A surgeon has been arrested on charges of negligence and attempted culpable homicide in the deaths of a dozen women who had undergone sterilization operations at a mobile clinic in one of India’s poorest states.
Dr. R. K. Gupta, assisted by a team of fellow medical professionals, operated on 83 women in a span of six hours Saturday in Chhattisgarh state. His arrest is one of several measures authorities have taken in response to the deaths and the resulting public outcry.
By Thursday, authorities had halted all sterilization procedures in the Bilaspur district of Chhattisgarh, according to Sonmani Bhora, the district’s commissioner. Six types of drugs — including certain painkillers and antibiotics — have been banned. Gupta claimed the women died due to those medications, distributed in a nearby village, rather than the operations themselves.
While Gupta is the face of the latest outrage, the nationwide, government-run sterilization program has been going on for decades.
It’s part of a campaign to curb population growth in India, a nation of 1.25 billion people, second only to China in population. Women get paid (the women in Chhattisgarh each got 1,400 rupees, or about $23) to have the operations. And doctors are given incentives to do them. Gupta told CNN prior to his arrest that local health officials awarded him for the large number of sterilizations he performed.
But it’s also too often a deadly procedure. Advocates claim that conditions at such sterilization “camps” are sometimes unsanitary and dangerous.
Gupta is being charged for the operations he did Saturday. A day later, some of the women began vomiting and experiencing severe pain. Twelve of those died, while scores of others are hospitalized.
Another woman who was operated on Monday in another district in Chhattisgarh also died.
Autopsy results expected this week
Clarity on whether the women died from the surgeries or the drugs they took afterward could come this week, when autopsy results come back, according to R.K. Vange, chief medical health officer for the area.
Gupta has said his team followed all necessary safety procedures. Whether or not that is true, New Delhi-based Human Rights Law Network advocate Kerry McBroom said this is often not the case at mobile sterilization clinics around India. She told CNN that there’s often no electricity, no running water and too few medical staff.
“It was almost inevitable,” McBroom said of the recent deaths, “given the unsafe, unethical and unhygienic conditions that persist throughout India in these camps.”
Gupta said the government pressures doctors to perform more and more sterilization surgeries.
Yet, with 83 in six hours, he might have gone too far. Government guidelines stipulate doctors should conduct no more than 30 sterilization surgeries a day.