India’s Experiment With Compulsory Sterilisation

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One of the darkest chapters in the history of modernIndia was the Emergency (1975-77) imposed by Prime Minister IndiraGandhi, and one of the most barbaric projects during that time was the compulsory sterilisation drive by her son, Sanjay Gandhi.

Sanjay Gandhi | Wikimedia Commons
Sanjay Gandhi | Wikimedia Commons

Sanjay wanted to establish himself as the successor to his mother in the Congress, but his ways were brutal and dictatorial. He became a law unto himself and began to control the levers of power, inside and outside the government.

Sanjay announced a five-point programme for India – adult education, familyplanning, tree plantation, abolition of dowry and eradication of the castesystem. He ordered state chief ministers and government officials to set unreasonable targets for sterilisation.

As a result, men and women, married as well as single, across India, were randomly taken from their homes, fields, railway stations and cinema halls, and brought to camps for mass sterilisation. Worse, the procedures were carried out in crude and unhygienic conditions.

Victims of compulsory sterilization | Wikimedia Commons
Victims of compulsory sterilization | Wikimedia Commons

And it wasn’t only men who suffered. Women were forced to undergo tubectomies and scores died. This mass drive resulted in an astonishing 81 lakh cases of sterilisation in 1976-77, three times more than the previous year. Most cases came from North India.

Sanjay Gandhi also saw slums as an eyesore. So, in April 1976, Delhi’s civic administration was ordered to demolish slum settlements. In the Turkman Gate area of OldDelhi, sterilisation camps were also set up. It was a deadly combination.

Things were so bad that police opened fire on those who resisted sterilisation. More than a dozen died in Old Delhi while in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, the death toll was more than 50.

The people of India were furious, and when Indira Gandhi announced elections in 1977, she suffered a crushing defeat. The Janata Party emerged victorious and during its tenure (1977-78), the number of voluntary sterilisation cases dropped to 5 lakh.

Indians were coerced into sterilization by being offered household goods in return | Wikimedia Commons
Indians were coerced into sterilization by being offered household goods in return | Wikimedia Commons

Sanjay’s compulsory mass sterilisation programme turned the issue of family planning into a political hot potato, and no political party wanted to touch the subject. As a result, India’s population control programme suffered a major setback.

Cover Image: Hindustan Times

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