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Hum do, humare do: sterilizations and family planning in India

Updated: May 16, 2022

By Arush Emmanuel Michael

Something like a war’ is a beautiful documentary created by Deepa Dhanraj. The documentary starts by showing a group of women talking about menstruation and the changes in their bodies. The scene then shifts to an operation theatre full of women being sterilized by a doctor boasting about how many sterilizations he is carrying out each day.

In 1952, India was the first country to adopt an official family planning program. The program did not show any improvements in society for the next many years in spite of constant funding and backing received from foreign investors. From the year 1970, the number of sterilizations being conducted in India drastically increased to millions of men. The film goes on to explain the situation surrounding family planning in the period of the emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi. Even though Indira Gandhi did not point any fingers at this program yet Sanjay Gandhi had sterilization as an important aspect of his own agenda.

There were advertisements everywhere blaming the population explosion for the lack of jobs and food. However, instead of utilizing proper techniques for population control, sterilization was incentivized and millions of men were being herded like sheep to be sterilized every year. Government officials including tax collectors were utilizing any opportunity to grab hold of some men to send them for sterilization. Many of these men did not have any children or many of their children had passed away due to the lack of proper healthcare services. Certain doctors refused to carry out sterilization on specific cases and secretly sent them away without carrying out the procedure. Yet the reality is still that human rights were completely shadowed and in just one year at one point 15 times the number of Nazi sterilizations were conducted in India. The Nazi regime was one of the most inhumane eras in world history, yet our own democratic government managed to overcome their records and strides.

The saddest part of this time was the fact that the underprivileged sections of society were the ones to be targeted heavily. Poor men were seen as easy targets and were shipped off to sterilization procedures where in a matter of seconds they lost their capability to have another child. However, as is the case of anything in our society the onus finally shifted on to women. A vasectomy (male sterilization procedure) is a much easier procedure when compared to a tubectomy (female sterilization procedure), yet over the period of the next few years, the number of females sterilizations rocketed as men refused to undergo the procedure and the officials obliged. ‘Something like a war’ showed the condition of the operation theatre where the sterilizations were being conducted. The room was overcrowded and clearly lacked sanitation facilities. Women were supposed to lay down immediately after one procedure was conducted and they were the next in line to have their fallopian tubes cut and tied up.

Consequently, the lack of sanitation and facilities along with faulty procedures resulted in deaths in the thousands. The family planning program is supposed to provide a reduction in the rate of population rise; it wasn’t supposed to do so by killing the citizens of the country by no fault of their own. ‘Hum do humare do’ is a slogan each one of us has heard. This slogan is unlike the Chinese government’s one-child policy which has resulted in the young population being unable to cope with the current workload. The paths taken by the government to utilize forced sterilizations was clearly wrong but the fact that it is still prevalent in parts of the country like Chhattisgarh is disheartening to the core.

The government needs to focus on other methods of controlling population rise instead of forcing sterilization upon them. Education is something that has always taken a backward role in many of the country’s policies. It is necessary to educate society regarding the importance of population control and family planning. Unless the people understand why family planning is necessary they won’t take an interest in it. Sterilization is one of the methods of ensuring that no unplanned pregnancies occur once the family has had the number of children they wanted. But one can’t go about pushing the person to a corner and forcing them into undergoing a procedure that will have a life-changing effect on them. Human rights are not there to be ignored and any forced sterilizations are a straightforward violation of human rights.

Family planning can be achieved through a number of contraceptive methods. These methods should be taught in detail in schools and through awareness programs. Not only the options of contraception but the procedures to use them should be taught. A condom can be rolled onto a banana to show how to put it on. The active discussion needs to take place between healthcare professionals and the general public. Population explosion is real and so are human rights violations. The title ‘Something like a war’ aptly illustrates the situations when sterilizations are forced, because war is the only point of time where human rights are buried in the dirt.


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