After a tragic incident at a government-run mass sterilization camp left 13 women dead, India's sterilization policies have become the center of a fierce debate yet again.
The incident, which took place in Bilaspur district last weekend, is calling into question not just the safety standards at these camps -- but the question of why these women were being sterilized.
Sterilization is the most widespread form of birth control in the world, but it is especially prevalent in India. According to 2013 data from the United Nations, more than 35 percent of Indian women who were married or in a relationship were sterilized. When compared to other countries, only Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador ranked higher. Even China, notorious for its one child policy and forced sterilization policies, ranked lower than India.
The rates of sterilization for men in India are nowhere near comparable, however. This is part of a broader trend: On a global scale, male sterilization rates are very low. There are only a few countries (Britain, Canada, and New Zealand) where vasectomies are anywhere near as common.
No matter how widespread it is, sterilization remains controversial. Forced sterilization policies emerged in the mid-20th century, intertwined with the then nascent idea of eugenics, and the concept continued through the 20th century, often as a form of population control.
While generally kept low-profile or secret, these policies continued until recently; in some cases, they continue still. China is the obvious example, but in recent years countries such as Peru, Uzbekistan, and South Africa, have had sterilization scandals. Earlier this year, a group of international bodies released an unprecedented statement that said the world needed to eliminate "forced, coercive and otherwise involuntary sterilization." These sterilizations often targeted indigenous groups, people with disabilities, and people with HIV, the statement noted, and females are disproportionately sterilized.
In India, sterilization has a complicated legacy. A policy that targeted men with coercion and sometimes force during Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s "emergency rule" from 1975 to 1977 caused a lasting backlash. However, policies that targeted women have endured. The Post's Annie Gowen reports the national government says it no longer sets official targets for female sterilizations, but she notes that informal quotas and accompanying incentives often still exist on the local level: The women in Bilaspur district were being paid 1,400 rupees, or about $22, for their surgeries.