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India’s New-Age Eugenics

India’s New-Age Eugenics

No meat. No sex. No desire. No lust. No anger. No attachment. No bad company. Have good, spiritual thoughts. Hang beautiful pictures in your room where you can see it constantly. Read life stories of great personalities. Just a few steps to be taken by a would-be mother, and voila! At the end of nine months, the mother will be cradling in her arms a “beautiful” baby.

To the readers’ intellect these might come across as some of the many pearls of wisdom doled out in ample measure by Bollywood movies of the 90s or perhaps the saas-bahu (mother-in-law and daughter-in-law) mega series currently ruling the telly world. You are forgiven for the great folly for you cannot in any way possible be blamed for not knowing that these little nuggets of sagacity and information have in reality been promulgated by a government-funded research council.

Ranging from the bizarre (no meat, no sex, hang beautiful pictures) to the clearly obvious (stay calm), these recommendations are part of a booklet called Mother and Child Care, compiled by the Central Council for Research in Yoga and Naturopathy (CCRYN). A branch of the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy, abbreviated as AYUSH, the Council was formed with the aim of formulating patterns of research in yoga and naturopathy along scientific lines. AYUSH itself was established in 2014 to promote traditional Indian healing practices.

As well-meaning as these advices are purported to be, these directives – especially the “no meat, no sex” part – do strike a discordant note scientifically. No prize for guessing that gynaecologists have collectively shunned and debunked the advice.

Protein-deficiency, malnutrition and anaemia are common health concerns among pregnant women and meat is a great source of protein as well as iron, which is absorbed better from an animal source than a plant source. In addition, the amino acids that make up protein are the building blocks of the expectant mother’s cells – and of the baby’s body as well. It, therefore, becomes important that pregnant women get enough protein in the form of meat and eggs throughout their pregnancy, and especially during the second and third trimesters. As for sexual intercourse, the decision depends entirely on the consent and comfort of the expectant mother. There is no scientific study that in very clear terms says that sexual activity during pregnancy can harm the foetus in the womb. In fact, the foetus in the placenta is cushioned by a layer of amniotic fluid, in which it floats. That said, bad company, hatred and anger are factors one should ideally keep away from, pregnant or not.

It does not take a discerning eye to gauge that the object behind this series of thou-shalt-nots is to ultimately deliver a customised child who will grow up to be fair, tall, handsome and intelligent among other things. This is obviously without taking into consideration the genetic make-up of the parents. Even if the parents are not fair-skinned or tall, their child will be, provided they follow the guidelines issued.

However, it may be noted that by sticking to the gender-neutral term baby, the Mother and Child Care booklet did exercise some amount of discretion. In a country with an already skewed sex ratio, one can only imagine what kind of mayhem a guidebook on giving birth to a boy child may cause. But, that apparently did not stop Baba Ramdev, who is hand in glove with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party, from coming up with a “Putrajeevak Beej”, meaning a son-breeding seed, which is an ayurvedic product that promises the birth of a male child.

The exploits of the saffron brigade in the matter of birthing have been far too menacing. Just this past month, it was found that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh had concocted the perfect prescription for fair and tall customised babies. According to the Garbh Vigyan Sanskar project of Arogya Bharati, the medical wing of RSS, all that a woman needs to do to deliver an “uttam santati” – a perfect child – is to undergo purification or “shuddhikaran”, engage in intercourse at a time decided by planetary configuration and alignment, exercise complete abstinence once the baby is conceived, and follow dietary regulations. Bizarre does not even come close to describing the situation.

In the light of the past events, the government’s latest foray into birth engineering in the form of the booklet may be the final nail in the coffin, but one cannot ignore the stark resemblance the Centre’s attempts at controlling birthing bears to Nazi eugenics in Germany under the reign of Hitler.

Nazi social policies were strongly influenced by the eugenics movement. The fundamental idea was that human populations could be improved through manipulation of their genetic make-up. In other words, a society could achieve positive outcomes if it removed unhealthy or “undesirable” genetic elements. The Nazis believed the state should intervene to improve the health of its society – first to identify its contaminating elements, then to restrict their growth, then to eliminate them. This required difficult and unpalatable policies – but the Nazis justified it with eugenics theories. One of the many reforms passed during this time was the Law for the Protection of the Genetic Health of the German People, which prevented marriages that might produce “genetically unhealthy” children.

Incidentally, negative eugenics is also to blame for Bilaspur sterilization tragedy in which 13 women given tubectomies in a government-run sterilization camp died & 69 were hospitalized, 20 of them in critical condition. A single doctor had operated on 83 women in six hours – putting the math at about four minutes per woman.

The “no meat, no sex” injunction may not be as demonic as botched mass sterilisation, but it has the potential of shaping into something just as fiendish considering it is tangentially hinting at eliminating a certain kind of people by showing preference for only the “beautiful” kind. It’s a blessing that these advices have no scientific footing.

Nevertheless, instead of investing (wasting) energy on this flimflam, the government must for a change acknowledge the lived reality of married women. This is 2017 and we have women-centric provisions like the Nirbhaya Act, but marital rape is still not a criminal offense in India. In fact, earlier this year, a parliamentary panel deliberating the issue of making amendments to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code that defines rape observed that the entire family system will be under great stress if marital rape is brought under the law.

That is not all. Last year, Union Cabinet Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi said in the Parliament that there cannot be a law against marital rape because marriage is a “sacrament”.

Neither the beautiful pictures hung prettily on the wall nor will the chubby newborn help the married women in India. What they need is a binding law that safeguards them in their husband’s house. Instead of dwelling in a fictive, fairy-tale world, it’s time the lawmakers woke up from their slumber to face the reality. Also, if the Western belief that babies are brought by the stork had you chuckling, the pointlessness of the new-age Indian eugenics will have you wondering at what point did these people lose their brains.

(Published on 19th June 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 25)