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How A 38-Year-Old Law Controls Chhattisgarh Tribals' Right And Access To Sterilisation

The government recently amended it—but experts beg to differ.

05/06/2017 2:39 PM IST | Updated 05/06/2017 2:39 PM IST
Parth Sanyal / Reuters

A 38-year-old government rule that controls the right of the tribals of Chhattisgarh to undergo sterilisation was amended on 26 May. At least, that's what the officials say, but experts have a different view of it.

The order, which was passed in 1979 in the undivided state of Madhya Pradesh, did not allow members of the particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTG) access to sterilisation. And the reason behind the state's control over the bodies of its subjects was related to the status ascribed to these tribes.

The beginning

The dwindling population of the PVTGs worried the government enough to exempt their members from the forced sterilisation project unleashed across the country during the Emergency (1975-77) by the Congress-led Indira Gandhi government.

Since 1979, after a formal order was passed, successive governments have kept the Baiga, Kamar, Pahari Korwa, Abhujhmaria and Birhor tribes of the region on a surveillance regarding their access to sterilisation and birth control.

The result of such draconian control over the choices of individuals has led to lingering health crises among the women who have borne several children over the years. The dire poverty of these tribes means there is never enough food for their rising numbers. Malnutrition and misery are a part of these communities now.

What has changed—or not

The government claims to have amended the existing order as of last month, allowing sterilisation for the women of these tribes if they apply for permission to undergo the procedure and procure a letter from the subdivisional magistrate.

Activists and experts counter the official version, saying that such a provision already did exist within the framework of the law. The 1979 order also had a similar clause about seeking permission for sterilisation. In any case, the supposed change in the rule doesn't still allow full autonomy to the tribals to decide what they want to do with their reproductive systems.

The fallout

The real victim of the whims of state policy remain the tribals, already some of the most disenfranchised among India's population.

In 2014, 13 women died in Bilaspur district of Chhattisgarh after undergoing sterilisation. A government fact-finding body investigated this tragedy and found the doctor who had carried out the procedures had flouted several existing norms. He probably didn't ensure basic hygiene while carrying out these surgeries. No wonder, as autopsy reports revealed, each one of the women died of septicemia.

While the government tried to cover up these deaths as caused by contamination due to rat poison, it did not mention anything about the decades-old rule that forces people to travel to neighbouring states to go through sterilisation, often at the cost of their lives.

Further, even though the government has not made much effort to promote male contraception as a viable birth-control measure, it is willing to introduce injectable contraceptives, which could have a detrimental effect on women's health.

The chances of corruption among officials, who are given the power to decide the fate of the tribals, also increases significantly due to such government regulations.

Ultimately, the fallout of such patriarchal policy-making is endless suffering on women, perpetuated over decades.

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