Over 50 women are in the hospital and 13 are dead after a botched mass sterilization of 83 women in Bilaspur, a city in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh.
The state-run mass sterilization –part of a wider campaign to limit population growth in the world’s largest democracy– went horribly awry on Saturday, with a mounting death toll. The district commissioner admitted that “reports of a drop in pulse, vomiting and other ailments started pouring in on Monday from the women who underwent surgery.”
The cause of these symptoms, and where exactly the sterilization surgeries went wrong, is still unclear, though local officials said the hospital where the surgeries were performed was not adequately equipped to handle the large number of women opting for permanent sterilization, The Telegraph reports.
The women were paid 1,400 rupees, about $23, in return for attending the “sterilization camp.”
More than 80 surgeries were performed by one doctor and his assistant in five hours, according to The Indian Express. Bilaspur’s chief medical officer, R.L. Bhange, argued the procedures were properly conducted.
“There was no negligence. He is a senior doctor,” Bhange told The Indian Express, before adding that his organization would be investigating the incident.
Despite these claims, The Indian Express reports the surgeries were grossly non-compliant with government regulations. The same surgical instruments were used on all the women, and each operation was completed in about four minutes. In addition, the place where the surgeries were conducted had been unused and nearly abandoned for almost a year.
The women were allegedly forced to lie on the ground during the operations, prompting speculation that the deaths might be due to septic shock.
The deaths have prompted allegations from the victims’ families that the purportedly voluntary birth control measures were actually forced sterilization, instigated by local health workers, The Telegraph reports.
“She was taken without our permission,” said Mahesh Suryavanshi of his sister-in-law, Nem Bai.
“We told them repeatedly that she has just given birth, but they did not listen. They said nothing would happen, it was a minor operation. They herded them like cattle and took them.
“She was unwell when they took her, and her condition had worsened when she returned.”