Daily Archives: 22 June 2015

How Sanjay Gandhi and his coterie implemented a progamme of conveyor-belt sterilisations

As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the state of emergency, here is look at one of Sanjay Gandhi’s (ex-PM Indira younger Gandhi’s son) notorious acts – forcible sterilisation of women in the name of ‘population control’.
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Forty years ago this month, Indira Gandhi suspended the Constitution and declared an Emergency. This excerpt from ‘For Reasons of State’ recalls the programme of forced vasectomies and tubectomies that was instituted during the period.
How Sanjay Gandhi and his coterie implemented a progamme of conveyor-belt sterilisations
August 1976: The old man stood in front of the table and wept. The table was set in the car park, and the people getting out of their cars stopped to see what is happening. Why was the old emaciated man in the white khes weeping? He was old and thin and it was obvious that he was having fever. A crowd was collecting around the table. The man sitting on the chair opposite was getting angry. “Go home if you don’t have the paper. Or sign this form. We will give you money, and many more things. You will not have to pay anything. Just press your thumb here”.

The senior doctor drove into the car park as the 9 o’clock siren sounded its first wail. He stopped the car, got out and stopped. He thought there was something familiar about the old man. He had seen him around in the hospital somewhere in recent days. He called the man over. “What is the matter, friend, what’s up?”

The old man broke down completely. “Doctor Saab, help me. These people will not let me stand in the queue, they say I cannot get medicine for my fever. They want me to sign the paper for nasbandi [sterilization] operation. I don’t need nasbandi. I need medicine for my fever. But they say I need the nasbandi first.” The old man sobbed out the story. He had come early to the Hindu Rao Hospital to be first in the queue. The hospital was a busy one, and one had to come in time or else it would be very late before one’s before one’s turn came to go see the doctor. He was standing in the queue waiting for the registration window to open when this man came to him.

“He was young and talked loudly. He stopped in front of me and asked me if I had undergone the family planning operation. He said I will have to come with him before I can get my parchi for the hospital. I am telling him that I am over 55, that my wife is dead, he does not believe me. You tell him doctor. You tell him that my wife died in this hospital only five days ago. In that ward over there, the zanana ward next to this car place. See, this is the parchi, this slip of paper that the sisters had tied to the body of my wife when she died in the ward. This they had tied to her white sheet, her shroud when they wheeled her away to the murda-khana [the mortuary]. I am keeping this slip, doctor. This slip was tied to my wife’s body when it was in the murda khana of this hospital. I am telling this young man my wife is dead. That I do not need nasbandi. I am a widower and I am too old. I have fever. I need medicines.”

“Stop bothering this man, you rascals”, the doctor shouted. “Stop bothering him and go motivate someone else, pick someone from your family if you must”. “Greedy bums,” he mumbled. “Come. I will give you the medicine parchi. No don’t pay anything to these people. This hospital is supposed to be free. For you, I say it still is.”

For every one else, it was not. The Lt. Governor, Krishan Chand, decreed in June that every one would have to pay for the free medical treatment in government hospitals. Pay or produce a certificate proving that he or she had been sterilized. It was part of the family planning programme, part of the Five Point Programme, and Delhi had to meet the challenge. It was already far ahead of other states in the number of sterilizations done, but it wanted to establish such a lead that even Haryana, which was every day coming closer and closer, could never touch it. Shrimati Vidyaben Shah and Ruksana Sahiba and promised to take the figure up to three lakhs. And it was upto every one to help them to keep Delhi’s prestige.

The motivation committee was highly encouraged at Sanjay Gandhi’s praise for it. They knew he had told these officials to cooperate with Ruksana Sahiba. He had told them that morning that the campaign needed hotting up. Things were getting into a bit of a rut. Krishan Chand had agreed that something need be done. Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee leaders, including the President Amar Nath Chawla were stressing the need for effective implementation of the Five Point programme in the capital. The order was passed from Raj Nivas. In future, free medical facilities would be available to only those whop had acted on the national programme to limit families. The rest would have to pay. The proof of a sterilization would be the certificate issued at the clinic and the proof that a person did not come in the “eligible” category would be the ration card with the name of two children or more. A side effect would be to remove ‘ghost or fictious names from the ration card.

