Monday, November 17, 2014

Blame Famill Planning ... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/November 16, 2014

Blame Family Planning Anathema on Those Who Have Made It a Protocol of Tragedy

The epitaphs of good causes are written by bad intentions and the demons of avarice. Restricting India’s burgeoning population is not a matter of faith but also a mission for survival. Over 1.5 million babies are added to the existing 1.26 billion figure every month. All serious attempts to calf rope the baby boom has got stuck in the quagmire of controversies for the past four decades. Last week, over a dozen women lost their lives in Bilaspur in the poor, tiny state of Chhattisgarh, thanks to botched up sterilisation procedures. Around the same time, in massive Uttar Pradesh, a surgeon reportedly took just 90 minutes to complete 42 sterilisations at a Primary Health Centre in Kushinagar. The tragedy of bureaucratic insouciance is that many health officials and government doctors are driven by the kudos of achieving targets at any cost, rather than the safety of patients. A grim aspect of poverty is that the poor will accept government money to participate even in good schemes. The Chhattisgarh sterilisation victims were paid `1,400 each to go under the knife. Award-winning surgeon Dr R K Gupta reportedly conducted 83 surgeries in less than three hours. His scissors and spurious medicines were competing in a deadline race, as the doomed women lay sedated in a conspiracy of negligence. When news of the disaster broke, the state government followed the usual standard procedures. The doctor was arrested, officials suspended and swift raids were conducted on the illegal drug makers who were manufacturing medicines from a two-room residential property in Raipur. Finally, a probe was ordered after PM Narendra Modi dispatched an expert team from the prestigious AIIMS, New Delhi, to take over the recovery and healing operation. Further surgeries were postponed for an indefinite period.

The famous Red Triangle, which symbolises family welfare, has been tarred with the black pitch of greed and apathy. Obsessed by the development catch phrase, all parties seem to have forgotten that the population is also developing at an alarming rate. Few political leaders, civil servants or even NGOs promote or speak on steps or programmes to educate the illiterate and poor about the curse of having large families. The slogan of ‘Hum Do, Humare Do’, which was once visible on myriad hoardings and the betel-stained walls of various government institutions has simply vanished.
Obviously, no political head rolled in Chhattisgarh or UP. None was expected to because in all the states the targets fixed were un-achievable and besides, they weren’t responsible for prescribing medicines or setting operational procedures. But their culpability is the highest because they do not see to it that population growth is restricted to ensure proper implementation of rapid development methods. Both the Bilaspur and Kushinagar incidents once again raise doubts over the success of India’s population control drive. The fallout of the deaths was medical paralysis: in many states, officials stalled further surgeries fearing they would be hauled up for criminal negligence.
Chhattisgarh and UP aren’t the only states where award-chasing scissor hands and officials were engaged in carrying out lethal surgeries on women who were looking for a bit of cash and relief from carrying unwanted babies. According to health ministry sources, 340 women have died in the past three years during or after sterilisation. The horror of Chhattisgarh and UP made the headlines of almost all newspapers and news channels. The international media dutifully picked it up. Even UN agencies took note. It is obvious that India is once again in the crosshairs of those who oppose coercive or incentivised schemes for population control in the name of human rights. An over-populated India would pose a lesser threat to the established global order than an emerging power with reasonable Census figures.

Since the Emergency, when forced sterilisations became a political issue, family planning campaigns have remained low key for the past 35 years. Afterwards, Ghulam Nabi Azad, UPA’s health minister, was the first to initiate various population control measures among the poor. But he was wary of talking about it because of the political and communal implications. Azad was only taking a cue from the Nehru-Gandhi Parivar. It was Jawaharlal Nehru who started the Family Planning Programme in 1952. Later on, Indira Gandhi created a full-fledged department of family planning under the health ministry in the late 60s. Finally it took Sanjay Gandhi to fix population control targets—however impractical—for government officials. Indira was so concerned about India’s swelling population that she was even willing to suspend fundamental rights to ensure a reduction in birth rates. In a speech made during the Emergency, she said, “We must now act decisively and bring down the birth rate speedily. We should not hesitate to take steps, which might be described as drastic. Some personal rights have to be kept in abeyance for the human rights of the nation.” Following these strong words, Sanjay organised massive sterilisation campaigns and even unmarried men and women were forced on to the operation table. The programme became so notorious that for the next two decades, none of the leaders even whispered the word ‘sterilisation’. The department’s name was changed from family planning to family welfare. Even a powerful and popular Prime Minister like Narendra Modi has hardly spoken about family planning in the 500 speeches he has delivered in the past one year.
Though India’s birth rate has fallen drastically, at 2.3 per cent it is still one of the highest in the world.

Since the death rate has declined due to better medical facilities and education, this rise in population is ominous. If this trend continues, it could surpass China’s in less than 15 years. Much worse, our fertility rate of 3.4 per cent is the highest among the developing nations. Madhya Pradesh, UP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Bihar account for almost half of India’s population. While well-meaning and glamorous projects like bullet trains, digital India, Swachh Bharat, Make in India etc. have found a place of prominence in Modi’s Mission India, keeping the population figures under control, unfortunately, is conspicuously missing. In the global world of markets and money, the phrase ‘family planning’ is anathema—seen as retrograde, regressive and politically incorrect. The blame lies entirely with the civil servants and leaders who have converted a humanitarian cause like population control into a protocol of tragedy using the wrong means and methods. The requiems for the unmourned, faceless women of Bilaspur and Kushinagar will echo in the soul of India for a long time to come.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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