A horrific case in India's impoverished Chhattisgarh state has won a modicum of international headlines. A surgeon has been arrested on charges of "attempted culpable homicide" in the deaths of at least 13 women who underwent sterilization operations at a field camp in the village of Pandari. Dr. RK Gupta and his a team operated on 83 women in just six hours Nov. 8—in a filthy room, with rusty equipment. Gupta—who had performed over 50,000 sterilizations, and was awarded a state honor for his work—was arrested after initially fleeing, and remains intransigent, blaming the deaths on painkillers the women were given by a village clinic. The death toll may rise, as many women are gravely ill, apparently from infection. The desperately poor women were paid 1,400 rupees ($23) for the surgery. "Health workers" (sic!) also received payments for bringing women to the camp.
Local activists say this is part of a pattern, and are calling for the resignation of the Chhattisgarh health minister. The Chhattisgarh government has hired some 125 surgeons to carry out this work, and set a target of 1.75 lakh (1 lakh=100,000) sterilizations for the year 2014-2015—the same as last year, and 30,000 more than the targets for 2010-2012. In January 2012, three men were arrested in nearby Bihar state for operating on 53 women in two hours. The men had carried out operations in a field and without the use of anaesthesia. (CNN, Reuters, Reuters, NDTV, Indian Express, Nov. 13; BBC News, Nov. 11)
While international reports have not mentioned it, the inescapable context for this is the Indian government's ongoing war against the Naxalite guerillas. Chhattisgarh has been the very center of the ongoing counterinsurgency campaign dubbed "Operation Greenhunt"—which, as if often the case, has only fueled the insurgency. Just about a month before the ghastly Pandari incident, India's media reported of yet another "fierce gun-battle" in the forested tracks of Chattisgarh's Bijapur district in which three "Naxal women" were killed by a 100-strong joint patrol of local police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). Local activists charge this was another "fake encounter" in which villagers are assassinated and later reported to have been guerillas killed in combat (a practice known in Colombia as "false positives"). (Sanhati, Oct. 19)
The breakneck sterilization should be understood as genocide by other means, motiviated by fear of the peasantry—as also seen in similar cases in Mexico and Peru. Ironically, given the Naxalites' Maoist politics and the origins of the Chinese state, something akin to this can also be seen in contemporary China. Of course this kind of oppression is rendered even more perverse by India's "first world" pretension of a space program…