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Population Control, Money Matters & Denial of Rights; Hysterectomies In India

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

The Emergency of India took place from 1975 to 1977. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared it with the goal of controlling “internal disturbances”, which led to constitutional rights being suspended and freedom of speech and press being withdrawn. A significant aspect of the Emergency was forced sterilisation procedures which exist to date.

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1. Before The Emergency

The US government had started putting pressure on Indira Gandhi years before the Emergency to undertake a more aggressive policy on population control. They felt that population growth was a threat to trade and national security, a view held due to a robust campaign backed by corporate funders like the Rockefeller Foundation and the Shell Corporation. Therefore, a widespread population control campaign was initiated, which got accelerated with the coming of the Emergency. At the time, men were primarily affected by this campaign.

2. Indian Women And Hysterectomies

Even today, with a revamp of the population control policy and the renaming of the National Family Planning Programme to the National Family Welfare Programme, not much has changed in terms of sterilisation – other than the focus now shifting overwhelmingly towards women.

In 2013, Sunita from a Rajasthani village went to the local doctor because she suffered from heavy bleeding during menstruation. After conducting an ultrasound, the doctor said she might develop cancer and advised her to get her womb removed.

The surgery was forcefully administered on her on the same day, without her getting a chance to discuss it with others or think about it herself. After asking village leaders for more information, it was confirmed that about 90% of the village women had undergone hysterectomies, including many in their 20s and 30s.

Similarly, the death of 15 women in 2014 at two state-run sterilisation camps in Chhattisgarh’s Bilaspur caused havoc. Protests were held, and a doctor was arrested. The doctor said that the government pressured him to meet targets; the surgeries had gone well, but the actual problem was with the medicines that were provided to the women. Reports say he operated on 83 women in 5 hours, whereas the government says that one surgeon should only perform 35 operations a day.

group of women
Representational image

3. Doctors And The Economics Behind It

Doctors’ opinions regarding hysterectomies are at opposite ends of the spectrum, ranging from having no worries regarding the procedure to being fully negative about it.

A health charity doctor suggests that village practitioners definitely engage in malpractice to make quick money. According to him, money is made on ailments that can be treated in a simpler, less invasive way. Such procedures usually cost ₹15,000, which often means families sell cattle and other valuable assets to meet fee requirements. Another city doctor says doctors give a diagnosis of cancer readily in rural areas, which is wrong. She convinces her patients that infections or heavy bleeding do not necessarily need an operation.

On the other hand, when a BBC reporter asked a rural doctor about how he identifies cancerous growth based on an ultrasound scan, he admitted that he sometimes didn’t do biopsies before removing the uterus. This shows disregard on his part and further validates the previous opinions about diagnosing cancer to make quick money. Once the uterus and any biopsy tissue have been removed and destroyed, it becomes hard to prove that the operation wasn’t justified, which only adds to the problem at hand.

4. Implications

For Sunita, two years had passed since her surgery, and she still felt weak and unable to do work. In contrast, in the Chhattisgarh incident, when the women were brought to the hospital after their operations, they were vomiting continuously, and their blood pressure dramatically fell. Several additional short term side effects lead to a lot of similar complications.

According to Oxfam’s health policy advisor, even if the hysterectomy leaves the ovaries intact, it can trigger menopause. Chances of a lack of control over urination and defecation, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, back pain, loss of sexual pleasure, thrombosis and vaginal prolapse may also occur.

5. Specific Concerns About Hysterectomies On Neurodivergents

The whole procedure of hysterectomies is invariably grim, but even more so for neurodivergent folks. Hysterectomies are mainly carried out to avoid becoming pregnant if abused due to their mental state and behaviour. Therefore, it is seen as a means of safeguarding. Parents and society stay silent about the abuse and the hysterectomies or abortions after the abuse.

Farheena, a girl diagnosed with cerebral palsy, was advised to undergo a hysterectomy to stop her periods. Her mother was told that this would help avoid hygiene issues during menstruation. Again, this was a way to make quick bucks on the part of doctors, and she did not undergo the procedure.

Still, it is a commonplace to conduct hysterectomies or sterilisations on neurodivergent by parents and state agencies in government-run homes or shelters. The denial of the basic option to bear a child is a concerning reality. Despite that, a silver lining in the form of a new Draft Disabilities Bill has been introduced, which talks about such women and girls and their right to be protected from all forms of abuse, violence and exploitation.


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