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India has a long history of sterilisation-related deaths as opposition activists protested against the deaths during a rally in Raipur,  on November 11, 2014 (AFP Photo/)
India has a long history of sterilisation-related deaths as opposition activists protested against the deaths during a rally in Raipur, on November 11, 2014 (AFP Photo/)
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Surgeon held over botched Indian sterilisations

Yvonne Williams

Raipur (India), By AFP

 An Indian doctor who conducted mass sterilisations that killed 13 women has been taken into custody, after saying he was being made a scapegoat for a controversial family planning scheme.

R. K. Gupta was detained for questioning amid mounting anger over the botched operations in central Chhattisgarh state, where women were paid to undergo a procedure that also left dozens in hospital, police said Thursday.

Gupta operated on 83 women in just five hours — spending an average of less than four minutes on each patient — at a state-run camp in Bilaspur district at the weekend.

The impoverished women were paid 1,400 rupees ($23) to undergo the surgery.

“He has been taken into custody. He will be produced in the court in the afternoon today. He is likely to be arrested soon after,” police inspector general Pawan Deo said from Bilaspur, adding that medical equipment used at the camp would be seized.

Gupta said the government was wrongly accusing him and blamed the drugs that were used during the surgery, as activists called for India’s family planning scheme to be overhauled.

Surgeon held over botched Indian sterilisations
Indian activists argue with police as they demonstrate against the deaths of 13 women who were sterilised in a government-run programme, during an opposition rally in Raipur on November 12, 2014 (AFP Photo/)

“I have done so many operations before this and there have never been any problems. They (administration) are putting the blame on me,” he told NDTV as he was being taken into custody on Wednesday night.

“This is all because of the drugs, the drugs given to the patients. The symptoms developed only after they were given the drugs,” said Gupta, who reportedly received an award from the government for the thousands of sterilisations he has performed.

“Almost all the patients are complaining now of how they started vomiting within 10 to 15 minutes of having the drugs.

“After vomiting they started feeling dizzy and weak and then their conditions just deteriorated even further.”

Although no cause of death has officially been given, authorities speculated that the women had died of septic shock.

Surgeon held over botched Indian sterilisations

The state government has banned five drugs used at the camp pending investigations, including an anaesthetic and a pain killer.

Sterilisation is one of the most popular methods of family planning in India, and many state governments organise mass camps where mainly poor, rural women can undergo the usually straightforward procedure.

Although the surgery is voluntary, rights groups say the target-driven nature of the programme has led to women being coerced into being sterilised, often in inadequate medical facilities.

Some 336 deaths have occurred as a result of sterilisations in India in the three years since 2010, according to national government figures.

– Coercion, poor facilities –

Surgeon held over botched Indian sterilisations

The victims had suffered vomiting and a dramatic fall in blood pressure on Monday after undergoing laparoscopic sterilisation, a process in which the fallopian tubes are tied. Some 14 women remain in hospital in a serious condition.

Chhattisgarh state minister Raman Singh on Thursday ordered a judicial inquiry into the deaths, telling reporters “I assure you that no culprit will be spared”.

Neelu Bai said her mother Meera died after opting to have the surgery 10 months after giving birth to her fourth child.

“She started vomiting after she came back home. The doctor said she was vomiting because it was hot. He asked her to take another medicine (to stop the vomiting),” the 16-year-old told NDTV.

Human Rights Watch said India had a long history of sterilisation-related deaths, in part because health workers were under pressure to meet “informal” monthly targets.

Health workers faced salary cuts or dismissal in at least one Indian state if they failed to meet their quotas, HRW senior researcher Aruna Kashyap said on the group’s website.

“Access to information, informed consent, and quality of services are often sacrificed by this target-driven approach,” Kashyap said.

“Women may not find out about the range of contraceptive methods available or the irreversibility or potential medical complications of sterilisation.”

Another group, the National Alliance for People’s Movement, said family planning programmes unfairly targeted women, whose rights were often ignored.

“(This) is yet another instance of serious violations of medical guidelines and brutal repression of reproductive rights and health of women in India,” the Mumbai-based rights group said in a statement.

India’s programmes have traditionally focused on women, and experts say that male sterilisation is still not accepted socially.

The government has suspended four health officials over the deaths, while angry protesters took to the streets in state capital Raipur on Wednesday demanding the chief minister’s resignation.