Field hospital where over 100 women are sterilized daily
India's target-driven quotas are producing horrific scenes, largely financed by Western grants.
- Carolyn Moynihan
- March 27, 2013
The end of the financial year has arrived in India, as it has in a number of other countries, but there the pressure of the bottom line has produced a very shocking effect. Early last month two doctors working at a hospital in the Malda district of West Bengal, performed sterilisation surgery on 103 women in one day. Since the hospital could only accommodate 30 women the rest were carried out on rough stretchers and dumped on an open field to recover. Some were loaded onto rickshaws, still bleeding and in semi-conscious or unconscious states, to be sent home. One woman fell off a rickshaw on her way home and had to be hospitalised with severe injuries.
This barbarous scene, captured on video by activists and aired on Indian news channel NDTV, may seem like a throwback to the 1970s when Indira Gandhi’s war on population was in full swing – something local and anomalous in 2013 – but it is not. Indian human rights activists say that mass sterilisation camps occur across the country, especially in the poorest states, driven by female sterilisation targets set by state governments in the spirit of the central government’s population plan.
“The camps are happening non-stop right now throughout the country because the end of the financial year – March 31 – is approaching and there is pressure on health workers to meet their sterilisation quotas,” said an American lawyer with the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) in Delhi in the Population Research Institute’s journal last month. “We’ll have a constant stream of injured and dying women as a result.”
The PRI Review article cites evidence of recent quota setting from Rajasthan and Bihar states. To motivate the poor whom they are targeting, officials offer incentives such as mobile phones, lottery tickets for cars, motorcycles and refrigerators. Most states also offer small cash bribes. The Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers, usually just poor village women themselves, are also paid a bonus for every person from their district that they bring to a sterilisation camp. A sign in a village in Bihar earlier this month stated that every ASHA worker would be required to bring 12 women and one man in for sterilisation. Since there are 8400 such workers this would amount to over 100,000 sterilisations.
“These are extraordinarily marginalised women,” the HRLN lawyer adds. Most cannot read and are married young. “If the government has money for incentives, it really should be paying for basic health care necessities. These women go to hospitals without running water or electricity.”
Sometimes there is no hospital at all. Affidavits submitted to the Supreme Court of India by HRLN last April tell of a sterilisation camp in Bihar in January 2012, in which 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”.
Whatever justifications India may offer for its current policy of fertility reduction, nothing can excuse such inhumane and reckless methods.