A FEW zealous social rehabilitators attempted to cheer up the lives of those women who lost their male offsprings in the Latur earthquake. In the past they had adopted family planning measures (tubectomy), and is no longer capable of bearing children. A male child would put the smiles back on their faces.
Rechannelisation in the medical circles is an accepted clinical method, however a few parameters have to be kept in mind before it is performed like age, present health status, time elapsed after sterilisation and the type of tubectomy preformed. Doctors state that this is not a simple procedure. Clinical research gives 60 per cent success rate for conceiving but does not guarantee a male child!
Six months after the earthquake, during March and April 1994, 40 women were operated in a private hospital for rechannelization in Latur. Villagers estimate that around 100-150 women were operated upon. The first few operations were done free of cost, and once the practice was set in, the doctors charged Rs 5000-10,000 per case.
The doctors and the health service systems have been oblivious to the high mortality rate prevailing among these women today. None of the women were aware of the gravity of the operation and the long term implications on their health. The doctors indiscriminately operated upon these women without considering the age factor, which is directly related to the risk of abnormality in the new born.
A local doctor of Killari village, along with a few volunteers, personally went from house to house close to the state highway searching for those who had lost their children in the earthquake and convincing them on the validity of the operation. In Talni village the doctor had taken the panchayat into confidence and announced about the operation by "beating the drum". In cases where couples or the family showed some reluctance, the doctor made added efforts to convince them.
The "marketing strategy" of the technology assured the people that rechannalization was probably the surest way to concieve and have sons. The luring part of the operation was that it was free of cost. Transport was provided and the people only paid for their meals and personal expences. The commercialisation of wombs escalated the hopes for a male child. The tragic story is that the hopes were raised even for those women whose anatomy did not permit conception and they were not throughly examined due to the callous attitude of doctors.
The typical odyssey of oppression of these women began with the elavated hopes to meet the social dictates of patriarchy. It is disturbing to see the way women's bodies are completely delinked from her subjectivity. The desire to have a patriarchal lineage cuts across caste, education, siocoeconomic status even today.
Women who underwent the operation became objects for reproduction. Society began to look for signs of pregnancy in their bodies, which has ceased to be in their private realm. Women have realised that their plight will not end till the right product -the male child is delivered.
The story of Akila has traveled far and wide. She is the only one who has delivered a girl child after rechannalization. Seven others are expecting. In clinical terms these can be labeled as success cases. This is a low success rate as compared to the earlier surety given. It is only a matter of chance that there was no death. This has reveiled the futility of the operations.
A constant stress and disharmony prevails in the private lives of couples who have used up much of their resources on rechannalisation. The persuasive apathy towards these women's life and health by the society and the inability to reproduce has further robbed their dignity. They in a way have become double victims of a natural disaster.
The R&R processes are not merely reconstruction of houses and villages. Tragedies are mainly human, and an imaginative R&R policy could aim at transforming the social relations, whether they are related to land, caste or gender. Societies which are otherwise inequitious and static, needs a major cultural shock therapy. Presently there are a large number of schemes that envelope the economic and social dimensions. Only class issues are as yet to an extent recognised.
Dipti Hegde is a freelance writer, and Niru Acharya is a member of the Stree Mukti Sangathan, Bombay
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