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Government-Run Sterilization Program to Curb Population Growth in India Goes Horribly Wrong

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"These women have become victims."

NEW DELHI (TheBlaze/AP) — As part of a mass, government-run sterilization program, eight Indian women died and 20 others were in critical condition Tuesday after undergoing surgeries to help slow the country's population growth.

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A total of 83 women, all poor villagers under the age of 32, had the operations free of charge Saturday in a hospital outside Bilaspur city in the central state of Chhattisgarh, officials said.

The women were sent home Saturday evening after their surgeries, but more than two dozen were later rushed in ambulances to private hospitals after becoming ill. By Tuesday, eight of the women had died — apparently from either blood poisoning or hemorrhagic shock, which occurs when a person has lost too much blood, state deputy health director Amar Singh told the Press Trust of India news agency.

Twenty other women were in critical care, according to the district magistrate, Siddharth Komal Pardeshi.

"Their condition is very serious. Blood pressure is low," said Dr. Ramesh Murty at CIMS hospital, one of the facilities where the sick women were taken. "We are now concentrating on treating them, not on what caused this."

The state suspended four government doctors, including the surgeon who performed the operations and the district's chief medical officer. It also will give compensation payments of about $6,600 to each of the victims' families.

Watch AFP's report about the incident:

Chief Minister Raman Singh said "it appears the incident occurred due to negligence" by doctors, but that a three-person investigation panel would determine exactly what went wrong. Meanwhile, autopsies were being performed.

India's government — long concerned with fast growth in a country whose population has reached 1.3 billion — offers free sterilizations to both women and men who want to avoid the risk and cost of having a baby, though the vast majority of patients are women.

In many cases, they are offered a one-time payment for undergoing surgery of $10-$20, or about a week's pay for a poor person in India. Hundreds of millions of Indians live in poverty.

It was not immediately clear whether the women in Bilaspur were paid for undergoing Saturday's operations.

India has the world's highest rate of sterilization among women, with about 37 percent undergoing such operations compared to 29 percent in China, according to 2006 statistics reported by the United Nations. During 2011-12, the government said 4.6 million Indian women were sterilized.

While India's central government stopped setting targets for sterilizing women in the 1990s, activists such as Brinda Karat of the All India Democratic Women's Association say state governments still set sterilization quotas that lead health authorities to pressure patients into surgery rather than advising them on other forms of contraception.

Jagmati Sangwan, general secretary of the organization, wrote on the group's Facebook page that it would be staging a protest over the "deep shock and outrage" felt over the "family planning camp's" issues.

"These women have become victims because of the target-based approach to population control," Karat told reporters Tuesday, while demanding that the state's health minister resign.

Front page image via Shutterstock. This story has been updated to include more information.

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