Botched Surgeries or Poisoned Medicine? – A Word on India’s Sterilisation Victims

By Ali Leyland-Collins

Last week, outrage spread worldwide as news surfaced of several women who had died in India after having had female sterilisation surgery. According to some sources, the number of victims is set at 15, whilst others state is as simply being ‘more than a dozen.’ How can 3 women be discounted in one fell swoop? Surely even one death is one death too many? Looking at the situation, as reported by numerous different countries, one can come to their own conclusions.

The important points, as reported by news around the world:

  • Sterilisations have been carried out in India since 1975 following a campaign aimed at curbing India’s fast-growing population.
  • The doctor who carried out the surgeries in question, Dr. R. K. Gupta, denies any malpractice despite performing 83 surgeries in less than 3, 5 or 6 hours (report depending). The protocol suggests 30-35 operations would have been the expectation for a whole day of surgery.
  • Dr. Gupta has never experienced complications before and therefore claims the deaths must have been a result of the medications these women were given after the surgery — he claims that it was clearly a drug reaction.
  • The doctors who performed the surgeries claim that it is not their responsibility to deal with the large influx of women: if people are sent to them, they will try to operate. The fear of public agitation if they turned people away — and the fear of losing their jobs — meant they would try to operate on as many women as they could in the time given.
  • Dr Gupta claims that his tools were as clean as possible in the circumstances and that he was wearing gloves. He sterilised his tools in the same way he has been doing for years, never having previously experienced any problems. It is this which leads him to believe that it was the post-surgery medication and not his surgery which lead to the deaths.
  • There have been denials that any incentives were used to encourage the doctors to operate above the expected 30 person quota. It has been admitted, however, that they may have been paid per patient.
  • Dr. R. K. Gupta was arrested on Wednesday 12th November on charges of manslaughter.


  • The family of one victim was paid 200,000 rupees (£2,060) in compensation and was placing blame on the government for the way in which the ‘sterilisation camps’ were run.
  • This week, reports have shown that patients who were given the same medication as the victims showed symptoms in line with zinc phosphide poisoning (a compound commonly found in rat-poison).
  • The 15th victim is reported to have been operated on at a different camp, by a different doctor, two days later. The implications suggest that the deaths were not due to negligence on the part of Dr. Gupta but more likely the medicine, as this latter group of patients were given the same medication as the former.
  • There are also reports of a 75-year-old-man who ingested medicine from the same batch, for different medical reasons, who is now also reported to have died.

Did you know?

  • In terms of figures, female sterilisation is the most popular family planning option in the world.
  • More than 220 million women worldwide have undergone the surgery. This figure is demonstrative of 19% of all women who are married or in a union.
  • 28 million men worldwide have undergone the equivalent surgery — known as vasectomy — whose risks are lower.
  • In India, there is a lot of stigma surrounding vasectomies; as a result of this, men are less likely to have the operation whereas women are actively encouraged through government schemes. In the early years of India’s sterilisation campaign, many of the operations were forced.
  • Both male and female operations have the potential to be reversed.

What are your thoughts on India‘s sterilisation programme?

Do you think it is any more or less restrictive than China‘s ‘One Child’ policy? Are they even comparable?

The surgery is more dangerous for women than for men; why aren’t more men encouraged to have the operation?  



New York Times


Huffington Post

BBC News

Hindustan Times 

Author: Gender + the City

Intersectional Feminist digital magazine

One thought on “Botched Surgeries or Poisoned Medicine? – A Word on India’s Sterilisation Victims”

  1. Where is the United Nations the no united ,Anti Poor Nations , Darfur atrocities by the Sudani Government ,Isis Genocides in Iraq and Syria.India is suffering rape and sterilization .

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