By Frances Gumley THERE has been violent reaction to the Compulsory Sterilisation Bill which has been passed in a final form by the Indian State of Maharashtra. In the State of Uttar Pradesh the arrival of a family-planning team caused a riot which resulted in the death of at least 10 people.
Eight people died in Sultanpur when the police opened fire on protesters. In Basti City a junior government official collecting names of those eligible for compulsory sterilisation, was murdered last week.
Disturbances', have also broken in Gorakhpur City, Calcutta, West Bengal, Bihar and Haryana, but news of all such incidents has been censored out of the Indian Press.
The Bill, which now awaits presidential approval, carries penalties of unprecedented severity. On the day it comes into force, all "eligible" women in Maharashtra less than 12 weeks pregnant will have to be aborted,
It is seen as a test case for future expansion of compulsory sterilisation in the other provinces of India.
Dr Karen Singh, India's health and family planning minister, has stated that he is not opposed to the principle of statutory sterilisation.
Although the Indian Government clearly expected opposition to the law, it is unlikely they foresaw the widespread violence it has aroused. Dr Singh said that any religiouslymotivated propaganda against the new measures would not be tolerated.
Earlier this year, when rumours began circulating about compulsory sterilisation, bloody riots broke out in the orthodox Muslim quarter of Old Delhi, and there were angry protests from India's eight million Catholics.
Cardinal Picachy of Calcutta was unequivocal in his attitude to the prospect of compulsory sterilisation. In a letter to the Bishops of India, he wrote: "It violates our Christian conscience."
The Bill will affect all those people who live in Maharashtra and have three or more children on the day it becomes law, Measures will not be taken against men over 55 or women over 45, but an exception will be made in the case of families who have either three girls or three boys and who subsequently have a fourth child.
When the Bill becomes law, anyone who fulfils his legal quota of children must present himself for sterilisation within six months of the birth of his last legally-permissible child, When the operation is performed the patient will be issued with a certificate as documentary proof. There are two circumstances under which compulsory' sterilisation will be waived: If it is judged by an area board that the operation will endanger the life of the recipient or if, when the Bill becomes law, someone has a family which exceeds the legal restrictions but which does not include a child under five.
In this last case, the father must sign a written undertaking promising not to have any more children. If he contravenes this undertaking the punitive powers of the Bill come into force. Termination of the illegal pregnancy and sterilisation will he enforced by law.
It is thought that one of the
reasons why Maharashtra was approved as forerunner in this drastic programme of population control was because it is one of the few States with an efficient health system which would be capable of dealing with the extra workload the Bill will entail.
Applications for reversal of sterilisation will be considered by a government board if either all the children die or all the children of one sex die. All sterilisations and abortions carried out under the terms of the law will be paid for by the Government.
Should the legally enforced operations cause death or injury, compensation of up to 5,000 rupees (less than £350) will be made available.
' The powers of the proposed Act will be very extensive. A register will be kept of all people having more than two children. If someone is unable to produce their certificate of sterilisation it will be assumed that the operation has not taken place.
Attempts to avoid sterilisation or to have illegal children will be harshly dealt with. Offences against the Act carry a two-year prison sentence, during which men who have avoided the operation will be sterilised and pregnant women will be aborted.