Population Policy in India: The Role of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Population Council

by Mytheli Sreenivas

Jan 1, 2010
My research investigates how India came to be imagined, both by Indians and in the West, as an overpopulated place. Beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing into the twentieth, fears of overpopulation haunted Indian political culture, thereby shaping state policy and civil society debates. Curiously, however, this fear was for many years independent of the actual size of India's population or its rate of growth. In other words, concerns that India was overpopulated actually predated -- by close to a hundred years -- any large or significant increase in population size. This apparent disjuncture prompts my inquiry into the role that concepts of population have played in colonial and postcolonial projects of governance in South Asia. My research examines population not as a neutral category, concerned objectively with numerical measurement, but as a politically fraught concept that underpinned claims of power, privilege, and citizenship. More broadly, I hypothesize that projects of managing population -- indeed of creating "population" as a target of administration -- shaped the development of modern technologies of rule.
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