We human beings are not only provided with certain legal autonomy but also with our bodily autonomy. We have the right to choose what is beneficial for our bodies and what is harmful. But such bodily autonomy is not any more prevalent in true sense. Any means of physical violence against our body is not protecting our rights but rather curtailing in every way.
For the satisfaction of retaliation, pleasure, social stigma, hate, psychological anguish, illicit financial gain, and other reasons, people commit suicide, murder, rape, physical assault, honour killing, sexual torture, trafficking in human organs, and other violent crimes. On the one hand, our bodies are utilised for research and education, but on the other hand, they are also employed for political or illicit experimentation.
Many have the right to enjoy their physical autonomy, but due to a number of deeply ingrained reasons, instead of doing so, people actively violate these rights. Marginalized groups in our society are more susceptible to exploitation, which is why they are typically involved in such activities. It is not unexpected that people’s physical autonomy is restricted in order to achieve specific political objectives. Since there are classes and have no classes in society, exploitation never fully engulfs capitalist figures; rather, it paves the way for the have no classes.
The current state of affairs in every nation, regardless of how that nation is developing, has emphasised maintaining a divide between social classes.
There are numerous behaviours taking place in the globe today that turned a blind eye toward fundamental human rights like practices that look inhumane but continue to expand their branches. We read and heard of genital mutilation, unlawful human organ trafficking, unethical human experimentation, and the rarest instances of cannibalism, among other things.
Despite the fact that things are deemed unlawful, they most likely continue elsewhere. It is impossible to gauge the extent of severe torture applied to a human body just in terms of its illegality. Even if there exist rules and they are followed, it is difficult to stop since the core problems have not yet been addressed.
Women’s discrimination is not an overstated gap in society
The topic of discrimination against women in all spheres of life is not a recent one among us or globally. In terms of social, political, and economic ethics, women are the main targets of exploitation and are more susceptible to prejudice. Child marriage, domestic abuse, rape, sexist attitude toward victims, sexual harassment, human trafficking, prostitution, job discrimination, sexism—the list goes on and on. Women are undoubtedly more autonomous and outspoken in today’s world, but it doesn’t change the fact that women have historically faced discrimination.
All people are subject to discrimination in some way or another, whether it be based on their sexual orientation, gender, religion, caste, race, colour, or any other characteristic.
Nevertheless, there are several fields in which women are treated differently, and what’s more disturbing is that some inhumane behaviour does not even spare the male population. It may seem a little different when you first hear about these gender-neutral activities than it does when you consider the real gender discrimination that still occurs.
We have heard of female foeticide, which involves killing the foetus after determining its gender. This is against the law. Because of this inhumane conduct, India was thought to be the most active nation, followed by Pakistan, China, and several other Asian nations. In India, female infanticide—the immediate killing of girl infants—was a common practice. In India, infanticide was not simply a result of gender prejudice; certain tribal cultures also thought it was lucky to kill a female newborn as soon as she was born.
The groups of individuals who believed that having a girl child was a curse on society were united by social superstition. Next, sex determination and illegal abortion follow, with gender prejudice being one of the key causes. Everyone is generally aware of coerced abortion, abortion owing to unintended pregnancy, and illegally aborting a female kid. Everything previously discussed has a direct connection to women and discrimination on the basis of gender.
In this country, newborns and foetuses are murdered as soon as they are born or while still in the womb, but if I were to claim that there are some customs that permanently prevent men and women from reproducing; I would include males as well. Though it doesn’t appear to be discriminatory in the least, there is a very serious reason behind this. The capacity to
reproduce may be seen as something that both genders share, and people may believe that they have the freedom to do as they like, but this is not necessarily the case.
Many factors contribute to the fact that some persons are compelled to undergo the procedure of losing their capacity for reproduction. A woman may be subjected to genital mutilation in order to preserve her virginity until marriage, but they may also be compelled to have sterilisation, which is against human rights. Yes, forced sterilisation is carried out on both men and women, violating their rights to privacy, health, humane treatment, the ability to choose the number of children they want to have, and other rights. However, it is vital to learn what sterilisation is and how it affects the human body before comprehending the rule that underlies it.
What is Sterilization?
Sterilization is a surgical operation carried out by medical professionals to permanently eliminate a person’s capacity to reproduce. The technique is different for males and females. Under general or local anaesthesia, female sterilisation, also known as tubal litigation, is the act of closing or shutting the fallopian tubes to prevent the eggs from reaching the sperm and becoming fertilised. It has various hazards and is a permanent way to eliminate the capacity to reproduce. On the other side, male sterilisation, sometimes known as a vasectomy, involves the sealing or cutting of sperm canals in order to prevent conception. These operations are performed by medical professionals and in a clean environment.
