The Chhattisgarh government has passed an amendment to a 1979 order of the then undivided Madhya Pradesh government that says that primarily vulnerable tribal groups can be allowed the right to sterilisation if they apply for permission and get a clearance letter from their subdivisional magistrate.
While government officials said the amendment passed on May 26 was a “step forward”, activists denounced the amendment. They said the amendment continued the inhuman practice of not giving the tribes “autonomy over their own bodies”.
The activists pointed out that no change had really been made to the 1979 order as that too had mentioned a provision by which only government officials could “give permission” for sterilisations. The tribals could not decide on their own to go for sterilisation.
On April 24, The Indian Express had reported that 10 Baiga families, one of seven tribes listed as “primarily vulnerable tribal groups (PVTG)” in the state, along with the Jan Swasthya Sahyog and Jan Swasthya Abhiyan — two organisations that work in rural health in Chhattisgarh — had approached the Bilaspur High Court in February fighting for their right to be allowed to seek sterilisation without the involvement of government officials.
The women of these families, most of them settled in the forests of the Achanakmar Tiger Reserve, had borne several children and were suffering from health problems. They also had close to nothing to feed their children, but were turned away.
Officials said the justification for the order at the time was that the tribes were called “primitive” because of extremely low health indicators, and a negative rate of growth which meant that they were in the danger of dying out.
The May 26 amendment to the order, passed by the Health and Family Welfare department, says: “The family will have to write an application, writing of a desire to get sterilised and submit it to the subdivisional magistrate. The officer will give a letter of proof, which says the application is being given on the applicant’s own volition, and they have been given information on the consequences of the operation. Then sterilisation can be done. For this, the help of the chief medical officer, or a civil surgeon of the health department or other officials can be taken.”
Dr Yogesh Jain of the Jan Swasthya Sahyog that works on rural health care in primarily tribal areas in and around Bilaspur, told The Indian Express: “Why should a woman go to any office to get permission for what is a personal right and need?”
Sulakshana Nandi of the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan said, “The state has simply reiterated its control over the bodies of PVTG women and men… The fact that they still have to ask for permission shows that really nothing has changed. Getting permission from the government has never been easy. Petitioners in the PIL have tried to get permission and failed and were forced to go to court.”
Nandi said the amendment had just tweaked the earlier order that mentioned the tribals would have to take the BDO’s permission. “Now they have written SDM,” she said.
A section in the third page of the 1979 order, perused by The Indian Express, says, “If someone from the protected areas makes themselves present for sterilisation and forcefully asks for it, then they must write to the block development officer that they are certain they want to be sterilised, and is aware of the consequences, they can be sterilised after a clearance letter is given.”