Maharashtra’s Beed District: The Womb-Less Village.

By Priyanka Gulati

Image source: The Quint

Vrandavani Sandeep, a 36-year-old woman from a village named Umrad Jahagir, had a hysterectomy or had her womb removed two years ago.

She tells Al Jazeera, “Given the water shortage, work is scarce. We cannot afford to lose it over our female problems (menstruation).”

This situation is not unique to Vrandavani. She is one of the many women who have had to surgically remove their uterus to sustain themselves in the drought-prone Beed district of Maharashtra – a womb-less village.

About 50% of Vanjarwadi women have had hysterectomies. It is a norm in their village that is to be adhered to after having 2-3 children. 

These women migrate to the sugar belt of Western Maharashtra and work as sugarcane farmers or cane-cutters. Their contractors (mukkadam) prefer to hire women with no wombs because their menstruation is a hindrance – menstruating women may require breaks and slow down their work.

Thousands of men and women migrate to this area and toil through their work. The contractor hires a couple as one unit. “If the husband or wife takes a break for a day, the couple has to pay a fine of 500 Rupees (US$6.99) per day to the contractor for every break.” Their daily wage amounts to a mere 202 rupees. They urinate in the fields to not take long breaks. Even a small break costs them a rupee that they cannot afford to lose.

With no alternative source of income, and after comparing that medicines might accrue to cost more than a hysterectomy, these women opt to remove their uteruses. Vilabai, an old lady from the village, spoke to The Hindu about the nefarious conditions in which they have to survive. They live in tattered tents with no access to toilets or bathrooms, and she also hinted at sexual assault by the contractors and other men. 

The practice of hysterectomy in the village has become the rainmaker for many unethical doctors. They prescribe these women a surgery even for something as little as white discharge or abdominal pain.

A recurrent pattern can be seen in the village: a woman from the district would consult a doctor for health issues and infections, then sooner or later, the doctor would prescribe them a hysterectomy. They were also left unaware of the debilitating effects of the surgery like body-ache, hormonal imbalance, calcium deficiency, and more.

Even if these women voluntarily go for these surgeries, there is no denying that their willingness comes from their oppression. Their human rights and labour rights have been infringed upon by an exploitative system and menstrual taboos. 

A notice was issued to Maharashtras’ Chief Secretary by the National Commission for Women in April 2019 to take the required legal action on the matter. The state government formed a committee of legislators and officials to tackle the issue.

A senior official from the Public Health Department said, “These standard operating procedures (SOPs) will lay down treatment protocols for various gynecological problems, with the surgical removal of the uterus being the last resort after others are exhausted.”

However, what we need are government initiatives educating these women about their rights – human, women’s, and menstrual. And efforts towards setting up alternative job opportunities offering fair wages and humane working conditions.

While we may demand menstrual leaves for all, it is a conversation cornered by the privileged, for the privileged. Women belonging to the Beed district exist at the crossroads of gender and poverty. Menstrual leave is a luxury that they can only afford after breaking through the multiple shackles of their oppression.

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