The copy of the Lt. Governor’s orders was received in Town Hall. The municipal corporation was required to implement the order in hospitals under its jurisdiction immediately. The municipal corporation framed its orders. The objective was explained. The deadline set was for June 8, 1976. The notice was posted early one morning on information boards set up at the Municipal Corporation, Hindu Rao Hospital on the Ridge, the Kasturba Zanana Hospital in the Jama Masjid area and across scores of dispensaries, clinics and maternity centres. “With a view to restricting the family to two children and discourage people from making another addition to their family, the municipal corporation had decided to charge Rs. 5/- and Rs. 10/- per day from out-door and in-door patients in all its hospitals and dispensaries. The decision has been taken in pursuance of the policy followed by the Delhi Administration and will cover all citizens as well as the employees of the corporation, the water supply and sewage disposal undertaking, and of the Delhi Electric Supply Undertaking. All persons seeking treatment will have to produce their ration cards. Those who fail to produce the ration cards will be deemed to have more than two children and will be liable to all charges. Persons having more than two children will be entitled to free medical aid only after one spouse produces a sterilidation certificate.”

Another order had also been passed. This called upon the Corporation officials to fulfill the quota of sterilizations from the staff and then to fulfill their quotas of motivations. The health department was the hardest hit. Only in the last fortnight of April, they had to fulfil a sterilization quota of 1,300, which had been set them by Deputy Commissioner V.K. Chanana. In Hindu Rao Hospital, the staff started soliciting vasectomy or tubectomy cases in the long queues that still formed at the OPD windows. They set up their table and chair by the car park. And they were hurt when the senior doctor rebuked them that morning. The old man could not have lost anything by a vasectomy. It would not hurt him much. It would have helped him get some money. And helped them too. The penalty for not fulfilling the quota was strict. No salary.

So it had been for some months now. It had begun in 1975. At that time, the Delhi Administration and the Delhi Congress promised to implement wholeheartedly the Four Point programme that Sanjay Gandhi had announced after his mother’s broadcast of her 20 points. The programme implementation committee set up at Rajpur Road under H.K.L. Bhagat took it up as one of its main programmes. “Do ya Teen Bas”, the slogan made famous in poster and radio, dropped the “teen”. It was now “Hum do Hamare Do”.

In September, 1975 one of the first special camps was held at Kasturba Gandhi Hospital,better known as the Victoria Zanana Hospital, in the Jama Masjid area. A maternity and child care hospital, the Kasturba Zanana was specially patronized by the burqa-clad Muslim women of Old Delhi. Doctors performed 425 tubectomies in one stretch of fifteen days. “This is a record,” said a press release from Raj Nivas, the Lt. Governor’s official residence. Lt. Governor’s Krishan Chand personally came to Kasturba Gandhi Hospital again on the day after Christmas, 1975. It was a Friday. A special camp was again being organized to break the old record of tubectomies. To get more patients, the motivators were told they would from now get Rs. 10/- for every women they could being to the camp. It was quite a jump. For persuading a woman to undergo a tubectomy, a motivator had so far got only Rs. 2 All nurses and doctors on the staff were put on the job. House surgeons and registrars were sent “two each to each” operation theatre.

“On some days we had upto 25 women brought for the operations”, says one who was in the tubectomy team. “Usually we had between 75 and 100 women a day. Upto now most of them were eligible. They may have been only 25 or so, but they had two children or more. We had five operating tables in three operating rooms in all. The rooms were scrubbed clean in the mornings. The women were then prepared in the wards, cleaned, and their abdomens made aseptic. They wer then wheeled into the operation theatre clad in a clean hospital dress. We ran out of these dresses after some time. We were then told to keep the dresses only for the women actually being sterilized The other patients and those who had their operations were told to put on the clothes they had been wearing before they came to the hospital.

“In the operation theatre, the doctors saw if it was to be a laproscopy or an abdominal incision tubectomy. There would usually be one doctor and about seven to eight nurses. But later two junior doctors were put together to perform the surgery. An operation took about 15 minutes, but taking the patient in and wiping the table clean took another 15 minutes. So we were doing the operations at th rate of one every 30 minutes.”

“During the operation, the instruments needed were only the scalpels, tube forceps and sufficient swabs and sponge forceps. These were cleaned and sterilized here in the morning. The surgeon would make an incisions into the abdomen deep enough to enter the cavity. The fallopian tubes were then either tied off, or severed into two pieces each and then the ends tied up. The wound was then closed.

“The patient was given local anaesthesia generally. They would be taken to the post-operative ward and kept there for six hours. We had thirty beds in one ward. And always we had to put two women to each bed. One women would have her head towards the wall. The other slept with her head on the other side. Sometimes on the days when there were more than 100 women, three women were put to each bed. The only criteria was that they had to be women.

“Each operation would take half an hour. After one surgery, the doctor would wash his hands and change his gloves. Most of the nurses did not change their dresses. The table would be wiped clean. That’s all. And then the next patient would be wheeled in. During this fortnight, sometimes the doctors and nurses had to stand upto six or seven in the evening after beginning at 9.30 or 10.30 in the morning.