The concept of Forced Sterilization
In voluntary sterilization, people are made aware of the fact that they are going through such a process with full mental and physical preparations. Even medical practitioners make sure that the decision is not a forced one and couples or single males or females decided after lots of mental counselling. Normally people go under sterilization because of any kind of bodily disease or worthy family planning. Here people enjoy their bodily autonomy and decide what is right for their body and future. Forced sterilization has a long history which involved women, men from different sections or groups.
But forced sterilization is not a just practice and it seriously violates Human Rights. The people belonging to marginalised sections of society are more open to the process of coercive sterilization and as they are unaware of adequate information about the risks
involved in it, the government of different countries makes them scapegoats in order to control the population. People suffering from poverty, illness, and minority sections, are made to be the easy targets of such policies and unwanted, barbaric acts.
In several countries, states used to launch sterilization camps to emphasize mass sterilization of vulnerable groups of the country. Later on, such acts were made illegal and laws related to such were repealed but it didn’t stop the process. Till now statutes of certain countries entertain the codification of these illegal acts. Forced sterilization stirred up several controversies but it didn’t make the status quo flinch even once. Where one side, the government deceived those exploited sections by spreading misinformation about mass birth control and another side the people for the sake of their future, stepped into such controversy.
Spreading false information, believing presumptions and leaning into stereotypical thoughts gave more sparks into involuntary sterilization. Here the thing that failed mostly illiteracy and correct education which was stated by many activists but that was not the case always.
The Victims and how they are forced?
I cannot argue against the reality that women are more receptive to such inhumane acts than males, despite the fact that forced sterilisation occurs regardless of gender. In our culture, clichés about women and their vulnerability abound, and they are seen as the most vulnerable group. But other groups of women were specifically targeted to suffer such crimes.
Women living in poverty
Now in such cases women who live under utter poverty and who long for one time meal are more open to exploitation in every way. Here states made them believe that going through such a process will make their future better and poor women without smelling the deceiving nature, go for it. The government thought that women in poverty are unworthy of reproducing and it is baseless for them to give birth. Since they have no adequate education and information for family planning, they are out of knowledge. They giving birth will just increase the population and will be of no use. Since their economic condition is not stable to
give proper education to their children, the government finds it of no use to drain their wealth under such sections. In conclusion, women in poverty are victims of complicated political policies.
Women having HIV
Women who were having HIV and who were undergoing treatment were mentally vulnerable. Because during such a disease, what they think is to stay away from the third person and maintain the proper treatment. But sometimes they were misinformed about their condition which mentally leads them into such acts. They were given inaccurate information about the risks of HIV and its transmission. As normal people, we may think that they were misinformed about their reproductive risks if they plan pregnancy or they may be told that sterilization will not amount to any risks of HIV. Exactly what we thought, it happened and women were forced to make believe to undergo surgery.
Women having disabilities
Disabled persons are made to believe that they are helpless in every aspect and they are of no use to anything. Here targets were mostly women having physical disabilities because they themselves realize that they are not of any use which leads them to depression. Women who are paralyzed from any body part, who have cerebral palsy, epilepsy or any other physical disability were mostly the victims of forced sterilization. They were made believe to the assumptions that they are asexual and are not sexually active to indulge in pregnancy.
Women with Mental Illness
It is not surprising that women, who are mentally unwell, can never take decisions with full concentration. And that is why they are forced to undergo sterilization because they don’t owe the mental capacity to decide what is right or wrong.
Yes, transgender persons are vulnerable in society. Trans people in many countries are compelled to undergo sterilization. Forced trans sterilization was considered to be a requirement to reflect gender identity.
Generally, intersex persons are those who are born with mixed biological features of a male and female. By the statement, it is easy to understand that, some parents if their child was born intersex, may force them to go for sterilization because they are unsure of the reproducing ability. Undergoing such a process is a mental trauma for them.
Racial minorities, indigenous groups of women, prisoners and immigrants etc are some other groups who are compelled to undergo sterilization. Since women are mentally helpless, their consent gets obtained through compulsion where they were made to believe that they are
signing consent forms for abortion or any other medical procedure related to their labour but they need to sign for sterilization to undergo such process. That’s when they are deceived but such consent was considered to be invalid because they are compelled to do so and they were provided with misinformation about sterilization. There’s no involvement of voluntary consent of the women and until they realise what is being done to them, there’s no way they could restore their rights back.
States Involving in Forced Sterilization
USA: The United States of America has a lengthy history of engaging in forced sterilisation, which has generated a lot of controversy. They used to organise camps and programmes that were driven by false ideologies including racism, sexism, and eugenics. Early in the 20th century, the USA aggressively encouraged the weaker regions of its states to go through such a process. It was said that leaflets extolling the virtues of sterilisation were handed out. In 32 states, almost 60,000 people were sterilised solely on the basis of eugenics throughout the 20th century. Strong elite Americans accepted a specific norm for such racial ideology, and eugenicists used certain genetic conjectures and scientific ideas connected to human breeding.
