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In photos: The faces of India's sterilization culture

India's family-planning policy has won it international plaudits. But the policy this country has on paper is markedly different than what happens in real life.

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Anita had the first of her three children at 16, and was sterilized at 23 in 2010. "I had to do a lot of work to convince my in-laws. I was so tired, after three pregnancies in four years. Eventually they agreed. The government gave me R1,000 ($20.) The [health] worker double-checked with my in-laws before she took me to the hospital, because she knew she would get in trouble if they hadn’t agreed."

Simon de Trey-White/The Globe and Mail

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Sirimati Devkumar, 40, was sterilized seven years ago after five children "because people said I would have terrible side effects from the other choices, including so much bleeding I could die. They said there was also an operation my husband could do, but he would become weaker, and he needs his strength. I wanted to do it after four children, but my in-laws said, ‘If you do, who will do the work [in our fields]?’ So I had one more. My first two girls qualified for the scheme to get money for their dowry if we don’t get them married ‘til 18 – but the third one doesn’t. And only for the first two we got money for getting them vaccinated."

Simon de Trey-White/The Globe and Mail

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Noni Raja was married in 2004 at the age of 20, then gave birth to a son a year later. After having two more children – a girl and a boy – Ms. Raja did something unexpected. She caught a bus into Mahoba, the nearest town, and presented herself at the hospital for a tubal ligation. She spent a couple of hours recovering, took the bus home and informed her startled in-laws that she had had “the operation.”

Simon de Trey-White/The Globe and Mail

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Years after Noni Raja chose to be sterilized, her mother-in-law, Kiran Devi, is still affronted. “I didn’t like it,” she says. “She went against our wishes.” Here, Ms. Devi is pictured with her 18-month-old grandson, Pratap, the sought-after second son that she insisted Ms. Raja produce.

Simon de Trey-White/The Globe and Mail

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Ram Saki, 38, became a mother at 14 and now has five children, the first four of them girls: "I wanted a son – that’s why we kept having more, although my heart was weak." She uses no contraception. "Sometimes you can get the pill here, but I don’t want to take it – I know, if you keep taking it every month, you become weak. But I don’t want to go and get that operation done – I’m scared. But I can’t ask my husband to [have a vasectomy] – he’ll start hitting me. It’s better not to ask."

Simon de Trey-White/The Globe and Mail

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Saroj Davi, 27, says the government gave her a $15 reward when she was sterilized three years ago. ‘Two children was enough. We don’t have much land or make much money – everything is getting expensive and it takes a lot to feed and educate them.’ Both children are boys, so “my in-laws didn’t object when I said I wanted the operation. My neighbour has had seven girls, and she can’t have the operation, because she has to have an eighth, hoping for that boy.”

Simon de Trey-White/The Globe and Mail

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