Today, I was shocked to learn about female sugarcane cutters removing their wombs and was curious to find out why. A report by the Hindu Business Line revealed that seasonal migrant women workers have no other choice but to resort to hysterectomies so that they don’t have to take time off from cutting cane during their menstrual cycles. Women as young as 25 are undergoing the surgery. One woman says that, “You will hardly find women with wombs in these villages. These are villages of womb-less women”. It has become a norm for women to have their wombs removed after having two or three children. They are most likely pressured to do this because cane-cutting contractors are reluctant to hire women who menstruate.
Since cane cutting is rigorous work, if a husband or wife takes a break for a day, the couple has to pay a fine of ₹500 per day to the contractor for every break. And apparently, menstrual periods hinder work and incur fines. Getting a hysterectomy will prevent menstrual periods and no more breaks during cane cutting which means no more fines. One cane cutter says, “We cannot afford to lose even a rupee.”
So, women are forced to undergo surgeries if they want to work as sugarcane cutters. While the cane cutter might see this as solution to the menstrual periods problem, what about the women? What about their health, their wellbeing? According to Achyut Borgaonkar of Tathapi, an organization which has conducted a study on this, the health of women is seriously impacted by hormonal imbalance, mental health issues, weight gain, etc.
Cane cutters have to work even if they are experiencing health problems because they can’t afford to take a break even for a day. “There is no rest and women having periods is an additional problem,” one man explained.
According to Vilabai, a woman in her 70s, life for a cane cutter woman is hellish. There is repeated sexual exploitation of women by contractors and their men. “Cane cutters have to live in cane fields or near sugar mills in a tent. There are no bathrooms and toilets. It becomes even more difficult for a woman if she has periods in these conditions.”
Please check out the video in which 101 East investigates why these women are being persuaded to have invasive surgery.
It is a crying shame that women are forced to have unnecessary surgeries without being educated about the consequences. Something needs to be done about this. Women should have access to basic facilities like toilets and young women aged between 14-25 need help and protection from constant sexual exploitation from the contractors and men of the new village they have migrated to.
In 2019, a press conference was held by the legislative council in Pune. Issues of female sugarcane cutters regarding their forced hysterectomies were underscored and mobile toilets and mobile clinics were introduced as a solution. Hopefully, something will be done to help these women and their families who face drought, extreme poverty, seasonal migration and lack of alternative employment.