1 Doctor, 83 Operations, 5 Hours, 14 Dead and Still Counting…
The deaths so far of 14 women in a sterilization camp in Chhattisgarh has caused outrage and horror in India and all over the world. Some 50 women are struggling for their lives. This is nothing short of a massacre.
The horrific episode of Chhattisgarh have exposed the abysmal absence of even the barest of primary health care for the poor in the state, in stark contrast to ads that tout it as the ‘best investor destination’ with its ‘largest’ forest cover and mineral reserves!
Modi’s Swachha Bharat campaign has politicians and bureaucrats posing with brooms for cameras – while the reality is that in BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh, poor women lose their lives having operations on the floors of a dirty room, with even the medicine they are given being poisonous and polluted.
‘Achhe din’ has meant that for the poor and tribals in Chhattisgarh, there is no hope of hospitals – only ‘camps’ where they can lose their uteruses, eyes or lives. The Government is interested only in grabbing their resources and rights, and ‘pruning’ the populations of these poor communities, by deeming them as having ‘too high a fertility rate’.
This feat of 83 operations in 5 hours was achieved by none other than the same doctor R K Gupta, who was awarded by the Raman Singh government on January 26 this year for conducting a record number of female sterilisation!
Why did the Supreme Court have to lay down a ceiling of no more than 30 sterilization operations to be done per day? Why was this ceiling violated?
Why are women routinely denied basic post-op follow up care?
Why was a private abandoned hospital, 5 km from the Health Minister’s house, rather than a Government hospital used as the camp?
Mass deaths of poor women in sterilization camps have occurred earlier in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh as well. The BJP’s Chhattisgarh Government has responded to the latest crisis by arresting the doctors and ordering a judicial probe. But the Chhattisgarh Health Minister has refused to accept responsibility and resign. And there is deafening silence from the Central Government on how such a shameful massacre of the poorest of poor women can take place – over and over again – in the name of ‘family planning’.
Moreover, the ‘camps’ themselves point to the shameful absence of hospitals and healthcare. The target-driven ‘camps’ where doctors and health personnel are under pressure to meet government targets, often results in forced operations and botched operations.
In 2012 nearly 7000 women were subjected to forced operations to remove uteruses, in Chhattisgarh’s private hospitals within a period of 30 months. The private hospitals had done the operations to profit from the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana package money.
Between 2011-2013, around 100 people lost their eyesight due to botched up cataract operations in the same state. In other states, too similar stories abound.
Still More Fundamental Questions:
While all the above questions and concerns are valid and urgent, there are even more basic questions that few are asking.
Why are women being denied informed consent about what form of contraception they choose? In the sterilization camps, most sterilizations are forced – because the ‘consent’ is obtained on false premises, and in some cases the women are not even aware that they will lose the ability to bear a child.
Why is sterilization of women the favourite method of contraception promoted by the Indian State, even though it is the most invasive method?
And even more basic – why is ‘population control’ considered to be a policy goal for India and other developing countries (former colonies)?
‘Population control’ and ‘family planning’ policies promoting contraception are not viewed by the Indian Government and international funding agencies in the framework of women’s rights and control over their bodies and reproductive rights. Rather, the policies are framed as a way to control so-called ‘overpopulation’ in India and other similar countries.
The very question of ‘overpopulation’ is a racist one, of Malthusian origin. The premise is that unchecked ‘overpopulation’ is responsible for poverty, and for climate change. And this is a lie. Poverty is due to skewed distribution of resources – whereby a tiny fraction of the world’s richest people and countries control and hog the world’s resources. And climate change happens due to the way in this tiny minority ravages those resources and the earth for the sake of profit. Blaming the ‘teeming millions’ of poor people and poor countries is a deliberate, racist myth.
But shouldn’t a poor country like India worry about exploding population? Well, in the first place, we need to ask, why is India poor? Isn’t it because it was colonized by England?! Now, how can the same England turn around and tell Indian women that they need to produce fewer children in order to end India’s poverty?! And inside India too, people are poor not because they have too many babies but because they have too little access to land and other resources! Our resources are grabbed – not by the millions of poor people – but by the tiny slice of richest corporations!
The Human Rights Watch in a report published in 2012 established that target-based sterilizations, pursued by the Indian Government, are coercive and endanger women’s safety, leading to botched operations and even deaths. They quoted ASHA and anganwadi workers saying that they and doctors are under pressure from Governments to “meet targets” or else face pay cuts or dismissal, though India has committed in 1996 to adopting a “target-free” approach to family planning.
Killer Role of ‘Funding’ Agencies
The British Government’s DFID, USAID and the Bill Gates Foundation are some of the agencies that are rendering India’s poor women at risk in the name of ‘family planning.’ But these agencies and the Governments that back them, have learned to speak a more politically correct language!! For instance, British MP and DFID Minister Stephen O’Brien, speaking on behalf of the British Government on World Population Day 2011, said “the Coalition Government does not support programmes that coerce individuals and couples to have fewer children. Population control, in the sense of government edicts and targets on fertility levels, has no ethical place in contemporary rights based development policy making.” Instead, he claimed his Government was only interested in promoting women’s control over their bodies and right to choice.
But the truth is quite different: The DFID has funded ‘population control’ in India – and is thus implicated in the mass sterilization deaths that took place in several states. Not only that, DFID has promoted contraceptive implants that have been proven to be unsafe for women. As Kalpana Wilson writes, “DFID (is involved in a joint operation) with Merck to promote the long-lasting implant Implanon to ‘14.5 million of the poorest women’ by 2015’. Implanon was discontinued in the UK in 2010 because trained medical personnel were finding it too difficult to insert correctly, and there were fears about its safety. As well as a series of debilitating side-effects, the implant was reported as ‘disappearing’ inside women’s bodies.”
Similarly, the Gates Foundation was involved in “a clinical trial of the HPV vaccine against cervical cancer in India in 2009, …for which 23,000 girls aged 9-15 from impoverished communities were selected and requirements for parental consent were bypassed. The trial was suspended following the deaths of seven adivasi girls aged between 9 and 15.” A government enquiry found that the process of obtaining consent amounted to ‘covert inducement and indirect coercion’, and expressed concerns over a ‘hidden agenda’ to push the expensive vaccinations manufactured by Glaxo Smith Kline and Merck Sharp and Dohme into India’s Universal Immunisation Programme.
Earlier, other contraceptive implants like Net-En (Depo-Provera) have been promoted in India, that had widespread side effects on women’s reproductive health and safety.
We must demand action against Chhattisgarh’s Health Minister and resignation of the Chief minister. But the matter cannot end there. We must demand a moratorium on the Indian Government’s policy of sterilization as a form of family planning, and a review of the whole ‘family planning/population control’ framework. Instead, we must demand an expansion of women’s access, through informed choice, of a range of safe methods of contraception, with non-invasive methods being promoted instead of surgery.
Indian women must not be seen as ‘wombs’ needing to be controlled by Indian Government and imperialist funding agencies. Indian women and Indian children are not the cause of their own or the world’s poverty and destruction of the environment – that responsibility lies with the world’s corporations and the rapacious capitalism that promotes profit over people and environment. Target-based sterilizations – as well as other invasive forms of contraception, should be recognized as a form of violence against women that can no longer be tolerated, in any overt or covert way. Instead of viewing women’s reproduction as a ‘problem’, the policy thrust should be to enhance the rights of women – over their bodies, but also over resources and environment. For this, corporate control over bodies, resources and environment must be dismantled and resisted!