Framing Change, Impact Stories 18th June, 2023

Destigmatizing Vasectomy: Naresh’s Story Is A Lesson In Healthy Masculinity.

“In our childhood, there were two things we would commonly hear about vasectomy: one, that many people were forced to undergo sterilizations during the Emergency; and two, that if one volunteers to undergo the process, they would get INR 1,100 incentive along with a free radio set,” remembers Naresh Kumar.

Naresh works as Manager (Programs) with Breakthrough India. When he was young, Naresh and his friends would spot posters on vasectomy as they’d cross the government  hospital of the town and tease each other saying – “Chalo, radio le kar aate hai (Come, let’s get a radio).” 

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The 39-year old observes that men being offered more incentives than women to undergo sterilization is proof that in our society, along with being considered non-essential, the procedure of vasectomy is also linked with impotence.

“A popular leader’s poem titled ‘Aao Mardon – Namard Bane’, that became popular right after the Emergency, further showcased how the fear of sterilization leading to myth of impotence and loss of virility was used to oppose the imposition of sterilization on men,” he says.

Except for condoms and vasectomy, every other form of contraception caters to women. As opposed to the lack of awareness, research and options for male contraceptives, ample research is however done on addressing balding in men, notes Naresh.

He says that being associated with Breakthrough has helped him further resonate with the values of gender equity. In addition to speaking with a few trusted colleagues, Naresh also found himself being averse towards certain patriarchal customs, such as Karva Chauth (a festival wherein married Hindu women fast for their husbands’ long life and health). “Just like how I did not want my wife to fast for me, I did not want her to feel singularly responsible for family planning,” he says. He added that breaking away from patriarchal customs should mean that men can freely exercise their reproductive responsibilities and rights too.

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“I’ve been married for over ten years now. As the parents of two daughters, people around us would keep pushing my wife and I to try for a male child. I must point out here that most of the pressure was on my wife. However, I started contemplating undergoing vasectomy after my second daughter was born. But because of several stereotypes around it, my wife could not fully accept the idea initially, even though I would try to convince her,” says Naresh.

It was in March 2022, when they became pregnant without planning, that Naresh became more determined about his decision to undergo vasectomy. “To me, it felt like I was waging a war, especially because of the resistance I faced in our society that associates vasectomy with impotence,” he says.

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Currently a resident of Mehrauli in South Delhi, while registering for the procedure in a government hospital when Naresh consulted with the ASHA worker in his area, he was told that he was only the third man undergoing vasectomy they know of in their entire career span.

“Honestly, I was laughing as soon as I entered the gate of AIIMS. It was amusing to me that I am about to undergo the smallest yet a very necessary operation in the biggest hospital of India, says Naresh. He adds that he was the first man on the very first day of the three-day national vasectomy camp.

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Following a procedural counselling session with the doctor, Naresh underwent the 30-minute long pain-less process followed by another half hour of observation after which he was free to go. There was no pain except a little on the day of the procedure which restricted some movements, recounts Naresh.

“I felt proud of my decision, which in itself was not a big deal, but because it was a defining moment of breaking free from taboos, patriarchy and conventional standards of masculinity,” says Naresh. And he attributes his decision to his decade-long work at Breakthrough India to change gender norms.

The health department praised Naresh and called him an inspiration for what he did. Naresh went on to speak about his experience to motivate other men too to break free from the stigma associated with undergoing vasectomy.

“I felt proud of my decision, which in itself was not a big deal, but because it was a defining moment of breaking free from taboos, patriarchy and conventional standards of masculinity

Naresh’s story is one of reclaiming reproductive agency and finding security in his masculinity, in a society that projects men who do so as ‘not masculine enough’. This aligns with Breakthrough India’s larger aspirations of making the world a gentler place for men who are actively challenging patriarchal norms and narratives.

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