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The Global Sterilisation “Assembly Line”
Elayne Clift

Last month’s news that more than a dozen women in India died after undergoing sterilisation surgery was alarming. One of those women was Rekha Nirmalkar, whom The New York Times did name in its coverage. Rekha, a mother of two, was poor and didn’t want more children so she went to a “sterilisation camp”, a name that speaks volumes about what went on there. What was the day like for Rekha, who died at 22, perhaps of bacterial infection, or inadequately sterilised instruments, or tainted medication? What did she feel as she went through a situation that made no allowance for her physical discomfort or emotional anxiety? Of course, sterilisation is not an India specific phenomenon or even a sub continent thing. Whether in Bangladesh, Puerto Rico or even the US, experiences of women who have been victims of zealous population control programmes are traumatic and terrible. For how long will women like Rekha be denied the right to non-coercive, high quality, safe and compassionate reproductive health care?

‘Some years ago I observed tubal ligations performed in Bangladesh. Never did I see a physician or nurse talk to the woman undergoing the procedure. No one explained what was happening. No one said, “It will soon be over.” After surgery the women got off the table without assistance, walked to a resting room and later walked home.’

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India
Women Wordsmiths Want To Tell Her-Story
Ranjita Biswas

Several women writers across India strongly feel that their works should not be viewed only through the gender lens but be acknowledged in the larger world of literature. That, however, does not mean that they are not proud of the singular perspective that women bring to the space of writing. In fact, though their styles, sources of inspiration and even their languages may be different, the one thing they do have in common is an urge to tell a story from their point of view. For instance, while celebrated Bangla writer Nabaneeta Dev Sen is convinced that “we women have our very own special ways of telling stories”, Urmila Pawar, who writes in Marathi on her experiences as a Dalit woman, is “proud of the fact that I constantly strive to make women speak and write about their lives”. Bharatiya Jnanpith award winning Oriya writer, Pratibha Ray, has an interesting perspective – while she feels “writing is beyond gender” she does admit that penning a woman’s perspective comes naturally and is a responsibility.

“Why shouldn’t I write about women? We’ve had enough of getting belittled and encountering a condescending attitude because we write from this point of view.”

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India
Anna Crusades For Forest Rights
Sarada Lahangir

There is nothing that Anna Kujur, mother-of-four from Sunajor village of Sundergarh district, Odisha, does not know about the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006. In a district where over 50 per cent of the population is dependent on the forest for its sustenance and survival and, therefore, guards the greens with utmost love and care, Anna has been trying to raise awareness among the locals around the issue of access to land and forest resources under this Act, motivating them to stand up for their rights. This is because even though the FRA restores the rights of the forest-dwelling communities – and also provisions for making conservation more effective and transparent – the reality on the ground is that they are still vulnerable to eviction and denial of their customary entitlements. Anna traverses around 25 kilometres on her cycle everyday to talk to people and facilitate them in securing their own piece of land ‘patta’ for cultivation. Anna is a true heroine for communities in around 148 villages where she has been working diligently since 2003.

“There is no doubt that the FRA 2006 restores our customary and democratic rights over the forests. But then the fact is that we would not have been able to speak up had Anna-di not guided us, facilitated our case and stood by us.”

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India
Post Chhattisgarh, Women In Uttar Pradesh Reject Sterilisation
Tarannum

These are tough times for Saira, 35, the Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) of a small rural hamlet in the Itajuna block of Uttar Pradesh’s Lucknow district. As part of her routine work, she has to convince couples, especially women, to go in for family planning, using either short term methods or a permanent one, like sterilisation. Whereas it was usually not that difficult for Saira to motivate women to go in for sterilisation, in the last one week she has been turned down by at least half a dozen or more women. Their reason: they do not wish to end up like their sisters in Chhattisgarh. In these times, when news travels fast and far, accounts of the deaths of 13 women in a mass sterilisation camp in Bastar have reached even the remotest pockets of neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. Like Saira, Shashikala, an ASHA in Kasmanda block of Sitapur district, is facing a similar situation today, as are their counterparts in Mainpuri and Hardoi. But even as the ASHAs worry about losing their Rs 150 incentive – simply because they get paid a meagre stipend – women’s rejection of tubectomy may finally force the government to rethink its strategy on family planning.

“They are totally scared now. They do wish to go for family planning, but have strong reservations about female sterilisation.”

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India
Meet The Fearless Female Fighters of Rajasthan
Abha Sharma

“Dousing the hungry flames is certainly not an easy task. It’s a test of one’s physical strength as well as courage and agility. But if one is determined, one can overcome any risk however daunting it may look,” says Sita, one of the 155 women fire fighters who are now a part of the fire department in the desert state of Rajasthan. While her namesake in the mythological epic ‘Ramayana’ had given the ‘agnipareeksha’ once in her lifetime, for Sita, the fire fighter, every day is like a trial by fire. Her extended family was “shocked” with her decision to give up her “easy” job with a medical insurance company, but her husband wholeheartedly supported her and even assured her of taking care of their infant son in her absence. Today, Sita and her other bold and fearless female colleagues, most of who are from villages and small towns in the state, are inspiring others to follow in their footsteps.

“It is essential to keep oneself absolutely fit so daily exercise is necessary. We have been intensively trained to use the water hoses, carry the scale ladder and rescue and evacuate people to safety from buildings under fire.”

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