“I Do Not Have to Hurt My Body Anymore”: Reproductive Chronicity and Sterilization as Ambivalent Care in Rural North India


Drawing on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in rural Rajasthan, India, I examine women’s narratives of chronic reproductive suffering and the practices they employed to relieve it. Cumulative effects of adverse and ordinary reproductive events and exhaustion from caregiving were often seen as reproductive suffering, while sterilization emerged as an act of care toward women’s ever-weakening bodies. Sterilization has been an integral part of the often coercive, incentive- and target-driven population control program in India. Rural women, however, described sterilization not as a form of violence but as an act of care, despite its ambivalence. In the context of reproductive chronicity—a persistent reproductive suffering recurring alongside reproductive events, available care options, relations within which these options are located, and structural conditions that shape women’s lives—care and suffering are intimately and ambiguously intertwined.

Care in the face of reproductive chronicity in Rajasthan. Photo credit: Eva Lukšaitė