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 was pregnant again.
An “embarrassed” Shalini Devi who had grown-up children, including a married daughter, wanted an abortion but was too anaemic. In November, she gave birth to an “extremely weak and ill” baby.
In Delhi, doctors performed tubectomy on 28-year-old Kiran (name changed) immediately after she gave birth. While she was unaware of the procedure, her husband was given 10 minutes to sign the consent form. The couple were also misled into agreeing to a Caesarean section.
The recent death of 13 women in Chhattisgarh 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 show how family planning options are focussed around sterilisation of women and often carried out without the basic care.
Women from various States shared their experiences at the hearing organised by the National Coalition Against Two-Child Norm and Coercive Population Policies (NCTCN), the National Alliance for Maternal Health as a Human Right (NAMHHR) and the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), in collaboration with several other organisations. They testified to the lack of care and medical facilities, and pointed out that there were no pre-operative screenings or follow-ups.
Health rights activist Devika Biswas, who filed a public interest litigation petition in the Supreme Court regarding unsafe and unethical sterilisations, recalled the gruesome details of how on a cold day in January 2012, women were sterilised at a camp in a school in Bihar’s Araria district. She said despite the laid down rules, such camps continued to be held in schools where there were no operation theatres and facilities, and in unhygienic conditions.
Lack of informed choice and consent, and the absence of care and counselling were also highlighted at the hearing.
Women who underwent sterilisation but became pregnant again also complained that they were not given compensation. Priyanka (name changed), a U.P. resident, was denied compensation as well as medication after she conceived a baby two years after sterilisation. She claims she was asked to pay a 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 that on November 12, the NHRC had issued notices to the government of India and to the Chhattisgarh government seeking an explanation for the sterilisation deaths within two weeks. A month down the line, the NHRC is yet to hear from them, he said.