Kalpani is a sleepy little hamlet in North Bengal’s Cooch Behar district. Surrounded by the green waters of the swift-flowing Torsa, it’s a village with less than 7,000 people. Cut off from the rest of the world, the idyllic paddy fields bear testimony to a shocking violation of women’s reproductive rights.
“No, I was not willing to have a copper-T inserted,” says one of the 30 women who delivered in the local government health facility and was forcibly implanted with intrauterine contraceptive devices.
The government is pushing for and giving cash incentives for women to deliver their babies at government clinics and hospitals under the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) to bring down maternal deaths. But clearly, women themselves, and their opinions, matter little to the government officials and doctors.
Community correspondent Bikash Barman asked the victims how they found out about the copper-T. “I only found out when I was discharged and handed all the documents,” replies one of them. “I was really scared when I found out. Some other women told me that it is really harmful,” adds another.
Copper-based intrauterine devices do have side-effects, ranging from nausea and cramps to serious uterine infections and life-threatening ectopic pregnancies. Not only were the women not counselled about the contraceptives, their consent was also deemed unnecessary.
In India, the use of male contraception has continued to decline drastically over the past decade, with condom usage falling by 52 per cent. And yet, women-centric contraception continues to be pushed by the government in policies like the National Health Mission and on the ground.
How is forcibly implanting contraceptive devices that work to prevent pregnancy for up to 10 years in the bodies of poor women anything short of a eugenical attempt aimed at only certain sections of the citizenry? Imagine the hue and cry if middle-class urban women had to face the same.
The truth is that for the government and its functionaries, women who can only afford government healthcare are nothing but numbers and statistics to show improved rates of contraception usage or institutional deliveries. A frontline health worker from the area, on condition of anonymity, admitted that she herself has seen over 40 such cases in her career.
“If the nurses and doctors would only take the time to explain this contraceptive method to the women, they would not be so scared,” she says.
Most pregnant women in the village avoid going to the hospital now, fearing forcible insertion of intrauterine devices. That doctors can continue to practice in flagrant violation of all medical ethics underlines the reality of how little say women have over their own bodies and lives in 21st century India “shining”.
This article has been co-published with Newslaundry.
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