The massive demand for sterilization means that at clinics that house six beds up to 100 women lie on floors waiting for surgery, said Das. Some state-employed surgeons operate on as many as 13,000 women per year, like Dr. R.K. Gupta, who was arrested on Wednesday on charges of breaching government protocol when he plowed through more than 83 surgeries in less than three hours at a health camp in Chhattisgarh state.
“It’s basically like cattle camps, it absolutely inhuman,” said Das. “These venues are not meant for so many people.”
In 1994, global health officials at a conference on population and development in Cairo, Egypt, decided to move away from coercive sterilization methods, favoring informed consent. Around the same time, the science of female laparoscopies improved, and it became easier to perform the procedure.
These two influences, said Das, influenced India policy makers to focus sterilization campaigns on women instead of men. Women, furthermore, are considered less politically powerful and more susceptible to pressure, said Das.
“We think we can push women, we can coerce women,” said Poonam Muttreja, executive director of the Population Foundation of India.
Leaving men out of the family planning conversation has put the burden of population control entirely on women. Contraceptive counselors, Muttreja said, do not discuss vasectomies as a suitable alternative to female sterilization.
“Indian men think that their virility will be affected and that they become weak. That’s a myth, and the government has done nothing to correct that,” Muttreja added.
India’s family planning policies hit the country’s poor and underprivileged women hardest, say experts. Laws, for example, that bar people with more than three children from holding office in local village councils disproportionately affect socially disadvantaged groups, according to a study backed by the United Nations’ Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA). The policy also led to a rise in forced abortions and abandonment of female fetuses, the researchers found.
“India’s a democracy,” Muttreja said. “It’s not necessarily a democracy for poor women. But for men if you’re poor, you still have choices. If you’re a woman, you have less.”
With news wires