Newsletter Jan 1995


“Small Family is a Happy Family” - the slogan is all too familiar. Government propaganda and empty promises have reached every little corner of India. At the same time that the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) was taking place in Cairo with much pomp and show, women’s groups in Delhi had organised a “speak out” of victims of Family Planning abuses by the Government, on 10th Sep., 1994. The participating groups were Saheli, Jagori, Sabhla Sangh, along with the Human Rights Trust.

The objective was to expose the government population control policy, by focussing on the ground reality and women’s experiences. While the government was trying to present itself in a good light in the international arena, it was necessary to bring out the true nature of its anti-people and anti-women policies. Some of the cases presented were actual testimonies of women, while others were drawn from surveys and working with women at the basti level.

SANTOSH: Twenty three years old Santosh from Seemapuri, whose husband earns Rs.1500/- per month as a peon in the Home Ministry, has two children. With the belief that a small family would indeed contribute to happiness, she got an IUD inserted in April ’92 at the local health centre. The following month, she had very heavy bleeding, and two months subsequently had no bleeding at all. Since her periods had been quite regular before the IUD, Santosh got worried and consulted the hospital. There, she found out that she was pregnant. The doctor advised her against an abortion, because the pregnancy was already over four months. The question which arises now is – who is going to bear the expenditure of time, money, and other resources to bring up the third child? The doctor at the health centre had inserted an IUD to fulfil his quota, but got off scot-free when it came to dealing with the consequences.

BILLO RANI: A similar story is that of Billo Rani of Bhandawar village near Jaipur. After three sons, she got herself sterilized at a government camp. It was quite a shock for her to get pregnant five years after her tubectomy. Who is to answer for these failures of birth control measures?

NATHO DEVI: Nineteen year old Natho Devi’s husband was forcibly sterilized by government health workers. Ironically, the operation failed, and she gave birth to two children. But the failure of the government health machinery had serious consequences for Natho Devi. She was taunted and socially ostracised for alleged moral lapses on her part, since her husband had undergone a vasectomy. She was suspected of having extra-marital relations, and as a result was completely traumatised and psychologically broken. Who will answer for this, or go to her mohalla to clear her name?

BHAGWAN DEVI:  Only twenty seven years old, she has been reduced to a mere skeleton because of continuous bleeding. After two children, she had got herself sterilized at the Kasturba Gandhi Hospital. However, after a year, the operation failed and she conceived. After an M.T.P. a tubectomy was repeated. But even the second operation was not successful and she once again conceived. This time, accepting her fate, she went ahead and had the child. Bhagwan Devi has suffered from frequent bleeding, which has continued non-stop for the last three months.

ASHA: Thirty-five years old, decided, along with her husband who is a labourer to have herself sterilized after they had four children. The sterilization, performed in ’90, was carried out in Bara Hindurao Hospital by one Dr. Alka (Reg. No. 789). But Asha gave birth to two more children after the operation. To make matters worse, she has stopped menstruating after the operation, so she cannot even tell immediately if she is pregnant.

SHANTI: The inhuman conditions of sterilization camps are illustrated by Shanti’s story. Doctors in a camp in NOIDA, U.P., refused to believe that she was pregnant, and without even the use of anaesthesia or painkillers, bound her hands and feet, gagged her mouth, and sterilized her. The fall out was that Shanti had to undergo a traumatic abortion when she was six months pregnant? Moreover, she has suffered from backache and profuse white discharge after the operation.

MEENA: Forty years old Meena testified that her husband was supportive and sympathetic, and unlike many women she knew, she did not have to face beating or abuse from him. Her husband had undergone a vasectomy in 1975, in spite of which, she conceived one year later. Talking to others who had undergone vasectomy together, they discovered that many of them had met with a similar fate of sterilization failure. Meena gave birth to another child in 1981 and in order to make sure, she herself got sterilized. But her woes/did not end, since she has been having irregular menstruation subsequent to the operation, due to which she gets very easily exhausted, and is unable to work as hard as she used to before.

What clearly emerges from these testimonies is that the government in its so called family welfare programme is interested only in fulfilling targets in order to control the population. It is of no concern to the population control lobby that users of F.P. services, especially women, have to suffer untold miseries in the name of family planning.

Unhygienic conditions, rude, abusive and disrespectful behaviour by health personnel; concealing information about hazards of the different contraceptives, and inhuman atmosphere of camps, have all contributed to revealing the true intentions of the government.

The women who came out with their experiences asserted that the government was exploiting their genuine need for birth control. The fact that women repeatedly got themselves sterilized was proof enough that they wanted to limit their families, but the government was obviously not competent even to provide adequate services to fulfil this need. In the discussion that followed, the need for safe contraception emerged as a concrete demand for the women’s movement, along with the campaign against hazardous contraceptives.