The role of litigation in ensuring women's reproductive rights: an analysis of the Shanti Devi judgement in India

Reprod Health Matters. 2012 Jun;20(39):21-30. doi: 10.1016/S0968-8080(12)39604-3.


The struggle for reproductive self-determination has specific significance for women and girls in India, where a maternal death occurs every five minutes. This paper analyses the role litigation played in seeking redress for violations of the reproductive rights of Shanti Devi, who died in childbirth in 2010 in Haryana state, and some of the socio-economic, cultural, political and legal factors involved. It provides a brief overview of India's national and international obligations with regard to maternal health, and through the lens of the litigation in Shanti Devi's case, it examines how the government failed to protect, respect and fulfill her right to life and health. Litigation can be used to ensure accountability in further cases by building on case law, informing communities about these decisions and their rights, and holding government accountable at local, state and central level. Litigation also has limits, most importantly due to people's lack of awareness of their rights and entitlements, the lack of government outreach programmes informing them of these, and the lack of accountability mechanisms within health programmes when they are not transparent or functioning effectively. Thus, although constitutional justice is an important tool for democratic progress and social change, social justice will only be achieved through broader social struggle.

MeSH terms

  • Awareness
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Jurisprudence
  • Maternal Health Services / organization & administration
  • Maternal Mortality*
  • Public Health Administration / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Reproductive Rights / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Women's Rights / legislation & jurisprudence*