The politics of birth control – I

Blr Bytes recently sent me this link, and it provided me with the impetus to write about something I’ve been meaning to address for a while: birth control. Rohit’s article is partly a response to Pamela Philipose’s piece in the Indian Express, but is also a well-argued case for legalising sex-determination, on the same grounds as are used to argue for women’s reproductive rights – primarily, in western discourse, the right to abortion.

The western (primarily American) debate on abortion rights has a number of themes: female reproductive health, reproductive autonomy, foetal ‘rights’, paternal rights. People who self-identify as feminists and ‘women activists’, as Rohit calls them, have taken positions on both sides of the debate. The legal right has been rooted in many things, from the right to privacy to women’s autonomy. In India, on the other hand, the law on abortion starts not with the Medical termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, but with the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The IPC makes it an offence to terminate a pregnancy, and the MTP Act, taking note of the fact that this merely led to unsafe terminations, made it legal for pregnancies to be terminated by registered medical practitioner(s) in certain circumstances. The MTP Act is, therefore, conferring the privilege of legality upon certain kinds of abortions. The Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PCPNDT Act) is meant to regulate the use of pre-natal diagnostic techniques, and especially to criminalise their use for sex-determination. The privilege of legality of the use of prenatal diagnostic technology is again granted selectively, to ‘approved’ persons, for ‘approved’ reasons.

Thus the law in India quite shamelessly seeks to regulate reproduction – it takes a number of crucial decisions out of the hands of parents and puts them in the hands of the State, or of doctors. It takes the power to make decisions about reproduction away from women, and on the basis of their disempowerment, makes the use of certain kinds of technology unavailable to them as well. To give them back the power, and ensure that they have the autonomy to use it, the State would have to decriminalise both abortion and the use of PNDTs.

In Part II (which I don’t have time to write just now)

What then, of female foeticide? If abortion and PNDTs are decriminalised, there would be no way to ensure that sex-selective abortions didn’t take place, would there?

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We don’t need no education

Daddy Long Legs was telling me he needn’t have gone to law school to study law – with a reasonable grasp of English and access to the right books, he could have become a lawyer all by himself. I don’t mean to sound dense, but isn’t the point of college that you get access to the right books, and a chance to learn about the ones you haven’t gotten round to reading yet? Kanga and Palkhivala’s tome on Income Tax, for example?

Courage

More than half of what people call courage is a combination of an overlarge capacity for avoidance and a tendency to laugh at inappropriate moments. The rest of it is the ability to look the things you cannot avoid in the face, and cry for what you cannot laugh at.

Rules are for breaking

“I just feel like breaking a rule today”

It was hard to resist that smile, and harder to stay in the present when I heard those words from the five-year old in front of me. She didn’t look like her father at all, but his words were just as irresistible in her mouth. As I scooped ice-cream into a bowl for her (before dinner, the little monkey!), I found myself humming.

Aaj mausam bada beimaan hai…

***

Was that what had been playing in the background when he’d first said it? It might have been. We’d just finished dinner, and he’d wanted to get a smoke. He’d quit the previous month, but was feeling rebellious. “Why should I live my life by some arbitrary set of rules?” “You made this rule yourself, didn’t you?” “Well, yes… but I just feel like breaking a rule today”, he’d smiled. I’d been looking at him over a forkful of something chocolate, and for the first time, I felt something go flip-flop inside me.

I’d thought I was too old for flip-floppy romance, and anyway, it was one of my rules not to look for romance in my friendships.

He didn’t break his rule that day – I broke mine.

***

The second time, the rule hadn’t been as simple as no-dessert-before-dinner.

He’d just heard about his schol, and he’d called me at work to tell me. “We’re celebrating”, he’d said. “And I’m cooking. When will you be home?” He’d made potatoes and pappucharu – the first meal I’d taught him to cook. We’d opened a bottle of wine, and cuddled on the couch, and I’d heard him murmur it. “I just feel like breaking a rule today…”

We did, then. And struggled through the long-distance pregnancy that gave us this five year old rule-breaker, who’s sitting here calmly eating her ice-cream.

***

We have a rule about writing about each other, too. But I just feel like breaking a rule today…