Therefore, if anyone did not suit the norms, especially those who were poor, black people, immigrants, and those with disabilities, they were made the scapegoats of such eugenic programmes. Numerous laws relating to sterilisation were passed in the USA after the Racialist theory’s development. The first sterilisation statute in history was enacted in Indiana in 1907 and 31 other states soon followed suit. These laws caused a rise that lasted from 1930 until 1960. This law had an effect on several other states, resulting in sterilisation within those states. Men were the first to be attacked, then women, and eventually, it turned racist and predominantly Black women were the targets.
Black women were required to undergo sterilisation three times more frequently than white women because they were viewed as unfit parents. People began to be shamed for their actions over time, rallies were held, several charges were brought against them, and voices began to steadily permeate US society. Unwanted sterilisation was performed on Californian women convicts from the latter 1970s through 2010. Even if certain laws have been abolished, they continue to affect minority groups, immigrants, and other people.
India: Like USA, India too has a deep history of forced sterilization. Way back in 1952 an official policy of family planning was adopted and India was the first nation to do so but due to insufficient funds, the policy was not at all effective until mid-60s. In the years 1965 and 1966 Indian women mostly relied on the birth control method of IUDs and accepted the same but it failed after the news of acceptance was spread. In Kerala, through a mobile service approach, a vasectomy campaign was conducted in the year 1971 for sterilization which was a huge success and this encouraged the state to start other camps.
Soon after the surge, male sterilisation in India increased in the 70s and about 1.3 million were sterilised rising to 3.1 million which suggests that the matter of population control was more stringently taken into consideration by the government of India. But government withdrew the policy for some time because due to medical problems, the sterilization process dropped to 900,000. When the emergency was declared, a family planning programme was constituted to control the population growth and raised to heights in 1976 and 77 by sterilising 81 lacks in a year which was considered to be a forced sterilisation campaign. It was more like an oppressive measure than a family control measure and the targets were mostly the marginalized sections. The mass sterilization programme was considered to be the most controversial and dark history of India during the emergency.
Gradually the sterilization drive turned its way to women from men on a cause that the fertility of men will get reduced and so women were forced to go under such sterilization drive because women were less likely to protest about it. This started sowing gender-based violence where women were not even compensated equally and eventually, 2000 people died undergoing the campaign. The state mostly targeted poor women to meet the sterilization targets. Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan were mostly focused on successful sterilization where the centre’s primary targets were migrants, rural workers, Adivasis, Muslims, the underprivileged, Dalit community. Because of their poverty and belonging to specific communities, the centre visioned that such communities are the cause of higher population and poverty. Different states started different schemes to control the population like denying jobs to families having more than 3 children and if not sterilised, not providing rations to families having more than two children and whatnot.
Till now in India, the sterilization process is carried aims mostly the women belonging to the poverty section and of other indigenous societies. One of the recent cases of sterilisation came out in the year 2014 where in Chhattisgarh, 13 to 15 lower-class women died in a
sterilisation centre. The post-mortem reports showed that some of the deaths were caused due to Septicaemia which means surgical infection. It was speculated that all the women were operated on with one single instrument and the surgeon didn’t even change his gloves in between the surgery. For recovery and rest, the women were made to lie down on the floor of the hospital which simply shows the negligence. One of the victims died due to heavy vomiting and gut pain within some days after the operation. When government officials were asked for an explanation, they just stated it as drug shortage was the cause of death whereas post-mortem stated something else. In spite of all this, sterilization continued to rise up in every following year.
The Supreme Court of India took an important move by ordering a ban on mass sterilization in India. While hearing the case of Devika Biswas Vs Union of India, the Supreme Court on 14th September 2016, gave the decision. After frequent demands from women’s rights activists, the apex court strictly directed the centre to prohibit mass sterilization campaigns. The judgement gave an end to the five-year-old case of Devika Biswas where in case a P.I.L was filed by Devika Biswas stating that in the Araria district of Bihar, a mass sterilization campaign drive was conducted where 53 women were sterilised but in a bad sanitary condition. The campaign took place in a school and it also violated certain guidelines which the Apex Court and the Government laid down. The Apex Court judgement mentioned that this is not the only case but there were several pieces of evidence of poor sanitation in camps during sterilization leading to the deaths of several women in the states of Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh specifically citing the situation of Chhattisgarh where women died during the sterilization process because of poor handling. The Supreme Court in the judgement directed the State and Central Government by stating that:
- Within three years, all the mass sterilisation campaign drives should stops and instead they should improve health facilities.
