Seven years after she underwent a sterilisation procedure, 40 year-old Shalini Devi (name changed) gave birth again. A resident of Bankat in Uttar Pradesh's Chitrakoot, Shalini Devi says she was “encouraged” to opt for sterilisation by a community health worker in 2007, but in 2014, she became pregnant again.
An “embarrassed” Shalini Devi, who had grown up children and a son-in-law, wanted an abortion but was too anaemic. This past November, she gave birth to an “extremely weak and ill” baby.
In Delhi, doctors performed a tubectomy on 28 year-old Kiran (name changed) immediately after she delivered, while she was unaware of having the procedure carried out, her husband was given 10 minutes to sign the consent form. The couple were also misled into agreeing to a caesarian birth.
The recent deaths of 13 women in Chattisgarh is not the only instance of India's flawed family planning model, stories of Shalini Devi and Kiran that were shared at a public hearing in the Capital on Wednesday offer evidence on how family planning options are focussed around sterilisation of women and often carried out without the basic facilities and care.
Women from various States shared their experiences at the public hearing organised by the National Coalition Against Two-Child Norm and Coercive Population Policies (NCTCN), National Alliance for Maternal Health as a Human Right (NAMHHR) and the Human Rights Lawn Network (HRLN), in collaboration with several other organisations. They testified about the lack of care and medical facilities and how there are no pre-operative screenings done nor follow ups post operation.
Health rights activist Devika Biswas who filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court regarding unsafe and unethical sterilisations recalled the gruesome details of how on a cold January of 2012 women were sterilised at a camp conducted in a school in Bihar's Araria District.
She said despite the laid down rules, such camps continue to be held in schools. “These camps are being held in schools, where there are no operation theatres, no facilities, and in unhygienic conditions. A pregnant woman, Jitni Devi, who was operated upon at the camp miscarried days after her surgery. When I met her, she looked stunned, and all that she told me was does the government value us, we are just baby making machines,” Ms. Biswas said.
While the Chattisgarh deaths have flagged the issue of unsafe sterilisations, the problems of failed sterilisation, lack of informed choice and consent and lack of care and counselling were also highlighted at the public hearing.
Women who underwent sterilisation, but became pregnant again also complained of being not given compensation. Priyanka (name changed) a resident of Uttar Pradesh, was denied compensation as well as medication after she conceived a baby two years after sterilisation. She claims she was asked to pay bribe to get the compensation.
Responding to the stories, Justice Cyriac Joseph, former Supreme Court Judge and a Member of the National Human Rights Commission, said on November 12 that the NHRC had issued notices to the Government of India and to the Chhattisgarh Government asking them for an explanation of the tragedy within two weeks. A month down the line, the NHRC is yet to hear from them and is now pursuing the matter, he said.