For a draft of the portion of this editorial on India, see "Mahatma Gandhi and Birth Control," 1925, (Margaret Sanger Microfilm Edition: Collected Documents Series C16:275).
The fall opens with news of important developments in England, India and the United States. In England the systematic work of the Malthusian League and the Labor women is bringing pressure of numbers to bear on the Ministry of health, and the time is not far off when the Ministry will have to yield to a bona fide public demand represented by hundreds of thousands of petitioners. In India the opposition expressed by Mahatma Gandhi in the India press to any method for preventing overpopulation except self-control has both revealed the strong and intelligent support which Birth Control has already won in that country and has brought the subject to the attention of many thousands who had never heard of it before.
In America the statement of a representative of the Italian government at the conference at Williamstown, together with Professor East's reply, which we publish in this number of the REVIEW, has circulated throughout the press of that country and has taught American doubters that there is a very real relation between war and overpopulation. Count Cippico's statement is the more menacing taken in conjunction with the press interview with Mussolini last January, when he said that the Italian birth rate was pressing, that the Italians were "too intelligent" to limit the numbers of their children and that the only answer to the problem was "to make war or to seek outlets for overpopulation." When that war breaks out of whose approach two spokesmen of the Fascisti have now given us ample warning, it will show the world that the refusal of a government to tolerate and encourage the practice of Birth Control is not only a crime against the individual but a crime against international peace.
Mahatma Gandhi, the great leader of India, has recently given public utterance, in the columns of Young India, to his opinion concerning "artificial" methods of Birth Control. "There can be no two opinions about the necessity for Birth Control," writes Mahatmaji, "but he only method handed down from ages past is self control or 'Brahmacharya.' It is an infallible sovereign remedy doing good to those who practice it. And medical men will earn the gratitude of mankind, if instead of advising artificial means of Birth Control they will find out the means of self-control. The union is not meant for pleasure but for bringing forth progeny. And union is a crime when the desire for progeny is absent." Self-control, austere unrelenting asceticism, is in brief, in the ethics of Mahatma Gandhi, "the only noble and straight method of Birth Control."
Coming as it does from the great spiritual leader of India, this expression of opinion is a welcome one. It has stimulated the liveliest discussion in the Indian press, and has brought forth a number of emphatic and clearly expressed refutations of the ascetic philosophy of life embodied in Gandhi's brief expression, as well as some spirited defenses of contraception. The most vigorous opponent of Gandhi's views has been Professor R. D. Karve, whose protest is quoted by Mr. Roy, together with the able replies of other friends of Birth Control, on another page of the REVIEW.
There is little to add to these comments by Gandhi's compatriots. They are marked by brilliant, lucid reasoning. They indicate the vitality of the idea of Birth Control in the Orient and presage the advent of a new era of enlightenment in that prostrate domain. We are happy indeed that, despite his hesitation and extreme reluctance, Mahatma Gandhi was induced to express publicly his disapproval of artificial methods of contraception. But we might not impertinently ask if any method is more artificial, more contrary to the laws of human nature than a self-imposed "self-control" which instead of leading one through the threshold of life onward toward an understanding of its meaning and beauty, would prevent the exponent of abstinence from ever understanding its deeper rhythm, and condemn him to endless torment, in discord with the cosmic rhythm and in eternal conflict with the surge of his deepest desires.
This thoughtless utterance-profoundly thoughtless, we are sorry to say-of India's great leader places him in the category of those traditional dogmatists and reactionary moralists for whom this world is irremediably a vale of tears and whose irresponsible "idealism" has indeed made it one. To Western minds, the influence of such leaders must be forever dysgenic. We are happy that our friends in India are so vigorously combating it.
Life, we challenge these opponents, is neither an evil, a malady, nor a disease to be avoided. Life is the supreme experience, into which we must unreservedly and joyfully plunge. Sexual expression is one of the most profoundly spiritual of all the avenues of human experience, and Birth Control the supreme moral instrument by which, without injury to others nor to the future destinies of mankind on this earth, each individual is enabled to progress on the road of self-development and self-realization. Human salvation is not to be attained by a steady diet of the bitter fruit of renunciation. We are all seeking for "life more abundant."... Despite his world-wide renown, Gandhi's recent utterance seems to lack spiritual profundity or vision. Yet, we must express our thanks, since he has stimulated his young compatriots and ourselves as well, to a new crystallization of our spiritual values.
The Medical Officer fo the town of Hartlepool, England, does not, according to recent press reports, believe in teaching Birth Control Yet his recent report on conditions in that town of 5,000 families, which has circulated widely, is nothing less than a sermon of which Birth Control ought to be the text. His report shows that 2,5000 families- half the total population by family- have at some time in the last two or three years been on the poor rates on account of unemployment. At the same time the birth rate during the past year was 28.4 or 51 per cent. higher than that for England as a whole, and infant mortality was 132 per thousand. In one month indeed it soared as high as 250 per 1000. The officer, Dr. William McKendrick, lays the high death rate directly to poverty and bad housing and mentions the prevalence of rickets and scurvy. Under conditions like these, which cry aloud not for moralizing, but for a practical remedy, to reject Birth Control and recommend self-control is like reciting an Abracadabra.
The application of the State Board of Charities for increased appropriation for the South Dakota School and Home for the feeble-minded shows to what extent our present methods are meeting the problem of the breeding of the unfit.
"If the estimate of the superintendent is correct," says the application "and only fifteen percent of the feeble-minded in South Dakota are now having institutional care and the other eighty-five percent are at large in the state breeding up a still larger crop of subnormal persons for the future to deal with, the situation is desperate enough."
The impracticability of either raising money on the scale or of actually rounding up all defectives for institutional care is not recognized by the South Dakota board. It is however, recognized in a thoughtful editorial from the Summit, New Jersey Herald and Record reprinted in this issue, on the Birth Control and Sterilization Bills which failed to pass the Legislature last winter. This foresighted editorial writer estimates that any attempt to care for all state charges in institutions "would take almost half the revenue on which we depend to run the state in all its branches."
From Paris Eugene Humbert and his wife send grateful messages to the friends in America who contributed toward the payment of their fine of 30,000 francs, imposed by the postal authorities for giving out contraceptive information. The fine is not completely paid and the government simply waives its right to imprison for the balance as long as the Humberts are "on their good behavior." This means that the hands of two of the most active of French propagandists are tied for an indefinite period, until the depopulation scare in France has run its course. Until that time this family of pioneers are under surveillance and for real or imagined activities in behalf of Birth Control the Damocles sword of the unpaid balance may descend on their heads. Should this happen we hope that their fellow workers for Birth Control throughout the world will hold themselves ready to be called on again. M. Humbert's letter is published on another page of the REVIEW.