June 24, 2007 12:35:08 am
Of course, it was over 30 years ago, at the height of the Emergency when fundamental rights were suspended across the country. Of course, she was fiercely loyal to her then Congress leader Indira Gandhi. But at a time when the UPA-Left alliance is presenting Pratibha Patil as India’s first woman President to-be and showcasing her “social welfare and empowerment” credentials, this needs underlining:
Six months into the Emergency, on December 10, 1975, according to Maharashtra Assembly records, accessed by The Sunday Express, Patil, as Health Minister in the S B Chavan Cabinet, endorsed a proposal seeking to make “family planning” compulsory for all citizens.
Not only did she assure the House that the government would take “appropriate steps” to ensure that all citizens adopted family planning measures but added: “We are also thinking of forcible sterilization for people with anuvaunshik ajar (hereditary diseases).”
The proposal to make family planning compulsory was introduced by then Congress MLA D N Metkar. Some MLAs, particularly those from the Muslim League, strongly opposed any such move. Patil stood up to rebut the opposition: “My opinion is that whatever religion one practises, he should keep it at home and adopt family planning as the true religion,” Patil said, according to proceedings recorded in Volume 46 of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly debates.
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“It is not proper to say that family planning is against any religion…some Muslim countries, too, practise family planning. It is not proper to oppose family planning in the name of religion,” she said.
Claiming that family planning was the true religion which rose above all religions, she said. “We are creating awareness about family planning and Maharashtra is doing a better job than other states but we need to speed up…It was only through family planning that people could look after their children in a better manner and thereby ensure the existence of their own religion.” Incidentally, in the run-up to the election campaign in February 2004, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, in an interview to Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief, The Indian Express, on NDTV’s Walk the Talk, said that Indira Gandhi did think that the Emergency was a “mistake.” “Well, there is no way we can say that the Emergency was right,” she added, “…But there was a great deal of propaganda against Mrs Gandhi, deliberately done. And I think there were even some reports post-Emergency that went into details of the family planning programme which turned out to say that the problems were magnified. Yes, there were problems, but not in the scale that the Opposition had built up.”
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