“The women who were brought for tubectomies were given only a superficial check. They were discharges after six days. Those who had been given a leproscopic operation would usually be sent home the next day.

“We had about 10 percent of the cases coming back with septic wounds. There were no deaths in the theatre. But some of the septic cases died. There were more than ten tubectomy deaths in this hospital during all the sterilization drives.”

Excerpted from For Reasons of State ‒ Delhi Under the Emergency by John Dayal and Ajoy Bose. Published 1977.


The authors at work. 

Continue reading How Sanjay Gandhi and his coterie implemented a progamme of conveyor-belt sterilisations

‘Himmat’ during the Emergency: When the Press crawled, some refused to even bend

It is the 40th anniversary of our former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposing Emergency in the country. And there is much thought, talk and writing going on around. It is still more relevant in the context of L K Advani, senior leader of BJP -the ruling party at the Centre- giving that warning of ‘not ruling out the possibility of an emergency’ in the coming days! He means something, doesn’t he?

When Indira Gandhi suspended the Constitution, some journalists maintained their independence despite State repression. Why can’t today’s journalists find ways to resist corporate control to tell readers the truth?
Kalpana Sharma  · Today · 09:05 am
'Himmat' during the Emergency: When the Press crawled, some refused to even bend

Photo Credit: Kalpana Sharma
Forty years ago on a rainy evening in Mumbai, a group of friends met in an apartment overlooking Grant Road Bridge. It was June 26, 1975.  We knew that a State of Emergency had been declared. We also knew that there would be press censorship. But what on earth did that mean?

All India Radio did not explain. We had to turn to BBC World Service to get a sense of what exactly was happening. That is how we learned that thousands of opposition leaders and political workers had been arrested under the draconian Maintenance of Internal Security Act.

Some of us in that room were journalists. We worked with a small English-language weekly,Himmat, edited by Rajmohan Gandhi. What would censorship mean for us?

When we went into work the next morning, we heard that the government had sent out“guidelines” that the press had to follow. Number one on the list was: “Where news is plainly dangerous, newspapers will assist the Chief Press Adviser by suppressing it themselves. Where doubts exist, reference may and should be made to the nearest press adviser.” Clearly we had to decide what is “dangerous”.

The guidelines also instructed us not to reproduce rumours or anything “objectionable” that had been printed outside India. Given that only newspapers outside India were reporting what was actually going on in the country, this pretty much foreclosed reporting on anything.

Roller-coaster ride

The next 20 months were a roller-coaster ride, but one that formed us as journalists. The principle lesson we learned was that freedom of the press is not a luxury that the rulers bestow on you: it is a lifeline in an unequal society like ours. Without it, the poor would become invisible because it would deprive them of their basic right to be heard as citizens in a democracy.

As the majority of Indians today were not even born when Emergency was declared and this also applies to most of the journalists in the trade today, let me just briefly recount my own experience with censorship.

In the initial days, there was confusion in the press about what censorship would involve. The office of the Director of Information and Publicity of the Maharashtra government had been converted into the Censor’s office, employing around 15 people. Binod Rau, a former resident editor of the Indian Express, was the Censor. An official from this office was sent to each daily newspaper in the evening. But by September 20, 1975, it became evident that it would be impossible to pre-censor every single word that appeared in print. Hence, we were informed that we were expected to “self-censor” and abide by the guidelines.

White-out protest

In the two issues that came out after the declaration of Emergency, Himmat chose to leave its Editorials blank. Thereafter, we decided that we would write as we always did until we were informed that we had violated some guideline. That didn’t take long. In our issue of October 24, 1975, we had carried a report about a prayer meeting at Raj Ghat held on October 2 at whic Acharya JB Kripalani had spoken. The police broke up the meeting and arrested those who refused to leave, including our editor-in-chief Rajmohan Gandhi and his brother, Ramchandra Gandhi. Although they were released later, some of the others spent several months in prison.

By then, I was the editor of Himmat. I was summoned to the office of the Special Press Advisor (as the Censor was known) and informed that as Himmat had violated the guidelines, we would be under pre-censorship with immediate effect. When I asked which guideline, there was no answer. Finally, one official told me that they had been berated by Delhi for allowing the item on the Rajghat meeting to appear.

