Population control and its biases against marginalized bodies

Posted by Padmaja Pati and Sanjina Gupta

As we inaugurate the International Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness DayWe, two female-identifying individuals with wombs, wanted to dig a little deeper into how our bodies have been the battleground of control in this patriarchal society and the state at large for centuries.

Bodies with wombs have always been a site of asserting control, maintaining order, imposing limitations in the name of “population control”, “family planning” or “empowerment of women,” and it is disconcerting to witness the normalization, acceptance, or stifling of such violations of autonomy and agency by these individuals. As part of this discourse, it is essential to understand how these violations take place towards marginalized and vulnerable bodies, and to try to reflect on the type of consequences that these violations will have if the bodies affected belonged to those of a superior . cis-masculine caste, class or gender.

While talking about how the state and society have imposed decisions on our bodies in the name of development, we wanted to examine how family planning as a government-sanctioned program has been central to many laws, policies, and programs in India since independence and how different approaches have been used to halt population growth or, as we commonly call it, population ‘control’.

Furthermore, it will be interesting to see how the population is “controlled” by marginalized control bodies, which are often seen as insignificant, dispensable and voiceless in our socio-economic context. The common notion that marginalized communities from a certain class, caste and religion have “more” children than upper class, upper caste people of the majority religion has been one of the few reasons why Government family planning programs have repeatedly targeted these communities.

Here, two things are important to note in this conversation:

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  1. How the sexual rights of a certain community are examined, and
  2. How sexuality and sexual rights of a certain gender in this community are examined

Although working in the SDSR space, we were unaware of the egregious degree of some violations. In our conversations with women from marginalized communities in West Bengal, we heard stories where long-term contraceptive methods like IUDs were inserted into their bodies without asking their consent. dig deeper articles and available news reports on this unethical practice have revealed that it has been going on for a long time. The narrative that a poor, low-caste community has no leisure other than procreation has guided our country’s family planning programs for centuries.

Moreover, this biased view has not only led to violations and wrongdoings on the part of service providers, but has also destroyed the whole essence of family planning, which at its core wants to promote a sexual life and reproductive health for all individuals. India is also a signatory to the 1994 ICPD PoA, which marked a turning point in development work and stated that we must move away from population targets and respect, protect and fulfill individual sexual and reproductive lives.

Bodies with wombs have always been a site of asserting control, maintaining order, imposing limitations in the name of “population control”, “family planning” or “empowerment of women,” and it is disconcerting to witness the normalization, acceptance, or stifling of such violations of autonomy and agency by these individuals.

Radha (name changed), based in West Bengal, is a 23-year-old married man who underwent a C-section two years ago at a government facility. When she was discharged, she discovered that an IUD had been inserted into her uterus without the prior consent of herself or her family. Protesting the nurse told her it had been done for her ‘benefit’ and then the nurse further humiliated her saying the IUCD would save her from going to the hospital next month with another pregnancy, searching her assuming she or her husband were not responsible enough to use contraception.

For over a year, Radha endured excruciatingly painful menstrual cycles where she bled twice a month and couldn’t get out of bed while breastfeeding a baby by her side. After 13 months of suffering, she had the IUD removed by a licensed practitioner with the help of a local welfare organization. In addition, she voluntarily opted for one of the alternative contraceptive methods offered to her.

Radha’s story is one of many who faced similar difficult situations. The official IUCD Services Reference Manual clearly states that verbal consent is required from patients prior to delivery. And they should be counseled on the benefits, limitations, effectiveness, and possible side effects or complications of the IUD before delivery. However, the reality is that in many cases, no proper consent is obtained and no follow-up is provided to these women, who must deal with the repercussions of these violations alone.

Read also : 5 myths about population control in India that need to be…

Since its inception in 1952, family planning has been about controlling the body of people with uterus. Starting with the very first initiative where women were asked to follow a “rhythm method” where they were given bead necklaces to determine their safe days Until the current situation of imposing long-term contraceptives and sterilizations on bodies with uterus, the road has been long and full of pitfalls. Careful examination of data from the National Family Health Survey-4 supports the observation discussed above. It reveals that out of 47.8% of the total number of modern contraceptive methods currently used in our country, 41.6% are subject to bodies of a certain sex – women or bodies with a uterus.

Although condom use and vasectomy or male sterilization figure prominently among these forms of contraception (condom use = 5.6% and male sterilization = 03%), the numbers reflect who bears the burden of contraception.

According to sexual and reproductive health service providers and policy makers, myths and prejudices surrounding condom use and vasectomy are one of the main deterrents.

So why this glaring disparity?

According to sexual and reproductive health service providers and policy makers, myths and prejudices surrounding condom use and vasectomy are one of the main deterrents. Although the no-scalpel vasectomy used today is no more painful than an injection and although it is meant to be permanent it can be surgically reversed, patriarchal notions of masculinity and the myth that the procedure will affect d ‘one way or another erection and sexual pleasure, as well as the continued impact of the forced vasectomy program imposed during the emergency period in the 1970s, means that men are extremely reluctant to adopt this method highly effective and minimally invasive as women continue to crowd into sterilization camps which can often be dangerous and have repeatedly resulted in death.

Read also : Why endogamous marriages could make us an unhealthy population

All of these discussions leave us with a series of burning questions to ponder: what makes women or bodies with wombs so easy to regulate and control? Why are they carrying this burden? Is it because of their ability to give birth or is it because of the social status they have in this patriarchal society or both? Does the burden of sparing the family unwanted expenses (more mouths to feed) increase exponentially as one is pushed to the margins of society?

Access to effective family planning and contraception can greatly contribute to gender equality and empower women by giving them control over their bodies and fertility. However, in many parts of our country, forced sterilizations, hysterectomies, forced insertion of IUCDs have taken place under the oversight of service providers and the state, whether forced hysterectomies in Maharashtra’s Beed district or 14 women dying in sterilization camps in Chhattisgarh or the recent cases of non-consensual IUD insertion after childbirth in Kolkata, West Bengal.

Moreover, the concerned authorities try to justify their coercive actions by various reasons such as uninterrupted labor supply, population control, family planning, economic burden reduction, etc. However, these violations have consequences. They negatively impact the physical, mental and socio-cultural well-being of people whose rights to bodily autonomy, privacy and information were or are violated. Implementing family planning methods in such a forced fashion widens the existing gender disparity and pushes individuals already on the margins to conform more to subordinate gender roles. So, does the state really care about us or are we just a number to manage?

Note: There is also a range of similar violations for people who identify as non/binary or trans men in all states, however, few are reported or undocumented so far. That’s why we tried to use inclusive terms.

We would like to express our gratitude to FII and ASAP for their support.

Sanjina is the founder and executive director of the Rangeen Khidki Foundation. Sanjina holds a master’s degree in sociology and has a collective experience of 7 years in the social development sector.

Padmaja Pati is Research Director at the Rangeen Khidki Foundation. Padmaja is a mixed-methods researcher in the field of education, gender and food security with a master’s degree in financial economics.

The Rangeen Khidki Foundation is a youth-led feminist organization based in Kolkata working in the area of ​​sexual and reproductive health and rights. You can find them on their Website, instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Featured image source: Scroll