ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Harvest of Uteruses

Forced to migrate to sugar belt for work, women face multiple reproductive health problems, due to the back-breaking work and poor sanitation and hygiene conditions, including menstrual hygiene. This situation along with an absence of public health facilities, allows a fertile and lucrative ground to the private healthcare facilities to provide unnecessary and extreme treatments even for minor gynaecological ailments, including the removal of their wombs. More than 4,605 hysterectomies are said to have been performed in the Beed district alone in the last three years.

The authors are grateful to numerous women sugar cane cutters and social activists from Beed, especially those associated to Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch and Ekal Mahila Sanghatana, who have provided them with deep insights and a grounded understanding of the issue. They also acknowledge valuable discussions with colleagues in Jan Arogya Abhiyan.

Asha (29 years old) was married into a sugar cane cutting family in Beed district when she was just 13 years old. Since then, Asha has engaged in the tedious work of sugar cane cutting along with her husband, migrating and travelling widely for work. She was doing strenuous cane cutting even during her first pregnancy and fell down while loading cane when she was three months pregnant. Since then her health has continuously deteriorated with complaints of excessive bleeding, white discharge, and pain in the abdomen. After a difficult first pregnancy, Asha went on to have three children and by the age of 19, she underwent tubectomy. However, the continued hard labour involved in cane cutting, and poor living and working conditions, including lack of sanitation at worksites, aggravated her reproductive health problems. Heavy bleeding and uterine prolapse finally culminated in her having to undergo a hysterectomy which costed her entire life’s savings. Even worse was the post-operative infection, for which she incurred additional expenses, bringing the total expenditure to over ₹ 1 lakh. Now she has to visit the doctor frequently as she continues to experience pain and weakness, paying around ₹ 1,000 per visit. She is weak and frail and has aged prematurely. She constantly feels the necessity to either get admitted for medical care or else, lying down all the time.

In India, stories of exploitation of unorganised sector workers are unfortunately common in the production sphere. In the realm of social consumption, the commercialised private medical sector remains in news for overcharging patients and performing unnecessary treatment procedures to maximise profits. When both spheres of exploitation converge, within the frame of the deeply rooted gender oppression, the consequences are devastating. This is evident from the case of Asha discussed above, as it was revealed to the authors during interviews held with her over May 2019.

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Updated On : 29th Jun, 2020
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