India: The Loop Way

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With loops, continuing sterilization and other contraceptive methods, Dr. Nayar hopes to cut India's soaring birth rate almost in half in a decade—from 40 to 25 births per 1,000 population per year. Many Indian leaders agree that the nation must do something of the kind or live on the brink of chronic famine. Despite a 10% gain in this year's grain crop, the country cannot feed itself, must depend on 600,000 tons of U.S. wheat a month to avert a recurrence of last year's food riots. Mindful of this, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, who, as the father of six, jokes that he is no expert on the subject, last week called family planning "a matter of the highest importance . . . for the individual and for the nation."

Sons as Insurance. It will be years before family planning can slow India's 12 million-a-year population growth enough to let its creaky economy gain. No religious opposition thwarts birth control in India, but tradition does. The average Hindu, unprotected by social security, old-age pensions, unemployment or sickness benefits, considers sons to be his best insurance against impoverished old age. Beyond this, a gain in the economy can be a mixed blessing. Of the 40% of the world's population that normally goes hungry, about one-fourth are Indians. Even a slight increase in their standard of living means that they would eat better food and grow healthier—and that would send their birth rate up.

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