The following evening Chaiti began vomiting. Her conditioned worsened overnight, and the health center sent her by ambulance to the district hospital three hours away the next morning. She died en route. After a public outcry, the government agreed to pay Bud Singh and the other grieving husbands a “compensation check” for 200,000 rupees, or about $3200.
One would think that a mass murder—with 14 dead and dozens hospitalized–would lead to a moratorium, at least temporarily, on the holding of sterilization camps. That is not what happened. The sterilization camps are the centerpieces of India’s entire population control campaign, and they went forward without pause.
Two days after the news broke about the deaths of the women—at a time when Indian health officials and human rights activists were denouncing the sterilization camp and Surgeon Gupta was hiding from angry family members and protesters–it was business as usual in the rural town of Gaurella 20 miles to the north. The family planning workers were holding their regular twice-weekly sterilization camp at the local health center.
The death toll at that camp was not as high as it had been at Bilaspur. Only one woman died, but many more were hospitalized. In fact, deaths in the camps are so common that the single Gaurella death probably wouldn’t have been reported at all in the media except for the events earlier in the week. Or if the Delhi-based Human Rights Law Network had not been on the scene in the person of an activist and two lawyers to interview the deceased women’s relatives and health workers in Chhattisgarh. The stories they heard – like Chaiti’s above – are chilling.
As we at PRI have documented in years past, sterilization camps like those in Chhattisgarh are routinely held throughout India. Some women are convinced to undergo sterilizations by means of cash incentives, while others are simply misled or even coerced into submitting. And in almost all cases the women will not have given their informed consent. Indeed, they could not, because they had not been told about the risks of the procedure at all. There have even been cases of very young women with no children being tricked into consenting to sterilization by thumbprint unaware that it would leave them infertile.
Human rights groups like HRLN have documented cases of abuse in harrowing detail, from dozens of women being sterilized on school desks by doctors operating by flashlight, to women maimed in hasty procedures carried out to meet government sterilization quotas. Just last year, the Indian public was outraged after
Who is to blame for these abuses?
Those involved in the Bilispur case engaged in a round robin of blame. Government officials pointed fingers at the surgeon’s lack of hygiene and rusty implements. The surgeon in turn blamed the government, saying, “It is up to the administration to decide how many women would be kept for operation,” he said. And both of them later came to blame tainted drugs.
Human rights activists call for an end to the sterilization camps, which not only violate basic national health and safety standards, but also violate the human rights of the women who–by bribery and deceit and even force–are induced to come in.
But the real culprit is the national population control plan, under which numerical targets are set for sterilizations to be carried out by states, localities, and individual health centers. The sterilization camps are an outgrowth of an effort by the health centers and health workers to meet the quotas that they have been assigned.