Revisiting Mass Sterilisation in India – Population Management or Menace?
According to the 2011 census, the population of India was recorded as 1.2 billion people. Such a situation calls for urgent measures to address family planning and to control of population growth.
Like in most modern democracies, government agencies, burdened with welfare obligations take upon themselves the duty to ensure a controlled population figure. Following such a welfare model, the Indian government has been conducting sterilisation camps across the country and awarding cash incentives for the same. Female sterilisation is seen by some, including those writing government policy, as a viable medium to control population growth and is often preferred over the alternatives of using contraceptive pills, condoms or even male sterilisation. The coercive nature of such policy measures are presented by the government as not only acceptable, but as imperative. However, the tragic deaths of 12 women in one such sterilisation camp in the state of Chattisgarh and the hospitalisation of 60 more, unveiled a series of horrifying realties of the population control policies endorsed by the Indian government. The incident urges one to think and reflect upon the nature of population control measures.
A UN report on contraceptive patterns showed that India carried out 37% of the world’s female sterilisation and 1% of male sterilisation. The heavy contrast in the figures may be viewed as a reflection of the deep rooted patriarchy that is entrenched in the Indian society. Women’s sterilisations are seen as an easy method that would enable population control without obstructing the male virility. Human Rights Watch also noted that health workers were assigned targets for family planning services which, to a major extent, involved motivating people for female sterilisation. This remains prevalent today despite India asserting at the International Conference on Population and Developments in 1994 that there would be a target free approach to family planning. While female sterilisation is far more common than male sterilisation in India, the latter though procedures such as a vasectomy, is safer, simpler, about half the cost of female sterilisation, and are probably more effective.
Health Care Precautions
Women voluntarily opt for undergoing sterilisation as a trade off for cash and welfare incentives. However, the shocking incident of November 2014 saw many women trading off their lives. Appallingly, this isn’t a one off incident. Between 2009 and 2012 the government paid compensation for 568 deaths resulting from sterilisation. A total of 1,434 people died from such procedures in India between 2003 and 2012. In the present state of affairs, journalists reported on the abysmal conditions of the instruments used for surgery and the lack of proper pre and post operative care. Contaminated drugs used in the camps were also identified as probable causes of the tragedy.
Needless to say, the approach taken up by the Indian government needs to be revised:-
- The selective nature of targeting women to undergo sterilisation is fundamentally flawed and warrants attention. Both sexes must be equally engaged in the process. More male participation in effective contraceptive selection is needed. Thus, awareness and counselling on contraceptive choice needs to be increased.
- Contraceptive alternatives need to be made easily accessible and people must be motivated to use them.
- Lastly, consent for sterilisation processes must be sought only after informing the individual about the implications of surgery and also of the availability of other (more transient) alternatives.
Policy makers must carefully scrutinise such discriminatory policy decisions through the lens of equality and welfare. The question that needs to be inspected upon by our collective consciousness is whether such policy initiatives should be encouraged when the state machinery lacks the facilities to safely implement them?