2 April 2012
DELHI- Senior Counsel Colin Gonsalves appeared before the Supreme Court in Devika Biswas vs. Union of India and Ors. (W.P. (C) 81 of 2012), and the Court was pleased to issue notices to the Centre and every state in this Public Interest Litigation filed by the Human Rights Law Network.
Petitioner and health rights activist Devika Biswas revealed the gruesome details of a January 2012 sterilization camp at the Kaparfora Government Middle School, Araria District in a February 2012 fact-finding report. With the explicit permission of the State Health Society,an NGO and a private doctor used the government middle school as an operating theater for at least 53 sterilization surgeries on poor, dalit, and scheduled caste women. In clear violation of Government guidelines and basic human rights, the doctor performed the surgeries at night, under torchlight. During the two hours he was operating, the doctor did not wash his hands, change gloves, or wear a surgical gown and cap. After their surgeries, untrained NGO workers placed the women on straw paddy provided by the families. The doctor operated on one pregnant woman, Jitni Devi, who miscarried days after her surgery. The doctor and NGO staff left three women profusely bleeding, including Saraswati Devi, who spent 8 days recovering in the hospital. Most of the women from the camp have had to seek costly private care. None of the women were counseled.
The horrific human rights violations extend beyond these events in Bihar. Doctors and health facilities across the county routinely flaunt the ethical and procedural guidelines prescribed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Constitutional obligations, and international norms. The Public Interest Litigation specifically outlines examples of coerced and unsafe sterilizations in Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan.
This Public Interest Litigation sets forth the urgent need for an independent organization like the National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights to investigate nationwide compliance with national guidelines, for all states to obtain informed consent as per National Guidelines, for all states to file status reports on compliance with the Supreme Court’s directions in Ramakant Rai (W.P. 209/2003) and the National Guidelines, and for compensation for the victims.
About the Petitioner: Devika Biswas has been working as a health rights activist with the Bihar Voluntary Health Association since 1989. She has published articles on the two-child norm in the book, Empowerment and Coercion, and on the conditions of health scenario from citizens’ perspective (published by the Centre for Health and Social Justice, New Delhi). In 2011, the Petitioner carried out a Rapid Assessment of the Health Programme in Bihar (forthcoming publication by CHSJ in Collaboration with SRM University, Chennai, UNFPA, ND). After a fact-finding mission on in her native district of Araria, Ms. Biswas felt compelled to file this petition to ensure that sterilizations nation-wide are conducted as per the legal norms and to see that the victims in Bihar receive compensation for their injuries.
Feel free to contact HRLN if you would like a copy of the petition.
The Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) is a collective of lawyers and social activists dedicated to the use of the legal system to advance human rights in India and the sub-continent. To learn more visit hrln.org.
Director, Reproductive Rights Unit
Human Rights Law Network