"Acting in Good Faith": Reproductive Governance and Population Policies in India

Online event - Zoom
Wednesday 11 November 2020 (16:00-17:30)

The IDD Guest Seminar Series was delighted to welcome Dr Rishita Nandagiri, Research Fellow at the London School of Economics (LSE), to discuss her latest research: “Acting in Good Faith”: Reproductive Governance and Population Policies in India


Abortion and related population policies, are forms of “reproductive governance” (Morgan & Roberts, 2012), tied to discourses of woman- and motherhood, community and nation. India passed the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP) in 1971, arguing for abortion liberalisation as a health imperative- i.e. tackling illegal abortions reduces unsafe abortion. Yet the MTP Act remains associated with family planning efforts and suspicions of a larger state-run population control strategy. Considering the MTP Act in the social and political contexts surrounding its passing highlights the strong family planning and population control sentiments present at the time. These historical concerns with overpopulation- which continue to persist and influence population policies today- are essential to the reading and interpretation of the MTP Act and its implementation. Using Bacchi’s (2009) ‘What’s the problem represented to be’ tool, I conduct a critical (re)reading of the Act, and its subsequent amendments; as well the broader social and legal context it is constructed in. Influenced by Wright and Reinhold’s (2011) “studying through” and Nader’s (1972) “studying up”, I use primary qualitative data collected in India (2017) to interrogate the enduring implications of these policies for women’s reproductive lives. Findings demonstrate the persistent construction of women in relation to their fertilities; instrumentalised to meet to larger national and global population and development goals. These constructions; mediated through normative understandings of woman- and mother-hood, limit and restrict women’s access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health care services, including abortion; despite a ‘liberal’ law. Findings suggest an urgent need for reform that carefully considers the problematisations and notions embedded within these measures, and the role of reproductive governance in SRHR-related policies.

Author Bio:

Dr Rishita Nandagiri is an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science, where her research focuses on sexual and reproductive health- particularly abortion- in the Global South. She was previously an LSE Fellow in Health & International Development at LSE’s Dept. of Intl. Dev. Rishita serves on the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population’s panel on Abortion Research, is an editorial advisory board member of BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health, and co-convenes the Development Studies Association’s Womxn and Development Study Group. Before returning to academia for her PhD, she worked with a number of feminist NGOs focusing on gender and development. She also co-runs the Abortion Book Club, interrogating depictions of abortion in fiction.

The IDD Guest Seminar Series brings scholars and practitioners working on international development to the University of Birmingham to share their latest research and ideas. All seminars are open to staff, students, and the general public.