Content warning: the story, and this question, concern implied mutilation.

In R. K. Narayan's short story "The Edge", which I read as part of his 1982 collection Malgudi Days, the knife sharpener Ranga is picked up by a friendly man in a car painted with "TWO WILL DO, a propaganda for birth control". He is taken to a camp in the countryside, offered food and money, and asked a number of questions about his age and family. Then they unexpectedly lay him on a table and prepare for a surgical operation on him - the implication being that they wish to castrate him. He runs away and the story ends.

He recollected his butcher friend reading from a newspaper how the government was opening camps all over the country where men and women were gathered and operated upon so that they could have no children.

My question is: did anything like this really happen? The time in which this story is set is as unclear as Ranga's age, but did any government of India attempt to organise castration camps? Or if not the government, any other organisation? Or were there really rumours in the newspapers of such things, even if unfounded?

1 Answer 1


Sadly, yes.

This happened during the Emergency from 1975 to 1977 under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The programme of forced sterilization was headed by her son Sanjay Gandhi. Wikipedia has a little bit to say about this period in section 3.3 Forced sterilization:

In September 1976, Sanjay Gandhi initiated a widespread compulsory sterilization programme to limit population growth. . . . The campaign primarily involved getting males to undergo vasectomy. Quotas were set up that enthusiastic supporters and government officials worked hard to achieve. There were allegations of coercion of unwilling candidates too. In 1976–1977, the programme led to 8.3 million sterilisations, most of them forced, up from 2.7 million the previous year. The bad publicity led every government since 1977 to stress that family planning is entirely voluntary.

Since the story "The Edge" appeared in the 1982 collection, after the Emergency was lifted, it is certainly based on the true events of the Emergency.

For what its worth, the forced sterilization programme was probably not a forced castration programme. But, the general public might have confused the two things. The Wikipedia Talk page on the Emergency has a small discussion on this.


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