Only When the Boat has Started Sinking: A Maternal Death in Rural North India

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper uses a close reading of villagers' responses to the death in childbirth of a Muslim woman to raise questions about India's current policy emphasis on institutional delivery as a means of reducing maternal mortality. After introducing the context and methods of our research, we describe recent policy interventions related to maternal health, including the National Rural Health Mission established in 2005. We then outline villagers' commentaries on the specific maternal death, focusing on the costs to women's health (and sometimes life) of high fertility: the lack of care available from rural government facilities and staff and the preference for delivering at home with the aid of local practitioners; the financial constraints that make people hesitate to seek medical treatment; and the high costs of private treatment and the poor treatment experienced in government facilities. Our core argument is that government health care provision in rural Uttar Pradesh is embedded in a moral universe characterised by widespread and long-term mistrust of state services and that encouraging institutional deliveries without addressing the perceptions of potential service users is a seriously flawed approach to reducing maternal mortality. The paper draws primarily on ethnographic research funded by the Wellcome Trust during 2002-2005, in a Muslim village in rural Bijnor district (in north-western Uttar Pradesh).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1711-1718
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010


  • India
  • Maternal mortality
  • Institutional delivery
  • National rural health mission
  • Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY)
  • Women
  • Muslims


Dive into the research topics of 'Only When the Boat has Started Sinking: A Maternal Death in Rural North India'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this