Abandoned During Labor, Woman Sues Gov't

Salenta Singh suffered a debilitating injury after she went to a public hospital in Uttar Pradesh, India to give birth—and was left alone while in labor.

She gave birth to her first five children at home in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh without any complications. But when, in February 2007, she went to a public hospital to deliver her sixth child, she was left unattended for several hours while in labor and as a result suffered a debilitating injury—vaginal fistula, a hole between the wall of her vagina and urinary tract. Although the main symptom of fistula--urine leakage--became immediately apparent, it took three months and visits to five different hospitals for Singh to get diagnosed. Another six months passed before she got the surgery she needed to end her suffering and once again lead a normal life.

Singh, her husband Kawal Singh, and Healthwatch Forum—an Indian advocacy network for women's health and rights that helped Singh finally get treatment—are now suing the government of Uttar Pradesh. Their lawsuit in the High Court of Uttar Pradesh argues that pregnancy-related injury and illness resulting from medical negligence violate a woman's right to live with dignity and her right to health—rights that are recognized by both the Indian Constitution and international human rights treaties that India has ratified. Singh is seeking reimbursement for her medical expenses, as well as compensation for her physical suffering. The lawsuit also requests a court order to ensure that basic service guarantees for maternal health care are fully implemented by the state government.

This is the first known public interest case that deals with pregnancy-related injury to be filed in a state high court. The Center will submit a memorandum to the Court demonstrating that poor quality maternal health care violates women’s human rights. The Human Rights Law Network, one of the Center’s partners in India, is providing legal representation in this case.