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Chhattisgarh sterilisation deaths: 10 babies, each motherless

Almost all the women who died in Chhattisgarh’s sterilisation tragedy left behind a child less than a year old, the youngest born just a month ago.

Written by Ashutosh Bhardwaj |
Updated: November 16, 2014 8:34:23 am
bigpic All women were under 30, belonged to BPL families and had been shepherded to the hospital by health workers on the promise of laparoscopic tubectomies for family planning and a monetary reward.

Almost all the women who died in Chhattisgarh’s sterilisation drive last week left behind a child less than a year old, the youngest born just a month ago. Ashutosh Bhardwaj tells the stories of 10 of the 13 victims

It was around noon on November 8 that 83 women from Takhatpur block arrived at Nemi Chand Private Charitable Hospital right opposite Bilaspur zoo. All women were under 30, belonged to BPL families and had been shepherded to the hospital by health workers on the promise of laparoscopic tubectomies for family planning and a monetary reward. Surgeon Dr R K Gupta arrived only a couple of hours later. By 6-6.30 pm, all the women had been discharged.

The government claimed 83 surgeries were done in five hours; it may have been closer to three hours. That’s 2 minutes per surgery in a state headed by a doctor chief minister, and in the district of the state health minister. Government guidelines say a doctor should do no more than 10 laparoscopic tubectomies a day.

Once back home, the women consumed tablets given by the doctor and, within 24 hours, developed severe complications. The first death was reported at 8 am on Monday. However, the government went ahead with similar camps at three other places in Bilaspur — Gaurela, Pendra and Marwahi.

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A total of 13 women have died since the surgeries — the death toll revised from 14 — while 122 who got operated in the four camps are still in hospital.

(All photographs are of relatives of the victims. Photo Source: Ashutosh Bhardwaj)

Janaki Suryavanshi, 26
Chichirda, 3 children

Janaki was the first victim. Her husband Vidyasagar is a daily labourer, and they lived with her parents as he had found no work in his village.

Janaki’s mother Anjora Bai recalls they had reached the hospital for the tubectomy around noon on November 8. “The doctor came around 3.30 pm and by 6 pm, the operation was over.”

Twenty-four hours later, Janaki’s condition had started deteriorating. Around 4 am on Monday, her family took her to Bilaspur District Hospital 20 km away. She died four hours later.

Janaki had studied up to Class VIII and named her three kids Abhay, Anushka and Arya. “Yes, these are unusual names in these parts, but she was fond of TV serials,” says younger brother Raju Suryavanshi.

Arya, Janaki’s youngest, is only nine months old. “He cries the whole night,” says Anjora Bai.
Chaiti Bai, 29
Dhanauli village, 2 children


“Quickly! Don’t waste time,” a policeman says, urging Nan Bai to put a thumb impression on a receipt. She is waiting outside the mortuary at Bilaspur District Hospital for the body of her daughter. The policeman wants Nan Bai to “sign” the receipt first. It is getting dark and they have to travel 150 km to reach their village. Chaiti’s five-month-old daughter wails in her grandmother’s arms.

At home, Chaiti’s husband Budh Singh is waiting with their other daughter.

Chaiti was among the women operated upon at Gaurela. She was different in that she was a Baiga, a primitive tribe protected under the law. They live in the forests, rarely step out and are so few in number that the government has banned their sterilisation.

Chaiti’s elder sister Lalli Bai tries to take the baby from Nan Bai, but she keeps crying. Nan Bai slides her blue blouse down and lets her daughter’s baby suckle on her breasts.

By this time, Chaiti’s body has been brought out and policemen hurriedly push it into an ambulance and shove the two women inside.
As they leave, another Baiga woman, Mangli Bai, is fighting for her life at the hospital.

Dularin Bai, 25
Lokhandi village, 2 children

It is the third day of Dularin’s death. Her family sits around her ashes, which are covered by an umbrella. Her mother-in-law Lachchan Bai cradles Dularin’s two-month-old baby. It’s a big family, with mostly landless labourers or masons. It is not clear who will take the ashes to a river.

Gora Bai, her mother, had rushed to her daughter’s bedside on hearing she had taken ill on November 9 and later accompanied her to hospital. “She was fine then. Her eyes sparkled as they took her inside the ICU,” Gora recalls, still in shock. The next time she saw her daughter, Dularin was dead.

The family attacks the government for its “lie” that the sterilisation camp lasted five hours. “Sab jhooth bol rahe hain. They finished it all in just two-three hours,” says Lachchan Bai.

Phool Bai, 28
Amsena village, 3 children


Phool Bai’s husband Roopchand remembers the exact time in the Bilaspur hospital’s clock when he heard the news of her death. The smaller needle was at 11, he says, the bigger one at 9. He could never have imagined entering a hospital such as the one before whose ICU he now stood, he says wryly.

Roopchand also remembers that Phool Bai hadn’t complained of any discomfort after the tubectomy. “She had vomited and complained of chest pain, but she seemed alright. Then a mitanin (woman health worker) came on Monday (November 10) and said we should go to Bilaspur,” Roopchand says.

The alarmed couple reached Bilaspur District Hospital within hours and were referred to first the Chhattisgarh Institute of Medical Sciences and then Apollo Hospital.

