Fa­tal plan­ning

In­dia has al­ways leaned heav­ily on ster­il­i­sa­tion, ne­glect­ing other meth­ods of birth con­trol

Down to Earth - - COVER STORY -

Oasked if she knows about spac­ing N BE­ING meth­ods like in­tra uter­ine de­vice (iud) or con­tra­cep­tive pills, Takhat­pur sur­vivor Rina Pa­tel an­swered in the neg­a­tive.She also said that no one coun­selled her at the camp about side ef­fects and post-op­er­a­tion pre­cau­tions after ster­il­i­sa­tion. (See ‘Ster­il­i­sa­tion over­drive’.)

Overem­pha­sis on ster­il­i­sa­tion has its roots in the pol­icy fol­lowed by In­dia since 1952 when it be­came the first na­tion to adopt an of­fi­cial fam­ily plan­ning pro­gramme. A United Na­tions Ad­vi­sory Mis­sion vis­ited In­dia in 1965 and per­suaded the gov­ern­ment to fix tar­gets for wide­spread use of iuds.The next year, the gov­ern­ment set up a depart­ment of fam­ily plan­ning within the health min­istry. While iuds did not be­come popular, In­dia em­barked on a tar­get­driven, camp-based ap­proach. In­cen­tives in the form of money and goods like tran­sis­tors were of­fered to ster­il­i­sa­tion can­di­dates.

The first camp was or­gan­ised in 1970 in Er­naku­lam, Ker­ala, for va­sec­tomies. Other parts of the coun­try fol­lowed and in 1970-71, nearly 1.3 mil­lion va­sec­tomies took place in In­dia. Dur­ing Emer­gency, scores of men were co­erced into va­sec­tomy. Ad­dress­ing the joint con­fer­ence of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Physi­cians in In­dia in Jan­uary 1976, then prime min­is­ter Indira Gandhi said, “We must now act de­ci­sively and bring down the birth rate... Some per­sonal rights have to be held in abeyance for the hu­man rights of the na­tion.” Nearly 6.5 mil­lion men were ster­ilised by the end of 1977.

Gandhi had to pay a price after 1,774 ster­il­i­sa­tion-re­lated deaths and her party lost the elec­tions after the Emer­gency. “The les­son learnt was: don’t touch the men.And then, the fo­cus shifted to women,” says Mo­han Rao, pro­fes­sor of pub­lic health at Jawa­har­lal Nehru Univer­sity in Delhi.

The depart­ment of fam­ily plan­ning was also re­named depart­ment of fam­ily wel­fare to make it sound more agree­able. Fol­low­ing a spurt in fe­male ster­il­i­sa­tions and ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in op­er­a­tions, the min­istry is­sued guide­lines for ster­il­i­sa­tion.By the late 1990s the

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