The state government of Madhya Pradesh, India, on Friday withdrew a bizarre circular sent to officials earlier this month, Indian media has reported.
The circular, sent out on February 11, directed officials to identify staff members in its Health Mission who had failed to get any man sterilized in the fiscal year ending March 31. Officials were ordered to persuade at least one man to consent to sterilization by March 31 or facing losing salary or even forced retirement.
According to a report on the website of Madhya Pradesh's National Health Mission, 3,757 men were sterilized in the state by the end of the second quarter.
The circular created a furore in Madhya Pradesh, attracting criticism from several quarters. A spokesperson for the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said that it was unacceptable to harass employees this way.
Reacting to the furore, Madhya Pradesh's Health Minister Tulsi Silawat told the Press Trust of India (PTI) that the order was eventually nullified as its language "wasn't proper." "No one will be forced to be sterilized. No one is losing jobs and we are just spreading awareness," she added. The director who signed off on the circular is reportedly facing action.
Forced sterilization: Blast from the past
More than four decades ago, Sanjay Gandhi, son of and key adviser to former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, instigated a mass sterilization drive in India during the period known as the Emergency, when fundamental rights and civil liberties were suspended. About 6.2 million men were sterilized in one year, with several men dying during botched operations.
The BJP didn't waste time drawing parallels between the circular and the 1970s forced sterilization program. Madhya Pradesh's current chief minister, Kamal Nath, of the Congress party, was close to Sanjay Gandhi.
Many Indian men reject sterilization
Madhya Pradesh's problems meeting male sterilization targets aren't new. Indian officials have frequently stated that men in rural areas of India believe sterilization measures like vasectomy will hurt their masculinity. This puts the pressure of sterilization on women, who have to undergo a more complicated procedure than men.
Sterilization camps are regularly organized by state governments in India to control the country's population growth. These camps attract people by offering handsome incentives and benefits.
Several women are forced by their husbands to get sterilized to access these benefits. According to theNational Family Health Survey of 2015-16, three in eight men in India believe that contraception is the responsibility of women.
With 1.34 billion people, India is the second most populous country in the world after China and is set to overtake its Asian rival in 2030.