Devika Biswas may be short and slow-moving because of her diabetes, but you do not want to get in her way.
Armed with a notepad, a pen and a battered old phone, she storms through the hospital’s grimy corridors demanding doctors, interns, nurses – anyone – take her to see two women who are in serious pain. They’ve both been brought in following a botched operation in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, close to Bangladesh.
As she wizzes through Patliputra Medical College and Hospital, stepping across pregnant women sprawled out on the floor, and a few cows on the perimeter, she stops to complain to anyone who will listen that the toilets are overflowing and there’s no water for patients to wash their hands.
She arrives at the emergency ward to meet two women who are lying on metal gurneys clutching their stomachs riddled with stitches. Both have an IV drip attached to their wrist and their husbands by their side.
A few days earlier, the women had been sterilised – a common and permanent method of contraception commonly known as tubal ligation where the fallopian tubes are cut, tied or blocked – at their local primary health care centre.
The women live in a village on the outskirts of Dhanbad, a nondescript yet loud town with a constant flow of trucks from the mines driving through it. It’s the second-largest city in Jharkhand – a state that is famous for its national park filled with tigers and elephants.
The doctor performed more than 30 operations in just two hours, leaving two women fighting for their lives. While those numbers might sound shocking, it’s sadly not unusual. In one of India’s most famous botched sterilisation cases, 80 women were sterilised in five hours by one doctor.
‘There were so many people at the camp, the doctor rushed,’ says Pouki Devi, 36, dressed in purple pyjamas.
She had fallen unconscious after the doctor nicked her bladder.
Gudiya Devi, 30, lying next to her, murmurs that the same thing had happened to her. She winces in pain as she reveals her swollen belly covered in white bandages.
‘I don’t understand what has happened,’ Gudiya’s husband, Gopal, says angrily.
Devika asks the family for any documents they have – such as medical expenses they’ve incurred at the hospital – and for a detailed account of the day.
She promises to report the incident to the government, jotting down words in her notebook and taking a few photos of the women and their wounds before winding her way through the hospital once again to find the head of the department.
You see Biswas, a bespectacled women’s health activist with black hair and silver roots, is on a mission: a fact-finding mission to save women’s lives.
‘I come from a very simple village, but I’m fearless,’ she says.
Biswas was inspired by her aunt’s work as a doctor during British colonial times. She knew she likely wouldn’t become a doctor but she was frustrated at the government’s focus on ‘population control’ rather than preventing health problems and promoting good health. So she decided to speak up for women and their reproductive rights.
Biswas works alongside the National Alliance on Maternal Health and Human Rightsand Healthwatch Forum, two Indian organisations that monitor reproductive violations against women in the most far-flung areas of the country.
‘No one monitors the sterilisation camps because no one thinks anyone will come and ask about them,’ she says. ‘No one will say anything because it’s not a death; no one cares about botched operations.’
‘The government is to be held accountable when gross violations happen.’
Read full article here.