“At 11.09 pm, doctors said ‘Ek baar dekh lijiye, aapki patni mar gayi hai. Phir use freezer men rakh diya jayega (Doctors said your wife has died. You can see her once, then her body will be kept in the freezer),” he says.

Roopchand owns a small barber shop in Amsena. It was there that he tonsured the head of their youngest son, a five-month-old baby, after Phoolbai’s death.
Shivkumari Kevat, 27
Ganiyari village, 3 children


Her family comes under ‘Priority Households’, a special category of deprived people according to Chhattisgarh’s food security law. The card is in her name and has a curious addition in the index of family members: ‘Anisha, three months — daughter’.

Shivkumari gave birth to Anisha six months ago and immediately insisted that her name be added in the ration card, her most prized possession, the only paper that placed her above all the family members. Her husband Bahorik insisted that a three-month-old baby would never eat rice and need not be included in the card, but she didn’t listen. “I want my daughter’s name there,” she would say.

“She added a name. Now her own name would have to be removed,” her mother Kala Bai says crying.

Nem Bai Suryavanshi, 30
Ghuru village, 5 children


As a teenager, a botched surgery on his leg had left him partially crippled. The two decades since have been harsh, forcing him to work as a daily-wage labourer to support his family. Now they need him even more.

His wife Nem Bai was among those who died on November 10, leaving him with their five children, the youngest just three months old.
The SC family belongs to the poorest of the poor category and their Antyodaya ration card was in Nem Bai’s name. Under the state’s food security law, the card has to be in the name of the eldest woman in the household.

“We now have to name someone else the head of the family,” a relative says.
Three other women from Ghuru underwent the same operation as Nem Bai and are still in a serious condition.

Diti Yadav, 28
Dighora village, 3 children


The day of the surgery, Diti sat in a lorry with the other women and they were driven down to the camp. Diti’s mother-in-law Ganeshia Bai accompanied her. That was the last anyone home saw of Diti.

Her youngest child is just three months old. Her eldest son Nilkamal, 9, has left for Allahabad with his uncle to immerse his mother’s ashes in the Ganga. “Is this the age to perform a mother’s last rites?” asks Ganeshia, wiping her tears.

Ganeshia says while they were promised Rs 600 as incentive for the operation, health workers took Rs 200 of it as ‘travel charges’. Diti’s husband Dhanna Lal Yadav has been summoned by the police to register his statement.

Three more women of Dighora underwent the surgery. A week has gone by, but they are still in hospitals in Bilaspur.

Rekha Nirmalkar, 24
Amsena village, 2 children


Rekha and her husband Jagdhish live in another village and were visiting her family in Amsena when she decided to go in for the surgery. Rekha’s sister Santoshi says the women in their family went in for tubectomies irrespective of whether they had sons or daughters.

“She already had two children and we advised her to go for the operation. Maybe we should not have pushed her,” says Santoshi.
Santoshi and her sisters Nandini and Anjani have been taking turns to babysit Rekha’s four-month-old son Shubham. “He needs his mother’s milk. He already looks weak,” says Nandini, cradling the baby.

They also fear that Jagdhish, who has already received Rs 2 lakh in compensation, might remarry, leaving Rekha’s two children destitute.
“Can you tell them that they must deposit the amount in Shubham’s name?” pleads Anjani.

Ranjita Suryavanshi, 25
Nirtu village, 3 children


In her wedding photograph, Ranjita is a small wisp of a girl. Her head covered with a pallu, the teenager is too shy to raise her eyes. Her husband Santosh wipes the dust off the two photographs of that day. His muscled arms appear strong now after years of work as a labourer, but in the photographs, he is lean — and happy.

It’s their youngest child, one-month-old Ritesh, that Santosh worries constantly about. He has bought a 1 kg tin of infant milk food Amulspray, but that only reminds him of what his son will miss. “Would this milk powder work?” Santosh asks anxiously. “Maine suna hai maa ka hi doodh dena chahiye (I’ve heard that one should give only mother’s milk).”

His eldest daughter Priyanka is only seven. “Come, look straight. Photo khichega,” she says, nudging younger brother Ritesh towards the camera.

The government claims it brought all the women who underwent the laparoscopic tubectomies at Nemichand Private Charitable Trust to Bilaspur hospitals immediately after reports of ailments surfaced, but Santosh says he took his wife there on his own on November 10.
“We reached the hospital around 11 pm,” he says. “She died within an hour.”

Chandrakali, 29
Bharari village, 3 children


Chandrakali had come home from Pune, where she worked as a daily labourer with her husband Tirathram, when she was persuaded to opt for the surgery. On November 11, while he is rushing from Pune, his daughters Satyavati, 11, and Saraswati, 3, wait for their mother’s body outside the crowded mortuary of Chhattisgarh Institute of Medical Sciences.

It is the first day of postmortems, also the day eight young mothers die within the space of a few hours. Suddenly, two men bring a body outside and Satyavati gets up and rushes towards them. The men nonchalantly walk past her towards another waiting family. Satyawati shakes her head. All this while, Saraswati draws lines on the floor with her finger. Chandrakali’s youngest daughter is just a month old.

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