- To stop setting targets for sterilization and impelling the workers of health sectors to take a step to explain and spread about effects of forced or coercive sterilization.
In some other countries like in Peru, forced sterilization was carried out as a part of public health programmes back in 1990. Forced sterilization was also carried out in other countries like China, Japan, Sweden, Australia, Norway, Finland, Hungary and Kenya etc where in some countries law was enacted for persons with specific illnesses or disabilities to undergo forced
sterilization. In the Czech Republic, a law was passed stating that Roma women will be compensated for forceful sterilization. Many women from different countries moved to the court to address the forced sterilization as a violation of their human rights but the courts failed to acknowledge the discrimination being done to the women from marginalized communities.
Violation of Human Rights
After all the explanations, the thing that concludes the act is that forced sterilization is a straight human rights violation. Many international, national and regional bodies pronounced that without informed, voluntary and free consent, if the sterilization process is carried on then it will lead to the violation of fundamental human rights consisting of the right to privacy, right to health, right to information, the right to decide on the number and spacing of children, right to be free from discrimination, right to found a family, right to liberty and security of a person, right to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
Since the right to health is a guaranteed fundamental human right recognized by several treaties and conventions such as ICESCR, CRPD and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, one of the primary parts is the autonomy of the body. Many treaties explained that the right to health includes one’s right to control its health and body along with sexual and reproductive rights and freedom and the body must not be interfered with in the form of any kind of torture, experiments and medical treatment without consent. Therefore forced sterilization is a form of inhuman torture and interference with bodily autonomy violating the rights of a person.
Since women were more vulnerable towards such acts, CEDAW recognized that women had a right to acquire service for maternal health as well as to protect their reproductive choice is itself a right. Because of that before getting any health service, full voluntary and informed consent must be taken from the woman and respecting her reproductive choices, her dignity and confidentiality. The CEDAW committee also pronounced that women had the right to information and as a result, they should be fully informed about what they are going to undertake, and what consent paper they need to sign. Sterilization forms are mostly signed by women when they are in the verge of their labour and that’s not at all legible.
An interagency statement was produced by UN agencies including OHCHR, UN Women, UNAIDS, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, and WHO, where they stated certain guidelines to
carry on the sterilization process. They also stated specific legal regulatory policies and actions to take against such procedures. They stated that there should be full autonomy in decision making, enough information and support should be provided, the patients should be provided with their medical records and they should be given access to that, there should not happen any discrimination during the sterilization process and it must be ensured, effective remedies and enough evaluation should be done, physical and mental integrity of patients must be respected with dignity.
The statement directed certain legal frameworks and actions that must be taken to stop forced or coercive sterilization of women such as providing legal guarantees, developing and facilitating good health services, providing certain training and awareness, providing support and assistance, implementing reasonable measures and remedies, monitor every mechanism and many others.
The idea that everyone in the world has certain human rights to enjoy and that no one should intentionally violate those rights might at times appear bizarre. Forced sterilisation is a form of inhumane torture carried out on a person where voluntary consent and knowledge of the act don’t even exist. Bodily autonomy is one of the most important aspects of being human, and if there is any involuntary intervention, it not only violates one’s rights but also one’s privacy and dignity. Additionally, governments from various nations focus on those who are weaker and more susceptible to exploitation. They contend that such a disenfranchised group is necessary for population control since they are undeserving.
Everyone has the right to live with dignity, to be in good health, and to make decisions that are in their best interests, including those who are handicapped, suffer from mental illness, are intersex, are transgender, or have any other significant illness. Their reproductive rights cannot be decided upon by the government or any other authority in an effort to reduce the population. In order to keep society in balance, one cannot abuse another person’s rights. If population management is a concern, then find a peaceful solution rather than requiring people to permanently give up their capacity to reproduce.
Instead of expertly tricking the victims into becoming sterilised, education, awareness of the issue, regulations, and remedies are the most promising ways to address it. Because they are equally liable in any manner, the health sectors should pay considerably greater attention to such inhumane behaviours. Countries should stop focusing on vulnerable people, women in
need, and disadvantaged individuals. It is a sort of age-old tradition that weak groups in society are more prone to fall prey to exploitation when resources must be made useful in order to improve the state.
The population is growing quickly in modern times, which worries the world’s intellectuals. There are still efforts being made to find solutions to the problem. Some nations are implementing measures right now, while others still need to. The government is having second thoughts because of how quickly the population is growing and how resources are not being distributed equally. In order to deal with such situations without disrupting the balance of society, it is their responsibility to control and facilitate the appropriate media.
By: Kritanjali Purkayastha, a final year student of B. A. LL. B(Honours), student at Asaam University, Silchar
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