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Post documents Indian horror


A front page Washington Post story in 1994 provides additional evidence of the miserable conditions under which India’s female sterilization camps are operated.1

Observing the day’s activities at one sterilization camp in Sarsawa, India — held in a schoolhouse which had been cleared of its desks — the Post reporter wrote that prior to their surgeries, the women received a local anesthesia and were left “heaped in a pile of tangled arms and legs on a damp floor outside the operating room.”

During the sterilization procedure the women lie on “makeshift operating tables where a doctor dedicates a total of 45 seconds to each patient — slitting open the belly, inserting a laparoscope, tying the fallopian tubes, dipping the laparoscope into a pail of lukewarm water and then moving on to the next patient.”

The recovery room was a “dim ward where dozens of women lie side by side on the concrete floor, filling the room with the low moans and quavering wails of excruciating pain.” “Inside the operating room, family members milled about without masks during the procedures…Dust blew into the operating room the through a window.”

Prizes

In the yard outside the sterilization center were “tables of prizes for the government workers who had brought in the most women. Three patients won the worker a wall clock, 5 a transistor radio, 10 a bicycle and 25 a black-and-white television.”

At another camp in neighboring Saharanpur, the reporter noted that prior to the sterilization, blood samples were taken by a medical assistant who “pricked each woman’s finger — using the same needle on all the women .…”

The women were given a “cursory pelvic examination” and those “found to be pregnant were offered an abortion before sterilization.” As one doctor attending the women explained, “It saves on drug consumption. You only have to use one dose of anesthesia.”

Inside the operating room, “one doctor worked three tables in conveyor belt fashion, moving from women to woman. His instruments were not sterilized between operations, and the sheets covering the tables were never changed.”

How voluntary is it?

To the Indian government and U.S. population controllers, the women lying on the schoolroom floor represent a success of the country’s population control program; in 1993 alone, 4.1 million Indian women were sterilized and through the years tens of millions of women {and men) have been similarly neutered.

But how voluntary have been the individual decisions made by these millions to submit to being sterilized? During the 1970s, several million Indian men were forcibly vasectomized. Now, critics of India’s sterilization program say it is still “inhuman because it relies on quotas, targets, bribes and frequently coercion…”

These critics note that most of the women who are sterilized are poor and illiterate, and have been “lured to the government sterilization clinics and camps with promises of houses, land or loans by government officials under intense pressure to meet sterilization quotas.”

V.M. Singh, a legislator from the State of Uttar Paradesh, declared that “[e]very single thing in my district leads to one wretched thing: Will the woman be sterilized?” Singh explained that “[p]eople are told if they want electricity, they will have to be sterilized. If they want a loan, they have to be sterilized.”

Singh, who has complained about the situation to the state government, said that officials in his district and others along the border with Nepal, in order to meet their quotas, often “resort to bribing Nepalese woman to travel to India for sterilizations.”

The Post noted that the pressure for sterilization is especially acute in India’s poor northern states, which “impose sterilization quotas on virtually every government employee in the district, from tax collectors to schoolteachers. If they don’t meet the quota, they don’t get paid,” explained V.M. Singh.

Singh said that in his district, “teachers routinely abandon their posts for weeks at a time as the fiscal-year budget deadline approaches so they can round up women to be sterilized.” At the end of the year you are judged on how many sterilizations you have gotten: nothing else is considered,” said Prem C. Varma, a health education officer working in the Saharanpur district. “If it’s a voluntary program, there should not be targets,” Varma said.

For most village women, months of negotiation precede the trip from their simple mud huts to the stained sheets of the makeshift operating table. The discussions do not begin with medical personnel, however. Rather, it usually begins with a local government bureaucrat, the “motivator” who will be paid for each woman he can deliver, telling the husband that “if his wife undergoes a sterilization she will receive 145 rupees (about $4.60) and the family may qualify for materials for a new house, or a loan for a cow, or a small piece of land.” And so another woman is off to a sterilization camp where she too can wind up on the “recovery room” floor.

Endnotes

1 “Teeming India Engulfed by Soaring Birthrates: Sterilization Quotas Blasted as Inhuman and Coercive,” The Washington Post, 21 August 1994, A1, 32. All quotes in this piece are taken from that Washington Post article.

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