On the Ground, It’s Business As Usual: Jashodhara Dasgupta On One Year Since the Supreme Court Banned Sterilisation Camps

02 November 2017
It has been over a year since the Supreme Court ask the centre to begin shutting down sterilisation camps. According to the activist and policy advocate Jashodhara Dasgupta, little change has occurred on the ground.
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It has been over a year since the Supreme Court ask the centre to begin shutting down sterilisation camps. According to the activist and policy advocate Jashodhara Dasgupta, little change has occurred on the ground.
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In mid September 2016, the Supreme Court of India pronounced a judgment in the case of Devika Biswas vs Union of India. Biswas, an activist, had approached the courts following an incident in January 2012, when, over the course of a few hours, a surgeon sterilised over 50 women in a mass camp Bihar’s Araria district. During the procedure, one woman suffered a miscarriage, and three others lost significant amounts of blood. Biswas’s petition highlighted the cruelty of such procedures. It also condemned the use of sterilisation as a measure of population control—a practice that has been ongoing since the 1980s. (India has a dark history of coercion when it comes to reproductive rights, underpinned by the Malthusian ideology that population growth is stunting development. After thousands of men died in sterilisation procedures during the Emergency, in the 1980s, female sterilisation began to be promoted. The state has adopted a targeted approach to it since.)

Further, the petition stated, camps such as the one in Bihar are in direct contravention of guidelines framed by the centre—in 2005, inRamakant Rai vs Union of India, the court directed the central government to issue guidelines for minimum standards to be followed when conducting sterilisation procedures. The court also directed states to set up quality-assurance committees to ensure the implementation of these guidelines. The standards issued by the central government mandate, among other things, the informed consent of the patient; a preoperative health assessment and counseling; and a review of the requirements for post-operative care.

In its judgment in Devika Biswas, the Supreme Court directed the central government to end all sterilisation camps within three years. It chastised the centre for having failed to monitor these procedures, and noted that it had “passed the buck” to state governments on accounting for the high numbers of deaths. (The largest number of such deaths took place while the case was ongoing, in 2014, at a camp in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh.) The court likened mass sterilisation camps to coercion, and stated that they impinge upon the “reproductive freedoms of the most vulnerable groups of society.” The judgment was widely celebrated—many hailed it as a progressive step towards viewing contraception from a rights-based approach, a demand that feminist and public-health activists have long held.

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    Shaifali Agrawal is a Rajasthan-based independent journalist covering gender issues in India.

    Keywords: gender women National Rural Health Mission Health Sterilisation Women's health camps health policy targets
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