries our programme – the Central Government’s – is the largest in budget, in personnel and in execution. I want your opinion on that.
Periyar : It is a commendable undertaking, since it only assures people’s happiness. I feel it would be more effective if women are involved in the propaganda. Women have greater craving for children than men. Therefore I feel it will be effective if women workers approach the women folk, establish a rapport with them and try to convince them.
Dr. Chandrasekar : We send only women for the purpose, both in rural and urban areas, after training them as officers. We do not send men.
Periyar : Besides, only women without religious faith must be sent for the purpose. Even if men are employed they must be rationalists, as far as possible.
Dr. Chandrasekar : In such a massive programme it is difficult to find people without religious faith.
We are contemplating another measure. Now the age of consent for getting married is 18 for man and 15 for woman. This was introduced in 1956. I am not satisfied with it. It must be raised at lease to 21 for men and 18 for women. We are writing to the State Governments for approval. The Centre can pass an Act only if all the 17 States give than concurrence. People keep on arguing for and against the proposal. What is your opinion?
Periyar : I fully agree with you. For woman, it must be raised to 20 years. 18 is not enough. You feel that if it is raised to 18, it will bring about some reduction in population?
Dr. Chandrasekar : In Madhya Pradesh and other Hindi states, girls are married even at the age of 12, 13 or 14.
Periyar : That is solely for subjugating women. Not for any other reason. If we fix the age of consent at 20, there will be another benefit. The girl will be able to choose her own husband.
Dr. Chandrasekar : True, at 20, she can take her own decision regarding marriage. Now it is only the parents who choose the groom.
Periyar : Also the living standard of woman will improve. If they study upto 20 years of age, they can get qualified for some profession. At 18, the girl would have come up to school final level, passed or failed. How can she be of assistance to her husband? What job can she seek? As far as I am concerned, the longer we postpone, the greater will be the benefit for girls. At 18, she can do nothing other than taking care of the family. At 20, she will become the mother of two children.
Dr. Chandrasekar : Formerly, about 4 years ago, we suggested 3 or 4 children per couple. If they could afford, we even permitted them to have 5 or 6 children. Then we restricted it to 2 or 3. As per present day’s reckoning, even that seems to be high. When we suggest two children, it looks all right if a couple gets one boy and one girl. If both happen to be girls, the man wants to try for a boy. People should stop at 2 children, no matter if both are boys or girls. How to make people agree to this?
Periyar : If men have got to change their mindset, reserve 50 per cent of all employment for woman. If there are 100 personnel on the staff, 50 of them must be women. Then parents will not discriminate between boys and girls. At present, only men go for jobs and women remain at home. That is why people want male children. Let us make them equal, by retaining 50 per cent of jobs for women.
Dr. Chandrasekar : Won’t men oppose this idea?
Periyar : Why should they? Why should anyone oppose such a proposal when your own sister or daughter gets the job?
Dr. Chandrasekar : That’s right.
Periyar : Therefore, you make it into an Act. Just like reservation for the ST, reserve 50 per cent of all jobs for woman.
Dr. Chandrasekar : That is a good suggestion. Very original. We will examine it. There is another matter I want to talk to you about. That is abortion. A lot of controversy is raised about it in the government. I have been writing about it for ten years. They feel that if abortion is legalized…
Periyar : What is to be legalized? Natural abortion or induced through medicines?
Dr. Chandrasekar : Induced abortion. It is considered illegal at present. Every year about 40 lakhs of women go to quakes or unscrupulous doctors for abortion. Their health gets spoiled, sometimes leading to death. If we legalise abortion…
Periyar : Then those who need it, can get it done in the proper manner.
Dr. Chandrasekar : That’s it. If a woman gets pregnant accidentally, she can get the child legally aborted in a government hospital.
Periyar : There seems to be nothing wrong in it.
Dr. Chandrasekar : We have introduced a bill for legalizing abortion. It has been passed in the Rajya Sabha.
Periyar : We have to convince people. If we do not permit abortion, they will go somewhere and risk their health and life. If it is done through governmental agency, it will be done properly.
Dr. Chandrasekar : If it is to be through proper doctors, in proper hospitals without causing any harm, it must be legalized.
Periyar : Yes, it must be done.
Courtesy : Viduthalai
Translated by : Prof. A.Ayyasamy