By Priya John
After six of their children survived the crucial first five years, Dabri Paharin (name changed) and her husband were content with their family size. They decided to adopt a permanent method of contraception – Sterilisation. Among Paharias, as in most communities in India, male sterilisation is almost inconceivable. On being asked how and why it was decided that she would go in for the procedure and not her husband she simply declared that it is the only option and that in her community ‘it is just not done’. So once the decision was taken they approached the state’s health department which incentivises both male and female sterilisation. At the health centre, however, the couple was informed that they are not eligible for sterilisation as they are Paharias.
The government of India identifies Paharias as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PTG) which is a sub-category within the Scheduled Tribes. They are identified as ‘vulnerable’ because they are understood to be an isolated indigenous group living in very poor socio-economic conditions. In Jharkhand, the government proposes to take special care to preserve these communities as they are perceived to be nearing ‘extinction’ (GoJ 2013). The main strategy to meet this end is to deny permanent methods of contraception regardless of the need of individuals in the community. This is seen as a foolproof way of ensuring steady increase in their population which is presumed to be dwindling.
The problems with this strategy are manifold and fairly obvious. Firstly, this paternalistic treatment of these vulnerable populations is in gross violation of their right to self-determination. The most absurd logic lies at the heart of this government policy-driven demand to reproduce in order to fight extinction. Men and women are not seen as rational thinking beings who could choose not to reproduce after a point or even in some cases ever in their lives. It is indeed ironical that in the name of their preservation they are compelled to continue reproduction even if they do not deem it fit for themselves. Secondly, the burden of this denial falls squarely on the wombs in the community as male sterilisation is literally unheard of in the area. Women are reduced to wombs, mere receptacles for future generations! The government uses these wombs to fulfill the objective of preservation of an entire community. Paharias traditionally believe that large families translate to more resources to support a household and its needs. The pressure to deliver takes a toll on women’s wellbeing. The government’s strategy to increase population by denying sterilisation is then the last straw that breaks the camel’s back. Thirdly, local organisations working in these areas dispute the state’s claim that Paharias are going ‘extinct’. They cite figures generated in the census to show that there has been if anything a steady increase in their populations over the decades – 8800 in 1991, 13500 in 2001 and 16000 in 2011. Finally, this strategy is objectionable owing to how these communities are equated to endangered flora and fauna which need only be planted more or reproduced more in laboratory conditions. If the government concentrated on ensuring proper implementation of its PTG focused programmes and schemes it might be a more befitting approach to addressing the historical marginalisation and continued structural deprivation experienced by these communities.
A bit of statistics to further punctuate the irony of targets set by the government – Female Sterilisation accounts for 66% of the contraceptive use in Jharkhand (NFHS 2005-6). Data from National Family Health Surveys 2 and 3 show a reduction in male sterilisation from 0.8% in 1998-99 to 0.4% in 2005-06. In the year 2011-12, the population stabilisation targets set by the Government of Jharkhand were:
|Intrauterine Device (IUD) Insertions||3,00,000|
Source: National Rural Health Mission, Record of Proceedings, GoJ 2011
The above figures together avow that the state actively entrenches patriarchal structures in which male virility trumps female fertility. Promotion of female sterilisation is much higher than that of male sterilisation. This is despite the fact that male sterilisation is far simpler, less time consuming and requires nearly no surgical intervention in comparison to female sterilisation. Here again women’s bodies are conveniently the sites of state intervention which in this case is to stabilise population as opposed to promoting reproduction to preserve a community.
Also, these set of targets highlight that even though there is heavy emphasis on sterilisation, Paharia women are denied access to this method in the name of a larger good. It appears whatever the problem may be – women and their bodies provide ready panaceas!
Fortunately, the Planning Commission of India recently asked the Chhattisgarh government to revoke this archaic order which was passed three decades ago in 1979 (The Hindu, 2012). The Planning Commission has clarified that the orders were ‘misconstrued’ and members of the PTG community in the state seeking sterilisation cannot be denied the facility. One hopes that the Commission would instruct other states with PTG populations to follow suit soon so that women like Dabri Paharin are not compelled to deny their identity to avail the facility under an assumed name.
Aarti Dhar (2012) Misconstruing order, Chhattisgarh tribals denied sterilisation for three decades, The Hinduhttp://www.thehindu.com/news/national/misconstruing-order-chhattisgarh-tribals-denied-sterilisation-for-three-decades/article4048484.eceaccessed on 7 June 2013
Government of Jharkhand (2013) State of health in Jharkhand – A Retrospect, Department of Health, Medical Education and Family Welfare http://www.jharkhand.gov.in/new_depts/healt/healt_restro.html accessed on 7 June 2013
International Institute for Population Sciences and Macro International (2008) National Family Health Survey – 3, India, 2005-06: Jharkhand. Mumbai: IIPS
National Rural Health Mission (2011) Record of Proceedings – State Programme Implementation Plan, Department of Health, Medical Education and Family Welfare, GoJ.