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The Saffron Book

Amongst a majority of our people, there is no conceptual or philosophical barrier to controlling births.


47. No Soul before Birth

Dear Waheeda
During the discussion the other evening, I muse say that you were bold and enterprising in some of the assertions you made. I had not expected a young lady to be so forthright. Although, I must tell you that you were somewhat unfair about birth control in the context of Islam. I had an Urdu teacher for a good eight years. His name was Agha Iqbal Mirza, a pre-war graduate of Delhi University. In the course of our many conversations, I remember he told me that Islam was not against birth control per se. It only insists that control is achieved either through abstinence or through coitus interruptus. Even the orthodox religious leaders were only against the use of artificial contraception.

It is true that an impression exists that Islam has been for increasing population, as opposed to controlling it. I do not believe that the impression is backed by substance. It is widely accepted that in the time of its birth and for centuries thereafter, Islam was the most modern social prescription. In contrast to most other traditions, women had rights to their father's property. Hindu law in this regard was amended as late as 1955 when the Hindu Code Bill was passed.

Mirza Saheb used to say that the needs of Arabia in those times were such as to require as large a population as was possible. The permission to marry more than one wife not only helped to find a home for war widows, who were many, but also ensured the procreation of more legitimate children. The second or the third wife was normally younger than the first one. Perfume, especially in the form of itr, was favoured perhaps in this context. The use of aphrodisiacs was popular. Dyeing of grey hair, whether with the help of mehndi (henna) or otherwise, was recommended to preserve the illusion of youth. So much for Arabia. The Bangladesh of today is avery different case. In sharp contrast to Saudi Arabia it is wet, fertile, short of space and overcrowded. Surely, if a prescription of life is to be written for these conditions, it would be very different from the Arabian one.

This is enough as a defence of Islam by a Muslim. Now let us get to the Hindu view. This also is important because I feel that our first task should be to convince our people how important it is to plan the family. How vital it is not only to the family and its future health but also to the economy and the polity of India. In other words, the importance of family planning must first register on the mind. Thereafter, its practice would willy nilly follow. Without a universal, or at least a widespread, conviction the control of births is likely to be uncertain and patchy as has been the record so far in our country. On the one hand, we have Kerala with a laudable performance of a zero growth. On the other, we have the example of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh where the population continues to increase nabated.

To bring about a revolution of the mind, myths have to be exploded. For instance, the Hindu believes that he cannot attain mukti or salvation unless he was cremated by his son. A conservative father may feel the need to have at least two. Often, in trying to have two sons the family ends up with five daughters. Little does the Hindu realise that in Vedic times boys and girls were treated on par, that the girls were as eligible to learn the Vedas as the boys. Those who studied, did justice to education before getting married. In any event, girls married as late as boys and child marriages were not in vogue.

Another common myth is that a son is necessary as an insurance against the vagaries of old age. The son and his wife would look after the parents when they are sick or infirm. Perhaps this was true in agrarian societies especially for those families which owned property.  The son and  his wife needed to remain obedient. In reality, a daughter is likely to welcome her parents more than a daughter-in-law who would come from another family. The goodwill of the lady of the house is surely crucial for anyone to stay happy. In other words, it makes more sense to depend on a daughter. The man of the house does not usually interfere provided his wife is happy.

I am sure there are several more myths which come in the way of families controlling births especially in the villages. There is however no religious taboo in the Hindu ethos. There was no priestly uproar when abortion was legalised. A philosophical explanation could be that a foetus has no soul. Life yes, but soul no until it is able to perform karma. In sharp contrast, in the Judaic ethos, it is believed that God created man and therefore He alone has the right to take his life.Human beings have no right to interfere in the process of birth and death. Which explains the Christian, especially Catholic, opposition to abortion.

The point I am making is that amongst the majority of our people, there is no conceptual or philosophical barrier to controlling the birth.Which means that if we have failed in preventing birth of our billionth citizen in August 1999, we have only ourselves to blame. Talking of a revolution of the mind, I feel that our family planning programme has been largely adopted from ideas in the west. The government or the NGOs could have talked to the people in their own idiom. For example, never has a reference been made to the importance of brahmcharya or celibacy till the age of 25 and the practice of grihasth jeevan for the next 25 years. Going by this tradition, no man should become a father till he is nearly twenty six. Nor should he become a parent much after the age of fifty.

The other point that comes to mind is the value attributed to a drop of semen which is widely believed to be worth at least a hundred drops of blood. I am not saying that reiterating these traditions would by themselves achieve a control on population but it would certainly be a far more convincing introduction to the subject than, say, the display of a red triangle accompanied by the faces of two children!


The Saffron Book
Prafull Goradia
Introduction
1. Awake and Unite!
2. Why The Saffron Book?

Sooraj
10. Small States
3. Vision
4. Economic Face
5. Abolish Casteism
6. Bride Burning, Divorce
7. Rape, Prostitution
8. Revolutionising Education
9. The Constitution

Nationalism
11. Nationalism
12. Pan-Islamism
13. Communism
14. Subnationalism
15. Casteism

Hindutva
16. Hindutva is Dialectical
17. Origin of Hinduism
18. Medieval Phase
19. Modern Resurgence
20. Not Fundamentalism
21. Not Fascism
22. Tolerance
23. Strengths
24. Weaknesses
25. Opportunities
26. Threats
27. Individual Brilliance

Hindu Paradoxes
42. Idolatry
43. Fatalism
44. Double Standards
45. Masochistic Fringe
46. Fifth Column
47. No Soul before Birth

Christians
48. Proselytising Unwelcome
49. Myth of Divide and Rule

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