Dr. R K Gupta was honored by the government of the state of Chattisgarh in India on the country’s Republic Day, January 26. The reason? For having conducted more than 100,000 sterilization surgeries.
In some quarters of India, a country of over 1.2 billion people, Gupta is a hero.
Today, however, Gupta was arrested and dismissed from government service. He is one of half a dozen health officials facing criminal charges. On Saturday, he performed 83 tubectomy surgeries within five hours — more than double the limit for one day. The young mothers were sent home. Fourteen have died of subsequent medical complications. Local government officials say at least 20 other young mothers are in critical condition and are being treated in local hospitals.
“This is terrible,” fumed Archbishop Prakash Mallavarapu, chairman of the healthcare commission of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI). The tragic deaths from the government sterilization program, the archbishop told Aleteia, “raises questions about whose need the government was promoting with such health care camps.”
Bloomberg reported that Gupta used dirty instruments to sterilize the women, according to a local medical official who asked not to be named because details of the investigation are private. Gupta said he made no errors. He blamed the deaths on oral medicines that were given to patients after the surgery.
The sterilizations were done at a free “camp” organized by the health department of Chattisgarh in central India. According to reports, the surgeries were conducted in an operation theater of a private hospital that has been unused for months, with “rusty” surgical tools and substandard drugs. The patients were asked to lie down on the floor.
Medical reports from the hospitals where the survivors are being treated said the women showed signs of toxic shock, possibly because of dirty surgical equipment or contaminated medicines.
“This is shocking. It is a clear case of failure to follow medical ethics,” Father Tomi Thomas, director general of the Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI) told Aleteia.
Shocking, but perhaps not a surprise to some. “Sterilization abuses have been committed in India and Bangladesh since at least 1970,” said Dr. Brian Clowes of Human Life International. “The poor had no voice then, and they have no voice now. Just two years ago the Guardian reported that the British government was funding dangerous and coercive sterilization campaigns, and here we see that more campaigns continue. Women are usually the victims, but we hear no cries of protest from those who champion ‘reproductive choice.’ This is one more reason to be concerned with the Gates Foundation and the British government’s ‘Family Planning 2020,’ a campaign bring billions of dollars’ worth of pressure on women in India and around the developing world to stop having children.”
“The officials were only keen to meet their targets and were not concerned about the safety of the victims,” charged Archbishop Mallavarapu, who is archbishop of Vishakapattnam on the east coast of India.
“This is murder, not surgery,” charged Holy Spirit Sister Julie George, a practicing attorney and director of ‘Streevani’ (Voice of Women), based at Pune, in neighbouring Maharashtra state.
“The lives of the poor people have no value for such unscrupulous officials. The TV reports of how carelessly the surgeries were done is sickening,” Sister Julie said.
For the government officials, the nun noted, “all that matters is to meet the ‘quota’ set for them by the government.”
India has been using abortion, legalized by the 1971 Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, as a population control tool since 1972 along with sterilization. The iron-handed bid at population control in the 1970s hit its nadir during the infamous national emergency (1975-77). City transport buses in New Delhi packed with office workers had been directed to government hospitals for sterilization.
Under the direction of the federal government, each state (divided into district) is set a quota for sterilization. With the changing times, the government has been raising the incentives for all those involved in the sterilization campaign — from those who undergo sterilization surgery, health workers who bring “volunteers” to such camps from remote areas, and government health workers who conduct the surgery.
While the government has publicly denounced coercive and persuasive population control programs since the late 1990s, it never stopped the sterilization quota regime for the health department, especially in backward states with high population growth rate. Chattisgarh is one of such states where sterilization targets continue to be promoted by the government.
While a government spokesperson denied setting such quotas, Sona Sharma, joint director for advocacy with the Population Foundation of India, pointed out that Chattisgarh state had a target of 220,000 sterilizations this year and Bilaspur, the district where the deaths took place, had a target of about such 15,000 surgeries.
Recently, the federal government doubled the incentive for sterilization surgeries from 600 to 1400 Rupees ($10-$23) for women, and 1100 to 2000 Rupees ($18-$33) for men, along with raising the incentive for government health workers to 250 Rupees ($4) each for bringing in “volunteers” for the surgery.
According to government data, 4.6 million Indian women had been sterilized during 2011-2012, as part of the government’s population control program.
“There is no point in blaming the health workers and getting away. The government itself is responsible for the mess with the target-oriented incentive regime,” said the activist nun.
While the Chattisgarh government initially announced compensation of 200,000 Rupees (US$ 3300) each to the families of those killed, national furor over the deaths led to that amount being doubled.
“Declaring compensation is an eyewash. Will it bring back the mothers alive for the children?” asked the nun. Most of the dead mothers in the age group of 20-32 have two to three kids.
“It looks like poor people have no right to health care,” lamented Sister Julie. “They can be treated like guinea pigs.”
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