The Ugly Side of Procreational Autonomy in India – Sterilization Deaths
For years it has been man against the rest, whether it is the wild, the machine or the self-addressing economy of the world. While we refer to all humankind as man, perhaps as a surgical exponent we make the explicit mistake of driving the reference too far. In November, in the heart of India, in Chhattisgarh, 15 women met their ultimate demise after being treated as part of a sterilization camp.
A “sterilization camp” may ominously be reminiscent of a certain period in history. It may even rhyme with advertorial monologues from a horror film. In truth, not far away from that draconian inheritance, the camps have been part of the country’s population control scheme. The idea is to introduce women, who simply cannot afford contraceptives – or where men find it decidedly inconvenient to their manhood to have a vasectomy – to the process of surgical sterilization.
Apart from the fact that this is a tip-of-the-iceberg moment in which the dire situation of the country has been painfully laid bare, as it prepares to leave China behind in the population charts by 2030 (prediction), the repulsive nature in which the knowledge of these sterilization deaths has surfaced – of the country’s medical practices and the farcical population control mechanisms that have taken the threadbare conscience of the people by the scruff of its neck. Keeping aside the maniacal flaws in execution of a deeply misguided plan, the desperation, to unnaturally engage and virtually control women’s right to a social pedestal other than an agricultural one, is alarming.
Apart from the fact that this is a tip-of-the-iceberg moment in which the dire situation of the country has been painfully laid bare, as it prepares to leave China behind in the population charts by 2030 (prediction), the repulsive nature in which the knowledge of these sterilization deaths has surfaced – of the country’s medical practices and the farcical population control mechanisms that have taken the threadbare conscience of the people by the scruff of its neck.
Considering the fact that the women who eventually became “operational fatalities” rather than natural corpses came from relatively uneducated backgrounds, the efficacy of the state-run program has been wider than you would expect. Acknowledging the fact that not only does illiteracy imply unsound judgment but also a moral inadequacy, the state has taken the liberty of running the “induced” sterilization programs. In these, the hapless women were offered a paltry sum of money (usually a month’s wages) in exchange for their induction into the program.
On the other hand – and hereby broadening the perspective – the country boasts of an average female marriage age of 22, and a male marriage age of 26 as per the census in 2011. These infantile ages are not derived as a result of an underpinning zeal for courtship, but the atrophic ideals of a country fast stretching its stomach over the icicle of modernization.The truth is that inherently – literary vice notwithstanding – the country is marked by a terrible tendency to secretly ‘do’, and then publicly ‘undo’ its wrongs. The average marriage age statistic is only a surrogate fact that delivers an astoundingly forceful economic system to its relatively denuding praxis. The country is run by need – and in some cases greed – rather than by choice. Carl Wellman, in ‘Medical Law and Moral Right’ introduces us to the right to procreational autonomy. Whether this right is completely exercised in the country, we shall now see.
The average marriage-age statistic, as alluded to before, tells us of the polity in the ‘cosmopolitan’ idea of India. While the statistic owes a larger share of its numbers to the illiterate and backward classes of the country, people closer to urban culture are still stigmatized on refusal or hesitance to procreate. The feeling comes with the adage of a millennia old syphilitic tendency to procreate as investment into the hierarchical vestige, thereby rendering the woman child insufficient to a status quo that only men are deemed qualified to fulfill. The average age is pushed up as a conscious attempt to leave oneself enough time to procreate – or in other words have a second shot at that male child one so deviously craves, in case the first is a feminine letdown. While the country’s “developing” tag and undeniable poverty can be forgiven as reasons for a Machiavellian approach to child-bearing, one can surely not forgive the unpardonable treatment of the woman’s womb as a Petri dish.
It usually, takes between the ages of 25-26 to acquire a sustainably good education and an earmarked figure for some. Women, if it were left to them, would strive to reach this age before taking on childbirth, a largely unapproachable age by the unfortunate majority. But they often fall short as a fallow woman is also seen as a foul woman. Perhaps, state intervention – which we must acknowledge in partially literate democracies is essential- directs the nihilistic perspective of the majorly young population of the country towards the proletarian side of procreational autonomy – that it is one’s right “to” procreate. It is no revelation that on the other side, autonomy also says that it is one’s right “to not” procreate. This, perhaps, in a strictly literal sense is always undermined or simply ignored. To make matters worse, the absurdity of the country’s pathos – maligned as it by the sheer weight of numbers – lies in the fact that the exercise of procreational autonomy as a whole is in itself a population control method, that is if it is applied to completeness. The laws are there, and so is the perseverance of a constitutional drift that the society aspires to follow, but falls well short of. The young are forced into early marriages, and socially conditioned to add to the family tree – in preferably male units. As a result most compromise on their education, careers and eventually the right to familial autonomy.
Perhaps, state intervention – which we must acknowledge in partially literate democracies is essential- directs the nihilistic perspective of the majorly young population of the country towards the proletarian side of procreational autonomy – that it is one’s right “to” procreate. It is no revelation that on the other side, autonomy also says that it is one’s right “to not” procreate. This, perhaps, in a strictly literal sense is always undermined or simply ignored.
Traditionally, all ideas formatted to be incipient and self-strengthening have been ascribed to the image of motherhood – nation as the mother – thereby cultivating a preoccupation that has become more of an ideal than the terrestrial reference it actually is. It has, therefore, led to generations whose virtuosity has been pre-decided, to hit and hope against this stone-walled structure. Add to it the primal instinct to acquire, preserve and pass on. And preferably pass on to your own, to have that undiminishing bloodline extend another century – another feather in the rapacious hat, one that can only be transferred not possessed in any case.
On a moral scale, the radical thinker may argue that procreation itself is a social responsibility – one that asks a hell of a lot more of the woman body alone. In a way, social responsibility contradicts the female’s autonomy over her own body. Driven under social pressure she is forced to bear, and as is now disturbingly clear, become biologically barren when time is deemed fit to so. The sterilization deaths are a disastrous case in point. Breeding grounds can draw themselves up against the mirror and they would still be unable to make up for the lack of argument for the case of women in the country. It is perhaps time, the largest democracy in world – as part of a wakeup exercise – leaps over constitutional bookkeeping, and withdraw the idea that a woman is no more than the prospective maternal island that floats around the monolith we know as “Mother India”.
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