Women recovering at a hospital after a sterilisation camp that killed at least 13. Zee News
Last weekend 60 women fell seriously ill after being sterilised at a camp run for the purpose in a disused hospital in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. By Thursday 13 of the women had died. They are the latest victims in India’s long war against population, in which coercive mass sterilisation campaigns continue to play a leading role.
As usual when such tragedies come to light, international elites tut-tut for a few days, make as many excuses as they can for the Indian authorities (terribly hard to control the population) and then leave a few human rights activists to fight against state sterilisation targets, and for better options for women. Few voices question the policy or, indeed, ideology at the root of these scandals.
“If the facts are confirmed then a grave human tragedy has occurred,” the UN Population Fund’s Kate Gilmore told The Guardian cautiously. “Where there is deviation from clinical standards there must be consequences.”
Clinical standards? What about the coercion of poor women to submit themselves to this operation in the first place? Where is the “reproductive choice” for them that UNFPA and its allies keep talking about? What about some consequences for India’s government, which pledged to end targets for birth control in 1996 but allows state governments to persist with this gross violation of human rights?
In any case “clinical standards” is a laughable term for the conditions that prevail in these mass sterilisation camps.
In Chhattisgarh last Saturday one doctor and an assistant used an abandoned hospital. About 80 women altogether had been rounded up by local health workers for free laparascopic surgery to have their tubes cut and tied. A relation of one woman said they were “herded … like cattle” into the hospital. All the procedures were done in about five hours.
Blood loss and unclean surgical equipment leading to infection are likely causes of the deaths. Government guidelines recommending that a surgeon should not use a single instrument for more than 10 (ten!) operations appear to have been ignored. The women were discharged immediately and given no follow-up, reports the Guardian.
“The dead included a woman who had given birth only days before. Others are reported to have been suffering from anaemia, severe asthma and diabetes. None appeared to have been properly examined before the operation. Being from poverty-stricken rural communities, many would have been in poor physical condition.”
Scandalously, this incident is not an isolated case. Mass sterilisation camps occur throughout India, especially in the poorest states, driven by state government targets and employing coercive tactics which include small payments or gifts as incentives to the women and their husbands. One or two doctors operating in primitive, dangerous conditions on dozens of women in just a few hours seems to be the norm.
One notorious example in West Bengal last year saw two doctors sterilising 103 women in one day. Since the hospital could only accommodate 30 women the rest were carried outside on rough stretchers and laid on an open field to recover. Some were loaded onto rickshaws, still bleeding and in a semi-conscious state, to be sent home. One woman fell off a rickshaw and sustained serious head injuries. At another camp in Bihar state in January 2012, 53 lower caste women were sterilised by one doctor in two hours one evening, in a high school classroom where desks had been pushed together to make an “operating table”.
There seem to have been no deaths resulting in those instances, but they regularly occur. Official records show that between 2009 and 2012 the government paid compensation for 568 deaths resulting from sterilisation, and a total of 1,434 people died from such procedures between 2003 and 2012.
Nearly all of them would be women. Over 37 percent of women in India who report any use of contraception cite sterilisation as their method and 1 percent cite a husband’s vasectomy. Indira Gandhi seems to have been the only one who could coerce men into be sterilised. In recent decades this method has fallen almost completely to their wives: 97.4 percent of sterilisations in 2013 were carried out on women.
No doubt there are population control enthusiasts who consider the number of casualties resulting from sterilisation campaigns to be proportionate to the more than 4 million of these operations carried out each year (4.6 in the year to March 2013) in pursuit of the “necessary” goal of slowing India’s population growth.
Many experts seem obsessed with the Asian country’s projected growth, from 1.26 billion to 1.5 billion by 2030 – outstripping China – and on through the middle decades of this century. The popular perception is that Indians are having large numbers of babies and that drastic measures are necessary to prevent some kind of catastrophe.
That’s simply not true. The average number of births per woman has fallen from 6 in 1951, when India first embraced population control, to 2.5 in 2012. Even in poor states the highest total fertility rate is 3.5 (Bihar). In Chhattisgarh the TFR is 2.7. If population growth has not slowed as quickly as some would like, it is because death rates have fallen and people are living longer.
The other factor that will keep the population growing in coming decades is the current large adolescent demographic.
Since the authorities cannot stop people getting healthier or growing up, and since men are difficult targets, they have turned on poor women and are bullying them into forgoing their fertility altogether. Most of the women targeted in the mass sterilisation campaigns do not even realise that the effect is permanent. They have become victims in a numbers game.
But there is nothing essentially sinister in numbers, unless you simply do not like human beings. India is an emerging economy with good prospects, partly because of its demographics – workforce age is increasing and it has a middle class that over the next five years will probably double in size.
With its demographic dividend and prosperity India can improve the lot of all its citizens: improve local economies, extend education and good mother and infant care to village women, introduce pensions for the elderly – all things that have been shown to lower birth rates even without contraceptive technology, let alone sterilisation targets.
That such abhorrent practices can persist after six decades of collaboration, not say collusion, between the global population control movement and the Indian government shows that they are simply on the wrong path. The whole idea of a government or world body “controlling” the number of people is offensive to human dignity. If those in power set their minds to serving the people they will find that the population will regulate itself. It always has.
Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet.