When Saraswati Devi awoke from the anesthesia, her clothes were soaked in blood. She was lying on a grass mat on the floor in excruciating pain, and there were no medical staff to answer her cries. She was one of 53 women who underwent surgeries at a “sterilization camp” sponsored by the government of India in its national campaign to drastically cut population growth.
The campaign is underwritten by tens of millions of dollars in American and British foreign-aid funds.
According to papers filed in the Supreme Court of India last month, the 53 women of low caste were recruited by government “motivators” who took them to a government middle school in Bihar this January. Anay Jumar Chowdhary, a government doctor, performed sterilizing procedures on the women, who were laid out on school desks and anaesthetized by untrained staff. He worked at night by the light of a flashlight and a single generator light bulb.
There was no running water at the school, and the doctor did not wash his hands or change gloves between the procedures, which took about two minutes each. None of the women had pre-surgical screening, and at least one, Jitni Devi, was three months pregnant and miscarried days after the procedure. The doctor left as soon as he finished the surgeries.
“I tell you they treat them not as human beings, but as cattle or goats. They just cut and take out veins. They were bleeding profusely. It is butchery,” said Devika Biswas, a health-rights activist in Bihar with the Human Rights Law Network, who filed the petition in court along with videotaped evidence of the camp and affidavits from the women’s families.
“All of them are forced,” Biswas told the Register. “Generally, the people in the village are very simple. They are very poor. Some of them married at the age of 12 or 13. They do not know what it means. They are told it will be good for them. They are not told it will make them permanently unable to bear children. No risks are explained to them.”
The petition states that “unsafe sterilization camps are the norm throughout India,” and it cites a number of fact-finding missions in the past decade that found widespread disregard for international, national and state guidelines implemented to prevent such abuses.