Despite this, we found ways to dodge the censor. Additionally, the Bombay High Court ruling in April 1976 in the Binod Rau vs MR Masani case on censorship provided some breathing space. Amongst other things, the Court ruled that “if there is a right to praise either an individual or the government, there is equally a right to criticise the individual or the government…”

For a couple of months, everything was quiet. Then in July 1976, someone from the Criminal Investigation Department turned up at our office with a notice stating that the printer and publisher of Himmat (Rajmohan Gandhi) had to deposit Rs 20,000 within 15 days with the Commissioner of Police because there were “prejudicial reports” in three issues in April. No details were given. These details were provided only when we went to court challenging censorship guidelines. Apparently, we had quoted Mahatma Gandhi saying, “The restoration of free speech, free association and free press is almost the whole of Swaraj” was considered “prejudicial”.

Arbitrary rules

I give these details to illustrate the arbitrariness of censorship during those times. Yet, we had decided that we would rather continue to push the envelope and take risks than buckle under censorship. Such bravado meant that the press where we printed was served a notice to stop printing Himmat, andno other printing press would touch us. Of course, we did not have the money to buy our own printing machines. In desperation, we put out an appeal to our readers. Amazingly, hundreds of readers responded, sending us contributions as small as Rs 5 and going up to a few thousand rupees.  We managed to collect over Rs 60,000 and with some additional funds bought two small printing machines and rented a space in an industrial estate in Prabhadevi. This allowed us to have our own print line and take the risk we felt we must.

Unfortunately, this arrangement was also busted when the authorities found that the bulk of the magazine was being printed elsewhere. So finally, in December 1976, we were left with no option but to go every week to the Censor’s office and be subjected to the irrational and arbitrary slashing of copy. To fill these spaces at the last minute was virtually impossible. Yet we had to because leaving blank pages was also a crime!

The Emergency ended in March 1977 after the spectacular election that threw Indira Gandhi out of office. Although on paper censorship continued during the election campaign, no one paid any heed to it.

The lessons of 1975

Looking back now, four decades later, has the Indian press learned anything from that experience? Do we value the freedom that was snatched away from us?

Some of us as journalists certainly learned important lessons. The 1970s was still a time of idealism. I can count many of my contemporaries who came into journalism believing that our job was to seek the truth and write without fear.

Once the Emergency ended, many such journalists took it upon themselves to unearth the stories that had been suppressed, stories that above all denied poor people their rights. These included slum demolitions in many cities, forcible sterilisation campaigns, torture of prisoners, fake encounters and many others.

Instead of merely reporting on these atrocities, and others like bonded labour, trafficking, denial of human rights, the rights of pavement dwellers and more, journalists followed up these stories by filing Public Interest Litigations in the Supreme Court. No one charged them with being “unprofessional” or “activist journalists”. In the mood that prevailed then, it was accepted that even as we are journalists, we are also citizens and cannot stand by and watch such egregious violations of rights.

If you survey the Indian press of the late 1970s into the 1980s, you see the results of such a commitment by scores of journalists. Newspapers gave space for such writing, even encouraged it. And even though several smaller publications like Himmat closed down because the economics did not work out, many mainstream publications took up the task of unearthing the developments that were hidden during the Emergency.

New priorities

Since the 1990s, there has been a visible change in the Indian media. For one, print is not so dominant, yielding space to the electronic media. In the last few years, the Internet has opened up new spaces.

The growth and variety of the media suggests that there should be greater freedom, that it would be virtually impossible today for the State to control the media. Certainly the kind of censorship regime imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975 would never work today.

Yet, has the space for the kind of writing spawned by the experience of Emergency shrunk or expanded? This is a question we still have to ask.

While the expansion of the media space would suggest that there would be much more room for writing on poverty, on human rights, on the invisible and marginal parts of India, on communities that are forgotten, the reverse is true. In a media driven by the market, such news has no value. So while earlier, falling foul of the government restricted the pursuit of such stories, today the belief that such news will not sell your product denies them space.

Secondly, how do we define “free” in relation to the media? “Free” of what or whom? Perhaps the State does not have the same ability it had in the past to control the content of even privately owned media, but today there are other forces that do. When politics and business come together, and define what can or cannot be reported, is this not a form of covert censorship? The increasing consolidation of media ownership in a few powerful hands, and the nexus between some of these owners and the people in power, gives an entirely different spin to the concept of a “free” media.

What remains the same is the choice that journalists have to make. During the Emergency, as LK Advani famously noted, although the press was asked to bend, it chose to crawl. Yet many journalists chose not to do so, at considerable risk to themselves and their careers.

That choice is one that we still have to make.  If even under overt censorship, some publications managed to communicate the truth to their readers, why can’t journalists do it under the indirect forms of control that exist today?

Kalpana Sharma was editor of Himmat from 1976 to 1981 when it closed. She has worked withThe Indian Express, The Times of India and The Hindu and is currently consulting editor withEconomic and Political Weekly.